Coming off the successful completion of its first modular house—the Miller Ranch Porch House in Vanderpool, Texas—San Antonio-based Lake|Flato Architects learned a lot about what aspects of the building technology work and what still needs refinement. The question, the firm says, is how could more people get great design prefab, and how could we do it in a smart, efficient way?

In their session, principal Ted Flato, FAIA, and associate Bill Aylor, AIA, told the audience there are tremendous benefits to building with prefab technology, namely time savings, reduced costs, and sustainability. But they also talked about some issues that must be resolved.

Building on the history of the Sears kit houses along with previous research and work by Buckminster Fuller, LivingHomes, and Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, LEED AP, Lake|Flato designed the Porch House, a weekend retreat that consists of three metal-clad modules that were fabricated in a factory and delivered to the site. The house has 10-foot ceilings and good proportions and materials. The arrangement of rooms on site makes the home particular to its site. “The site work is the porches that connect the rooms,” Flato explained.

Today, the firm has many projects on the boards and has found that the prefab homes cost about half what their site-built custom homes cost—about $200 per square foot. Aylor says the firm is starting to get better numbers. It also has found that prefab projects appeal to a more rural condition at the moment. From a design perspective, there’s less stuff to choose from, but the quality is high, according to the architects. The modular design process has allowed Lake|Flato to test and refine its product with the goal of simplicity, beauty, and sustainability.