The Fabulously Updated Prefab Home

The movement dedicated to prefabricated contemporary houses didn't have a banner year in 2009, what with the May closure of mini-industry leader Michelle Kaufmann Designs. But the setbacks haven't kept architects from fantasizing about new solutions for prefab, and the remaining adventurous manufacturers from turning those dreams into reality.

At least since the 1920s, when Buckminster Fuller developed his first Dymaxion House, designers have tried applying factory power to home building. And, in recent years, potential homeowners have taken a shine to the work of Kaufmann and colleagues like Rocio Romero, who promised innovative homes that required less time, money, and carbon emissions than bespoke architecture.

Last month the Seattle-based company Method Homes launched Homb, designed by Skylab Architecture of Portland.Whereas Method's earlier series - not to mention prefab modernism in general - are boxy creations, Homb is made of triangular modules. "The triangle form is the strongest, structurally, of all geometric forms," says architect Jeff Kovel, who founded Skylab in 1999.

Each 100-square-foot wedge also transforms from a "shippable module into a three-dimensional truss, like a space frame." And with hoisting points integrated with the structure, Method can complete interior finishes in its factory to lessen on-site construction.

This approach should spell lower prices. Many architects point to $160 as the magic per-square-foot price for affordable modern prefab. Hombs range from $160 to $350 per square according to customer preferences (not including excavation, foundation work, and utility hookups).

Kovel, who says that Hombs may have residential or commercial uses, also notes that plumbing-free outbuildings could be realized for less. "The goal for Homb is to make custom modern architecture available to a broader audience."

Some of those customizable options include three colors of cedar exterior cladding to choose from and endless layouts, plus sustainability options that are all the rage, such as green roofing, extra insulation, and power production that can get a Homb off the grid. Thanks to its construction method, the design is flexible, and homeowners may choose to add or take away triangular modules over time.
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