Like the famous prefab, it's clad in metal panels.
Studio 804 is one of the Great Ideas in architectural education; students at the University of Kansas Department of Architecture get out into the field, “designing and constructing a sophisticated building in its entirety from the ground up.” The houses are then put on the market and sold. I have never seen one of their houses that wasn’t interesting and challenging.
The panels played a key role in the home's design. The team notes that it began to see a parallel between its efforts and those of the Lustron Corporation, which created prefabricated homes for US veterans returning from the second world war. From 1948 to 1950, the company built around 2,500 low-cost, durable homes featuring steel framing and enamel-coated steel panels.
"We wanted our new house to share the spirit of the Lustron design, as it serves as a model for how self-sustaining, low-maintenance houses can be built for everyone in the future as resource management becomes increasingly necessary," said Studio 804.
That’s a rosy view of Lustron, where the houses had 30,000 parts and took far longer to put together than planned, but were and still are loved by their owners. So far as I can tell, the only thing this house does have in common with Lustron is the metal panelling on the outside. But it’s a great idea and a great inspiration.
Being an adjunct Professor teaching sustainable design, as well as a TreeHugger writer, I tend to look at the Studio 804 work with perhaps too critical an eye, and have sometimes questioned some of the design decisions that they make; in this case I do wonder about the “dramatic steel screen” shading the house, which evidently is there to screen the glass walls and reduce energy costs; why put in so much glass in the first place? This is Kansas, not California.
The Kansas City area has very hot summers and cold winters, yet they claim that with “an exterior screening system and concrete floor for thermal mass, the southwest glazing allows optimal temperatures year round.” But again, that is a lot of glass, and a lot of screen that is not doing very much besides looking very elegant.
The dining room in particular is surrounded on three sides in glass, thanks to the lovely interior courtyard. Totally lovely and it won't overheat in summer, thanks to the steel screen, but there are on average 22 days with the temperature below freezing in a Kansas City winter, and that concrete slab with an exposed edge is actually projecting beyond the room itself. Elegant and modern and beautiful, but you are going to need fuzzy slippers. (See details of the concrete floor being poured during week 9.) I know Studio 804 is not building a Passive House here, but I do not believe you can do details like this and call it sustainable design.
The plan is problematic, too, if you imagine a family with a small child. You can hear the baby through the wall, then you have to walk halfway around the house to get from the master bedroom to the other bedroom. Fortunately, it is flexible.
"Being a speculative project, we wanted to assure that the small house was comprised of flexible spaces that give the owner control over the use and layout of rooms," the team said. "The kitchen is the only permanent part of the plan; otherwise, all of the spaces can be used in multiple ways."
Perhaps I am being too critical here. Dan Rockhill and his Studio 804 have always been an inspiration; I think every school should offer this kind of hands-on program. There is lots to love about this house -- its use of recycled materials, its clean lines and, most importantly, the whole idea of how it is built, how the students really do it all:
This includes everything from initial design including all systems, construction documents, estimates, working with zoning and code officials, site layout, placing concrete, framing, roofing, siding, setting solar panels, landscape and more — there isn’t anything we don’t do ourselves.
So perhaps it’s not perfect, but it’s all about learning; and when they graduate, these kids will know what to do to build a house, and perhaps also what not to do. More at Studio 804.