Stacked triangles create a modern shape.
The angular house with its brow jutting over the front entrance isn't birthed from the same blueprint as the older bungalows lining Northeast Ivy Street.
And that's exactly the point.
-- the name resonated with the developers as a play on the word "home," it sounded warm and inviting, and the 100-square-foot modules resemble a honeycomb -- was craned into place last fall and placed on a site-built basement level. The "set," as that adventure is called, drew quite a crowd of onlookers, says Jeff Kovel, founder of
, which partnered with Method Homes on the project.
Brian Abramson, co-founder of Method, called Kovel out of the blue back in 2010 and described to him the prefabricated line of products Method Homes had been working on, including a HOMB cabin. He and his partner, Mark Rylant, wanted to explore an urban series of prefabricated houses and wondered if Kovel might be interested in that.
The cold call caught the acclaimed architect's attention.
Skylab has added to cityscapes regionally and beyond, creating alluring spaces such as
, N.Y., and work for
, as well as civic projects such as Portland's
"I said, 'OK. That's awesome. Let's do that,'" he explains, standing amid the hubbub of last-minute cleaning, tweaking and staging taking place around him to ready HOMB for its coming-out party.
"We talked about it a bit and signed a contract to design what you're standing in," he says.
Although far from conventional in structure, the HOMB prototype was designed to fit on a 50-by-100-foot urban lot. Kovel says they took a "fairly deep dive" into the prefab industry, looking at what could be improved and how far they could push their system.
They struck on a modular design, not just a prefabricated structure, because modules gave them a series of building blocks, which allow for flexibility in the blueprint and the structure's placement. They landed on triangular modules, attracted to the shape's strength and appearance. Capitalizing on those angles created a dynamic architecture of space that relaxed and flowed better than a box, Kovel says. The facets of a triangle erase the one-note wonder of a box and obscure the obviousness of prefabrication.
"We really wanted a product that, once it was in, you might tell it was prefabricated ... but it did not have the feeling it was based on a theme," Kovel says.
Abramson says HOMB is one of the more complex modular homes that Method, which launched in 2008, has built.
With four bedrooms, three full baths and a half bath, HOMB isn't tiny. The modular portion runs 2,700 square feet; the excavated basement area adds 1,200.
The owner, a friend of Kovel's, heard Skylab was working with Method Homes on the project, and bit. She knew Kovel's work and along with her husband had been toying with building a home, but was well aware that a custom-designed home by the crackerjack architect would be beyond their financial scope.
JEFF KOVEL Founder of Skylab Architecture
The homeowners did their research on HOMB and were sold so fast on the idea that they discussed the rashness quotient, asking themselves whether they shouldn't be looking into something else.
In the end, they felt the prefabricated design lessened the number of worms in the "can of worms" that building a house can become. They settled on a design that was nearly identical to the HOMB prototype Skylab had created. Some interior changes included creating a Jack-and-Jill bedroom/bathroom for their children and moving the laundry room upstairs.
But not all designs need to be the same as the prototype, and that may be one of HOMB's strongest selling points.
BRIAN ABRAMSON Co-founder of Method Homes
"You set your budget, and you build only what you need," Kovel told
, Brian Libby's blog, in 2010. "Single-family home project delivery is flawed, because budgets vary until it's built. That doesn't happen with this plan. You've eliminated 60 percent of the potential (cost) problem, and you still have this kit of parts to play with. We're creating a system rather than a single piece that's designed."
Method Homes' Abramson says HOMB prices out at approximately $225 per square foot "all in," meaning site preparation, set and finish. The modules themselves are about $170 per square foot, and are constructed from an array of sustainable materials, such as
-certified wood, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, LED dimmable lights and low-flow fixtures, all contained in a "super-insulated envelope," Abramson says. From ordering to setting takes four to five months.
A bit of prefab history
Factory-built houses are not new. Portland, for one, is liberally sprinkled with homes that date to the 1900s and were built from kits purchased through catalogs produced by giants such as
. The parts for these kit houses came out of factories, were shipped by rail and then were pieced together on-site.
This sort of prefab design was tinkered with over time by architectural greats, such as
, but in time, low cost overran good design, and prefabricated -- or manufactured -- homes became synonymous with low-cost, rectangular boxes.
In recent times -- over the past 20 years or so -- the good parts of the factory-built process and smart and sassy design have reunited, with architects and manufacturers producing prefabricated housing worthy of notice.
Today's prefabricated house is a far cry from the flimsy, sterile manufactured housing of yesterday and considerably different from the modular faux
and Colonials built by large modular- and kit-house manufacturers. (
has info on some of
.) These architect-designed prefabs capture a clean, modernistic aesthetic and sport airtight construction, sustainable materials and affordable price tags.
And homebuyers have caught on, taking interest in all the above.
From Finland to Oregon, architects and builders are rethinking prefab using
, steel structures and sustainable materials -- all aided by computer-assisted design to eliminate waste and increase efficiency.
The language: Prefabrication falls into various subsets
Whether they're boxes, triangles or another shape, modular units are built in the factory and trucked to the site complete and ready to attach to one another. Houses can be created from any number of modules that are craned into position on-site.
If you think about an old barn-raising and picture the wall going up, that's a panel in its simplest form. Today, panels can be built in the factory using standard 2-by-4 lumber construction or the more advanced system of structural insulated panels, or SIPs. A
consists of a layer of foam insulation sandwiched between sheets of plywood or other material and shipped to the site ready to erect.
At first glance, timber frame construction seems quite traditional. But these days, the frames are fabricated in factories and shipped to the build site, eliminating any site waste.
Although both materials are used less frequently than others in the United States, both are used to construct prefabricated walls and frames in factory settings.
Bridget A. Otto: 503-221-8527; firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/bridgetotto; facebook.com/homesandgardensnw
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