The LA Times has a a thought provoking and challenging article today uncovering the pricey costs of prefab homes in Southern California. It takes a specific look at Steve Glenn's Living Homes company and Ray Kappe's architectural involvement with them. From the article:
The last thing the fledgling prefab movement needs at this point is aggressive marketing or more hype. What it needs is a reality check. For nearly five years now, design-savvy consumers priced out of the raging housing market — and that describes a lot of Americans these days, subscribing to Elle Decor and shopping at Design Within Reach while still writing a rent check each month — have looked to an emerging group of prefab, or modular, designs as a possible ticket to home ownership. These aren't the cookie-cutter prefab buildings that dot the suburban landscape but a new breed of factory-built houses combining sleek, camera-ready design with the economies of mass production. Compared to traditional houses, the new prefabs can be built quickly, efficiently and inexpensively, plus they have proved wildly popular. Or at least the notion of them has, since so few have been tested in the marketplace. However, the prices prefab architects quote to buyers have been climbing, from $125 per square foot three years ago to $250 or even $300 today, pushing costs near the level of custom design.
The article also criticizes Living Homes' use of its "unprecedented" number of green-design features (reported on by Inhabitat.com and Treehugger.com last fall) as blatant marketing tools. Used in this manner, the author of the article seems to feel that this practice may actually erode the core principles of green architecture. See below...
Even if Glenn's claim that the house sets a new global standard in green architecture is a bit of a reach, the design does include a long list of sustainable features, including a gray-water irrigation system, reclaimed wood, radiant heating and rooftop solar panels. It is in the running to receive one of the first LEED (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) ratings from the U.S. Green Building Council's new certification program for residential architecture. Perhaps as significant as the green elements themselves is the way Glenn wields them as marketing tools. Like the organic food movement, green architecture has reached a kind of reckoning point, with broad popularity helping it challenge the wastefulness of the building trades but also threatening to dilute its core principles.
There are many great things that prefabs can offer, but this challenge certainly calls prefab architects to think hard about the fundamental reasons why they are doing what they are doing. Not to mention, how they are doing what they are doing. Let us know your personal thoughts about this topic in the comment section of this post.
Image and text courtesy of www.latimes.com