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October 12, 2011 / mandyhyj

thoughts on prefab houses

Last week we had a guest lecture by Prof John Quele. One of the things he talked about really intrigued me was the ideas of prefab housing and the controversial opinions about prefab housing. After the lecture, I did a little bit research on prefab houses. One interesting thing I found was that, prefab housing is actually not a new invention; From 1945-1948, more than 156,000 pre-fabricated houses were built in UK. Prefab houses were built to rehouse the people whose homes were destroyed by bombs during the war. Prefab homes also helped England recover from the recession.

 

(old prefab houses in London. Most of them were demolished)

Nowadays, prefab homes are getting more popular, especially in America. Compared to conventional on-site constructed homes, prefab homes require less labor, less on-site construction time, save more materials and energy due to economy of scale.

The Bliss House in London is an example of quickly constructed prefab house.

The Bliss House in North London, was prefabricated beforehand, and was constructed by 6 men in 6 days on site. It is a duplex, which consists of two private 4000 sq feet residences. Prefabrication made this speedy construction possible.

However, whether prefab houses are really cheaper, efficient and eco-friendly is still a myth. The reason why prefab houses take less labor onsite is because in the factory, the construction of the individual pieces takes a lot of manpower and machinery. And the overhead cost of labor and machinery actually made the price of prefab houses not cheap. Only when there is a constant high demand of prefab houses, would the cost of prefab houses decrease. And as Prof Quele mentioned in lecture, prefab houses produce redundant walls, which could be avoided in traditional onsite constructed houses. And transportation takes much energy and labor as well. Furthermore, certain parts of the construction process, like foundation, water and electricity, still takes a lot of time.

In my opinion, reuse, or maybe a hybrid of reuse and prefab, may be a better solution. One good example I could think of is the S(ch)austall by FNP Architekten. A new prefab wood frame is inserted into an old 18-century pigsty, creating a new showroom.

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