Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

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Roderick Grant
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by Roderick Grant »

Variations of this story have been circulating for over a century, and the solution is no closer. Doesn't that mean there is no solution?

SDR
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by SDR »

One aspect that isn't often addressed is what I assume must be a common bias against manufactured housing. There's no corresponding feeling against factory-made airplanes, cars, appliances, clothing, shoes---virtually any consumer goods---or the materials which are used in them. I can only guess that this has something to do with the obvious association with the so-called house trailer: mobile, impermanent, not rooted in the ground, and occupied stereotypically by people "afflicted" the same qualities ?

Perhaps, as banks and realtors can't make much off of them, they are given short shrift in the greater scheme of things
---specifically, planning and design of communities. Take it as a lesson about implicit bias, on a subject potentially free of race if not of class ?

S

Matt2
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by Matt2 »

It seems that "prefab" these days is about modular construction with component like a room or bathroom or kitchen made in a factory and trucked to a site for assembly. This is, to me, a process that is flawed due to the transportation issues.

Why not a system of posts and panels? I think Shindler has some kind of design for this. So you don't build a room, you build wall panels of varying types and a structural system and let people erect a house like an erector set. You could go to Home Depot and buy a bunch of panels much as you'd buy sheets of plywood.

I suppose one problem for such a system would be the difficulty of forming a rigid structure when using so many parts.

Rood
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by Rood »

Matt2 wrote:
Fri Oct 09, 2020 7:12 pm
It seems that "prefab" these days is about modular construction with component like a room or bathroom or kitchen made in a factory and trucked to a site for assembly. This is, to me, a process that is flawed due to the transportation issues.

Why not a system of posts and panels? I think Shindler has some kind of design for this. So you don't build a room, you build wall panels of varying types and a structural system and let people erect a house like an erector set. You could go to Home Depot and buy a bunch of panels much as you'd buy sheets of plywood. I suppose one problem for such a system would be the difficulty of forming a rigid structure when using so many parts.
The model for this concept might be said to be Frank Lloyd Wright's three story Carlson House from 1950 ... designed and built for the editor of Arizona Highways magazine, of post and panel construction.

SDR
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by SDR »

As to design, it's all about the size of the building unit to be bought and assembled. Are we talking about the brick, or the room, or the whole thing in one, perhaps folded like origami into a truckable package. How about the log cabin ? On YouTube can be found multiple building-system novelties, including precision-milled interlocking boards and sticks---or stacking blocks located by computer-bored dowel-holes, all of wood but reminiscent, somehow, of LEGO . . .

But we're talking here of something larger than the block, I guess. One way or another, space has to be enclosed, in a quite broad range of sizes---from a closet to a kitchen/dining/living room---and in a way that's structurally viable (either as individual modules, or when combined with others.

However interesting the mechanical design problem---as attested to by the cornucopia of offerings seemingly a labor of love on the part of countless engineers and architects over, say, the last century-and-a-half---that is the impediment to progress, is it ? Rather, it's the policy issue, the politics, to utter the awful word, that must be dealt with. A sales job, really, to someone: the city, the planning department, the consumer, the neighbors: someone's got to be convinced of the viability of the thing . . . or, its innocence. "It's just like any other house, really it is . . .!"

S

DavidC
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by DavidC »


Roderick Grant
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by Roderick Grant »

Most prefab houses these days are unpleasantly boxy. Less Lego, and more like those wood blocks that children used to play with. There are also limitations to what is available in materials and design that impose an equally unpleasant sameness on the prefabs currently available. Getting politics involved in the mix is the worst idea of all. Corbu would have approved ... or Albert Speer.

SDR
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by SDR »

Politics is simply the mechanism by which public decisions are made; it is an inevitable component, for better or worse, in the running of civil society. Americans are justifiably proud to be governed by one of the world's most stable democracies---at least until a decision is arrived at of which they don't approve ! City building departments enforce codes; city councils appropriate money and make decisions about zoning and allocation of public funds and/or lands. The best and the worst of such decisions can be laid at their feet; nonetheless they work within the framework of legislation that the public has had at least an indirect say in.

It would be an interesting exercise to try to determine what about the forms or visible details of the pre-cut or pre-fabricated houses that, for instance, Lindal Cedar Homes offers, leads to their being "clunky" or boxy---if indeed that can be shown to be the case. Is it the lack of first-rate architectural design, or something specifically resulting from constraints implicit in prefabrication ?

S

Paul Ringstrom
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by Paul Ringstrom »

Back in the '30s or '40s FLW apprentice Alden Dow invented the structural insulated panel (SIP). These are still
manufactured by a variety of companies. They are now custom cut to your plans.
Not complicated for carpenters to install and highly energy efficient too.

Thermasteel panels are in my opinion and improvement on SIPs.
http://www.thermasteelinc.com
Owner of the G. Curtis Yelland House (1910), by Wm. Drummond

Roderick Grant
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by Roderick Grant »

The federal government addressing safety and environmental considerations is an obvious necessity. Considering what, beyond those, should govern the production of prefabs is not only beyond the scope of their duties, but beyond their ken. How they deal with the use of land seems beside the point of this specific subject.

While state and local governments deal with such quasi necessities as zoning and codes, they often go way beyond the needs of the private sector, and should be reined in. Zoning is not entirely unrelated to redlining.

Remember a while ago the reaction on this site to Trump demanding federal buildings adhere to classical design? Not entirely the same thing, but the difference is just a thin line.

Matt2
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by Matt2 »

SIP panels seem to be the way to go. There should be a variety of components and a system to easily assemble them. Something a DIY'er could do to create a backyard cottage or a spare bedroom.

SDR
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by SDR »

An obvious question from a design viewpoint is whether the completed object should look like what it is, an alternative to standard construction---or not. Wright's American System-Built Homes represent the case for "no": the buildings do not reflect that they were made of pre-cut components. Admittedly that is a different case from, for instance, SIP or other panelized construction, where the components are larger and fewer. It is true, of course, that a modernist aesthetic doesn't presuppose any particular appearance (as long it is distinguished from historicist precedent !).

S

Roderick Grant
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by Roderick Grant »

It seems that modern architecture is unique in its expression of "what it is." Standard construction covers everything up with stucco or clapboards. One doesn't know what's going on underneath an inch of coverage. But then, if one goes back a few centuries, Tudor architecture also wore its structural system on its sleeve.

SDR
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Re: Article: Why hasn't pre-fab home construction taken off?

Post by SDR »

Building on that, it could be said that Wright's small-scale work (at least) often displays at least portions of its structural "bones" on its sleeve (as it were), while making those structural elements as beautiful as possible. The sandwich wall of wood and the generous, even extravagant masses of masonry are the primary examples. Other aspects of structure---roof framing, means of support for cantilevers---are carefully concealed within the building, however.

These design habits make Wright's work very different from much MCM small-scale work, wherein standard wood-framed construction is deployed, along with (or displaced by) exposed post-and-beam structure.

S

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