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by David Andrusia
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Aug 22, 2009

Not so long ago, the term "prefab" very nearly became a code word for everything that was wrong with contemporary American culture. A functional synonym for "cheap," "tacky," and/or "soulless," prefab items were the special bane of punk rockers; iconic presences including Debbie Harry and Poly Styrene took every opportunity to cast their evil eyes (and tongues) on prefab life- the ultimate put-down to flimsiness of (lower) middle-class life and ass-end consumerism.

Present-day pundits see it differently: pre-fab as a concept has attained a postmodern cool, if clearly one with a somewhat disaffected slant.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sudden grooviness of prefab homes - environmentalists and green celebs have put a positive spin on pre-fab housing; a sharp change in direction from the punk priestess' stance of a few decades ago.

One quick look at the neo-styles, and it's difficult to disagree; just when we weren't looking, someone put the fab back in prefab. Which isn't to say that all is well on the academic front: urban planners and historians haven't quite jumped on the bandwagon. Who can blame them though, given the moral and aesthetic ugliness of the post-War prefab movement in the U.S.?

It would also be fair to say that far more consumers have shouted "cool!" than "sold!" In terms of long-range viability, the jury on modernist pre-fab is still out.

Among the more exciting - and carefully considered - projects in the prefab realm is the partnership between DWELL magazine and two prominent designers. Originally launched in 2005, the program has built 37 (prefab) Dwell Homes in various locations around the country.

In 2009, the projects spawned a second phase, with partners Marmol Radziner Prefab and in concert with Turkel Design, one the most prominent prefab designers working today. Collectively, their work has been lauded in The New York Times, Architectural Digest, and in May of 2009, was chosen by Time magazine for inclusion in the Green Design 100, a list of the world's best environmentally-conscious designs. (DWELL has a list of eight other designers and architects waiting in the wings for the project's third phase.)

Interestingly, these prefab homes are far sturdier than you might imagine. According to Dwell President Michela O'Connor Abrams, these homes "are often better built than many custom homes, as the precision engineering and the manufacturing processes demand a level of perfection virtually impossible to attain in site-built construction. Dwell homes are either placed or assembled on permanent foundations and often exhibit greater quality and durability than a typical conventionally-built home."

The beauty part? Take a peek at these lookers and you'll be jumping on the prefab express with us.

Turkel TD32700

The TD3 2700 offers outdoor living space accessed from the great room through a large movable wall of sliding glass panels. A novel inclined butterfly roof harvests rainwater; the roof and overall mass of the house are carefully proportioned to minimize the home’s volume, thereby decreasing heating, cooling and other life-cycle costs.

It’s also gorgeous.

Turkel TD32400

The TD3 2400 has an L-shaped plan that creates a private sheltered outdoor space. The inclined shed roof transfers rainwater to one location for easy collection for use in the home’s gardens. The unique roof shape is carefully designed to induce a slow convection current, passively exhausting warm air in the summertime through operable windows at the roof’s highest point.

In the winter, warm air is collected in the baffles of the ceiling structure, warming the upper level bedrooms and loft spaces.

Turkel TED2100

The TD3 2100 is designed for small suburban spaces or more dense city infill sites as narrow as 50 feet wide. The house is intentionally opaque from the street side, increasing privacy in upper level bedrooms and allowing the home to become more transparent as one moves from the public to the private side of the home.

Though only 2100 square feet, the virtual elimination of dedicated circulation space allows a generous great-room that opens onto a private rear yard, four bedrooms, a media room, a one-car garage, and a fabulous upper level studio with its own private roof deck.

Marmol Radziner Skyline Series

Marmol Radziner’s Skyline Series homes are designed for urban lots of varying sizes. The series’ design keynotes include floor-to-ceiling windows and decking, which create an at-one-with-the-environment indoor/outdoor experience.

Super-sustainable, these homes include insulating glass, optional grid-connected solar panels, responsible woods, low VOC paint, and energy efficient appliances.

How to launch your own prefab pad? For a DWELL abode, you start with a visit to or for more information and to find the name of a local contact. Each of the designers’ key designs can be viewed on their respective websites (see also ), although each house is ultimately customized to prospective owners’ needs. Costs run between $200 and $400 a square foot. After financing and location approval - similar to the process of any new home - a site is chosen, and contractors get to work.

David Andrusia writes on food, travel, style, and beauty. Author of the bestseller BRAND YOURSELF, he is a career consultant in Los Angeles. Visit him online at


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