Read excerpts from Dwell's interview with principal Joel Turkel below. Interested in learning more about the Axiom/Dwell Prefab series by Turkel Design? Visit our webinar page for upcoming free online webinar dates.
How would you describe the state of prefab overall?
It's inundated with architects who are trying to architecturalize the problem; they want the issue of prefab to be an architecture problem. It's like the saying When you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. It's much more about the delivery mechanism though: When you walk out the door as a consumer to buy a house, what are all the things required for you to turn the key in the door and walk into the house? The delivery mechanism includes what it is, what it's made of, where you get it, who builds it. Architecture is one important piece of the equation but not the whole piece. Delivering a prefab product requires a series of devoted parties who all bring a subset of important expertise to the table. The state of prefab is really disorganized. To be successful, the various parties need to work together as a team.
Our readers want prefab architecture to equal inexpensive architecture. How can that happen?
It's an understandable desire but also makes no sense when you look at market size. Costs come down when volumes go up. A Hyundai costs what it does because they make 50,000 of them. Prefabs are such a minute part of the housing market. There's no way the price is going to go down because 30 prefab homes were sold in one year.
People want it to be cheap because it's manufactured but they have a tough time facing the fact that the prefab houses that are really cheap are called mobile homes. People don't want really cheap prefab; they want really sexy prefab that's also cheap. So if it's not yet affordability that is the reason to choose prefab, what are its advantages? What people need to look at in prefab is that it provides predictability. When you prefabricate something, you know how much it's going to cost, how long it's going to take, and what it's going to be made of. That doesn't mean it's going to be cheaper or faster but it's comforting to know what to expect.