Prefab Units Cluster Together in this Off-the-Grid Guesthouse

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Multiple sustainable features keep this prefabricated building, designed by MOS Architects, cool and energy-efficient despite its New Mexico desert surroundings.

Located 120 miles east of Albuquerque, it's not hard to see why this building - titled the Element House - needed to be self-sufficient. Designed by MOS Architects, the residence was commissioned by the Museum of Outdoor Arts to host guests visiting a nearby installation: artist Charles Ross' Star Axis, a massive outdoor stellar observatory. The aluminum-clad structure consists of several prefabricated units joined to make a three-bedroom residence, complete with a living room, dining room, and kitchen. The 1,543 square foot project was built to Passive House standards, meaning it's hyper-efficient in insulating from energy loss (or in this case, energy gain from the desert heat).

Modern home with Exterior, House, Cabin Building Type, Prefab Building Type, and Gable RoofLine. Each prefabricated unit is covered in aluminum but built from SIPS: Structurally Insulated Panels that consist of thick insulation sandwiched between plywood panels. These high-performance panels keep the interior protected from the desert's ambient heat. Photo  of Prefab Units Cluster Together in this Off-the-Grid Guesthouse

Each prefabricated unit is covered in aluminum but constructed from SIPS: Structurally Insulated Panels that consist of thick insulation sandwiched between plywood panels. These high-performance panels keep the interior protected from the desert's ambient heat.

Modern home with Exterior, Cabin Building Type, House, Gable RoofLine, and Prefab Building Type. The Element House stands on pylons, creating the illusion it hovers over the desert floor. Nine thermal chimneys, one of which can be seen right, channel hot air out from the interior living areas. Photo  of Prefab Units Cluster Together in this Off-the-Grid Guesthouse

The Element House stands on pylons, creating the illusion it hovers over the desert floor. Nine thermal chimneys, one of which can be seen right, channel hot air out from the interior living areas.

The Element House is powered by solar panels, seen right. Photo  of Prefab Units Cluster Together in this Off-the-Grid Guesthouse modern home

The Element House is powered by solar panels, seen right.

A small airspace separates the building's aluminum skin from the wall underneath. The aluminum acts like a heat sink during the day: it absorbs heat but remains thermally separated (by the narrow gap) from the Element House walls. Photo  of Prefab Units Cluster Together in this Off-the-Grid Guesthouse modern home

A small airspace separates the building's aluminum skin from the wall underneath. The aluminum acts like a heat sink during the day, absorbing heat and radiating it into the air (and safely away from the building itself).

Modern home with Kitchen and White Cabinet. Sunlight permeates the interior thanks to skylights within the thermal chimneys. A single common area, comprising a kitchen, dining, and living area, links all the three bedrooms. Photo  of Prefab Units Cluster Together in this Off-the-Grid Guesthouse

Windows within the thermal chimneys let sunlight permeate the interior. A single common area, comprising a kitchen, dining, and living area, links all the three bedrooms.

The Element House also features eight balconies, two of which (seen left) border the living area. Photo  of Prefab Units Cluster Together in this Off-the-Grid Guesthouse modern home

The Element House also features eight balconies, two of which (seen left) border the living area.

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