Pre­fab home de­signs push the en­ve­lope

Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - MICHAEL GELLER

When I was study­ing ar­chi­tec­ture in the 1960s, I was fas­ci­nated by a group of Bri­tish de­sign­ers, Archi­gram, whose fan­tas­tic ar­chi­tec­tural con­cepts ques­tioned the form and func­tion of city and build­ing de­sign and cham­pi­oned new tech­nolo­gies and ma­te­ri­als, es­pe­cially pre­fab­ri­ca­tion and plas­tics.

Two of their most fa­mous projects were Plug-in City, a gi­ant mega struc­ture with re­lo­cat­able pre­fab­ri­cated mod­ules, and Walk­ing City, which in­cluded 40-storey self-con­tained build­ings with tele­scop­ing legs that could move around the world.

I thought about Archi­gram re­cently while judg­ing an in­ter­na­tional de­sign com­pe­ti­tion, for a 400-square-foot pre­fab­ri­cated home.

Pre­fab 2020 — organized by Ar­chi­tec­ture for Hu­man­ity Van­cou­ver, a not-for-profit so­ci­ety — at­tracted 285 teams from 26 coun­tries.

Be­sides my­self, other ju­rors in­cluded Oliver Lang, an award winning ar­chi­tect and a for­mer ar­chi­tec­ture pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of B.C.; Maged Sen­bel, a teacher at the UBC plan­ning school and as­so­ciate at Stu­dio Sen­bel Ar­chi­tec­ture and De­sign; Kristina Lee Podesva, most re­cently artist-in-res­i­dence at Lan­gara Col­lege; and Duane Elverum, an Emily Carr Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor.

Sub­mis­sions ranged from the provoca­tive — can­tilevered mod­u­lar hous­ing above city streets — to the prac­ti­cal (pre­fab­ri­cated mod­ules as in­fill hous­ing) to the ou­tra­geous. The “Para-site’’ en­try con­sisted of at­tached hous­ing pods to the ex­te­rior walls of build­ings.

Mean­while the “Hum­mer Home” en­try demon­strated how to con­struct hous­ing out of Hum­mers.

Ac­cord­ing to Li­nus Lam and Pa­trick Chan of Ar­chi­tec­ture for Hu­man­ity Van­cou­ver, one of the goals of the com­pe­ti­tion was to demon­strate that pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing need not look cheap or ugly, and thus over­come the so­cial stigma as­so­ci­ated with it.

An­other goal was to il­lus­trate how com­pact liv­ing can be smart liv­ing, con­tribut­ing to a more sus­tain­able fu­ture.

Sub­mis­sions were judged on their over­all con­cept and de­sign, pre­fab­ri­ca­tion cre­ativ­ity, and so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts.

Given the high qual­ity of the sub­mis­sions and range of ideas pre­sented, the judges had a dif­fi­cult time agree­ing on which projects were wor­thy of spe­cial recog­ni­tion.

The task was made all the more dif­fi­cult by the fact that some pro­pos­als were more re­al­is­tic and could be eas­ily im­ple­mented in var­i­ous lo­cales around the world, while oth­ers were de­lib­er­ately fan­tas­tic and put for­ward as provo­ca­tions.

While the sub­mis­sions orig­i­nated in more than 100 cities and the ideas were var­ied, there were a num­ber of com­mon themes. Many en­tries ex­plored how we might put hous­ing where it does not nor­mally be­long — above streets, be­tween build­ings and in spa­ces cur­rently used for park­ing.

Oth­ers il­lus­trated how mod­u­lar hous­ing could be hoisted onto rooftops, thus giv­ing new life to a va­ri­ety of build­ings. An­other pop­u­lar theme was the float­ing of pre­fab­ri­cated build­ings on wa­ter.

Some sub­mis­sions such as the Drawer House blurred the line be­tween hous­ing and fur­ni­ture with a high de­gree of builtins and ex­pand­abil­ity.

Any­one who has ever spent time liv­ing on a boat or in a recre­ational ve­hi­cle knows that th­ese struc­tures make much bet­ter use of space than con­ven­tional apart­ments or houses.

While pre­fab­ri­cated construction is ef­fec­tively used in other coun­tries, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons it has never re­ally caught on in Canada.

The re­sponse to Pre­fab 2020 demon­strates that given new tech­nolo­gies and at­ti­tudes, now may be the time for greater use of pre­fab­ri­cated construction to cre­ate more sus­tain­able and af­ford­able hous­ing.

To view sub­mis­sions, visit the web­site at www.pre­fab2020.word­press.com/ 2009/09/17/win­ners-short­list­e­den­tries-an­nounced/.

Pho­tos cour­tesy, Van­cou­ver Sun

One of two run­ner-up en­tries, Thick Skinned Re­gion­al­ism by three Lon­don ar­chi­tects, pro­posed mod­ules that would float on the Thames River in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal.

The winning en­try, sub­mit­ted by Mo­bius Ar­chi­tects of Krakow, in Poland. This pro­posal sited pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing mod­ules on the roofs of older East­ern Euro­pean pub­lic hous­ing high­rises.

One of two run­ner-up en­tries, by Black­well Ar­chi­tec­ture of Van­cou­ver, of ‘an el­e­gant, con­tem­po­rary West Coast laneway house.’

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