Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007.
For all their advantages when it comes to quality and sustainability, prefabs still get unfairly characterized as being ugly, thanks to early (and admittedly ugly) post-war prefabs being quickly mass-produced out of cheaper materials in order to address a massive need for more modernized housing after the war. But prefab building techniques and materials have improved immensely in the decades since, and we're now seeing more and more gorgeous prefabs being designed and built, with some of them looking decidedly unlike the stereotypical narrow and boxy prefab.
One great example of how to make a prefab not look like a prefab is this reinterpretation of the Australian rural home. Located near Mungo Brush, in the state of New South Wales, this 1377-square-foot (128-square-meter) residence was designed by Australian architectural firm CHROFI, in collaboration with Australian prefab manufacturer FABPREFAB.
Dubbed The Courtyard House, the project features multiple prefabricated modules that have been arranged in a way that not only conceals their prefabricated nature but also offers a refreshing twist on the traditional Australian countryside home, which typically includes a shaded veranda, along with architectural elements that were often borrowed from traditional English architecture of the late 1800s.
The small home consists of four modules, which are carefully arranged to create four zones: the main living space, the veranda, bedroom, and a central bridge that functions as a transitional space or hallway. Much of the exterior is covered with spotted gum cladding with a Woca Silver finish, to help it blend into its natural surroundings.
The challenge, however, was to make this relatively small footprint feel big, say the architects:
To start, the designers expanded upon the traditional veranda by enlarging it to become an outdoor room of sorts, now measuring a generous 300 square feet.
Rather than have a lot of landscaping taking up space around the compact footprint of the house, the firm opted to condense that element into a partially enclosed courtyard, which is screened off with a slatted partition on one end but opens up on another side with a huge sliding door made of wooden slats.
The home has been intentionally designed so that it has no obvious front or back, but rather consciously connects to the rough coastal bush landscape on all sides.
As the modules have been purposely offset so that the floorplan looks nothing like the conventionally narrow proportions of a prefab, it's the squarish dimensions of the partially enclosed courtyard that help to propel that unique impression, while offering the inhabitants an open buffer zone that echoes the rugged landscape beyond.
Sliding doors have been used with great effect here, allowing the occupants to easily open up the interior to the outside at a moment's notice, seamlessly blurring the boundaries between house and bush.
The view from the living room out past the full-height doors is stunning.
Besides its simple but clever floorplan, the home implements passive systems for cooling and can operate off the grid thanks to its solar power system, in addition to having a rainwater harvesting system and an on-site sewage treatment system.
With the modules and the installation of fixtures and finishes being mostly completed at the factory prior to them being transported on-site, and placed on top of the foundation within a few hours, the Courtyard House is a wonderful example of how prefabs can think out of the prefab box. With so many new and great prefab ideas emerging, perhaps now is the time to change the way we talk about prefabs, to help them shed those unwarranted stereotypes.
To see more, visit CHROFI.
Mennel, Timothy. "'Miracle House Hoop-La': Corporate Rhetoric and the Construction of the Postwar American House." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 64, no. 3, 2005, pp. 340-361.
"Courtyard House for Fabprefab." Chrofi.
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