A few weeks ago I wrote The Glidehouse Is At The End Of The Road For Green Modern Prefab, my thoughts on the rise and, I thought, fall of the modern prefab movement. Joe Tanney is partner in Resolution: 4 architecture and architect of the original Dwell House and a master of modern prefab. He disagrees; As evidence, he sent pictures of a recent project, The Peconic Bay House, which he calls a "Power Plant" because it produces more energy than it consumes. Joe says:
"End of the road for green prefab? In fact, I think this just might be the beginning." He continues:
"This Prefab Power Plant operates 18 cents a day, because that's what it costs to be connected to the grid. In fact, several of our most recent projects are mini-power-plants. We are using co-generational systems of solar photovoltaic panels coupled with geo-thermal heat pumps (rather conventional technology these days) to generate more energy than are homes are designed to consume, and selling the unused energy back to the grid. RES4 PREFABS now produce more energy than they consume."
Joe then gave me his thoughts on the state of prefab:
"It may be premature to call prefab dead when it has yet to really live. Or you might say we are still in the re-birthing phase ... maybe some have been still-born, yes. And maybe some will be resuscitated. Maybe not. Or maybe this is just part of the natural life cycle of prefab, which has always ebbed & flowed with varying degrees of success. Maybe this is prefab's winter season. Maybe some approaches are seasonal and some are evergreen. This pursuit of the "holy grail of modernism" is an ever evolving journey, a work-in-progress. History has clearly shown us that this is not a simple issue to be "solved" merely with branding or "productization." Maybe, it will take an evolution of one house at a time, instead of an immediate revolution, thus requiring a resolution ... "
Resolution 4 followed a different model than others, acting as full service architects and using prefabrication as just another tool.
"As architects, we've been fortunate, so far, in that we have built RES4 PREFABS | THE MODERN MODULAR by RESOLUTION: 4 ARCHITECTURE from Maine to Hawaii, using modular, panelized, and hybrid delivery methods. We do not sell boxes; we are hired as architects and attempt to find the best bang for the buck by leveraging existing methods of prefabrication: working within the limits of the industry, always looking for fulfillment partners who are "best in class." In an effort not to fall prey to zombie prefab, we continue to refine and develop our system of design, the modern modular, with each home we complete."
"I just wanted to say, like Monty Python in the bring out your dead skit, we ain't dead yet..."
Xhouse by Greg Lavardera at Lamidesign
Other architects working in Modern prefab also thought that I was too pessimistic. Greg Lavardera wrote:
"Well, all I can say is they can't take the sky from us.
What I mean is the dream is not dead. I always saw prefab as just another medium by which to deliver better design to the segment of the public that desired better housing design and were not being served by the greater housing industry. Prefab's strength was always that it allowed the potential for economy of scale even when demand was dispersed and without the density to support on site development of houses serving a specialized interest. Don't forget there are others out there still doing it - Hive and Wee House, and Res4. A lot was learned in that wave, and it made so much more impact than any of the other prefab attempts that came before. When the economy settles we'll have a much better idea of what will work moving forward. I still think the future is shiny!"
view from deck of Glidehouse
Perhaps they all have a point, and I should look for all the green shoots instead of concentrating on the failures, including my own, in the prefab industry. After all, even after all she has been through, Michelle Kaufmann can still say:
"The future is bright and as vast as the view from our Glidehouse at the end of the road."