2012: Thirteen Highlights of the Year in Prefab, Modular and Shipping Container Design

Dec 21, 2012 Posted by

Lloyd Alter
Design / Modular Design
December 21, 2012

Prefab is back

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credit: la

Four years ago, prefab was on the ropes, like the entire housing industry. Given the vast numbers of houses that were empty and the huge numbers of unemployed construction workers, it seemed like it might take a decade for it to come back.

Now, just three years later, prefab is back and it is bigger, taller, attacking real problems like low cost housing, urban high-rises. What started with early adopters is becoming more affordable and available to everyone. Prefab is back with a bang.

Nice Shades: Michelle Kaufmann’s Latest Prefab Has Overhangs, Brise Soleil and Shutters

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fluid spaces

credit: Michelle Kaufmann

We started the year with a lovely new modular home by TreeHugger favorite Michelle Kaufmann. This is actually typical of the kind of things we showed in prefab at the time: carefully designed, lovely single family homes for wealthy people on big lots. It is a gem, I could look at things like this all day. But it where is the revolution?

30 Story Hotel Completely Built and Finished in Fifteen Days, on New Years Eve (Amazing Video)

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connection floor

credit: Broad Sustainable Construction

If you wanted a revolution, you got it. From China, the biggest revolution in construction of my lifetime. Broad Sustainable Building creates a system that can deliver high quality construction in unbelievable times at really reasonable costs.

It’s building, not yet architecture, but it is truly revolutionary and would lead to a series of posts about their ambitions:
30 Story Hotel Completely Built and Finished in Fifteen Days, on New Years Eve (Amazing Video)
200-Storey Prefab For 100,000 People Can Be Built in 2 Months
Details On Sky City, Worlds Tallest Building To Be Built In Two Months
Update On Sky City One: Interview With Architect Xian Min Zhang
Update On Sky City One: Tower in China Is Taller, Greener, Faster, Cheaper
220 Story Sky City Close To Breaking Ground

Have I mentioned that I think this is a very big deal?

Wheelhaus Wedge Is A Different Kind of Park Model Home

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credit: Wheelhaus

There’s so much more to prefab than just the building; there is also the site and the community. Wheelhaus is an attempt to bring good design to the trailer park.

They are designed to go into a new breed of trailer parks that are well designed, greener, and attract a different audience. The green RV park is a great model for significantly increasing density, sharing resources and common facilities and costs, while owning only the 400 square feet of RPT. It makes tremendous sense.

Unless the prefab world solves the problem of site and community it will never go anywhere.

Koby Cottage “Represents a Revolution in Modular Construction”

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Koby Dining

credit: Garrison Architects

We are big on revolutions in prefab. Garrison architects worked with Kullman Buildings Corp to try and change the way prefabs were built. The Koby Cottage was a lovely thing from a talented, experienced prefab architect; Kulman had been around since 1927, building diners.

Alas, this was not the start of a revolution but the end of an era.

Cross Laminated Timber is Ready for Prime Time

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CLT showroom

credit: Lloyd Alter

This is a form of prefabrication that we are going to see a lot more of. This is a real revolution in materials, the use of cross laminated timber.

I can’t help thinking that this is the ultimate prefab product. It is not the usual old material assembled in a factory instead of on site, but an entirely new way of building, using a new material that is perfectly adapted to computer controlled design and construction.

Pop-up Containerized Food Court is A Vision of Social Entrepreneurship

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buying lunch at a shipping container

credit: Lloyd Alter

Shipping containers are beginning to become less of a meme and a real solution. They make a lot of sense when you use the whole box, not as much when you chop them to pieces. This popup retail and restaurant project in Toronto is a great demonstration of their utility- cheap and quick and not very fancy.

Prefabricated Almost Instant Hotels from Citizen M

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Citizen M room in the factory

credit: Concrete

Builders are climbing the learning curve on every kind of modular. Here, Citizen M hotels are getting it down to a science.

The rooms are 99 percent finished at the factory,” says Wageman, “The sheets are not on the beds, but everything else is in. All we do is clean them, make the beds and connect them to electricity and water.”

Why Do I Hate Starbucks’ Shipping Container Drive-through in Seattle So Much?

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Starbucks container prefab

credit: Tom Ackerman, Starbucks

I love shipping containers. I don’t hate Starbucks. So why did I hate this project so much? Because they were so damn sanctimonious about it, covering it with graphics touting all the “r”s that they believe in, when it is a stupid drive-through.

Call this little shipping container takeout joint what is is; a cute and clever bit of design. But don’t wrap it in every R word in the dictionary and pretend that it is green, because it’s not. And here are three more Rs for you that you missed: Reassess, and Repaint that Reprehensible greenwash.

New Flatpack from Unity Homes May Be The Greenest Prefab On the Market

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credit: Unity Homes

Tedd Benson is one of the most thoughtful people in the building business, and brings his talent and knowledge to a smaller, cheaper prefabricated flatpack design.

Some will still complain that the Unity Homes are not affordable when compared to conventional housing, but this isn’t a conventional house. This is a complete rethinking of how houses are built. Most people in North America buy houses that might not last as long as the mortgage; these houses are designed for generations.

See the rest of the slideshow here...


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