Really Cool Prefab Homes

simbalist house exterior
Photo courtesy of Chris NelmsThe Simblist House at Serenbe, outside of Atlanta, was built to high standards for efficiency and sustainability.
Many people still think of prefab homes as "ticky-tacky" little boxes. But think again! There are many incredibly beautiful and interesting houses built with a variety of prefab methods. Prefab homes are now indistinguishable from site-built ones.

The term prefab is often confused with "double-wides" or trailers, which are also built in a factory. But these houses are often called manufactured houses and are compliant with the HUD code. These houses are delivered on their own wheels, which can never be removed. Although these houses serve many very well, these are not the houses that I refer to here. The prefab houses I write about are compliant with the local codes, are shipped on flatbed trucks and sometimes barges and are permanent structures, as are all site-built homes.

Prefabricated houses are growing in popularity in this country and around the world for a variety of reasons. They are faster to build, are built in a controlled environment, protecting the materials from the elements, are closely supervised, are environmentally more friendly and present many fewer surprises than occur on site-built houses, such as change orders. In some cases there is also a savings in cost. The advantages are numerous and when homebuilders become aware of all the advantages they often opt to take that route to building their new home.

With the expansion of methods to build prefab, so have the styles that are now available. While researching my latest book -- Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the Globe -- I found incredibly interesting houses being built in the United States and in all corners of the world. Many were built to adapt to the local environment -- such as the Archway Studios in England, Casa Isemi in Costa Rica and Eddi's House in Japan. Other houses were built with unique design and material esthetics -- such as the WorldFlex Home in Denmark.

All of these houses wowed me as I hope they will you.

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Really Cool Prefab Homes

Casa Isemi was built in one of the most biodiverse places on earth on the Penisula de Osa, Costa Rica, 19 miles from the nearest town, using a prefabricated steel frame and sandwich panel system. It was built on stilts to minimize the disturbance to the land and to be as environmentally friendly as possible - using materials with a low carbon footprint and which could someday be reused.

Casa Iseami was designed by Robles Arquitectos.

Photo courtesy of Sergio Pucci

The white color of the interior of the Casa Iseami was used to add to the reflectance of the house, helping to prevent birds from flying into it and to help make any mold become quickly visible. 

The structure protrudes above the train line and forms an acoustic wall to shield the sound of the trains, providing the building with a presence at train level and for passing passengers. Folds in the steel structure reveal windows and cladding made from Palmwood. 

Photo courtesy of Undercurrent Architects

Archway Studios was built using prefabricated metal components built in a factory in China. The structureis located in a brownfield (abandoned or underused industrial sites) in London, England. This live/work home was built close to a train line so had to be built to withstand the tough environmental surroundings and dampen the noise and vibrations. The house was designed by Undercurrent Architects.

Photo courtesy of Candice Lake

The central atrium is lit brightly by the natural light coming in from the glass roof.

Photo courtesy of Candice Lake

The Laurel Hollow house was built using an extremely energy efficient prefabricated panelized system. The house was designed to look like a barn and appear as though it has existed in its East Hampton, New York,  location for years. The front entry is a courtyard, with the freestanding single car garage creating one of the courtyard walls. Landscape is all the local native favorites, boxwood, hydrangea and privet, simply placed to create privacy in a tight village lot, to soften the look of retaining walls and add to the sense of permanence.

Photo courtesy of Yankee Barn Homes

The dining room is a step down from the living room in the Laurel Hollow house, both to accommodate the topography of the property, as well as to add the architectural quirkiness and interest of an older structure. Barn doors made to look antique, are built from Florida yellow pine. They hang from the same track used for exterior sliding doors, but here the track is painted black to accent the decorative black brackets seen through the house at timber structure joints.

The Ecomo House sits among the Franshhoek mountains in South Africa. It was built using a prefabricated modular pod and panelized system. The area where the house is situated is called "Franshhoek," which in Afrikaans means "the corner of the French". The French Huguenots moved there and discovered that the soil was very rich to grow vines. They began to grow grapes and today some of the best South African wine comes from this area. Photo courtesy of Pietro Russo.

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The open plan and omission of any corridors or entrance halls, keeps the compact space maximized. The flooring is blue gum which comes from Australia. The wood-burning fireplace is used to heat the house during the mild winters and solar hot water panels on the roof heat the water.

Photo courtesy of Pietro Russo

The open plan and omission of any corridors or entrance halls, keeps the compact space maximized. The flooring is blue gum which comes from Australia. The wood-burning fireplace is used to heat the house during the mild winters and solar hot water panels on the roof heat the water.

Photo courtesy of Pietro Russo

EDDI's House in Nara, Japan,  was built using prefabricated light steel frame and a panelized system. It was built by one of the major housing manufacturers in Japan, Daiwa House. This house was built as a model, but the company has since built more than three hundred similar homes in Japan.

Photo courtesy of Daishinsha Inc.

The house was designed to look inward, rather than outward so that the surrounding environment will have little influence on the interior atmosphere. This interior space acts as a solar, heat collector and central area onto which most rooms face.

Photo courtesy of Daishinsha Inc.

The World FLEXhome is a model home built in a factory in Frederiksvaerk, Denmark, using shipping containers. In the past many of these shipping container houses were very unattractive and strange looking. But architects Arcgency designed this house to look like not only very attractive but also extremely energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The company also asserts the structure is strong enough to withstand earthquakes. 

Photo courtesy of Jens Markus Lindhe

The open first floor is called the FLEX space, which includes the living room, kitchen and can be used for multiple purposes. Parts of the room are double height, creating excellent lighting conditions. In each end of the FLEX spaces there is access to the surroundings and daylight with skylights, windows and floor to ceiling doors. A fundamental part of the design is to be able to let nature in.

Photo courtesy of Jens Markus Lindhe

The Simblist House at Serenbe is located at one of the most environmentally friendly communities in the country. This house was built using post and beam and a panelized system. Like all of the houses in Serenbe, outside of Atlanta, this house is Earthcraft certifed, which means it was built to high standards for efficiency and sustainability. The house was originally built as a vacation house, but the homeowners ultimately decided to make it their permanent home. I was lucky enough to visit this gorgwous community with edibles growing along the roads, its own farm and self-contained theater, stores and wastewater treatment center. Central mail delivery stations eliminate unsightly mailboxes and porches on the fronts of all of the houses encourage interaction between neighbors. Trashcans are located below ground and garages are in the rear of houses to preserve the beauty of the area.

Photo courtesy of Chris Nelms

The flooring in the living room is bamboo, a highly renewable resource. The windows were all produced in the factory and installed on-site. The owners say - "Living at Serenbe is perfect" for them.

Photo courtesy of Chris Nelms


All photographs in this article are from Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes around the Globe, published by Abrams in 2014, written by Sheri Koones and with a foreword by Robert Redford.
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