Home Delivery: Modern Prefab Lives Fast, Dies Young, Leaves Good Looking Corpse

New Orleans House Lawrence Sass of MIT

Larry Sass and his team from MIT built this extraordinary rendition of a New Orleans house out of 3,000 laser cut pieces; it was built in two days by five students using only rubber mallets.

detail of handrail assembly

cutaway detail of construction. See also Home Delivery: Digitally Fabricated Housing
Cellophane House by Kieran Timberlake

But the star of the show is the Cellophane house by Kieran Timberlake; constructed of aluminum sections, five stories of cool modern design, with glowing stairs, a smart skin with integrated photovoltaics, two baths and a kitchen.

view of dining room from kitchen

structural detail. See also Home Delivery: Wrapping It Up With The Cellophane House
Wrapping it up

Alison Arieff thought that "the average visitor isn’t given the tools to .. understand the reasons (beyond a desire to play with sophisticated software) that architects have been so drawn to prefab." Witold Rybczynski called it "a stylish litany of second-place finishers, also-rans, if-onlys, and downright losers."

I can only say that this ain't the Home Show, it's the MoMA, this is where they push the edge of the envelope. I think it fitting that this exhibition of a possible future of housing technology and design spanned the meltdown of the way we used to build, finance and insure our last housing industry.

Home Delivery may mark the end of prefab, a system of mass-producing a commodity that we have a surplus of sitting empty. Prefab has high fixed costs, was traditionally hard to finance, and always has been subject to boom and bust. In slow times it just can't compete with the guy in a pickup truck. This housing downturn is going to be long and painful, and when we come out of it what we build will have to be smaller, greener and denser. We are going to need to rebuild what we have to reduce our buildings' carbon footprints rather than build more new stuff. We are probably going to need jobs for skilled hands more than we need digital fabrication.

It might well be that modern prefab lived fast, died young and left a good looking corpse.

Tags: Architecture


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