Monday, October 12, 2009

The Future of Prefab. Where's it Going?

Empyrean International, "Dwell House"

Marmol Radziner "Skyline House"

Michelle Kaufman's "Glidehouse"

Our stringer in Los Angeles sent us this thoughtful article by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne. Hawthorne tells the story of the prominent prefab architects who are rethinking their efforts, some of whom are closing down their operations. Those closing their operations include Michelle Kaufman of Glidehouse fame, Empyrean International, the company that worked to develop Dwell's prefab models and Marmol Radziner, the Los Angeles firm known for smartly designed Neomodern houses, has mothballed its prefab factory in Vernon in what it says is a temporary move.

Prefab is foundering again. Most of this distress is, of course, caused by the freeze of credit. But even if you take away this credit problem, making the leap to high-volume business remains prefab's central dilemma.

One way to reach that point is by colonizing big swaths of flat land and building 1,500 identical houses at the same time. Without a doubt this kind of development is what has helped get us into our current dilemmas. Hawthorne and others have another solution. The solution resides largely in helping develop prefab infill apartment complexes and cooperative housing.

At the heart of this solution is the tricky sociological process of detaching modern prefab from the ideal of the single-family house.
Most people in this country -- even most city-dwelling, design-loving sophisticates -- still locate their dreams of residential bliss under the roof of a detached house. That roof might be pitched or it might be Gropius-flat, but it still covers a house and not an apartment.
We will have to see how the current financial crisis will effect this powerful, very American, expectation. This article last week in the New York Times, Real Estate section, "Owners No More," may be the first indication.

1 comment:

rob said...

good one jan, on the heels of last fall's moma exhibition!