Plant Prefab Introduces Two New Sustainable Modern Prefabs by Koto Design

©. Koto/ LivingHomes

It would be nice to hang out in one of these right now.

It's a weird time to be talking about modern prefab; as architect Elrond Burrell noted recently,

But for those of us who started working in modern prefab about 20 years ago, just making pretty buildings was never the point. It was, as Steve Glenn of Plant Prefab says, about making "great architecture more accessible, affordable, and sustainable." Over the years he has worked with Ray Kappe, KieranTimberlake, Yves Béhar, and Brooks + Scarpa, and now introduces two new designs from Koto Design, a UK firm. Glenn explains in the press release:

“Koto is the first international firm with whom we’ve partnered and we’re incredibly excited to introduce two exclusive designs, and to expand our offering of top quality, highly sustainable homes. We couldn’t think of a more appropriate time, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.”

Koto is based in the UK, but "the team is united by a passion for Scandinavian design and friluftsliv, the Nordic concept that time in nature promotes spiritual and mental well-being. The word “koto” is Finnish for “cozy at home,” and the studio’s mission is to help people connect with nature in the comfort of a beautiful dwelling."

We are not just discussing violin-playing here. The Koto designs have ultra-efficient heating and cooling, recycled insulation, and instead of just plopping a prefab on a lot, "Koto and Plant will work directly with the homeowner to determine optimal site placement to account for environmental factors such as sunlight. "

With sustainability always in mind, Koto also integrated select design elements to build upon Plant's net-zero standards. Both models are designed with windows that maximize cross-ventilation, reducing the need for air conditioning. Wherever possible, more common synthetic materials such as cement siding have been replaced with timber-based products to reduce the amount of embodied carbon expelled during construction.

Regular readers will know that we are preoccupied with embodied carbon, or as I prefer to call it, upfront carbon emissions. Studies have shown that they can actually be bigger than operating emissions, and they are happening now, not over the life of the building. It's about time builders were really serious about them.

Koto Living Homes rendering of exterior two storey unit

© Koto/ LivingHomes

Plant Prefab uses a mix of 3D modular units with the complicated stuff like kitchens and bathrooms, and 2D panels for simpler space enclosure, to increase design flexibility and reduce transportation costs. You can see the effect this has in the two models; the Koto LivingHome looks like two modules, stacked at 90 degrees to each other, a pure modular design.

plan of lower level, KOTO 1 home

© Koto/ LivingHomes

The Koto 1 also has an interesting design, what has been called a "French farmhouse" plan, with the bedrooms downstairs and the living space upstairs. I first saw it in a house not dissimilar to this one without the 90 degree twist, designed and built by the late great Ted Cullinan in London. I tried to do a similar plan as a ski chalet when I was an architect, because you enter under cover on the lower level and can change out of all your stuff right there, or if it was a beach house, out of your wet and sandy stuff. I twisted the modules too for the upper decks and because in modular construction it's so easy.

Koto upper level plan

© Koto/ LivingHomes

Then you go upstairs to get the great view and use the tops of the lower levels as decks. One of the reasons I liked this plan so much is that the snow could pile up around it (remember snow?) without blocking windows or entries, and it makes sense structurally too; the wide-open spaces don't have big loads on top. It's a modular installers dream too, probably going together in a few hours on site.

Koto living homes exterior view

© Koto/ LivingHomes

The Koto LivingHome 2 has a more conventional plan, with living spaces and two bedrooms on the ground level, and two more small bedrooms upstairs.

Koto 2 Plan showing 3 modules

© Koto/ LivingHomes

There are some interesting moves here; a nice view to a courtyard when you walk in the front door, but that adds a lot of surface area. You could move that living room/ kitchen module in over the courtyard and it would be simpler and more sustainable, but frankly would look just like a lot of the prefab plans on the market now. You could make a side-split out of it and it would be right out of the sixties, except for the wide-open kitchen design.

Interior view of living and dining room

© Koto/ LivingHomes

Which brings us back to Elrond's question in that tweet at the beginning. Are we just having a discourse about lovely spaces, or is this really part of the solution that will keep us afloat? Much depends on where you put it. Sitting on dunes in the middle of nowhere, probably not so much. But in the end, every home should be built out of materials with low embodied carbon, lots of insulation, designed to net-zero and LEED platinum at minimum.

view from bedroom ground floor

© Koto/ LivingHomes

And right now, who doesn't want to get away from it all and take in that view? We still need to dream about lovely spaces and pretty places.