Housing moves into the future with this "perpetually modern" Proto Home. Photos by Lisa Romerein
In the "sleepy neighborhood" of Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, a modern Proto Home sits among a mix of single-family dwellings from over the last few decades. This stylish model house stands out, as if the next generation moved in. A couple blocks away, a Metro station is opening next to the local commercial district, and bustling Culver City lies a few minutes away. That convenience was critical to the designers who also chose this location for its affordability. But the sleek efficient minimalism inside this hybrid residence is what's impressive - especially since it can be built within weeks--not years.
The kitchen island rolls on casters and the wall-mounted faucets are accessed from the core.
With the advantages of pre-fab assembled elements but not factory-made, the Proto Home can be erected as quickly as three to five months. "We wanted to shift the paradigm," explained architect/founder Frank Vafaee about the time/cost savings. "I think of a house as a product. It should be efficient and upgradable, like a smart phone." In fact, each house comes with wireless to regulate energy use, even remotely. As he demonstrated by adjusting the lights with the home's iPad he told me, "I wanted to reinvent the DNA of a house. It's built to evolve."
The main living area, the Hyperspace, is an open airy loft-like room with dining and kitchen. The master bedroom seems to float above. Upstairs, in the Flex Zone Vafaee showed how to change the size and configuration to easily fit homeowners' needs - convert an office to a playroom, change a bedroom to a guest room or nursery in a snap by shifting wall shelves and doors.
The Flex Zone upstairs allows doors and shelves to reconfigure the spaces.
The entire infrastructure of the Proto Home is within a central "core," about the size of a shipping container on end. In the last room on my tour, this two-story "engine" allows access to valves, vents, pipes, conduits, the water heater, and furnace. Using a minimum of ducts and wires, there's no need to rip open a wall to repair anything. Electrical outlets on outer walls are in a pop-out strip. "This house is not fussy. It's easy to maintain with built-in adaptability," explained Vafaee.
The Proto core engine efficiently houses the home's infrastructure's guts and bolts.
Besides the energy efficiencies within the design, sustainable features include: a white "cool roof," double-pane windows oriented for passive solar, Energy Star appliances, LED and CFL lighting, GreenGuard-certified wall insulation, EcoClad exteriors, regionally sourced, minimal construction waste, water runoff capture and reuse in landscaping with drought-tolerant succulents and native grasses.
Unscrew the bolts and pop off standard-sized panels to modernize the exterior in 15 years.
As the brochure for this Sunlight Residence describes, the simplicity extends from the design to the purchase with either Proto-on-Demand or Proto-to-Go (a 2-bedroom starter is 800-square feet) for as little as $200 per square foot. Standard houses with cookie-cutter rooms don't reflect today's technology or lifestyles. The current housing crisis offers an opportunity to get out of the slump through innovation, Vafaee believes, hoping his homes "tickle the imagination."