Building a Prefab House

written by:
November 24, 2011

A highlight of reporting "A Simple Plan," my story about the Marmol Radziner-designed prefab in Ukiah, California (in our December/January 2012 issue, and online here) was sitting down with the residents and hearing about how the house came together on the site. Residents Abbie and Bill Burton worked with Marmol Radziner to design a two-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot house (with an additional 1,400 square feet of covered decks) for their rural site in Mendocino County. The house, made of ten prefabricated steel modules, took three months to build in the firm's factory—and just a single day to assemble on the site. The Burtons shared their snapshots of the on-site construction process, which they witnessed from lawn chairs on a neighboring hill. "It was instantaneous," said Bill. "We went from having just a foundation on our site to walking around our house a few hours later. You never see architecture come together like that." Here's a glimpse at the wonder of prefab.

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  Here's the site as it looked the day before the modules arrived. The concrete block wall foundation, fireplace, basement, and utilities are all in place. Previously, Marmol Radziner, their trucking company, and the crane company had all scouted the site "to understand the topography, road alignments and road grades, and to evaluate trees and natural features of the landscape which would potentially be obstacles to bringing the modules into the Ranch and to our site," says Bill.
    Here's the site as it looked the day before the modules arrived. The concrete block wall foundation, fireplace, basement, and utilities are all in place. Previously, Marmol Radziner, their trucking company, and the crane company had all scouted the site "to understand the topography, road alignments and road grades, and to evaluate trees and natural features of the landscape which would potentially be obstacles to bringing the modules into the Ranch and to our site," says Bill.
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  A closer view of the concrete block foundation wall and the back of the fireplace. The block was standard finish integral color concrete, which the Burtons had sandblasted to give the surface a softer look. The concrete block foundation walls are topped with steel plates, onto which the modules would be welded after being "racked" into place.
    A closer view of the concrete block foundation wall and the back of the fireplace. The block was standard finish integral color concrete, which the Burtons had sandblasted to give the surface a softer look. The concrete block foundation walls are topped with steel plates, onto which the modules would be welded after being "racked" into place.
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  "When the fabrication of the house was completed, the ten modules were trucked to the site from the Marmol Radziner factory in Los Angeles," says Bill. "First they were off-loaded at the Ukiah Airport, which graciously allowed us to leave them there overnight. All but two of the semi trucks went back to L.A. that night. The remaining two trucks stayed to transport the modules the six miles up Highway 253 to the site the next morning."
    "When the fabrication of the house was completed, the ten modules were trucked to the site from the Marmol Radziner factory in Los Angeles," says Bill. "First they were off-loaded at the Ukiah Airport, which graciously allowed us to leave them there overnight. All but two of the semi trucks went back to L.A. that night. The remaining two trucks stayed to transport the modules the six miles up Highway 253 to the site the next morning."
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  Here's a view of the shrink-wrapped modules staged at the airport, after being removed from the ten semi trucks that brought them up from Los Angeles.
    Here's a view of the shrink-wrapped modules staged at the airport, after being removed from the ten semi trucks that brought them up from Los Angeles.
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  The next morning, a 300,000-pound crane arrived on the site. This piece of equipment would lift the modules from the semi trucks and set them into place on the foundation.  
    The next morning, a 300,000-pound crane arrived on the site. This piece of equipment would lift the modules from the semi trucks and set them into place on the foundation.  
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  Here's the first module as it arrived at the site early in the morning.
    Here's the first module as it arrived at the site early in the morning.
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  After workers tore off the shrink wrap, the crane lifted the first module off the semi truck.
    After workers tore off the shrink wrap, the crane lifted the first module off the semi truck.
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  The first module (part of the master bedroom) is lowered into place.
    The first module (part of the master bedroom) is lowered into place.
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  On to the second module. The crane tethers (pictured at the top of the image) will be attached to the "lift points" on the top of the module.
    On to the second module. The crane tethers (pictured at the top of the image) will be attached to the "lift points" on the top of the module.
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  Abby and Vinnie, the couple's rescue Bernese Mountain dog, watched from a nearby hill in awe.
