Ab­so­lutely pre­fab

From con­tem­pla­tion spa­ces to live­able homes, ar­chi­tect-de­signed pre­fabs to col­lect and keep, cour­tesy of Wall­pa­per* and en­tre­pre­neur Rob­bie An­to­nio


Wall­pa­per*-cu­rated pre­fabs by J Mayer H, Mario Bellini, Stu­dio Fuk­sas and more

he very first Wall­pa­per* House was re­vealed back in is­sue 30, de­signed by Swedish ar­chi­tects Natasha Racki and Håkan Wid­jedal. In­spired by the sleek sim­plic­ity of the Amer­i­can Case Study House pro­gramme and set in the modest, se­cluded beauty of a Swedish ar­chi­pel­ago, the de­sign marked the start of our on­go­ing ob­ses­sion with the per­fect space. Over the next 16 years, we re­turned again and again to the ideal of the dream house, brief­ing ar­chi­tects, build­ing pro­to­types and ex­hibit­ing ideas that em­bod­ied the Wall­pa­per* ethos.

Now, we’re fi­nally bring­ing those vi­sions to life. Rev­o­lu­tion is a com­pany cast­ing its net wide among the global ar­chi­tec­tural com­mu­nity, reel­ing in de­sign­ers of all churches in the hope of strik­ing it lucky in the nas­cent de­signer-pre­fab mar­ket. Armed with blue­prints pre­pared by some of the world’s most cel­e­brated ar­chi­tects, Rev­o­lu­tion aims to rein­vent home-buy­ing, pre­sent­ing pri­vate clients and big de­vel­op­ers alike with a port­fo­lio of strik­ing res­i­dences that fuse low build ef­fort with high de­sign.

Rob­bie An­to­nio set up Rev­o­lu­tion in 2015. The Philip­pines-based prop­erty en­tre­pre­neur learned his craft in the fam­ily busi­ness, Cen­tury Prop­er­ties, where big brands were spliced with sys­tem-built tall tow­ers to cre­ate megas­truc­tures that ticked all the boxes for a la­bel-hun­gry lo­cal mar­ket. Rev­o­lu­tion is rather more down to earth, with an in­creased em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of good de­sign and di­verse con­trib­u­tors from all four cor­ners of the earth. To date, An­to­nio has se­cured res­i­den­tial con­cepts from Mar­cel Wan­ders, Mar­mol Radziner, Tom Dixon and Fer­nando Romero, among oth­ers.

An­to­nio also plays a prom­i­nent role in the in­ter­na­tional art mar­ket, al­most en­tirely on his own terms and to his own pref­er­ences. Rev­o­lu­tion is part con­struc­tion com­pany and part global art in­stal­la­tion, very much in keep­ing with An­to­nio’s own ap­proach to col­lect­ing. In an up­scale dis­trict of Manila, hid­den be­hind the black fa­cade of his Oma-de­signed villa (known as Stealth), is a vast art col­lec­tion largely con­tain­ing por­traits of the pa­tron him­self.

This en­thu­si­asm for art is one of the rea­sons why An­to­nio’s pro­ject has, from the out­set, mixed struc­tures for liv­ing with struc­tures for pure con­tem­pla­tion. While Wan­ders et al have been tasked with cre­at­ing places to live, Rev­o­lu­tion is also build­ing el­e­gant pre­fab­ri­cated pavil­ions for the col­lec­tors’ mar­ket. Think of these as akin to the Ser­pen­tine’s an­nual ar­chi­tect-driven projects, al­beit com­pacted for (slightly more) modest do­mes­tic tastes. De­signs in­clude a spher­i­cal struc­ture by Sou Fu­ji­moto, a metal­lic tree-shaped din­ing pav­il­ion by the late Zaha Ha­did with Pa­trik Schu­macher, a mesh of in­ter­lock­ing forms by Kengo Kuma and a cone of bent­wood rib­bons by Ron Arad. Ben van Berkel and the Cam­pana Broth­ers have also con­trib­uted.

Here’s where Wall­pa­per* comes in. Our black book of de­signer names grows by the is­sue, but over the years we’ve yearned to see how some of our favourite de­sign­ers might re­spond to a real-world com­mis­sion. The ba­sic idea was straight­for­ward: in­vite a se­lect group of ar­chi­tects to de­sign a com­pact house with pre­fab­ri­cated el­e­ments for trans­porta­tion and con­struc­tion any­where in the world. ‘Wall­pa­per* is a lead­ing tastemaker and source for high de­sign,’ says An­to­nio. ‘We part­nered to com­bine our ex­per­tise in or­der to cre­ate a prod­uct that is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Rev­o­lu­tion’s trail­blaz­ing cre­ativ­ity.’

