Jill Fehrenbacher and Sarah Rich write about the ongoing evolution of sustainable design at Inhabitat
Prefab is on the rise down under. With tremendous climatic variation and a relatively slow housing market, homebuilders in Australia have more than one challenge to surmount. In these conditions, prefab designers may have the greatest advantage, due to their highly accommodating manufacturing process. One of the leading new Australian designers, Andrew Maynard, puts it simply: "How can the housing industry make exciting, well designed and cheap housing? Easy, mimic the car industry."
Like the car industry, these little houses are being churned out en masse. When asked about the impetus behind the recent prefab explosion, Giles Newstead of eHabitat cited three reasons:
1. [Australia is] just at the end of a 3 year residential building boom which has meant that there have been long waits for procuring buildings using traditional building contracts and they have generally been more expensive. People are now demanding alternatives.
2. Up until recently, we have been slightly behind regarding prefab/ modular buildings compared to the rest of the world and are probably just catching up.
3. [Australian] planning regulations are still non-prohibitive towards prefab buildings. The 'movement' does not seem to be organized, it just seems to be the right time. It mainly seems to be driven by architects who want to give people alternative ways of getting good design.
This is one important thing about the recent Australian prefab projects that distinguishes them from some U.S. and European designs is the price. These designers are quite up front about the cost per square foot of their homes, and that's because for the most part, they all consider affordability to be a fundamental characteristic of prefab housing. Since customized design comes easily with industrial fabrication, those who wish for more lavish and spacious surroundings can put up the cash, but modest, compact options remain within the reach of aspiring homeowners who lack the funds for luxury.
Read on for a collection of six Australian prefabs that represent a wide range of styles and functions.
Australian architect Andrew Maynard has been getting a lot of attention recently - and for good reason. Barely 30 years old, the prolific young architect's web portfolio is peppered with amazingly clever designs - both built and unbuilt - that range from protest treehouses to lego-like prefabs, to an origami house which unfolds out of a column. Maynard's stated goal is to "challenge the myth of aesthetics and to explore malleability and change for its own sake. "
Maynard's believes that the only way the housing industry is going to start creating exciting, well-designed, and affordable homes for the masses is by imitating the mass-production techniques of the car industry:
"For housing to be affordable now and in the future there is a dire need for the building industry to catch up with the processes used in the production of electrical goods and cars. If the car industry functioned as the building industry does we would have roads full of very different vehicles. All cars would be built simplistically and crudely at a very high price and would be affordable to few.
To provide adaptable and cheap housing the building industry must use tactics similar to those used in the car industry. Tactics such as automated production lines and prefabrication will reduce cost, produce more interesting material usage and will greatly reduce wastage."
Maynard's work offers a flash of illumination toward the next generation of smart, compact, elegant home design. Each project begs a long, awe-inspired look and makes the future look like a very nice place to live.
Smartshax designs lightweight, prefab timber huts for remote areas and vacation spots. Smartshax are intentionally unremarkable little cabins, which are meant to blend in and highlight their natural surroundings. Among the plain facades of their other designs, the Love Shack stands out, an idyllic looking bungalow perched among the treetops.
The project draws its inspiration from traditional Aboriginal sleeping platforms. This prototype Love Shack is located in Darwin, a tropical area that fluctuates between high rainfall and humidity, and arid heat. Survival in such an extreme climate hinges on having a good place to kick back and find a little comfort. Nestled into the cool shade of the trees, this is the antidote to overwhelming weather.
The Love Shack is designed to be factory-built and delivered by truck, taking only three days for on-site construction. The shack uses passive design, renewable and recyclable materials and non-toxic finishes. Walls and flooring are comprised of full, uncut sheets of plywood. For cost effectiveness and waste reduction, rafters and floor joists are cut to standard length and share a cross section, with rope ties replacing expensive hardware components. The roof is a custom-orb that curves to the radius of the rafters without mechanical bending. The shack consists of a single room, 3x4.8m, with a sleeping and sitting area designated through placement of furniture. Shuttered openings offer efficient cross-ventilation and wraparound views of the trees.
Of all the nouveau treehouses that have shown up lately, this one shines. It doesn't try to be a home, just a hideout with a little shade, a little breeze, and plenty of peace and quiet.
(And to put the icing on the cake, the brochure promises: "If you cant get lucky in a Love Shack, you just aren't trying.")
Another little prefab with an eco-friendly slant, the Modabode is a modular structure created for flexibility in size, shape and location. The single-module prototype, called e-Bode, measures just 3.6m x 14.4m, with an internal floor area of 50 sq-m, making it small enough for a beach hut, and versatile enough to be used in customizing a family residence. Modabode offers rainwater catchment systems and solar water heating, as well as energy-efficient appliances and an extra-large cantilevered roof that shades and protects the interior.
The Modabode was originally included in Australia's Houses of the Future design exhibition, which showcased six homes whose design and environmental standards made them future-worthy dwellings. The prototype was constructed next to the spectacular Sydney Opera House and Botanic Gardens, a perfect complement to its spare modernist aesthetics.
What makes the Prebuilt different from other prefabs? For one thing, it's truly affordable. The four design variations range from $43,000 to $109,000USD, the more costly of which gets you a two-story, three-bedroom home. Not bad. For another thing, the house can be folded up and transported on a single standard truck, and constructed in a matter of days, including interior installations and fixtures.
The Prebuilt has a galvanized steel frame with a choice of several claddings and window treatments. The entire structure can be elevated to accomodate site conditions, and can be folded up and relocated quickly and easily.
Among other attributes, Prebuilt claims to be "eco-sensitive," though it's unclear what exactly earns them this label. Simply utilizing off-site construction seems to have many manufacturers championing themselves as environmentalists, when there's been minimal consideration put towards materials and energy consumption. In terms of price, however, the company certainly has an appealing edge among its kin, and it's not bad looking, either - especially inside!
This latest Australian prefab is beautiful, simple, inexpensive and distinctly eco-friendly, incorporating passive solar principles and energy efficient materials into its design. The modular, customizable "eHabitat" allows limitless individual configurations, enabling the owner to design a unique layout, which can be easily expanded at any time. Additional features include built in storage, climatic control devices and built in furniture options. The minimalist, almost Japanese aesthetic is modern without being stark, and the superlative local materials (such as Tasmanian kiln dried hardwood) make for a high quality, well-insulated structure.
The deck_house, by noek_design, was officially launched at "Sydney in Bloom 05" as an outdoor experience environment. Not only does it make a great outdoor room, but this little shed would also be perfect for a guest room, office, or even a personal habitat, should you be so inclined. Measuring at 5.4 meters square, its tiny footprint is designed to contain little more than a double bed; however, an outdoor shower or kitchen can be accommodated into your plan. Additionally, the layout can be modularly expanded to fit your needs.
The philosophy at noek_design is simply to "relate to nature; let it speak, simplify, and reveal." The inherent beauty in the use of sustainable materials easily comes through in the deck_house, with its clean detailing and simple plan and section. Components are pre-manufactured for quick assembly (three days!) and water storage tanks can be incorporated.
While the deck_house is fundamentally similar to the Modern Shed, its form and open design are more advantageous for making the most of your natural environment. Included with the purchase of your deck_house is consultation on landscape design and setting.
Are houses designed by these companies only available in Australia, or worldwide?
Creative, cheap and easy, but maybe not as comfortable as it looks.
Anyway, it's definitely worth it. It's good to see this forward- thinking.
one day, I'll have to move out of my schoolbus. does anyone know about forward thinking prefab designed for colder climates(alaska). til then, a steering wheel makes for a good coat rack.