Gallery: PREFAB FRIDAY: MDesigns MCube


After receiving tons of great submissions for our Green Home Showcase call for entries, we’re happy to bring you the first of our top 5 green design projects which we’ll be highlighting during our upcoming talk at West Coast Green on September 20th.

MDesign’s patented Mcube modular prefab system is a gorgeous, flexible, solar-powered, and stunningly affordable housing option that exemplifies the benefits of prefabricated building. The system is based on a translucent 10′-cube module which can be stacked in multiple floors and units for residential and commercial purposes. Made from concrete, steel, and luminous fiberglass daylighting wall panels, the system can be fully erected in 90 days at a cost starting at $100 per square foot! (Yes $100 a foot!). Considering how expensive most sleek SoCal prefab systems seem to be – this is a price tag that really got our attention.

We chose this design for our Green Home Showcase for its modular stackable approach, beautiful modern aesthetic, superb eco credentials (photovoltaics, radiant heating, passive solar design, etc) and fabulously creative use of translucent daylighting walls to light the whole house with diffused sunlight throughout the day – eliminating any need for electric light.

Mark Baez of MDesigns has recently completed construction of the MCube prototype in Venice, California, equipped with quite the array of both passive and active solar technologies (how appropriate for sunny Southern California). From solar radiant-heated floors and solar heated water to photovoltaic roof panels and the translucent light-emitting window-wall system, Baez has all his solar bases covered, making MCube not only a functional and beautiful space, but a sunny green abode.

The most impressive thing about the MCube is certainly the ingenuity behind the functional and luminous moveable window/wall panels. Clearly inspired by the Japanese shoji screen concept, the MCube’s 4 walls are composed of translucent light emitting “windows” that let a constant stream of diffused natural light into the space from all angles. Made out of lightweight insulated fiberglass panels, the light-emitting walls let all the natural light one would want without any of the heat radiation of typical glass windows. Because the panels are translucent like Japanese shoji screens, rather than transparent like glass, they also protect privacy and block views into the interior. Better yet, each daylighting panel is moveable/operable like a shutter, allowing the occupants to open up any part of their little cube in order to let in the breeze. There aren’t any real glass “windows” per se in the house, but since each and every wall is essentially a window, there is no reason for separate windows in a house like this. To top it all off, the movable/removable wall panels allow for transformable space, so you can enjoy an ever-changing domestic space for years to come.

Stay tuned for our other four great Green Homes… coming up in the next 2 weeks…

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  1. Why should i o it February 22, 2013 at 4:54 am

    Thanks for the great article.

  2. smarthouse January 22, 2009 at 12:17 am

    Sustainability goes beyond the building. A net-zero building is a great first step- look at the whole picture of how our lifestyles function within our communities. A net zero building, unless placed properly, may only slightly mitigate an hour long auto commute. $100 a square foot is getting into the right range, add a rental appartment and it might be truely affordable in a responsible location!

  3. rhonda July 18, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    I live in Westwood, LA and I work near Hollywood, LA. After reading this, I got really excited and felt like driving to Venice to see this. I even imagined what else I could do to be green if I were to pack all my things. I do agree with a few of the comments that mention this house design is green and the fact that no energy will be required during the day to illuminate the space. But anyways, for people who are seriously concerned about making a green move, you also have to think about the boxes that you\’ll use. I found an awesome site called and I ordered from them when I needed to move into my other apartment. Here\’s to the green movement.

  4. Merritt January 21, 2008 at 4:03 am

    I love this house! i live in Mozambique, in Southern Africa, very close to South Africa. I was hoping the climate here might work with this house. It seems to be similar to Southern California in tempeeratures and sunlight. How can I get in touch with the architect, order the house, ask her/him quesitons, find out about mosquito net possibiltities and some variations(like some glass panels to see outside)? Be an agent for Southern Afica!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????

    Thanks so much! Please write me back

  5. MarkM December 18, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    This design actually uses Major Industries’ Guardian 275® translucent panels. It’s a great use of a versatile material. As for the durability issue, the panels are quite durable and scratch-resistant, and the sound insulation is quite good, especially when paired with insulation options (between rooms).

  6. M November 9, 2007 at 12:04 pm
  7. CmG November 1, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    I would like to know what, exactly, ‘stackable’ actually means. Are there building codes in SoCal that require a foundation for buildings with a certain # of floors? In other words, would the number of floors need to be determined before the first floor went in or can one simply stack units on top of each other when expansion is desired? Where are the PVs located and would they be compromised with additional floors (more square footage, more power needed)? Conversely, can one detatch a unit later?

    Thank you so kindly.

  8. Rebekah October 19, 2007 at 8:46 am

    Yes, it is ridiculous that people are demanding a prefab design universally applicable to all climates and weather situations. Isn’t the point of sustainable development working within the environment to create a home that is non-wasteful and non-intrusive? Obviously, as the environment changes, so must the design.

    I think it is gorgeous. And I love the Japanese influence. Thank God for someone with imagination!

