Barry Berkus, AIA
B3 Architects
Santa Barbara, Calif.

“I'm high on the idea. Prefab offers great opportunities, whether it's panels and modular components or entire houses made in a factory, and it's receiving a great deal more design attention now than it did in the past—it may be the preferred way to build in the future. The strength is that you can create architecture that's flexible, from affordable to luxury housing. It gives you the ability to deal with someone who makes a house for you, almost like dealing with a car manufacturer. You can send pieces back and get new pieces sent to you.”

Gary Lapera, AIA
Michael Graves & Associates
Princeton, N.J.

“It depends on who's doing the prefab. Companies who've addressed not only the design but also the production and execution are farther ahead. Kit-home companies such as Lindal Cedar Homes have the best process because they manufacture a good product and they have a builder network to deliver it—that's 70 percent of the battle. But their products are expensive. The most promise I see for affordability is in modular components, particularly for use in urban markets, but it is such a fragmented industry. When people like Warren Buffet start buying into the prefab industry, they may have a significant impact.”

Michael Pyatok, FAIA
Pyatok Architects
Berkeley, Calif.

“The quest by architects to find a technological silver bullet that will solve the affordable-housing problem is often naive. As long as housing is treated as a commodity in a capitalist system, the technological advances that occur more often help the production end rather than the consumer end, and when they help both, it usually means a portion of the labor market somewhere has been hurt. If we do not look at the larger structure of our economy, then we will be blinded by the promises of technology as applied to housing production.”

Mark Simon, FAIA
Centerbrook Architects and Planners
Essex, Conn.

“This is an issue of class and perception. I don't think the current ‘high design' will appeal to people who now use modular housing. As for upper-middle-class buyers, they are interested in many other issues beyond design—status, security, maintenance, convenience, ease of purchase, resale value. If a manufacturer could come up with a well-designed, superbly engineered modular home system, well then, yes, it might appeal to a few of the people who build custom homes now, just as exotic cars do. But I am not convinced it would be a great success across our culture.”

Taal Safdie
Safdie Rabines Architects
San Diego

“The advantages of prefab for multifamily dwellings are the opportunity to provide more affordable housing and to use interesting materials in large quantities. But the disadvantage is the difficulty of capturing the essence of a place and responding to the vernacular architecture. Customized prefab can only go so far, and so far it has not been inexpensive to build. Unless you have a flat piece of land, there will have to be a lot of parts to make a single-family house work. On the other hand, there is a need for affordable housing, and sometimes you have to give up that kind of specificity to create better places for people to live.”

David Baker, FAIA
David Baker Architects
San Francisco

“I'd compare the percentage of people who want a modernist prefab house to vegetarians or even vegans. It's great to have a good vegetarian restaurant, but the percentage of restaurants that are vegetarian is pretty small. So as a solution, prefab is not earth-shattering. Prefab techniques are not well adapted to high-density housing, and that's where the future is going. When housing is spread out, the infrastructure costs get very high. Single-family homes become very expensive when you start to pay those costs directly.”

Ray Kappe, FAIA
Kappe Architects Planners
Pacific Palisades, Calif.

“I've been a proponent of prefabrication since the early part of my career in the 1950s and 1960s, and I think the interest that exists today is positive. What I was always after was getting more diversity from modular components. They shouldn't be fixed between a floor and a ceiling, but have the potential to be opened up and have rooms working over rooms, to be more site-appropriate. But the method is not as important as the quantity. You need high demand to make the cost of construction cheaper, and with higher demand, building quickly has more advantage for the builder. I'm hoping that this time we'll have some success, but it becomes a question mark.”

Doug Buster
BSB Architects and Planners
Chicago

“The modular industry has already hit the scenario of Mr. and Mrs. Smith wanting to buy their dream home and put it on two acres. That part of the business is a no-brainer. The issue that needs to be solved is how to do large-scale development with modular housing. The problem isn't public acceptance. Rather, it's a legislative issue in terms of getting governing bodies to approve those kinds of communities. What codes do they need to meet? Whose jurisdiction do they fall under? If the building industry could solve those issues, the public would accept modular housing.”

