Project Of The Year
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.