New prefab in Uruguay shows the evolution of the industry

exterior MAPA house
© Leonardo Finotti via ArchDaily

Le Corbusier once said "Good architects borrow, and great architects steal." He was in fact stealing, second hand via Picasso, from T.S. Elliot, who wrote: "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different."

I thought of that when I saw this Retreat in Finca Aguy by MAPA in Arch Daily. It is a prefabricated house in Maldonado, Uruguay that was built in a factory by a company named Lutron and shipped 200km to the site.

It reminded me of one of the iconic designs from the start of the modern prefab craze, Geoffrey Warner's 2003 Wee House. It sort of looks like a double-wide version of the original. There is nothing wrong in this; I have noted before that "architecture has always been about building on the work of others, about homage, about certain trends that become fashionable and get borrowed and imitated.

Furthermore, these are both modular homes with pieces that have to be loaded onto flatbeds and travel on public highways. Their designs have always been shaped by the rules of the road. Those rules generate the form. The architects note how the conditions are generators of the resulting form:

To build in far away territories from the surroundings in which we usually live is a great challenge. Remoteness not as a limit but as a possibility, as a value, as a generator of fields and conditions. Remote landscapes confronts us with the awareness of immenseness. It puts us in our role in reality.... Prefabrication allows us to work with industrialized materials that enable high-precision processes. Thus amortizing the impact of construction on the ground, minimizing waste, staff in situ and displacement: a perfect combination of nature and industry.

There is an absolute logic to this design, the way it is sited, the wonderful big view. There is a real logic to the plan and a rigid symmetry that is different than others I have seen. This is, in T.S. Elliot's words, "something better, or at least something different."

But a tip of the hat is owed to Geoffrey Warner and to his wonderful little Wee House in Pepin, Wisconsin; in its own way, it has turned out to be one of the most influential little houses of this century.

New prefab in Uruguay shows the evolution of the industry
The more things change, the more they stay the same

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