Prefab housing has fascinating history
The Cellophane House is a four-story, steel-framed
structure that is covered with a transparent cellophane skin.
I don’t know why I’m so fascinated with prefab houses that are just a little bit out of the ordinary, but I am. Back in March, I wrote a column on the Sears Roebuck catalog houses that were sold between 1908 and 1940 around the country. Since then I’ve been contacted by several people and have been informed of several catalogue homes on Anna Maria. In addition, as reported in this paper, the Rosedale Cottage, Roser Chapel and many homes in Longbeach Village at the north end of Longboat Key were constructed of Sears and Roebuck block.
What caught my attention this time was an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that just closed on Oct. 20 entitled "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling." The exhibit maps out the history of prefabricated housing going back to the first documented example of prefab housing from London in 1830 called the Manning Portable Colonial Cottage for Emigrants to Australia.
Another piece of prefab housing history is the Copper House, designed by German architect Walter Gropius in 1931. The house was a system of copper wall panels, which were assembled on site in 24 hours. These houses were marketed to German residents relocating to Palestine. Several of these houses still stand in Haifa, Israel.
The exhibit also included part of the steel Lustron house, constructed with enamel coated panels in the late 1940s in over 30 states, many of which are still standing with their original steel panels in place. In addition the museum installed five full scale houses by different architects, including what I think is the most interesting called the Cellophane House. The Cellophane House, designed by the architectural firm of Kieran Timberlake, is a four- story, steel-framed structure. Stories are stacked on top of each other like blocks, bolted together and covereed with a transparent cellophane skin. Photovoltaic cells and copper filaments are integrated into the structure’s skin, which is as the name suggests, transparent. If you’re as captivated with the Cellophane House as I was, you can find a You Tube walk through on the internet.
As the MOMA exhibit demonstrated, prefab housing has quite a history and perhaps an even bigger future as housing technology advances. You can be sure that my interest in prefabs will continue. Who doesn’t want a house you can build in 24 hours, with built-in kitchens and integrated baths? Now if we could sell one in 24 hours. that would really be progress.