Impressed by by the Rudolf M. Schindler house in West Hollywood and Craig Ellwood’s Case Study house, water feature choreographer and technology developer Scott Palamar wanted to build a minimalist prototype of his own. And despite his lack of architectural training, he jumped at the opportunity to experiment with a modular structure when he purchased a $5,000 parcel of land in the Eastern Sierra in 2004. “It was around the time prefab was undergoing a revival but was no longer pitched as an inexpensive option,” Palamar says. “Still, I felt it could be affordable if done the right way and I enjoyed the challenge of sticking to a limited budget.”
From Cavco Industries, Palamar ordered a $35,158 customized model with nine-foot ceilings, insulated walls, and double-glazed windows. Nicknamed the “hybrid home,” his new abode is a “happy medium between custom work and a prefab shell,” with value-added extras like a garage, an energy-saving water heater system of his own devising, and landscape design. “It’s an ongoing experiment,” says Palamar, “but that’s what I like about it.”
In 2007, as eager young architecture students in Trondheim, Norway, Andreas Gjertsen and Yashar Hanstad won a competition to renovate a house for under $200,000. Seasoned travelers who had witnessed firsthand “a way of building that made important architecture for a fraction of the price,” as Hanstad puts it, they became disillusioned with their supposedly “tight” budget and with the conventional Western approach to residential architecture. “We wanted to use what we know to make things that have meaning,” says Gjertsen. After raising nearly $100,000, they moved to western Thailand and spent a year designing and building a series of houses, a library, and a bathhouse for orphans along the Thailand-Burma border. “Showing the local community the potential in local resources is a big part of the long-term benefits of projects like this,” says Hanstad.
In Elizabeth Beach, Australia, architect Shane Blue of Bourne Blue Architecture designed a 2,800-square-foot house with four bedrooms and two bathrooms on a sloping site. "The home is designed to be private and sheltered from the west and south, yet open to the north and east," Blue says. The house's location on a fire-prone site on the edge of a wooded area posed a challenge for Blue. He used a mix of steel and fire-resistant timber to construct the residence. Another challenge was to "crop out" the neighboring houses so Blue oriented the structure so that it opens to its own garden and views of the forest.
Resolution: 4 Architecture designed a Fishers Island home with warm cedar siding and white windows as a nod to the regional New England vernacular. Because of the logistical challenges of building on Fishers Island—which is officially part of Long Island but accessible only by infrequent 45-minute ferry trips from New London, Connecticut— the residents reasoned that modular construction would be relatively simple and less expensive. Their research led them to the team at Resolution: 4, which has spent a decade refining what architect Joseph Tanney calls a system of “mass customization”: Prefabricated modules are inexpensively built and outfitted with fixtures in a factory, delivered to a site by truck, and configured to meet a client’s lifestyle and budget. Photo by Matthew Williams
When Abbie and Bill Burton hired Marmol Radziner to design their prefab weekend home in Ukiah, California, on 330 acres of oak woodland, their two requests were “simple-simple, replaceable materials,” says Abbie—such as concrete floors (poured offsite in Marmol Radziner's factory) and metal panel siding—and “the ability to be indoors or outdoors with ease.” Deep overhangs provide shade and protection from rain, so the Burtons can leave their doors open year-round and hang out on their 70-foot-long deck even in inclement weather.
An hour's travel from downtown Seattle, Washington, lies what some call "Maine West": Whidbey Island. Forming the northern border of Puget Sound, the island is an enclave of "artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs who really love the great outdoors," says architect Brett Webber. In 2007, Webber, founder of Philadelphia-based firm Brett Webber Architects, PC, completed a live-work house for painter and professional musician Judy Geist, which now plays venue for her chamber group Ensemble M. The finished home is just 19-feet wide and oriented along a north-west access. The studio, shown here with the living room in the background, is situated at the northern most end of the house to take advantage of the soft, natural light that pours in the windows above. Photo by Benjamin Benschneider Photography.