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7/22/08
Home Delivery: Pre-Fab-ulous
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micro compact houseMoMA’s new exhibition, Home Delivery, is satisfying but kind of perverse for New Yorkers. They’ve installed five pre-fab, temporary homes in the parking lot adjacent to the main museum, between 53rd and 54th Streets. The lot has been used to accommodate queues of people waiting to enter, though that was primarily when the renovated museum opened a few years ago. But the irony for Gothamites is that open lots like this are largely distant fantasies, putting any realistic local application firmly out of reach.

But it’s fun to dream. The houses range in size from tiny to multi-story. One of the most successful designs is the “micro compact home,” not much bigger and just as functional as a railway sleeper car (from what I’ve seen in the movies!) or small trailer home. It’s well detailed, sleek, and looks completely ready to move into. And amazingly, it took just two hours to install, according to the exhibition’s blog. The architects are Richard Horden, Lydia Haack, and John Höpfner.

A bit larger is “System3,” a beautifully designed and finished compact exercise in wood by Austrians Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf, with inviting furniture and detailing. Packed inside of a shipping container and about the double the width, but feeling more akin to Philip Johnson’s Glass House, it is easy to picture this plopped down on a country half-acre for a totally livable, if somewhat spartan, weekend home. Looks like a quick installation, from this video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QneEh84GeQA&hl=en&fs=1]

A project titled “Digitally Fabricated Housing for New Orleans,” by MIT’s Larry Sass, was conceived prior to Katrina, but became germane for potential use in flood-prone zones or places that require quickly built housing. This is a potent combination of digital design, rough surfaces and small town charm. It boasts a porch with ornate ornamentation, yet the inside is less than 200 square feet. Living in the city and treasuring every square inch of interior space, it’s a bit hard to remember that in warm climates, indoor bleeds into the outdoors, so the porch is akin to the sitting room, expanding usable footage. This house uses no nails for its vertical construction, instead using laser cut interlocking wood pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. Each panel is numbered, giving the structure a gritty conceptual feel as well, prior to (or if) applying finishes.

The largest structure on the lot is the “Cellophane House,” by KieranTimberlake Associates of Philly, which utilizes as many see through or light transmitting materials as possible, including a lot of plastic. The structure is made of aluminum. The coolest parts are the stair treads, made of acrylic, and lit by embedded LEDs; the stair walls are also brushed acrylic, so they glow. Flooring is made of metal decking or plastic honeycomb sheets. And there is some neat-looking circuitry on the outside walls, presumably for solar energy capture. The overall impression is expensive, experimental, and little effete, but there are certainly some inspiring ideas, and it veritably glows.

The final project, “Burst* 008,” was designed by locals Jeremy Edmiston and Douglas Gauthier. In a preview viewing, the structure – which resembles a Kawamata sculpture gone Transformers – was not accessible. A set of bleachers cascaded down one side, giving it the look of a mini amphitheater. The nail-biting installation is recounted here.

There’s also a fairly extensive exhibition on the sixth floor of models, drawings, and artifacts that trace the history of prefab housing.

The potential transference to locations in the city are limited site-wise, but certainly the concept of pre-fab units or elements makes sense. And there is a good deal of thought going into economical and green design, which we can certainly apply in New York. Now about that weekend “System 3″…

Photo: A “micro compact house.” Photo by Richard Barnes.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.