  9. Cool Prefab House! &laq... October 1, 2007 at 10:04 am

    […] read more | digg story […]

  10. Richard September 22, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    R-value (insulation)

    R-value is a term predominantly used in the building industry to rate the insulative properties of construction materials.

    It is derived from the U value (see below). The higher the R value, the greater insulation.

    The relationship between U-value or R-value and thickness is not always exactly linear and therefore its value cannot be precisely extrapolated for a material of different thickness, but assuming a linear relationship is often adequate. In any case, R values of adjacent materials can be added to determine a final R value of the entire construction e.g. R value(brick) + R value(fibreglass batt) + R value(plasterboard) = R value(total)

    The SI unit for R-value is K·m²/W.

    The imperial unit for R-value is ft²·°F·h/Btu. The conversion factor is 1 ft²·°F·h/Btu ≈ 0.1761 K·m²/W, or 1 K·m²/W ≈ 5.67446 ft²·°F·h/Btu.

    To avoid confusion sometime the nomenclature ‘RSI’ is used to denote the SI form of the value. In contrast, the imperial unit is often written as R–31.4. To add to the chaos, some countries that employ the SI system (e.g. New Zealand) retain the R but incorporate a dash e.g. R–5.53. One tenth of an RSI is called a tog.

    It is important to realise that R-value only relates to heat transfer from conduction only. Correctly, it ignores the effect of heat transfer from radiation and convection. Confusion can be created when building products quote an ‘equivalent’ R-value for radiative heat transfer . R-value similarly do not consider the effect of convection. For instance, air infiltration of windows and doors can be a significant source of convective heat transfer compared to walls, roofs and floors.

    R-value should also not be confused with the intensive property of thermal resistivity and its inverse, thermal conductivity. The SI unit of thermal resistivity is K·m/W. Thermal conductivity assumes that the heat transfer of the material is linearly related to its thickness.


    * 1 U-value
    * 2 Insulation Aging
    * 3 Example values
    o 3.1 Typical R-values per inch of thickness
    o 3.2 U.S. regulation
    * 4 See also
    * 5 External links
    * 6 References

    [edit] U-value

    The U-value describes how well a building material conducts heat. Methodologically, it measures the heat transfer of a material of known thickness over a given area under standard conditions. The usual standard is at a temperature gradient of 24oC at 50% humidity in no wind conditions.[1]

    U is the inverse of R i.e. U = 1/R and the SI unit for U is W/(K·m²).

    For example, if the interior of your home is at 20 °C, and the roof cavity is at 10 °C, the temperature difference is 10 K. Assuming a ceiling insulated to R–2, energy will be lost at a rate of 10 K / 2 K·m²/W = 5 watts for every square metre of ceiling.

  11. Property Malaysia :: A ... September 13, 2007 at 9:46 am

    […] to Inhabit: The system is based on a translucent 10′-cube module which can be stacked in multiple floors […]

  12. Kenneth September 12, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    I think that overall it’s an ingenious, cost effective design and would work well in many warm climates, but it could also be tweaked to work well in colder ones too. I can see using this systemn in combination with some more typical glass sections so you have some views as well. I’d like to see a nice layout with a smaller footprint, say 8 cubes worth.

  13. shocka September 12, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    i keep looking at the 3rd picture, imagine kids throwing their bikes against the external wall which is how thick?

  14. citicritter September 9, 2007 at 3:03 am

    What’s with the ‘cell phone camera quality’ images of the work on the MDesign website? — doesn’t exactly give a sense of professionalism or confidence, rather sketchiness or fly-by-night…

  15. John September 8, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    I’m surprised that no one has discussed the most obvious thing to me when I saw the design: lack of sound insulation. You don’t want to hear children playing at the other side of the building.

  16. Jill September 8, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Readers-

    A lot of you are questioning the insulation in this house, and the R value issues, so let me tell you what I know – the walls are made from fiberglass panels with translucent insulation in between the two panels. We haven’t been told by the architect precisely what the wall panels are – but they look pretty similar to Kalwall Nanogel insulated panels.

    Even if they aren’t made by Kalwall, they probably use similar technology – and these type of translucent daylit wall panels typically have an R value of 20. We’ve talked about Nanogel/Aerogel translucent insulation before on Inhabitat:

    The insulation is actually pretty good, so people complaining about lack of insulation should do a bit more research. And it is a steel frame house, so I’m sure it is wind-resistant – much more so than a wood house would be. That said, this is a house that is designed for California, and there is a beauty to that – it suits its climate perfectly. I’m sure it wouldn’t be nearly as successful in Chicago with snow piling up on its roof. Where people are getting the notion that a design has to be universally applicable to all climates in order to be good is ludicrous. There is no “universal” design. This is what vernacular architecture is about – design suited to the particular climate it is located in. I’m sure there are good prefab solutions for Chicago out there, and this is probably not it.

