Set on a steep cliff high above the Aegean Sea, MU50 is a prefab prototype by Genoa, Italy–based Teke Architects Office that’s low-impact, recyclable, and adaptable enough to be built virtually anywhere.
Crowned a winner in the 2019 Wood Design & Building Awards, MU50—which stands for Modular Unit and its 50-square-meter footprint—began as an unexpected side project.
The young clients, an eco-minded couple, initially hired the architecture firm to help them create a sustainable development that would include their main residence, guesthouses, and an olive oil factory on Italy’s Mediterranean coast.
"During the design phase of the main residence, they realized that they wanted to have the opportunity to live on their land and get to know the site while the main house was being built, to come on summer holidays, and to monitor the construction," explains founding architect Onur Teke. "So, we proposed building a smaller, prefabricated unit that they can temporarily live in during the construction phase of the main project."
Since the home would only be used temporarily, flexibility was a key design factor. Once the main residence is complete, the clients can quickly and easily convert MU50 into an office space.
The project builds upon Teke’s work on T-House, an award-winning home in Western Turkey that the clients had visited and fallen in love with. Like T-House, MU50 emphasizes modularity, a deep connection with nature, sustainability, natural light, and a simple material palette, the architect explains.
All parts of MU50, aside from the copper roof enclosure, were prefabricated off-site in a factory in roughly three months. Site preparation took a week, after which installation of the prefab components—from the CNC-milled timber and custom, steel-framed, double-glazed units to the central mechanical equipment core—took another three to four weeks.
With just 540 square feet of interior space, the small-scale prefab’s footprint belies its spacious feel. Large windows and a restrained palette give the open-plan interior a sense of airiness that’s enhanced when the manually operated timber sunshades are lifted up to immerse the home in natural light and views of the Mediterranean landscape.
"I love the light we were able to get inside the house," says Teke. "A major goal for the project was for people using the house to be continuously in touch with the natural world around them, for the inside to be in touch with the outside, so we wanted to maximize the transparent facades."
Not only do the sunshades control light, mitigate energy use, and offer privacy, but they also create a gorgeous pattern of shade. "There’s a Japanese word, komorebi, for the look of sunlight filtered through the leaves and branches of trees," says Teke. "When sunlight comes through the shades of the house, you get that komorebi effect: It creates a play of light and shadow on the walls."
The completion of MU50 has led to requests for Modular Units from around the world. The architects are currently working with hospitality clients in Canada and the Netherlands to develop a series of site-specific prefabs for glamping destinations and has partnered with an undisclosed Italian company to manufacture the buildings.
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