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Design

Thinking Inside the Box

by Alexandra Spunt

February 6, 2009

For nearly a century, architectural visionaries have been predicting that some day, people everywhere would live happily in prefabricated homes. It hasn't happened yet, but they're on to something."We shall arrive at the House-Machine, the mass-production house, healthy (and morally so too) and beautiful…" -Le Corbusier, 1919 It was a nice idea, but nearly a century after the father of modern architecture uttered those prophetic words, the prefabricated "House-Machine" is still far from commonplace. In fact, prefabs-houses manufactured partially or entirely offsite-make up less than 1 percent of the market. And yet they are out there. Couple an ever-growing emphasis on sustainability (and frugality) with the death of the nuclear family and the worst housing crisis the country has ever seen, and it seems we're poised for a prefab renaissance.Then again, people always think we're poised for a prefab renaissance. In the 1920s, prefabricated houses were embraced as a novelty in a world desperate for new ideas. After World War II, it seemed the perfect postwar solution for the influx of vets in need of shelter. Still, these inexpensive, streamlined, and easy-to-make houses are once again growing in popularity. New York's Museum of Modern Art even mounted a whole exhibit about them last year. So will prefabs finally become commonplace? Or are they doomed to exist only in the margins?
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Thinking Inside the Box