Is Prefab Fab?
MoMA Plans a Show
leido en NYTIMES
Seizing the moment the Museum of Modern Art has commissioned five architects to erect their own prefab dwellings in a vacant lot on West 53rd Street, adjacent to the museum. Whittled down from a pool of about 400, the five architects are participating in “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling,” an exhibition opening in July.
The five, to be announced today by the museum, are KieranTimberlake Associates of Philadelphia; Lawrence Sass of Cambridge, Mass.; Douglas Gauthier and Jeremy Edmiston of Manhattan; Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf of Austria; and Richard Horden of Horden Cherry Lee in London.
Each firm has a track record with prefabricated housing, but they all approach the form differently. The proposals were evaluated by a jury of MoMA curators and staff members and architectural professionals. The Manhattan architecture firm of Cooper Robertson & Partners will act as the consulting architect in assembling the houses, some created expressly for this exhibition and others designed earlier.
“I wanted a mix of existing buildings and prototypes,” said Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of architecture and design at the museum, who is organizing the exhibition with Peter Christensen, a curatorial assistant. Mr. Bergdoll said he didn’t want to perpetuate what he called a prevailing myth that prefab housing can’t work in practice. Several architects have had considerable success, including Wes Jones, who in 1994 made homes from shipping containers, and Namba Kazuhiko, who in 2004 created his Muji Infill House.
Mr. Bergdoll wants to counter other misconceptions about prefab housing, like the notion that the reason to build them is to save money. While they can be economical, he said, they also have potential environmental benefits. The goal for Mr. Gauthier and Mr. Edmiston, for example, is to cut the most complex prefab pieces with the least waste.
Mr. Horden’s Micro Compact House — Mr. Bergdoll described it as “a giant livable Sony radio cube” — is topped with photovoltaic panels and has wind turbines in its walls, allowing the house to generate its own electricity. An aluminum-clad perfect cube, with about 76 square feet of living space, the tiny dwelling is intended for use as athletic or student housing, or as a miniature vacation house. Mr. Bergdoll met with Mr. Horden in one of his cubes, a space so compact that the architect managed to make espresso on the kitchen counter without leaving his seat at the dining table.
The house is commercially available — it recently went on the market in Europe — and can be delivered by helicopter or crane.
A five-story house designed by the firm led by Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake is made of recyclable materials and equipped with photovoltaic cells that allow it to function off the electricity grid. With steel frames that snap together and glass windows that slide into place, the house requires no welding.
Mr. Sass, an architecture professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has designed prefab housing for New Orleans. He proposes shipping a laser-cutting system with the pieces, which can be assembled with a rubber mallet, so homeowners can erect their own houses. “The house could be a fascinating combination of high-tech design and low-tech assembly,” Mr. Bergdoll said.
Prefab homes for New Orleans by Lawrence Sass.
In the System 3 house by Mr. Kaufmann and Mr. Rüf, the units — each fits inside a shipping container — can be stacked together like blocks. The house can be expanded vertically or horizontally and comes with a choice of panels and window systems with which to wrap the building. By the time it’s all assembled, about 36 hours later, Mr. Bergdoll said, “it doesn’t look anything like what arrived on the truck.”
A prefab house by Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf.
The museum gave each team $175,000, though the architects could exceed that budget at their own expense. The Rockefeller Foundation, for example, helped pay for Mr. Sass’s project and is also a sponsor of the overall exhibition, along with the Lily Auchincloss Foundation.
MoMA has a tradition of exhibiting houses outdoors, most famously in its sculpture garden. The House in the Museum Garden by Marcel Breuer in 1948 was followed by Gregory Ain’s Exhibition House in 1950 and the Japanese Exhibition House in 1955. But while the earlier house exhibitions tried to define taste for a growing middle class, the prefab houses will address a broader socio-economic spread.
Intrinsic to the idea of prefab housing is serial production, an arguably radical notion at a time when one-of-a-kind homes are so valued. But computerized customization also makes it possible to produce nonidentical objects, Mr. Bergdoll said, adding that the exhibition may explore “the idea that mass production is reconcilable with the individual artistic spirit.”
Although the show does not officially open until July 20, today’s announcement marks its beginning, Mr. Bergdoll said. In February the foundations will be laid in the vacant lot. The houses will start arriving in late May or early June, a spectacle that Mr. Bergdoll suggested could rival the installation of Richard Serra’s immense sculptures last year.
“We really want the spectacle of, ‘There’s no house there,’ and three days later, ‘There’s a house that you could move furniture into,’” he said.
Starting in mid-March the architects will contribute weekly blog postings to record the process of fabricating, delivering and assembling the houses on moma.org. The show’s two main themes are off-site assembly and delivery, so this stage is integral to the exhibition.
“Once the house is here, it becomes a static event,” Mr. Bergdoll said. “What we’re really celebrating is how it came into being.”
Visitors will be able to enter all of the houses, except Mr. Horden’s, which is too small to accommodate many people.
The exhibition’s indoor portion will have documents, other full-scale parts of houses, and films that explore the roots of prefabrication in the work of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Jean Prouvé, Richard Rogers, Kisho Kurokawa and Konrad Wachsmann. The exhibition will also highlight projects by corporations like Lustron and Sears Roebuck, and the German Kupferhaus of the 1930s.
In part because of the disparaging associations with the term prefab, Mr. Bergdoll left it out of the title of his exhibition. “I’m making a case for the exploration of architectural ideas,” he said. “I don’t think architecture should be marginalized in a way that it just becomes a luxury product.”
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