9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo / Published by Dwell
The barren beauty of a desert landscape can be a source of inspiration for off-the-grid prefab living.

And although the locations of these prefab homes range in remoteness, each of them are carefully nestled into their harsh desert surroundings—thanks to practical features that help them deal with the extremes that come with the territory. 

Hybrid Prefab in the California Desert

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 1 of 9 - Despite the remoteness of the lot and the challenges it posed, the light-gauge steel frame was erected in days, and the entire home was completed in two months—a testament to the ease and efficiency of the prefabricated system.  Manufactured with up to 70 percent recycled steel, the hybrid prefab home limits construction waste to the factory, where it's recycled. 

Despite the remoteness of the lot and the challenges it posed, the light-gauge steel frame was erected in days, and the entire home was completed in two months—a testament to the ease and efficiency of the prefabricated system.  Manufactured with up to 70 percent recycled steel, the hybrid prefab home limits construction waste to the factory, where it's recycled. 

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 2 of 9 - The modular two-story, steel-and-glass structure sits atop a windy ridge on the city’s western edge, near Red Rock Canyon. Its prefabricated components—steel-frame modules that were prepared with finished floors, walls, doors, and fenestration, or were designed as canopied or trellised decks—were all made in Marmol Radziner’s home-building factory near Los Angeles, and trucked over to the one-and-a-half-acre site. 

The modular two-story, steel-and-glass structure sits atop a windy ridge on the city’s western edge, near Red Rock Canyon. Its prefabricated components—steel-frame modules that were prepared with finished floors, walls, doors, and fenestration, or were designed as canopied or trellised decks—were all made in Marmol Radziner’s home-building factory near Los Angeles, and trucked over to the one-and-a-half-acre site. 

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 3 of 9 - Originally located at the heart of Venice Beach’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the building served as a prototypical model home and showroom to display architect Jennifer Siegal's company OMD’s latest work. Relocated to the high desert of Joshua Tree—close the national park entrance—the Joshua Tree Prefab now nestles into 80 acres of arid off-the-grid wilderness.

Originally located at the heart of Venice Beach’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the building served as a prototypical model home and showroom to display architect Jennifer Siegal's company OMD’s latest work. Relocated to the high desert of Joshua Tree—close the national park entrance—the Joshua Tree Prefab now nestles into 80 acres of arid off-the-grid wilderness.

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 4 of 9 - Organized around a central courtyard, the home’s three modules are oriented to maximize views of downtown Marfa. Thanks to 20-foot-deep piers that are drilled below each concrete footing, the structure is rooted to the site and is stabilized against West Texas winds, which can reach 120 miles per hour.

Organized around a central courtyard, the home’s three modules are oriented to maximize views of downtown Marfa. Thanks to 20-foot-deep piers that are drilled below each concrete footing, the structure is rooted to the site and is stabilized against West Texas winds, which can reach 120 miles per hour.

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 5 of 9 - Architect Whitney Sander figured out how to beat the heat with this lap pool that runs alongside the west facade of a hybrid prefab home in Palm Springs by Sander Architects. "Our version of prefab," explains architect Whitney Sander, "involves the use of building shells that are the ‘heavy lifting’ parts of any house: main structure, secondary  structure, and (often) building skin."

Architect Whitney Sander figured out how to beat the heat with this lap pool that runs alongside the west facade of a hybrid prefab home in Palm Springs by Sander Architects. "Our version of prefab," explains architect Whitney Sander, "involves the use of building shells that are the ‘heavy lifting’ parts of any house: main structure, secondary structure, and (often) building skin."

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 6 of 9 - To achieve McAdam’s steel-home dream, the Blue Sky team had to overcome a significant problem: the thermal properties of steel. It can burn wicked hot in the desert sun before turning searingly cold on a frosty desert night. The conductive properties of steel tend to amplify whatever’s happening outdoors inside the house. After months of research, the team found a solution in the form of steel studs insulated with expanded polystyrene foam. A Pennsylvania firm, Accelerated Building Technologies, created a channel system through the foam that forces hot and cold temperatures to follow a zigzag path along metal pieces embedded in the insulation, thus deadening its effect on the interior temperatures.

To achieve McAdam’s steel-home dream, the Blue Sky team had to overcome a significant problem: the thermal properties of steel. It can burn wicked hot in the desert sun before turning searingly cold on a frosty desert night. The conductive properties of steel tend to amplify whatever’s happening outdoors inside the house. After months of research, the team found a solution in the form of steel studs insulated with expanded polystyrene foam. A Pennsylvania firm, Accelerated Building Technologies, created a channel system through the foam that forces hot and cold temperatures to follow a zigzag path along metal pieces embedded in the insulation, thus deadening its effect on the interior temperatures.

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 7 of 9 - Various groupings of succulents were planted to accent and obscure this elegant desert prefab home's relationship to its surrounding environment. 

Various groupings of succulents were planted to accent and obscure this elegant desert prefab home's relationship to its surrounding environment. 

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 8 of 9 - With post-and-beam construction, a thin roof profile, and an open floor plan that facilitates an interplay between the interior and exterior, the Dwell Prefab Palm Springs by Turkel Design bears all the signatures of the architecture firm. The show home is its first in California, which allowed Turkel and his team to put extra emphasis on indoor/outdoor living.

With post-and-beam construction, a thin roof profile, and an open floor plan that facilitates an interplay between the interior and exterior, the Dwell Prefab Palm Springs by Turkel Design bears all the signatures of the architecture firm. The show home is its first in California, which allowed Turkel and his team to put extra emphasis on indoor/outdoor living.

9 Modern Prefabs in the Desert - Photo 9 of 9 - The iT House located in the high desert outside Los Angeles builds on ideas explored over the last century. These include the all-glass house by Philip Johnson, the house made from industrial components, work by desert modernist Albert Frey, and L.A.’s Case Study House architects. However, the iT House is among the few that harmoniously blend high-tech and the handmade, while harnessing the surrounding landscape.  

The iT House located in the high desert outside Los Angeles builds on ideas explored over the last century. These include the all-glass house by Philip Johnson, the house made from industrial components, work by desert modernist Albert Frey, and L.A.’s Case Study House architects. However, the iT House is among the few that harmoniously blend high-tech and the handmade, while harnessing the surrounding landscape.