One re­sult of Wall­pa­per’s cu­ra­tion is J Mayer H’s Di­ago home, a high-tech steel»

sand­wich that makes a virtue of its flow­ing struc­tural frame, with liv­ing spa­ces en­veloped in a rib­bon of glaz­ing. Prac­tice founder Jür­gen Mayer H de­scribes it as a ‘home that be­comes a light, open place that fuses in­side and out­side, some­where you can en­joy the dy­nam­ics of na­ture’. J Mayer H has also cre­ated Pal­loon, a pav­il­ion with a three-di­men­sional lat­tice of beams, which the ar­chi­tect de­scribes as ‘some­thing like a hide­out in a thicket’. The pro­to­type sits atop An­to­nio’s house in Manila, show­cas­ing the ‘go any­where’ ap­pli­ca­tion of Rev­o­lu­tion’s pav­il­ion pro­gramme.

As well as bring­ing J Mayer H on board, Wall­pa­per* is de­vel­op­ing schemes with other col­lab­o­ra­tors, al­low­ing An­to­nio to shape the top-level brand­ing and in­fra­struc­ture so that in­no­va­tive ideas can per­co­late through the in­dus­try. ‘Wall­pa­per* is the premier global de­sign mag­a­zine, so we asked it to cu­rate a se­lec­tion of names it thought would be ap­pro­pri­ate for this ini­tia­tive,’ he says.

Other Wall­pa­per* pro­to­types in the works in­clude Matilda by Stu­dio Fuk­sas and Sphere of In­flu­ence and Pi­azza d’italia by Mario Bellini, while Smil­jan Radic has cre­ated She­house 2, a cur­tained plat­form sur­rounded by glass. Leg­endary Brazil­ian ar­chi­tect Paulo Men­des da Rocha is work­ing along­side reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tor Metro Arquite­tos to ex­ploit the po­ten­tial of light­weight con­crete con­struc­tion. In Europe, Wall­pa­per* ap­proached Swiss stu­dio AFGH to find new ways of squeez­ing a su­perbly crafted, flex­i­ble struc­ture into the di­men­sions of a stan­dard ship­ping con­tainer. In the UK, Nigel Coates has been work­ing on his Aero­fab con­cept, while ne­go­ti­a­tions are on­go­ing with Ate­lier Bow-wow in Tokyo and Ama­teur Ar­chi­tec­ture Stu­dio in China. Founded by Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu, Ama­teur is ex­plor­ing how to turn lo­cal skills and ma­te­ri­als into a glob­ally adopt­able de­sign.

‘Rob­bie An­to­nio is not only a de­vel­oper but also an art col­lec­tor,’ says Mas­si­m­il­iano Fuk­sas. ‘And Matilda is a house but also a piece of art, a new con­cept of habi­tat. It’s a mo­bile home that can be any­where in the world, and it’s a mod­u­lar unit so that many of them can be added to­gether, like a cloud. It can even be a city.’

The in­ter­sect­ing hexag­o­nal forms of Stu­dio Fuk­sas’ con­cept cre­ate a fluid in­te­rior space across a num­ber of lev­els. Built-in ap­pli­ances and a va­ri­ety of fin­ishes, de­pend­ing on the level of spec, make Matilda a com­pact so­lu­tion for ex­pan­sive liv­ing on a small plot. ‘Nowa­days we don’t need so much stor­age space – you just need to have a screen,’ the ar­chi­tect says. ‘The only im­por­tant thing is to have a nice place to eat, to sit and to sleep.»

But this can also be done with some­thing you close when you don’t need it.’ Fuk­sas be­lieves his de­sign could be a pri­mary res­i­dence as well as an ex­tracur­ric­u­lar space – ‘a guest cot­tage, home of­fice, artist’s stu­dio, or as a sec­ond home in a city or ru­ral set­ting’.

Metro’s Martin Corul­lon is work­ing with Paulo Men­des da Rocha on an ex­pand­able frame-based scheme, with ‘small pieces that can be car­ried and in­stalled by hand’. ‘One of the im­por­tant fea­tures is the decks that pro­tect from sound and pro­vide a hy­brid in­side-out­side space – a buf­fer zone, very char­ac­ter­is­tic of trop­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture,’ Corul­lon says. Mean­while, Ama­teur Ar­chi­tec­ture Stu­dio’s ap­proach is to dis­til the re­quire­ments of space, fab­ri­ca­tion and trans­porta­tion into some­thing that merges lo­cal craft with fac­tory man­u­fac­tur­ing. ‘Tra­di­tional res­i­den­tial build­ings in Hangzhou are full of wis­dom on low cost, pre­fab­ri­ca­tion and assem­bly,’ says Lu Wenyu. Her stu­dio has used a 3m x 1.5m grid to form a live-work space that can adapt to al­most any cir­cum­stance. ‘Ar­chi­tects need to have a spe­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion with the crafts­men,’ she says, mind­ful of the im­por­tance of pure flex­i­bil­ity within a stan­dard­ised de­sign.

Nigel Coates’ Aero­fab is an in­dus­tri­ally pro­duced house that tries to tran­scend the ‘overtly tem­po­rary char­ac­ter and lit­tle sense of place’ evinced by con­ven­tional pre­fab de­sign. ‘Aero­fab em­pha­sises ar­chi­tec­tural “weight” while pro­vid­ing open, flex­i­ble, mod­ern liv­ing space,’ Coates says, ex­plain­ing how the liv­ing spa­ces are ar­ranged around a hefty cen­tral ‘wall’ el­e­ment. And Mario Bellini’s de­sign has evolved from a spher­i­cal, pol­ished-steel pav­il­ion into a house in­tended as a re­treat from an an­gu­lar world.

