Gallery: PREFAB FRIDAY: Office of Mobile Design’s NEW SWELLHOUSE


Jennifer Siegal has long been one of our favorite pioneers of prefab architecture. Always pushing the envelope, her Swellhouse has been a great archetype for discussions surrounding prefab design, construction, and the integration of green materials. This past December, her Office of Mobile Design completed construction of a new iteration of the Swellhouse at 334 Brooks in Venice, California, which was site-built, but stayed true to the prefab canon using an extensive modular grid system and Structural Insulated Panels (SIP’s). The grid system and exposed steel columns created an open yet ordered live-work space, while the SIP’s enhanced thermal and acoustic insulation. The 3100 square foot home consists of two separate structures that bookend a courtyard and pool. The home’s interior boasts high ceilings with exposed i-beams, a radiant heating system, and Ipe wood decking.

While it’s easy to mentally oversimplify the prefab construction process, picturing a fully functional house built in a factory and literally plopped onto a site, there are various degrees of prefabrication which range from fully-manufactured residences to the prefabrication of components, panels, or modules. In this case, Office of Mobile Design prefabricated the SIP’s in a warehouse, delivered them to the site, and set them in place manually.

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  1. Kenneth February 23, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    A few years ago I consulted a very well know Canadian/Toronto architectural firm about building one of their modern houses in downtown Toronto, and the cost of the house (small, infill house, about 1200 sq feet) was estimated at around $450k. Their fee was to be 15%. And I am no rock star. So I’m interested to hear that this is high. It needs to be said, thee guys truly do some of the best work in the country. 15% didn’t seem outrageous to me. Having ssaid that, it was enough to push the project outside of my budget. I didn’t build the house.

  2. brian February 13, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    In response to Richie:

    holy cow! 30% standard design fees??!?!? are you kidding?!?!? no architect in the US commands fees like that. anywhere. not frank ghery, not anyone. and especially not for houses. take it to heart from a design professional in seattle, WA. only the most specialized (highly technical) and most prestigious (highly famous) firms can even approach fees of 15% of construction costs.

    please keep in mind that only about 5%-7% of all single family homes are designed and buildt by architects.

    the average salary for a licensed architect in the US is maybe 60K per year. famous deisgners do better, and people who own their own businees do better, but no one is willing to pay a 30% fee for a house. or even a huge commercial building.

    most residential design fees are negotiated as a fixed lump sum fee–only very large or very complicated projects are based on a percentage of construction cost, and only approach 15% of costs when the home designed is a multi-million dollar monster mcmansion by some rock-star status designer.

    it sounds like their are an awful lot of myths floating around about architects and design professionals–maybe it’s time for inhabitat to debunk a few of them.

  3. spinsLPs February 13, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I wonder how long this project took to build?

  4. onomiko February 11, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    sKurt, please post your thoughts after you visit! I, too, am in the ‘hood and am curious. I hope to swing by soon as well (discretely, of course).

  5. sKurt February 11, 2007 at 12:23 am

    I live right around the corner of this house in the Venice Canals, I plan on visiting it tomorrow.

    The problem Roger Dutton spoke of and I’d be surprised if it only cost $500,000.00 The lot it sits on probably costs that much.

    In Venice and it’s neighbor Santa Monica houses if you can find them are under 1000 sq ft and over 1,000,000!

    sheesh, I can’t wait until the housing market fails…

  6. Roger Dutton February 10, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Only 2 pictures? ? From those it appears that a steel frame was costructed for the ground floor, with Styrofoam sandwich plywood as wall panels. I dont see any framework for the first floor. Am I being picky here? This is not my idea of pushing the envelope in any area! I am also curious to see what a radiant heating system is? It sounds like electric heaters to me! I must be mistaken though right? I would imagine that the whole thing sits on a large concrete raft too, not so green again. Surely there must be something going on in between the “house made of old cartons and egg boxes” and the custom built “green” designer homes for a mere $500,000.00????
    No wonder we are all in such a mess!

  7. Richie February 10, 2007 at 8:17 am

    A combination of pre-fab and site built almost always makes most sense $$$ wise. More details would be appreciated. This is obviously a project that was approved by all the agencies that do such, as it was built within a major US metropolis. It’s design appears to be a cost effective answer for a new generation of personal dwellings. Again, more details would be helpful so as to see if that is indeed the case. Standard slab ? Moment Frame ? Why no steel frame for the second floor ? The connectorization betwen the SIP’s… what are their engineered ratings ? Concrete stucco, or fiber-cement board to finish the exterior ? Etc. Was the architectural fee the standard 30% of what it cost to construct the design ? And if so… when will we move to a better, more reasonable, system to determine architectural design fees ? Within the current system… having houses cost more really works for architects. We can do better ?

  8. pasha February 9, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Looks great, one of the better prefab projects, imo. I would love to see more construction pics and pics of the final product. Where are the?

    This really looks more practical than concept, cool stuff!!! :)

  9. Kenneth February 9, 2007 at 9:50 am

    This is great. I would be very interested to know what the net cost on this project was. I also wonder how green it is overall – how far they were able to go with the green efforts for this house. This is a more typical project than you usually see in prefab these days, as the effective projects are either trailer sized or actully quite large -like the very lovely but very pricey, (reasonable cost per square foot aside–not everyone can afford a 600k house) Desert House often shown here. This project, being a more average-sized infill house and not too huge is exciting to me.

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