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Two Men and a Factory

Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner are at the forefront of the prefab movement.


Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner are at the forefront of the prefab movement.

In 1931, the "Aluminaire House" was assembled out of light steel and aluminum in a mere ten days for an exhibit in New York. The three-story structure was a prototype for low-cost, mass-produced housing, and was one of the first representations of modernism in the United States. Visitors swarmed. Because it was so easy to construct, one reporter called it "the Zipper House," another "the Magic House." Despite its warm reception, the Aluminaire House was never reproduced. "The history of prefab endeavors for residential projects has been one of failure," explains architect Leo Marmol.Late last year the "Desert House" was assembled without fanfare in Desert Hot Springs, California. It was created by Marmol, 45, and Ron Radziner, 46-partners in the architecture firm Marmol Radziner and Associates-as the realization of a prize-winning design for low-cost housing, and as a weekend house for Marmol and his wife. The two architects are committed to integrating buildings with the natural environment and preserving wildness from the creeping threat of asphalt. They are passionate without preaching; they speak plainly and humbly about the basic human need for affordable, well-designed housing. Recently, they created Marmol Radziner Prefab-a spin-off of their firm, which is known for its meticulous restorations of classic modern houses in Los Angeles-to design, manufacture, and build their creation.
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The history of prefab endeavors for residential projects has been one of failure.
In the spirit of the Aluminaire House, the Desert House is a prototype for mass production, built on a metal frame with a clean modern style. But unlike its predecessor, the new house has already led to the sale of almost 20 customized variations. In Marmol and Radziner's 60,000-square-foot factory near South Central Los Angeles, components are assembled in modules the size of the widest trailer allowed on California freeways. On site, the modules are craned onto a custom foundation. No general contractor is necessary, and six to eight months after an order is placed, the house is ready for living.Marmol Radziner Prefab offers a range of basic models, from a one-bedroom package for $215,000 to a three-bedroom package for $630,000. Customers can select several different options to reduce the house's environmental impact-90 percent of buyers choose solar panels, for example-and many sustainable features, like a frame made of recycled steel, come standard. The factory itself is designed to minimize material waste and pollution, so even those interested solely in the aesthetics of the house end up making a difference. "Every prefab house we do," says Marmol, "has a greater level of sustainability than a conventional site-built house."LEARN MORE marmol-radziner.com
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