    Thanks for reading-
    Editor, Inhabitat

  17. Tokoro September 8, 2007 at 10:30 am

    I live in Venice, so I’m going to check this out, but I wouldn’t want to live in it. I’m looking out my windows right now, to a wall of greenery outside — and I’m not about to give up having a look outside. I concur with the mosquito comment, even in Venice. And BTW, I don’t have A/C — I open my windows most of the time — but I DO have heat. By the coast it is often in the 40’s in the winter. Insulation is critical. Perhaps the radiant heat is sufficient, but California is no different than other places — the daylight hours are short in winter, when the heating need is greatest. It’s dark by 4:30 here, too.

    I haven’t seen any answers to questions like R value, which is too bad.

  18. Caryn September 8, 2007 at 10:25 am

    I’m all for any new approach to sustainable design, and of course what works in one climate may not be applicable in another, (for example, rammed earth and hay bales are not an option in South Florida either), but I am wondering about the manufacture and content of the fiberglass panels? (And for the gentleman who questioned the concrete, flyash content can substantially decrease the environmental impact).

  19. Martin September 8, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Nasty! What a waste of materials – that are actually not produced in a green way.
    Anybody interested in creating a real green home should look into Cob Cottages. A good reference is “The Hand-Sculpted House” by Evans, Smith and Smiley.

  20. cenourinha September 8, 2007 at 8:44 am

    I want one of this…

  21. Japanese/ American arch... September 8, 2007 at 5:27 am

    […] Read Inhabitat’s article here with more pictures. Vote or submit article to: No Comments Leave a Commenttrackback addressThere was an error with your comment, please try again. name (required)email (will not be published) (required)url […]

  22. the daniel September 8, 2007 at 2:45 am

    Witold Ribczynski at points out the normal price of house construction in America is around $40/ft sq.

  23. newman September 8, 2007 at 1:06 am

    I see no signs of insulation in this house.

    How can it be green?

  24. Phil Dufault September 8, 2007 at 1:04 am

    Could be a very interesting idea — I’m not sure if I like how the panels are removable — hopefully that’s not on the ground floor!

    The last thing we need is robbers than can take apart our wall like Lego. :/

  25. Philipp September 8, 2007 at 12:56 am

    How about air conditioning? Or mosquitos at night with open windows when it gets warm? This concept seems to work only in California’s Mediterranean climate, but not where it snows nor in the Midwest where it is hot and humid.

  26. Tovi September 8, 2007 at 12:55 am

    Wonder how this structure would hold-up to strong winds. For someone like me, who lives in the Caribbean, hurricanes are something I have to constantly think about when building a home. I’d love to go pre-fab, but that is one thing that is definitely holding me back.

  27. jim September 8, 2007 at 12:36 am

    The price turns me off already. So much for cheap prefab. The sustainability is also questionable.

  28. Bill September 8, 2007 at 12:33 am

    And what about us North-easterners? what is that R-value? And I must say, I do find it a bit hard to understand how it can start at $100/sq foot and be a usable home. “Oh, sorry, you wanted hinges on those windows and doors? Running water and a bathroom? That’s all extra.”

    Provided these are reasonably dealt with, when can I make my order? :)

  29. Nic September 8, 2007 at 12:31 am

    Wow, this would be great if I lived in Southern California, but what about the rest of the world where it’s not always just about the perfect temperature outside? This wouldn’t do a damn bit of good in the mid-west ( lower teens during the winter and upper 90s and humid for most of the summer)

  30. Rez September 8, 2007 at 12:22 am

    Affordable or Prisonor Homeless Shelter?
    What a poor taste for life.

  31. Kevin Archibald September 8, 2007 at 12:22 am

    Looks great. I notice palm trees and surf boards – i assume it might not be suitable for my climate when annually goes to -30C ?

  32. TL September 8, 2007 at 12:14 am

    Something tells me this isnt ready for Chicagoland


    R Factor be damned

  33. DW September 7, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    One hundred dollars a square foot? Is that just the structure or is it also interior finishes, fixtures, and other necessary equipment? Compare that to a typical home price per square foot completed and ready for the market.

    What is the R Value for insulated fiberglass? I have never heard of it and am curious.

  34. Jill September 7, 2007 at 2:02 pm


    The majority of a building’s environmental impact comes from the energy it uses during its 50-100 year life span. Steel and concrete are not necessarily “sustainable” in terms of their energy-intensive manufacturing, but then neither is chopping down forests for timber, which produces houses that can easily be burned down. The most important focus in considering whether a building is “green” should definitely be on the energy use of the building — and THAT is why this building is so eco-friendly – because it is lit, heated and powered entirely by solar power.

    Thanks for reading-
    Editor, Inhabitat

  35. Justin Anthony September 7, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    I’m still having trouble with the idea of calling something that uses concrete (w/ Portland cement) in it’s material makeup, Green. The manufacturing processes of concrete, steel and gypsum are NOT good for the environment. But you already knew that.

  36. Sustainable Design Upda... September 7, 2007 at 11:54 am

    […] From Inhabitat: […]

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