Prefabricated architecture dates back to the 16th century—but it wasn’t until after World War II that factory-built homes took off in popularity in the United States. Whether panelized or modular, these innovative midcentury homes continue to inspire architects and builders today. Read on for a look at five influential homes from the Dwell archives.
Built in 1949, the Eames House is a modernist masterpiece—and it’s one of the best-known midcentury houses made with prefabricated materials. The unique family home and studio—also known as Case Study House #8—features a steel frame that was built in just one-and-a-half days. It’s assembled with factory-made parts—as Ray Eames put it: "materials could be bought from a catalog…so that people would not have to build stick by stick." Though the project never entered mass production, the Eames House continues to be one of the most treasured homes of the 20th century.
Bringing his background in engineering to architectural design, Jean Prouvé was a prefab pioneer who assembled structures all around the world. To provide quick and affordable postwar housing, Prouvé developed a series of lightweight, temporary prefab structures that could be easily transported, constructed, and dismantled. One such modular example is the 1956 Les Jours Meilleurs House, a two-bedroom prototype developed to address the housing crisis.
In the early 1950s, designer Cliff May and architect Chris Choate created a system of prefabricated elements for suburban ranch-style houses known as the Cliff May Homes. The innovative design emphasized indoor/outdoor living and a sense of spaciousness and flexibility to suit different needs. Using the prefabricated system, May attempted to bring California living to the Rocky Mountain Region—but was met with varying success.
Richard Meier’s first residential project was an experiment in prefab design encapsulating modernist ideals. Built in 1961 for $11,000, the Lambert House was constructed of lumber precut in Michigan and then trucked to the site for final assembly. Although the beach house was significantly altered after it was purchased, the home had a lasting influence on midcentury modern architecture in Long Island.
In a bid to provide much-needed post-war housing, Chicago industrialist Carl Strandlund founded the Lustron Corporation—a housing company that promised low-maintenance and durable homes made from prefabricated enameled steel. Despite government backing, less than 3,000 houses were completed before the company filed for bankruptcy. Lustron’s short two-year lifespan was embroiled in controversy, inefficiency, and an inability to acquire materials. Though short-lived, the company did produce homes that have largely stood up to the test of time and are now celebrated as midcentury gems.