Prefab used to get a bad rap. Mass-produced in factories, modular homes were considered cheap, like the architectural equivalent of TV dinners. Buster Keaton famously parodied the prefab house in his 1920 slapstick film One Week, in which a couple receives as a wedding gift a home-in-a-box that can supposedly be built in a week. It doesn't go so well.
But in the last decade, architects and designers ushered a new age of the prefab, with sustainable, beautifully designed, minimal-impact dwellings. Prefab Houses, out in a new edition from Taschen, documents the history of the factory-made house and features today's most innovative designs.
These houses, which can be plopped down nearly anywhere—on roofs, in deserts, on riverbanks—offer stylish alternatives to mobile homes for the contemporary nomad. Some can be built up in the course of a day, then broken down again, like giant Legos. And, as we all know by now, such homes are far more eco-friendly than resource-guzzling McMansions. Here are seven modular designs exciting enough to make you abandon your boring old apartment:
These tiny dwellings echo the structure of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes—the shape, known as an icosahedron, comprises hexagons puzzle-pieced together. Danish architect Kari Thomsen teamed up with engineer Ole Vanggaard to create the two-story grass-roofed cottages from recycled and sustainable materials. They take only one day to raise and seal. They're decked out with solar panels, two bedrooms, a living room, and a brick stove in the kitchen.
The WeeHouse was inspired by the basic principles of sustainable design—building small and efficiently. Framed with steel and wood, the WeeHouse comes with bamboo flooring and Ikea cabinets, kitchens, and sinks.
Werner Aisslinger’s Jetsons-esque LoftCube is shoebox-shaped and just 420 square feet, but floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides ward off claustrophobia. It gets flooded with sunlight during the day and glows from inside out at night. The LoftCube can hook up to other units to make a compound, and an optional patio makes it an excellent mini beach house. It takes a week to assemble and two days to disassemble and transport by truck or helicopter.
The Mod House’s sleek, modernist design is a high-end prefab residence from Australian family business Prebuilt, which ensures that all their houses reach a minimum of a five-star energy rating and are entirely relocatable.
Wolfgang Feierbach, Kunststoffhaus fg2000 Wolfgang Feierbach Kunststofftechnik, Altenstadt, Germany, 1968–1970
The Kunststoffhaus looks like a giant disco-lit diorama of a party, and we want to go to it.
Heinrich Bernhard Hellmuth, Fertighaus Tanja for Schneckenburger & Co., Rottenburg am Neckar, Germany, 1970–2009
If Austin Powers had bought a prefab house, he might've chosen this one, with its groovy pop-art decor.
You'd never know by looking that this four-bedroom beauty is a prefab. A canopy solar photovoltaic system powers the structure, which was built in a factory to minimize waste. LivingHomes strives for zero impact, and their designs have six guidelines: Zero Water, Zero Energy, Zero Waste, Zero Emissions, Zero Carbon and Zero Ignorance.
For more stunning factory-made dwellings, check out the new edition of Prefab Houses from Taschen, $29.99.
Slideshow Credits: 01 / Courtesy of Alchemy LLC; 02 / Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection; 03 / Museum Eberswalde; 04 / J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute; 05 / Courtesy of Larry Weinber; 06 / Courtesy of Benjamin Cherner, New York; 07 / Klaus Meier-Ude; 08 / Reiner Blunck; 09 / Courtesy of Easy Domes Ltd.; 10 / John Gollings; 11 / Tom Bonner; 12 / Courtesy of LoftCube GmbH;