May 2007 Archive
While you are planning your prefab dream house, your kids might get a little jealous. All the Best Bits, a blog about "everything", wrote a post on wild treehouses on Monday. If you buy your kids one of these treehouses, they'll probably love you for life (or at least until they are too old to fit through the front door of their Scallywag Sloop).
Prices aren't listed on the site, but one can only guess that these treehouses cost a pretty penny.
On a similar note, the New York Times ran a lengthy article (subscription required) on treehouses a few weeks back. The article discussed how treehouses aren't just for kids anymore:
"...an engineering breakthrough developed by conference participants, the so-called Garnier Limb, allowed treehouses greater stability and longer life, and before a spate of how-to and coffee-table books helped popularize them. Within a few years, elaborate treehouses, many costing upwards of $100,000, were becoming almost faddish....
As souped-up treehouses have proliferated -- there are now at least several hundred of them in the United States, according to Mr. Garnier -- their designs and functions have become more diverse...[some treehouses] are used for weddings, tai chi and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings."
I received an email from my friend/colleague Michael van Meter the other day. He and other volunteers are building homes in Armenia for charity using a unique pseudo-prefab building process:
"The goal of the people I am working with is basically to revolutionize the affordable housing market in the 3rd world. We are here in Armenia to build 2 houses on a site administered by a group called ARDA (Armenian Relief and Development Agency). This is an NGO started by an LA businessman by the name of Steve Lazarian. He has spent 17 years and millions of his own dollars here trying to help the Armenian people progress from the conditions that prevail here after the demise of the Soviet Union...I've seen products like the Kiva Block before, so I did some research. The generic term for such products is Insulating Concrete Forms. Builders assemble the (usually) styrofoam forms into walls on site; concrete is then poured into the forms, which are left in place. The form acts as a quick and precise way to form a wall, AND as the wall's insulation. A durable exterior finish is required; ICF homes "will accept any traditional exterior finish including vinyl or wood siding, stucco and brick." Interior finishes match those of typical construction. This page has countless photos of different ICF products and processes.
One of the things that is desperately needed here is some type of affordable (and quickly constructed) quality housing. Enter my pal George who has many years of building expertise and has a heart for the poor of the world....George has been studying a product called Kiva Block for a couple of years now and has come up with a design that makes this product potentially viable. Kiva is made of Styrofoam of all things and goes together rather like Lego blocks. Think of a concrete block (CMU) that is 12 in high, 8 in thick and 48 in long....It is inexpensive, strong and quick. We have been working here 9 days now and are putting the roof on the first building and are going to start the roof on the 2nd tomorrow...pretty fast for a 2 bedroom 650 sf dwelling eh?
So anyway here we are setting a land speed record at building houses and perhaps there is a market for this thing in the world..."
On May 24th, the search "prefab homes" ranked 100 on Google Hot Trends, "a list of the current top 100 fastest-rising Google search queries in the U.S." That's A LOT of searches...
Update: After some research, it seems that much of what shows up on google hot trends comes from daily crossword puzzles (that's why the entries seem so strange sometimes). But, a quick search didn't turn up the clue "prefab homes" on any crossword puzzles for the date.
The site is definitely worth a visit. It includes details on prefab homes that are completed or in progress. For example, here's a video (4:11 minutes, no audio) of the Pacific Palisades Prefab.
I don't know what it is with yurts right now, but apparently, they are "in". Two different companies building yurts came across my prefab feeds. Then, a day later, Core77, a design blog, covered a third company producing a prefab yurt product:
"The Mongols once had the largest contiguous empire in history, with their conquests covering 12 million square miles. While little is left of that legacy, their contribution to design remains in the form of yurts....The products vary from company to company; so, if you want a prefab yurt, at least you've got options.
