Design News readers don't usually work
on houses. All the appliances and consumer products that fill a house may be
fair game, but the actual house design is something left to architects. A new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), however, shows design engineering and architecture
increasingly have a lot in common from a technology standpoint.
The exhibit, Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling,
traces the history of
prefabricated houses from their roots in the last century to the present. It
includes a gallery exhibition of drawings, models, computer animations, wall
fragments and two partially assembled steel homes.
And a vacant lot near the
museum has been transformed into what Barry Bergdoll, MoMA's chief curator of
architecture and design, calls the "world's weirdest subdivision." Rather than
cookie-cutter houses, this subdivision consists of five contemporary,
full-scale prefab homes from different architects.
The idea of prefabricated
architecture is hardly new. The exhibit has patents dating back to 1833, and
Bergdoll says one of "modernism's oldest dreams" is to produce
architecture the way we produce
factory-made consumer goods like cars or textiles.
Yet in recent years, prefab
architecture has once again become a hot topic. "There has been a renewed
public interest and niche market for neo-modernist prefabricated homes,"
Bergdoll says. Some of that interest comes down to the way contemporary
prefab designs address growing concerns about sustainability and economy.
played a role in the renewed interest too. Bergdoll cites the growing
availability of digital design and
fabrication as an important enabling technology. "Digital fabrication and mass customization
are on everyone's lips among young designers," he says. Many projects on
display also made use of material technologies and manufacturing processes that
are just starting to make their mark in architecture but are already familiar
to design engineers.
Take the Cellophane House from
KieranTimberlake Associates, for example. Standing five stories tall, this
1,800-sq-ft home has been built around a structural framework constructed
from Bosch-Rexroth aluminum framing. This is the very same stuff
used every day by machine builders, though not all of the machine building
applications require the beefy cross sections and steel connectors used for
the house framework.
The aluminum framework acts as
a matrix for the home's translucent walls, floors, roof and building skin.
These too have been rendered in innovative, yet commercially available, materials. Among them are corrugated polycarbonate walls
and flooring, Schüco E² Glazing embedded with photovoltaic cells and Next Gen
PET Smartwrap with embedded photovoltaics.
According to James Timberlake, one of the Cellophane House's creators,
the house's energy generation and efficiency will be monitored throughout the
house's stay at the MoMA. Thermal and
airflow sensors have been placed throughout the house with the relating wiring
concealed in the aluminum framing. Timberlake calls this energy-efficient house
a "siteless" design, and he says he's currently investigating ways to
commercially produce the Cellophane House.
Other homes in
the outdoor portion of the exhibit likewise made use of modern engineered
materials and digital fabrication techniques. The micro compact home from Horden Cherry Lee Architects and Haack +
Hopfner Architects packs a self-contained 76-sq-ft home into a timber and
aluminum cube fitted with its own solar cells and wind turbine for energy
generation. Another display, this one from MIT's Lawrence Sass, used digital
technologies such as computer-aided design and optimization to turn a stack
of ordinary plywood into a building. His 375-sq-ft Digitally Fabricated Housing for New Orleans consists of CAD-designed,
laser-cut plywood panels with integrated friction joints that eliminate the
need for nails, fasteners or adhesives.
The use of
digital manufacturing and modern materials technologies could be found in the
gallery exhibits too, particularly in displays showing wall fragments that
could be used in prefab buildings. One such fragment, Migrating Formations from
Contemporary Architecture Practice,
has been fabricated from a collection of bulbous building blocks fabricated on
a 3-D printer from Z Corp. According to Hina Jamelle, one of Contemporary's
directors, the blocks are epoxy-bonded to form the self-standing wall. "The big
thing is there are no fasteners," she says. While currently not structural, 3-D
printing and related additive fabrication technologies show promise for the
future. "With material advances, I have no doubt these types of walls will be
load bearing, maybe not for high rises but certainly for houses," says Ali
Rahim, another Contemporary director.
Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling
runs through October 20 at the Museum of Modern Art.
for detailed descriptions of the projects on display as well as video showing
installation of the prefab buildings.