Prefab houses are so, well, fab these days. A resurgence of the prefabricated housing concept can be seen in the publication of coffee table books and photo essays in slick design and architecture magazines. (Been-Seen is not immune to its charm either). Turning heads at the Walker Art Center a few years ago, and currently wowing the crowds in New York City at the MoMA, prefab is hot.
Or so it seems. Rather, prefabricated housing has always been in. An attractive meme that has challenged great and unknown architects alike for centuries. Such genius as Frank Lloyd Wright, Thomas Edison and other luminaries had a go at it. And in architecture schools around the world young minds are surely drawing up new designs. A thoughtful walk through the MoMA's Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling exhibit couldn't make this any more evident.
Sustainability issues and concerns surrounding the swelling of the global population has pushed prefab back to the forefront as a potential solution to these pressing needs. However its viability has been in question since the beginning. As noted architectural critic Witold Rybczynski recently remarked, “Prefabricated houses have remained an elusive goal for architects, and the MoMA show is a stylish litany of second-place finishers, also-rans, if-onlys, and downright losers.”
The MoMA presentation pairs real life examples of prefab success over the years with an exponential set of never-got-off-the-ground, yet awing, models and drawings of ideas burning bright flamed out. The outdoor/indoor part of the exhibit viscerally brings to life the whole concept by adding the flesh and bones third dimension to the exhibition by allowing visitors to “live” in five prefab structures in an empty lot next door to the museum.
Home Delivery excites and engages the participant, all the while implying a belief that the potential of prefabrication has yet to be fully realized. Whether or not one buys the confidence exuded by the exhibition, the experience is simply prefabulous. AER
Images courtesy of Richard Barnes, Copyright Archives Prouvé (Centre Georges Pompidou, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Paris), On behalf of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Zvi Hecker and Sascha Kletzsch.