    Abby and Vinnie, the couple's rescue Bernese Mountain dog, watched from a nearby hill in awe.
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  After the kitchen modules are set in place, the diagonal bracing used during the transportation remains. "The guy in the foreground worked for Marmol Radziner and had set pre-fabricated buildings all over the world during his career," says Bill. "He was quite the cheerleader for the day and very good at this complicated process."
    After the kitchen modules are set in place, the diagonal bracing used during the transportation remains. "The guy in the foreground worked for Marmol Radziner and had set pre-fabricated buildings all over the world during his career," says Bill. "He was quite the cheerleader for the day and very good at this complicated process."
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  Here's one of the outdoor covered deck modules being lowered into place adjacent to the fireplace.
    Here's one of the outdoor covered deck modules being lowered into place adjacent to the fireplace.
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  Another outdoor covered deck module being lowered into place.
    Another outdoor covered deck module being lowered into place.
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  Vinny supervises from his lawn chair with Bill (in the Nebraska t-shirt) and Bill's father (seated).
    Vinny supervises from his lawn chair with Bill (in the Nebraska t-shirt) and Bill's father (seated).
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  The last module arrived on-site late in the day.
    The last module arrived on-site late in the day.
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  Abbie, Stella (the Burton's other dog), and Riley, the project architect for Marmol Radziner, stand in the master bedroom, just after the last module was set. "You can see the open drywall seam in the ceiling that will be closed up over the next six weeks," Bill points out.
    Abbie, Stella (the Burton's other dog), and Riley, the project architect for Marmol Radziner, stand in the master bedroom, just after the last module was set. "You can see the open drywall seam in the ceiling that will be closed up over the next six weeks," Bill points out.
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  At the end of the day, Abbie, Stella and some of the Marmol Radziner staff gathered in the kitchen. "You can see the range hood in the background, the white tiled back wall of the kitchen, and seam in the ceiling where the two modules are joined," says Bill.
    At the end of the day, Abbie, Stella and some of the Marmol Radziner staff gathered in the kitchen. "You can see the range hood in the background, the white tiled back wall of the kitchen, and seam in the ceiling where the two modules are joined," says Bill.
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  A view down the length of the outdoor covered deck leading to the front door.
    A view down the length of the outdoor covered deck leading to the front door.
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  A view into the guest bathroom. The sink, fixtures, cabinets and mirror were already in place when the module arrived on site; they were installed in the factory.
    A view into the guest bathroom. The sink, fixtures, cabinets and mirror were already in place when the module arrived on site; they were installed in the factory.
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  A view of the living room, with a portion of the concrete floor uncovered. All the floors were poured in the factory.
    A view of the living room, with a portion of the concrete floor uncovered. All the floors were poured in the factory.
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  A view of the outdoor covered deck off of the living room, looking towards the concrete block fireplace.
    A view of the outdoor covered deck off of the living room, looking towards the concrete block fireplace.
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  Bill's parents walking around the house at the end of the setting day.
    Bill's parents walking around the house at the end of the setting day.
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  At the end of the day, the crane packed up and headed home. "Every time I look at these images I am struck by the fact that this happened in one day!" Bill says. Indeed, it's quite a mind-blowing feat.
    At the end of the day, the crane packed up and headed home. "Every time I look at these images I am struck by the fact that this happened in one day!" Bill says. Indeed, it's quite a mind-blowing feat.
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  Here's a look at the finished house, several months later. Photo by Dwight Eschliman.
    Here's a look at the finished house, several months later. Photo by Dwight Eschliman.
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  A wider view of the house, set into the Burton's oak-speckled property. Photo by Dwight Eschliman.
    A wider view of the house, set into the Burton's oak-speckled property. Photo by Dwight Eschliman.
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  The floor plan of the Burton House in Ukiah, California.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!   Photo by: Dwight Eschliman
    The floor plan of the Burton House in Ukiah, California.

    Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

    Photo by: Dwight Eschliman

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