Real-iT-y Now…

The reality of prefab versus its promise has been a hot topic as of late. Last year, we wrote about the high-tech, interactive iT House when it was just a bit more than a glimmer in Taalman Koch Architecture’s eye. To refresh your memory, the TK iT House is an ambitiously “smart” prefab house that comes with a whole host of high-tech amenities such as radiant heat flooring, photovoltaic roof, and custom-designed vinyl panels to screen your glass walls. In short: its a high-tech prefab dream. Today, not one, but two of their sleek glass houses are set to shine on actual sites. In anticipation of their talk at this year’s Dwell on Design Conference, we thought we would catch up with them and find out how their best laid plans were coming to fruition.

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Think putting up a prefab home is a snap? Let’s just say it’s not yet quite that easy. The first iT house is being constructed as a guest house in suburban Orange County. The same things that can plague custom homes can still prove more difficult than you could possibly have imagined when constructing from a kit – preparing the site, shady sub contractors, rain, more rain … well, let’s just say L.A. has been exceptionally rainy this year.

But the first build of any prefab schema can practically be considered a custom job (especially when the client includes a number of custom fittings). Successive iterations obviously benefit from those that went up before. The iT is no exception. In the future, all underslab ductwork will be eliminated. The precision required to get all systems aligned, trenches dug, and then concrete poured added several weeks to the process. Other elements, like the roofing material, and the waterproofing on the fireplace cab, while simple, added to the complexity of the project because of a scarcity of contractors.

Overall, though, the project has been extremely successful. The framing and glass installation, electricity, plumbing all went exceedingly smoothly. To read about it, visit the the construction blog here.

The first iT house to benefit from the lessons learned will be situated near gorgeous Joshua Tree National Park. The house will be a laboratory where Tallman Koch can test new accessories, furniture and energy systems.

The only word for their plans is: awesome. To start, the house is off the grid: either wind or solar, depending on which their Energy Consultant deems most reliable, combined with solar thermal to produce hot water and radiant floor heat.

With a glass house in the desert, you would think heat would be the least of their concerns. The house won’t have AC, however. Using good green building tactics, iT is oriented for passive cooling with overhang shade and windows and doors on the breezy sides. A removable screening element will preserve views while shielding the interior from late afternoon sun. Likewise, the 1″ thick glass on the east side will be opaque so the house never really heats up in the morning.

Though it’s too soon to know what brilliant innovations are in store for the interior, we do have a couple hints. A drawer type refrigerator and dishwasher will help to maximize desert sightlines – can’t wait to see pictures of that. To the same end, all tall cabinets are eliminated and replaced by a single Bultuap island.

As befits a glass house, the construction of this iT-eration will be completely transparent. Readers can follow the successes and foibles on their construction blog here. This is an admirable move. Hopefully it is one that will help the new prefab movement grow from toddler to rowdy adolescent in no time.

We’ll also have more on these guys in September during our exclusive coverage of Dwell on Design.