I have never been certain what to make of Whitney Sander's Hybrid House. Perhaps it is his definition of prefab: "Prefab is anything that is manufactured off-site and shipped in. A lightbulb is prefab." which is profoundly simplistic and means that every house built out of two by fours, the ultimate prefabricated component, can be called a prefab. Sander uses portal frame steel structures, commonly called Butler buildings after their prime manufacturer, and then finishes the inside conventionally. Portal frame structures are very cheap and good for enclosing large volumes efficiently, so Sander is able to build for $150 per square foot. Sander trademarks phrases like part prefab, all custom™ and says that "Prefab also has the added benefit of being eco-friendly, as off-site fabrication reduces waste energy in fabrication. A large part of our practice is devoted to implementing and researching green materials and environmentally-friendly design." But the houses have a lot of volume to heat or cool.
Most architects working in prefab are trying to create standard designs, to reduce the cost and risk to the client, and bring the services of talented architects to smaller houses. Sander thinks otherwise and says that "What we love about the part prefab, all custom™ approach to prefab is that this will be YOUR house, designed exclusively for you.You might be a foodie and dream of an open-plan kitchen, have a fashion collection that is begging for extra-large walk-in closets, or own more cars than the average bear: the point is that no two clients are the same and we love to work with the individuals who come to us to design their home. " He then follows an absolutely standard process of client engagement, design, design development and construction documents.
It is an interesting idea, using industrial portal frame construction for residential use. These are strong modern designs and the spaces inside are dramatic. Sander also deserves credit for impressive marketing.
However I think it is a stretch to call it prefab and a bigger stretch to call it green; all steel buildings have their components fabricated offsite and these are way too big. Make them any smaller and all the benefits of using the portal frame construction (and the cheap per square foot prices) disappear. But prefab is a big wave these days, and Sander has clearly caught it. ::Hybrid House