There is a lot of history behind the latest work from AltiusRSA (Rapid Systems Architecture), the latest in the line of what started with the Sustain Minihome, first shown on TreeHugger in 2006, (and which I own, from my previous gig in the prefab industry).
The Solo 40, unveiled at Toronto's Interior Design Show last week, is wider, longer, more spacious, far more conventional in its layout and way, way cheaper, delivering 480 square feet for C$ 93,600, or $195 PSF.
Alex Bozikovic of the Globe and Mail summarizes the problems faced by those of us who have been trying to market green, modern prefabs, with me falling in the last category:
For a century, architects have been imagining factory-built houses that would combine the economics of mass production with thoughtful design and quality construction. Those dreams have always failed, either thanks to technology, popular taste, weird aesthetic choices or poor business decisions.
After all of these years of trying, Altius appears to have dealt with many of these issues. The design is a non-threatening sort of mid-century retro modern. In fact, you can pretty much see it modelled here in gingerbread.
The interior is spacious; they could (and probably will) squeeze a small second bedroom in the same size but chose to show a one bedroom model with lots of room.
There is a large combination kitchen, living and dining room that nobody could complain about, nicely fitted out and furnished. Everything is well-proportioned and avoids what Alex calls " weird aesthetic choices"
Really, when you get right down to it, the Solo 40 is pretty much a "Park Model" design, a legal definition of a house that is 15' wide and less than 540 square feet in Canada, 400 in the USA. This is a smart move; Altius has learned to max out the size, (it keeps getting cheaper per square foot) lose the high tech stuff like solar and keep it simple (parks have sewer, water and electric hookup) get rid of lofts and things that complicate construction and try and find the right balance between quality and price, which is really, really hard to do. (People are still going to complain IT'S $195 PER SQUARE FOOT!!!)
These designs can be adapted and enlarged to the point that they get above the minimum square footages that are mandated in a lot of place to keep the riffraff out and the property taxes high. That's when the benefits of prefab begin to really pay off; as Alex writes:
“A lot of our clients are very busy people,” says Altius partner Graham Smith. “With this model, you can still say you’ve worked with an architect, but you don’t have to get into the pleasures of arguing with a contractor for a year.”
The biggest problem with the development of the small green modern prefab is there are not that many places to put them. What's needed is a community, with shared services and facilities, like the one where the original MiniHome is now parked. Fortunately, Graham Smith says that is happening both in Ontario and California. When there are green modern trailer parks to go with the green modern prefabs, this will seriously take off. More at Sustain.ca