The first morning of Dwell on Design has just wrapped up, and as luck would have it on, on Prefab Friday, the morning session was all about prefab. The architect lineup included Linda Taalman and Alan Koch of the iThouse, Rocio Romero, known for LV and Fish Camp; Christopher Deam, and Joe Tanney of Resolution: 4 Architecture; plus two profs from the MIT school of Architecture, Joel Turkel and Larry Sass, and prefab historian/author, Colin Davies (shown lecturing above).
3.5 hours of non-stop prefab conversation can hardly be summed up concisely here, but here are some highlights and themes:
One thing many people discussed was integration:
-Integration of technologies from a variety of industries, such as linear motion and robotics, the fishing and shipping industries, and others which speak to the specific needs of prefabrication.
-Integration of various elements of a practice into under one roof, such as at Empyrean and Rocio Romero, where everything from concept to manufacturing takes place inside.
– Integration of spatial design and technical systems to produce inclusive, easy-to-assemble, affordable structures that never stop pushing the envelope on style and innovation.
Another theme was the geography of demand and production. A U.S. map made clear the trend of coastal interest, with little representation in between. Panelists speculated that it had to do with income levels, ease of transport, and interest in architecture. Yet production, partularly for non-architectural prefab dwellings, like the FEMA trailer, happens in the middle of the country for the most part.
Chris Deam identified today’s holy grail of prefab as the ability to increase customization due to the ability (with laser technology, etc) to produce in smaller quantity without cost penalties. Michael Sylvester, the panel host and founder of Fabprefab.com, pointed out that this rise in customizability “unlocks the long tail” in the industry.
And then, of course, as always comes up in this conversation, was affordability. The question of cost lingers always around talk of prefab, but the general response from the architects was somewhat surprising. Most people brought up bureaucracy, government regulations and building codes as the primary obstacles to bringing prefab to a lower-income set. Somebody in the audience remarked that there is a crossover between the low-income family market and the 20- 30-something consumer, all of whom are working with less resources. Bringing the pricepoint down would invite a wide cross-section into the potential consumer base.
The morning’s introductory remarks included a quote that might be appropriate to leave off on for now, which speaks to the importance of innovation and imagination that neither asks nor apologizes, but always forges beyond the bounds of convention. It comes from Henry Ford, who when interviewed about his work, said:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘A faster horse.'”