Modern yurts now exist in the form of The Nomad, an eco-friendly yurt kit designed by Stephanie Smith and sold by Ecoshack. You can put one up yourself in about an hour, and you don't need to conquer anybody to call them home."
name: The Nomad
size: ~150 sf
br: "sleeps 3-4"
style: secondary dwelling
price: $4,879 - $15,597 (excludes finishes + options)
size: 113 sf - 805 sf
name: Oregon Yurtworks
price: $12,536 - $85,366 (excludes finishes)
size: 291 sf - 2836 sf
"...We're thrilled to see prefab systems being applied to more public and educational contexts!) While the construction isn't quite finished, we think this is a great opportunity to show the process and progress of an exceptional prefab project- and one of the best (and first) prefab schools we've seen integrate so many green technologies...Treehugger covers a prefab concept in the UK by architect Richard Rogers. The post includes over a dozen photos, and quotes a recent Financial Times article (subscription required) with a hat tip to Urbanity.
We find this project particularly interesting as it is an addition to an existing structure, which provides not only site-specific but aesthetic and programmatic context."
The San Jose Mercury News ran an article about prefab and price:
"Manufactured homes are no longer the boxy firetraps owned by the poor and elderly. Instead they are increasingly becoming the smartly-designed homes of the young, wealthy and educated.Materialicious (a blog all about building materials) points out that the Structural Insulated Panel Association offers useful information, "including a Green Building section".
About 1.4 million people in California live in manufactured homes, and the typical profile of an owner has become younger, more educated and more affluent...
...standard site-built homes cost about $250 a square foot whereas manufactured housing can be as low as $120 a square foot, a big savings for people used to paying top dollar in the Bay Area."
Back in February, the New York Times published "Think Small", a story all about small second homes:
"A wave of interest in such small dwellings — some to serve, like the Shepherds' home, as temporary housing, others to become space-saving dwellings of a more permanent nature — has prompted designers and manufacturers to offer building plans, kits and factory-built houses to the growing number of small-thinking second-home shoppers. Seldom measuring much more than 500 square feet, the buildings offer sharp contrasts to the rambling houses that are commonplace as second homes."
"For $90,000...Scott McGlasson...and his wife, Lisa...bought a 700-square-foot weeHouse....It has plumbing, tall glass doors, Andersen windows, laminate flooring, recessed lighting and Ikea cabinets. It is comfortable and attractive. 'But people confuse prefab with inexpensive,' Mr. McGlasson said. 'On a middle-class budget, this was doable, but not easy.' They bought the land — a small lot on Lake Pequaywan in northern Minnesota — in 2002 for $80,000. It already had a septic system, a well and access to utilities.There have been a number of blog posts about, or inspired by, the article since then. Trend Agitator added some commentary:
One rectangular module serves as the main floor; above it is an additional square module that serves as a second bedroom, which must be entered from outdoors via a ship's ladder. Guests love it because it's separate from the rest of the house. 'And because they can lock out our three kids,' Mr. McGlasson said."
"Luxurious small dwellings are the next wave. Defined as less than 700 sq ft, these dwellings are increasingly more aesthetic and available thru prefab manufacturers. As consumers rethink their priorities, these abbreviated structures motivate occupants to edit precisely and define themselves against the open space of the land rather than the footprint of the shelter."
Treehugger criticized the fact that most of the homes discussed in the article are used as second, or vacation, homes:
"Unfortunately, many of the homes profiled in the article are second or vacation homes, further stigmatizing the small footprint prefab as something that can only be used for a period of weeks, not the whole year."
Inhabitat shared similar thoughts:
"Some of those who have found themselves comfortable in these tiny houses have purchased them as second homes, which we find a bit ironic. The romantic notion of a large vacation plot of land, barely flecked with a 10' x 8' footprint is nice, but probably not exactly what Small House Society represents. Do you really get credit for adjusting your lifestyle for the sake of a small house — if you own two?"
Blogs were covering the article as late as last week. Alt^House, a blog covering "news and information on non-traditional home options", covered a guy who lives in a tiny house:
"Most of us think of a 500 square foot apartment as pretty darned small, but what would you say to living a house where the entire area measures only 96 square feet?"