Donald Rattner, AIA
Studio for Civil Architecture
New York City

“At only about 3 percent of the residential market, it is unlikely that prefabricated housing will substantially revolutionize how we build homes in the near future, for several reasons. Building culture changes slowly. There's a culture gap between the prefab industry and the architectural community that needs to be bridged. And prefab's advantages are mitigated in low-cost regions and when applied to one-off designs, as evidenced by several recently published projects. Still, the interest in exploring its possibilities is invaluable, because it will continue to advance the industrialization of construction that has been ongoing since the 19th century.

Julie Eizenberg, AIA
Koning Eizenberg Architecture
Santa Monica, Calif.

“Prefab will not automatically generate high design. Construction methodology is not the determinant—there is plenty of traditionally styled prefab out there. The connection may be that prefab's cost-effectiveness makes high design affordable to an as-yet-untapped younger, design-conscious market.”

Adele Naude Santos, FAIA
Dean, MIT School of Architecture and Planning
Cambridge, Mass.

“Advanced technology lets us rethink this whole issue. Prefab used to be the same parts assembled with the same choices; now we can change the parts themselves and do something entirely different. The key is making prefab work for high-density housing, but it will require a technologically sophisticated set of studies. All attempts have failed miserably in the past, for different reasons. It's weird we can mass-produce a car but haven't been able to crack the housing system. It's a very fertile area for research and something I'd like our school to be working on.”

George Petrides
Petrides Homes
New York City

“There's a sub-niche of people who are buying a Modernist prefab house because of what it is, but most people are trying to get a high-quality home at a reasonable cost and don't give a hoot how it was made. Architects generally aren't aware of panelized systems, and that's a lost opportunity. As two-dimensional components, they allow more design freedom than the typical 3-D box, and building with them can save clients up to 20 days of construction time. The panels also offer green benefits—less production waste, and the higher R-value results in energy savings over time.”

Jonathan Segal, FAIA
San Diego

“There's a huge market for hip, modern housing here. But prefab offers no assistance whatsoever if you're trying to do urban high-density housing. If you used modular components, you'd have to tear up half of the building to put the infrastructure inside, and you'd give up precious inches on the footprint. How would you seismically stabilize the modules to meet earthquake codes? Urban architecture is still site-specific. There are buildings across the street that you need to relate to scale-wise. That doesn't mean it can't happen. I haven't figured out how to do it.”

Walt Richardson, FAIA
RNM Architects and Planners
Newport Beach, Calif.

“There's a place for prefab, particularly in isolated locations where you don't have the trades to build mass housing. But I can't see prefab happening in Southern California or in urban areas. The houses that are so popular here have courtyards and atriums, and those spaces can be difficult to create with modular components, particularly on 40-foot-wide lots. You need the freedom to make things any size and width that works.”

Kenneth Frampton
Ware professor of architecture at Columbia
University Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, New York City

“Prefab is a positive thing, in terms of rising costs and the difficulty of providing standards for sustainability. The only question mark I have is its reception from the powerful home building and real estate industries. They produce and sell houses with certain kinds of associations that are not modern, and the choices are more limited than we'd like to think. The whole issue is marketing. Between mortgage companies, banks, the building industry, and the real estate industry, local bylaws are stacked against prefab. If that's not changed, housing will continue to be a fixed market.”

Frank Harmon, FAIA
Frank Harmon Architect
Raleigh, N.C.

“The real challenge of good home design is not the house but how it relates to everything around it. Prefab houses offer a great opportunity, but unless they fit the site and go with the other houses, what have you got? Just another Levittown. You have to invest $30 million to $50 million in the development of a really sophisticated prefab system, and right now house building is a fragmented industry."

 

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