For now, Rev­o­lu­tion is tar­geted pri­mar­ily at de­vel­op­ers, es­pe­cially in the bur­geon­ing Far East­ern mar­ket. But economies of scale could mean con­sumer sales in the fu­ture. ‘I wanted to do some­thing global and it’s hard to trans­port tow­ers, so I in­ves­ti­gated the pre­fab in­dus­try,’ says An­to­nio, mat­terof-factly. He cites pre­vi­ous suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tions with Ar­mani, Ver­sace, Mis­soni and Her­mès in Asia, and be­lieves the hous­ing mar­ket is ripe for this com­bi­na­tion of big names and con­ve­nience.

Rev­o­lu­tion is in it for the long haul, iden­ti­fy­ing sites and col­lab­o­ra­tors for much larger schemes ahead. ‘I’m plan­ning to put pavil­ions into de­vel­op­ers’ mas­ter plans,’ says An­to­nio. ‘We can de­velop ho­tel vil­las and art parks, both in the Philip­pines and else­where.’ Pre­fab’s po­ten­tial has al­ways been con­strained by its pro­file. Rev­o­lu­tion is pair­ing the cre­ative in­dus­tries with cre­ative con­struc­tion, with Wall­pa­per* help­ing to cu­rate a fresh ap­proach.

‘Peo­ple crave ex­tra­or­di­nary ar­chi­tec­ture and we pro­vide this in an ac­ces­si­ble for­mat,’ An­to­nio says. ‘Ar­chi­tec­ture is a fine art and these ob­jects ex­em­plify the artistry in­volved with the dis­ci­pline.’ Life, art and de­sign might still come to­gether just as Wall­pa­per* imag­ined all those years ago.∂

De­signer J Mayer H Project Pal­loon jmay­erh.de

The Pal­loon re­lax­ation pav­il­ion is formed from an in­ter­lock­ing lat­tice of struc­tural el­e­ments, ar­ranged around a seat­ing niche. J Mayer H has de­signed it to be an in­hab­it­able sculp­ture. Pic­tured, Rob­bie An­to­nio with the Pal­loon pro­to­type, on the roof ter­race of his house and gallery in Manila

De­signer AFGH Project Ver­ti­cal Pre­fab House afgh.ch

An­dreas Fuh­ri­mann Gabrielle Häch­ler Ar­chitek­ten cre­ated its ‘ver­ti­cal’ pre­fab to be in­stalled on any site, with a scal­able sys­tem of col­umns and floors that al­lows mul­ti­ple units to be stacked up, de­pend­ing on the ap­pli­ca­tion. The sin­gle, stand­alone unit has ei­ther an in­ter­nal or ex­ter­nal stair and stor­age space be­low.

De­signer Mario Bellini Project Pi­azza d’italia bellini.it

The leg­endary Ital­ian de­signer chan­nelled Gior­gio de Chirico with his ge­o­met­ri­cally pre­cise ar­range­ment of vol­umes. In­tended as an in­hab­it­able still life, Bellini’s pre­fab di­vides liv­ing spa­ces into a se­ries of in­di­vid­ual, dis­crete zones, each ar­ranged around a cen­tral ‘cone’ that pro­vides pri­vacy, ven­ti­la­tion and light.

De­signer Paulo Men­des da Rocha and Metro Arquite­tos Project Mod­u­lar Liv­ing Unit metroo.com.br

In­spired by the idea of small-scale pre­fab ‘trans­for­ma­tions’, Men­des da Rocha and Metro de­vel­oped a mod­u­lar steel sys­tem with light­weight con­crete in­fill pan­els, al­low­ing in­stal­la­tion by hand. The scal­able struc­tures can be ar­ranged in al­most in­fi­nite ways.

De­signer Stu­dio Fuk­sas Project Matilda

This dra­matic home by Mas­si­m­il­iano and Do­ri­ana Fuk­sas was de­vel­oped to be dropped into al­most any kind of site and habi­tat, from ur­ban plots to open land­scapes. The twin vol­umes can in­ter­lock in a va­ri­ety of com­bi­na­tions and scales, with struc­tural wood pan­els form­ing gen­er­ous in­te­rior spa­ces that re­de­fine the idea of pre­fab­ri­cated liv­ing. fuk­sas.com

De­signer Nigel Coates Project Aero­fab nigel­coates.com

Build­ing on pre­vi­ous small-scale liv­ing con­cepts, Nigel Coates has cre­ated ‘Aero­fab’, a mass-pro­duced house with the weight and so­lid­ity of a con­ven­tion­ally built one. With twin wings ar­ranged around a cen­tral ser­vice core, the struc­ture is formed from just a few pre­fab­ri­cated el­e­ments.

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