A blog named DO Research showed up in a few places around the blogosphere. The blog is an "online note-to-self occasionally posted up on the internets for the unbuilt prefab home of Nicole Dotin and Eric Olson." They've been writing for a while; their coverage of the Aperture House, mentioned here last week, got attention. Treehugger enjoyed the photos:
"We love showing pictures of modern prefab, hoping that someday it will make good green design accessible and affordable. Nichole Dotin and Eric Olson plan to build a prefab and are clipping their own pictures of favourites. Where others might stick them in a file folder, they store them online as they move around the world from Minneapolis to Reading, UK."
I happened upon a blog that "tracks the building of our house, the first NextHouse by Empyrean." The house is almost complete, and this week, the authors discussed the last-minute craziness of the project:
"As move-in date draws nearer, all the things that need to be handled seem to be converging and conspiring to eat up all of our free time on weekends, and a bunch of time on weekdays as well."
Prefab Update discusses the efficiency of the 7.83 Hz House:
"It only requires two truck loads of materials to assemble, is built with sustainable materials, and is extremely energy efficient. The home is reconfigurable and low cost."
"I have never been certain what to make of Whitney Sander's Hybrid House...(A quick note based on our earlier coverage: every Hybrid House comes with a prefab structural steel frame; some incorporate prefab wall and roof panels.)
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...' He then follows an absolutely standard process of client engagement, design, design development and construction documents....
However I think it is a stretch to call it prefab."
Treehugger also showed off a new green home built with shipping containers:
"The R4House prototype consists of two bioclimatic homes (one of 150 m2 and a mini-flat of 30m2) made from materials that close the loop. The energy consumption of both is zero due to its bioclimatic design, the solar panels and the geothermal energy source. The waste production during construction is also zero. Both homes are modular and built from six recycled shipping containers; low-cost and allowing flexibility."
The University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Design runs a website/blog tracking their projects. They've been posting weekly on the construction of a new prefab in Kansas City. This week (week 19 of the project), they're nearing completion:
"Our goal was to be finished this week and have all of next week to tidy up and prepare for the open house on the 19th. With the exception of minute detail work, we have reached our goal. All of the siding is finished, the south deck is completed, and the ramp is being clad with Cumaru today. We can now finish our site work by bringing in sod in once high-trafficked areas to the south and between the house and garage."
On Wednesday the New York Times published an article about the classic prefab Maison Tropicale up for auction:
"Tomorrow, the Maison Tropicale, a small aluminum-paneled house built in 1951 by Jean Prouvé, a French designer and the current court favorite of well-heeled contemporary art and design collectors internationally, is being opened to the public for preview in Long Island City. Christie's, the auction house, will offer it for sale on June 5. The presale estimate is $4 million to $6 million."
"One of the most remarkable experiments in prefabrication was Jean Prouve's Tropical House, designed and built in France and airlifted in 1951 to be assembled in Brazzaville, now the middle of a war zone....Treehugger...learned from him that the process [of] assembly and dissassembly is hard on the house and its fittings, so this may be one of the very few chances to see this masterpiece. Prouve is under-appreciated, his work in building and furniture design is brilliant."
Tropolism tried to visit the house and reported back:
"The house...is located in Long Island City, on a plot just south of the Queensboro Bridge. Update: After running over there today, I can report that the dates the house is open are May 17-June 5, 2007. No hours were posted. It was locked at 11am today."Inhabitat covered the house today on Prefab Friday:
"The Maison is plug-and-play: there was never any plumbing, and it is wired for electricity. It ships in six containers. Christie's is compiling a short list of potential bidders with substantial properties in Mustique, Antigua, the Hamptons — name your playground — who might like a 59-foot-by-32-foot-by-16-foot-tall folly/outdoor sculpture/guesthouse/vintage metal toy to park on the lawn, with a designer label attached."
