Four years ago I lamented the end of the road for green modern prefab, a dream partially inspired by Allison Arieff's book on the subject. Joseph Tanney, a principal of Resolution: 4 Architecture, disagreed and wrote End of the road for green prefab? In fact, I think this just might be the beginning.
Now Princeton Architectural Press has released Modern Modular, by Joseph and partner Robert Luntz. The book demonstrates that I was spectacularly wrong about the end of the road, but I remain unsure about where the road is going.
Res:4 has built over sixty homes based on their modular typology. They didn't invent the process, but explain:
"Rather than invent a new manufacturing process, our research focused on existing commercial methods of residential prefabrication." They worked within the dimension limits set by state rules for transport on the road and the constraints of the factories where the modules were built. Like any good industrial designed product, (and unlike most architecture) they refined it as they went along. "With each, we attempt to make small advances in the details, products and technologies we employ."
These are not cookie-cutter prefabs; every single one is designed for a particular client and site. In her wonderful introduction, Allison Arieff writes:
Though they have embraced production, they haven't sacrificed site-specificity. The module is, to paraphrase Paul Rudolph, their twenty-first century brick- but it is an unusually flexible brick, able to create an impressive variety of configurations and to please a plethora of clients.
She concludes: "For Tanney and Luntz, this is no passing fad. Modern Modular is here to stay."
If there is a problem with the book, it is the fact that with only one exception, (the Bronx Box shown above) every house in it proudly sits on a big lot in the country. Where in the early days of modern prefab we all believed that we could make green, sustainable and modern housing affordable and accessible, these are none of the above. But they are very, very pretty. They are, as Allison notes, "some of the most elegant expressions of prefab's potential."
The photos of the Bronx Box were taken before Superstorm Sandy hit; houses all around it were devastated and destroyed. It was built on stilts above the flood line set by FEMA during the design process and survived intact; the owners stayed inside through the whole crisis. This speaks to the solidity and strength of prefabricated construction. This is why we have to figure out how to make it work for everyone.
More from Princeton Architectural Press.