Look to the Lustron

As MoMA's “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling” comes to a close (on Oct. 20), let's give props to the ugly duckling of the prefab bunch, the Lustron House.

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Lustrons were traditional-style homes, built from 1948-50 out of porcelain-coated steel, and billed as "rodent proof, fire proof , lightning proof, and rustproof. In his review of the MoMA show, New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff slammed the Lustron as "modern technology draped in nostalgia," claiming it  embodied "fear of the unknown that has historically pushed the most creative architecture to the periphery of the profession." Yet draping modern technology in nostalgia (and other kinds of ephemeral fashion flair) is a time-honored way of getting the masses to accept radical, positive change: This is why hybrid cars still look like cars, laptop computers still use a QWERTY keyboard, and organic TV dinners still come in a plastic-coated cardboard box. So as modern prefab turns out to be a luxury-item boondoggle, let's look to the Lustron: Because if everyone else in America buys a prefab that looks like Tara, the economies of scale will bring down the cost of your cool modern box, too.

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