The Timber Screens of This Off-Grid Prefab in Italy Lift Up Like Wings

The Timber Screens of This Off-Grid Prefab in Italy Lift Up Like Wings

By Lucy Wang
Designed for a couple needing a temporary home, MU50 is a modular cabin whose moving sunshades create a dappled effect, called “komorebi” in Japanese.

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.

Designed to sit lightly on the land, the transportable MU50 prototype is nestled into a pine-covered cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea.

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." 

The prefab roughly measures 35.5 feet by 15.7 feet and comprises an open kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom.

A double-glazed end wall with two doors frames stunning views of the Aegean Sea. A deep roof overhang shelters the outdoor terrace.

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.  

Currently used as a temporary home, the structure can be quickly and easily adapted into an open workplace with the removal of the bedroom and kitchen.

"Prefabrication allows us to control quality while reducing error margins," explains Teke, who partly credits his interest in prefab to his work experience at Renzo Piano’s firm. "It helps us save time, reduce waste, and use materials to their maximum efficiency, allowing for a sustainable process of production—an easier and faster way to build."

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.

The off-grid MU50 is topped with solar panels and solar thermal panels. Ground-source heat pumps support underfloor heating and cooling, while a nearby well supplies water. A desalination system provides drinking water, and rainwater is collected for landscape irrigation.

The laminated wood roof structure is topped with thermal insulation and waterproofing in addition to the copper enclosure.

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.

CNC-milled teak was used for almost all of the exterior, from the cladding and sunshades to the 430-square-foot exterior decks.

The bathroom, kitchen, and storage are housed within a central mechanical core that separates the living room from the bedroom.

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.

The piston-operated pine sunshades lift upwards to protect the exterior deck and give residents the ability to manually modulate the home’s access to daylight and shade as the sun moves across the sky.

"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." 

Ceramic floor tiles, light-toned timber surfaces, and gypsum walls reflect light and create an airy feel.

The floor is elevated to allow air to circulate underneath.

"I love the flexibility of the modular space: The same space can be used for sleeping, meetings, or yoga and meditation," says Teke. "The house is surrounded by decks, which further connect inside and outside, and I love that different times of day and seasons of the year create almost different microclimates on the decks. On the technical side, I enjoy how the house runs as a machine, a shell with all its mechanical needs housed in the core and underneath the structure for optimal flexibility, ease of adjustment, and efficiency of distribution."

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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Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Teke Architects Office / @tekearchitects

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