The Christie's auction lot shared some more details on the home:
The home's early use of factory-built parts jives with Jean Prouve's character, as discussed in this International Herald Tribune article from last year:
"Prouvé described himself proudly as a 'factory man,' while his friend, Le Corbusier, dubbed him an 'architect-engineer.'...'He considered the availability and economy of materials, he developed tooling for production, and he aimed to optimize efficiency, but this has been forgotten....The young Prouvé longed to become an engineer, but, as his family could not afford the training, at 15 he was apprenticed to a master blacksmith.
He studied under two of France's most gifted blacksmiths, Emile Robert and Szabo, both of whom produced 'art metalwork': wrought-iron grilles and doors in ornate floral shapes....Prouvé followed his father's design principles: 'Learn about the past; never plagiarize; always use the most up-to- date methods.'"
I just found a Yahoo! Group dedicated to sharing the thoughts and experiences of LV Series homeowners. LV Series homeowner Gregg started the group in July of 2005:
"Hello. My name is Gregg. I am building an LV Home in Sperryville, VA, about 60 miles west of DC in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains.Some of the very first posts had substantive content:
The reason I am starting this group is because I have had a lot of questions during this process to which I could not find answers on the web -- the most notable example being the actual cost....I felt it would be a good idea to have a forum for people interested in the home to be able to ask around."
"When I ask[ed] for bid submissions, I insisted on having the contractors do 2 columns: Perryville [Missouri, where the Romero factory is located] and Sperryville [Virginia]. That way, I could see where they deviated heavily from Rocio's estimates. Here are the deviations:There have been countless discussions on construction costs, and others about sourcing windows or other products for LV Series homes.
Foundation: +3300 Framing and roof: +5000 Heat, Plumbing, Elec: +1500 Interior Finish: +400
...It fell very close to Rocio's estimate, and I am in one of the most expensive areas of the country."
One user, having just finished his LV Home posted a full recap of construction costs, photos and thoughts on the project:
"Note that we did not encounter any big problems during construction. I will say that we were not pleased at all with the costs and do blame our contractor for a lot of the cost madness. But when we solicited bids more than one builder said, "kit or no kits, the cost per square foot will be the same." And that bore out to be true."
If you want to build an LV home, this is definitely a must-visit site.
Now here's a website that's full of character: Kalkin Quik House. It's a useful site that already answers most of our usual interview questions.
The Quik House "is a prefabricated kit house designed by Adam Kalkin from recycled shipping containers." Most of the info provided on the site is matter-of-fact, but some of the Q and A is more fun. In response to the question "what colors does the Quik House come in?", the answer is: "Orange or natural "Rust Bloom". For an additional cost, we can have your Quik House tagged by local graffiti artists." Check out the site for more details.
price: ~$184,000 excluding shipping
shipping cost: $3,000 - $12,000
size: 2,000 square feet (1,000, 3,000 and 5,000 sf models also available)
how: recycled shipping containers
waiting list: 6 months
timeline: "no longer than 3 months"
Milwaukee firm Vetter Denk Architects designed the prefab Aperture House back in 2002, and it showed up in a couple blog posts this week. Architechnophilia posted an image. CubeMe posted the same image with some comments:
"Aperture House is a transparent jewel box, rigorously geometric and exquisitely scaled. Peer through the three-story glass curtain walls at either end of the 16-by-52-foot house and you can see the lake shimmering beyond. It is [a] sleek prefab vacation home on Moose Lake which won a top designing award and lots of interest from the public."
A blog named Seattle Prefab has been around since January, but it's just now showing up in blog search engines. "Seattle Prefab is run by two couples who are planning to build a mini-community of prefab homes in the Seattle area." This week, they discussed their construction schedule and the options they are considering for the driveway.
Modular home manufacturer Pac Van runs a blog and has posted a series on the "Evolution of modular buildings." This week, the blog discussed prefab's modest history and the flexibility of modular buildings:
"Architects and designers now create plans and configure modular space with the same freedom as for a bricks-and-mortar building. Today, a modular building might be a bullet-proof security kiosk, a two-story modular in-plant office, or an 11,500 sf sales center.Kisho Kurokawa's Capsule Tower got a little more attention this week from Core 77:
Gone, too, are the drab exteriors of the early years. Any exterior that stick-built construction uses, modular buildings can replicate."
