Launch Slideshow

modular 1 and modular 2, kansas city, kan.

modular 1 and modular 2, kansas city, kan.

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dan rockhill/studio 804, lawrence, kan.

The prefabricated nature of Modular 1 and Modular 2, which share residential architect's 2006 Project of the Year award, intrigued the judging panel. “Everybody needs to be thinking about this,” one judge said of prefab housing. “Modular homes are a reality.” In the end the homes' crisp beauty proved the deciding factor that won the panel over. “I'd love to live there,” another judge commented.

The jury's enthusiasm—and the speedy sales of both homes—confirm what University of Kansas architecture professor Dan Rockhill already suspected. “We felt very strongly that there was a client base for this type of architecture,” he says. For more than a decade Studio 804, Rockhill's innovative program at the university's School of Architecture and Urban Design, has quietly designed and built modern affordable housing in Lawrence, Kan. But empty lots there have grown scarce. In 2004 Rockhill partnered with a community development corporation in Kansas City, Kan., which commissioned Studio 804 to design and construct a for-sale, single-family house. The arrangement provided the perfect opportunity to try prefab: the studio would design and build the house in Lawrence, then transport it 40 miles east to Kansas City.

Working in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse over a two-month period, Rockhill and his students created five wood-framed modules complete with drywall, painting, cabinetry, siding, and window placement. The group drove Modular 1 to its site on rented flatbed trucks and spent about a day joining the pieces together. After six more weeks of site work, they'd created a sleek, well-articulated house for $116 per square foot.

Modular 2, built in 2005 for the same nonprofit developer, followed a similar script. The building consists of six modules enclosed in a cypress skin. It incorporates donated, recycled materials such as maple flooring from an old gymnasium and leftover channel glass from the Steven Holl-designed expansion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. For both projects the students negotiated 5 percent to 10 percent discounts on some purchased building products, and they also saved money with cost-effective items like Ikea cabinets.

Modular 1 and Modular 2 fill an urgent community need for entry-level housing—a fact Rockhill cites with pride. Just as important to him, though, is the increased design restraint he's noticed in Studio 804 since modular housing entered its agenda. “Up through the first series of houses we did ... there were not that many things shaping the design direction,” he says. “When we started doing these modular houses, we had to get them out the door and under bridges. I found it was a very easy excuse to get the students to settle down.”

The two houses make up just a part of Studio 804's ongoing modular odyssey; it's currently putting the finishing touches on Modular 3, also in Kansas City, Kan.

principal in charge / general contractor: Dan Rockhill/Studio 804
project designers: Zach Allee, Danielle Brooks, Haylle Chau, Nathan Couch, Jen Deweii, Brian Finan, Wade Gardner, Jeff Goode, Adam Gumowski, Michael Haas; Gregory Keppel, Brooke Knappenberger, Kevin Mut, Tony Onesti, Nick Owings, Ann Painter, David Parks, Troy Ramirez, Kai Raab, and Will Robarge, Studio 804 (Modular 1); Matthew Bradley, Ryan Burton, Scott Clark, Joe Davidson, Mark Eisensohn, Stephen Elwood, Mike Gonos, John Howerton, David Kelman, Tony Lackey, Kylee Lashley, Griff Roark, John Schlueter, Basil Sherman, Amy Stecklein, Randy Taylor, Leanne Vesecky, and Jess Weaver, Studio 804 (Modular 2)
developers: Jon Birkel, City Vision Ministries, Rosedale Development Association, and Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, Kansas City, Kan.
project sizes: 1,200 square feet (Modular 1), 1,220 square feet (Modular 2)
site sizes: 0.2 acre (Modular 1), 0.3 acre (Modular 2)
construction costs: $116 per square foot (Modular 1), $88 per square foot (Modular 2)
sales prices: $140,000 (Modular 1), $160,000 (Modular 2)
units in projects: 1 each
photography: Courtesy Studio 804