"The good thing about cities is they re-invent themselves. The bad thing about cities is, they reinvent themselves.Jetson Green posted on the micro compact home we saw in Wired last week:
While world capitols like Paris and Rome are pretty careful with what they tear down, New York and Tokyo have always been less hesitant about replacing the old with the new."
"m-ch was designed to meet the growing demand for short-stay living. I think Horden's on to something. Right now, there's a horde of 7 m-chs that TUM students and staff occasionally stay in."
Inhabitat's Prefab Friday shows a prefab dwelling with a tiny footprint:
"I-RISE is a multi-story prefab residential unit designed to have the smallest possible footprint, both on the site and in an ecological sense. Its intention is to create a modular structure that is simple to build, yet flexible enough to accommodate the changing needs of its occupants."
"Our modules are constructed on site in a matter of days, not months, and because of [the framing system's] lightweight properties can get into the hardest [to] reach places, without heavy equipment."
I had the chance to see the system for myself at the CA Boom show, and thought it was quite impressive. Clamps are used to hold the structural members together; bolts are only used to tighten the clamps. The kitHAUS reps did inform me that power tools are necessary to tighten the bolts, as hand tools wouldn't achieve the proper torque.
The system manufacturer's website has images, and even a cool video (MHS.WMV at the bottom of the main page) to show how the system comes together. For those interested, there are detailed reports on the structural testing of the system.
I just came across a product called the Global Village Shelter. These are not high-design, multi-thousand dollar homes; they are prefab disaster relief housing. I thought the product was impressive, especially how easily they come together (stills plus 10-min video). The company explains:
"The Global Village Shelter (herein 'GVS') is an alternative to current solutions for disaster relief housing. The present disaster relief field relies heavily on tent and tarp structures; these structures offer little protection from outdoor elements and no sense of personal space. The GVS is a rigid structure that can be assembled in the field by two people in approximately15 to 20 minutes. The instructions are simple graphics with limited text. The user simply unpacks the base and the roof modules and assembles the GVS on site."
The shelter comes in 67 sf and 225 sf versions. Features worth noting (for the 67sf version):
A few blog posts popped up last week about a Japanese 'prefab icon', soon to be demolished. At Treehugger, Lloyd Alter described the building:
"Kisho Kurokawa's 1972 Capsule Tower was, along with Moshe Safdie's Habitat in Montreal, the pioneer in modernist multiple unit prefab. 140 capsules were attached by high tension bolts to a central core. Each of the tiny rooms had built in TV's and reel-to-reel tape decks, washrooms and were pre-assembled in a factory then hoisted by crane and fastened to the concrete core shaft."Inhabitat quickly chimed in (and shows some more photos):
"Two weeks ago, the decision was made to replace the Capsule Tower with a new 14-story tower, despite resistance from Kurokawa, who has been touting the flexibility of the building and even proposed the modernization of the tower by replacing old capsules with more modern units."The Independet UK has a few more details about the project:
"...the demolition campaigners complain that Mr Kurokawa's units are too difficult to maintain. Drainage and water pipes are damaged, and plans to unclip the capsules and refurbish them have never come to fruition. Residents are also afraid that asbestos used in construction poses a health risk....Its 140 units are so small and functional that they have been disparagingly compared to the interior of a Nasa space shuttle."And also includes some good reasons as to why the tower shouldn't be demolished:
"...it remains a destination for tourists interested in design, particularly from Europe, where the Nagakin tower's principles are being championed. The British Government has argued that a modified version of this modular housing could help to meet housebuilding targets. Such is the demand to see the tower that a mock-up of one of the capsules is open to visitors."
Some searching around the web returned some recent news about UK prefabs being demolished. Back in January, TreeHugger reported on a similar large prefab building that they said might be torn down:
"...there were a few problems, apparently including putting the stronger, heavier ground floor units on the top and vice versa, described in the Guardian as 'fatal mismatches'....if the cost of repairing the fault is excessive, they will consider demolishing the whole structure."UK site Building confirmed that the development would be razed:
"Last month, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation announced that it was to demolish the cutting-edge Caspar development in Leeds, which has been standing for less than two years. This type of event — unfortunate but probably quite rare — colours views on modern methods of construction..."
While they aren't modern "prefab", classic post-war modular housing is also being replaced in the UK. News Shopper reports that the residents are protesting the demolition:
"Eighty-three homeowners and tenants have signed an online petition on the Downing Street website, calling for their prefab estate in Catford, built after the Second World War, to be saved....It would cost £8.4m over the next 30 years to deal with repairs and improvements."And the BBC ran a story discussing the demolition and philosophizing about prefab in general:
"Property prices are sky high in London, and 100,000 new homes are urgently needed in the South-East. So are prefabs the answer - or an ugly blast from the past?...Prefabs are quick to build, environmentally-sound, and an architect's dream. But almost always they cost more to build than traditional homes. And, when damaged, it is often hard to repair them. The original WW2 prefabs were only designed to last 15 years."
"In terms of architectural features, Lot-ek has created a system that defies the rigidity of an industrial shipping container, providing surprising flexibility in both size and functions. The CHK system comes in two different series- Compact and Loft, and boasts 8 x 8 floor-to-ceiling windows, built-in closets, and wood floors. The best part is its expansion possibilities- regardless of the configuration, it's easy to add on another container to accommodate a home office (or more family members) down the line."
"John from Res4 called yesterday to say that the factory got the wrong size floor trusses....The factory had apparently framed all the walls and was ready to begin the floor when [they] realized the webbed trusses were too short; so now they're stuck. If they wait for new trusses to arrive, this spot in the assembly line is stuck - no work for the factory. So Jason called me to basically say please allow us to use 2x12s as trusses so we can keep working as scheduled..."
One of the many LiveModern blogs featured some good photos of a SIP-based project throughout the framing process.
Wired shows off a really cool ultra-compact dwelling, available in Europe.
"I've been doing some house hunting and I came across this modern prefabricated home in Sunset Magazine. I think its really cool how they are making this house using recycled materials, you can add solar panels really easily, the living room has a wall that folds so that your room extends to the patio. Its made to have good ventilation and where they could they used recycled materials.The Nashua Telegraph reran an article from the Sacramento Bee about the changing perception of 'prefab':
Then my husband showed me this prefab (in Wired magazine) called the 'Loblolly House' and I thought it was just gorgeous."
"Factory-built housing is touting environmental benefits and a fresh look to win a new generation of buyers as the industry continues to fight an image of cheap design and endure the same housing slowdown pummeling conventional home builders."
"To me, this is a no-brainer. If I were out of college and established in business, I'd plop down a million in a heartbeat just to get the DH1 built and use it as a vacation home (at a minimum). I'd buy it for the joy of having one of the greenest prefabs in the country and I'd let all my friends stay in it."And Inhabitat pointed out that the Ray Kappe LivingHome appeared on the AIA/COTE list of the top ten green buildings.
"...the exhibition features eight modern modular house projects that have recently been realized. The designs address a range of approaches to prefabrication, including off-site construction, customized sections that are assembled on-site, and kits with plans and parts from which a house can be constructed."
Ecorazzi says "...you can see scale models of prefab homes, pictures, and samples of materials. Architects Marmol Radziner Prefab, Lazor, and Alchemy Architects are showcased..."
what: Some Assembly Required Exhibit
where: MOCA at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles
when: February 28 - May 20, 2007
I've been seeing posts around the blogosphere (e.g. on Jetson Green) about the Sundance Channel's new TV series Big Ideas for a Small Planet. The series focuses on "the forward-thinking designers, products, and processes that are on the leading edge of a new green world." The second episode, Build, was about different green building techniques and one section, 'prefab', featured Michelle Kaufmann.
The episodes are available for download from iTunes for $1.99 each. The Build episode is definitely worth a watch, at least for a view inside the Michelle Kaufmann factory.