Prefab homes for the future

 

A lot of Americans have some pretty dismal preconceived notions of prefabricated homes. In fact, a synonym of the prefabricated home, “mobile home,” can conjure up some pretty lackluster imagery. But prefabricated homes have come a long way since their low-cost roots in the 1950s.

But, what if you could have an efficient, high tech and sustainable prefabricated home that is not only totally customized to your daily needs, but comes at a fraction of the cost of a traditional home? That’s the goal of Ideabox, an Oregon-based company that’s looking to put a spin on modern home design.

“There really wasn’t a cool, cutting edge, controlled and cost-effective home situation out there,” says Jim Russell, lead designer and founder of Ideabox. “Things were too expensive and much larger than they need to be. We thought, ‘There’s gotta be a better way.’”

So the modern prefabricated house concept was in effect. Russell says that one of the biggest features that Ideabox focuses on for its prefabricated homes — which range from 200 to nearly 2000 square feet — is sustainability. The homes themselves are not only made with an eye toward sustainable resource management (including the use of reclaimed wood and recycled metals), but all of the homes are equipped with the latest in sustainable home technology. From EnergyStar-related products to conservation-oriented heating and air systems, Ideabox homes can come equipped with floor-to-ceiling green options.

“Every time the word ‘green’ comes up, even today, people think they have to give something up.” Russell says, “But we can design it in the home and make it really cool without extra cost.”

So how does this translate into the home of the future? Imagine a modern landscape that relies on the modular, moveable nature of prefabricated homes. Either clustered together, stacked atop one another or set offshore (Ideabox does have a floating home option for those interested in living on the water), a row of sustainable prefabricated homes not only saves in home size and efficiency, but it can be changed and rearranged to accommodate the growth and change of a metropolis.

“I see a potential for the creative use of these houses,” Russell says. “Prefab is just another way to build, so if you look at it in that context, it could have a huge application.”


Cutting Edge Technology: Contour Crafting


 

In the future, the time and effort it takes to develop and build a home can be easily outpaced with the demands of a mega-population. Even more, the costs and challenges of traditional home design, which relies on human labor, can put other, unknowable strains on a future city.

Contour crafting seeks to break our own reliance on human labor to achieve quick, efficient and livable homes of the future. Invented and developed by University of Southern CaliforniaEngineering Professor Berokh Khoshnevis, contour crafting is a technique that utilizes additive manufacturing to rapidly build structurally sound and architecturally diverse homes. We’re all familiar with 3D-printing outfits Shapeways and Makerbot — imagine it blown up big enough to construct an entire house.

“The machine is perfectly automatic,” Khoshnevis says. “You don’t need any human involvement in it.”

Khoshnevis is developing the technology as director of the Center for Rapid Automatic Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT), specifically how to implement contour crafting on a large scale. Khoshnevis says that the process of contour crafting is simple: The contour crafting machine is set up on a construction site, and the user feeds in floor design developed in a standard architecture software, such as AutoCAD. Then, the contour crafting machine extrudes a cement compound — building a square foot of wall in less than 20 seconds. Khoshnevis explains that at the end of a single day, there’s an efficient, environmentally-friendly building design that couldn’t be achieved by traditional construction.

“Compared to current concrete construction, you really only have two options: building layer by layer and building foward,” Khoshnevis explains. “The advantage that contour crafting offers is free-form structures that have any kind of shape.”

The applications of contour crafting in the present, Khoshnevis explains, are for emergency housing, remodeling developing nations and theoretical space structures. However, the future of this construction is also interesting: As materials for additive construction become more sophisticated, contour crafting can literally reshape the design and interaction of urban dwellings. Since the construction method isn’t burdened by traditional building limitations, apartments and housing can be constructed to better interlock, fitting spaces that were once too difficult to build in — and it’ll be done quickly.

“We have a process: Whatever you design and whatever material you feed into it, it will execute,” Khoshnevis says. “We can make the cost of construction so low that we can put money into the materials. The buildings of the future will be stronger.”


Conclusion


While all of us would like to imagine a future that is full of tall, chrome buildings and moving floors, the most future-forward home may simply be the most conservative and changeable design. Dwellings that can cope with the ever-expanding population levels of an urban environment — and the strain on resources — have the most practical and useful application. But only time will tell just how our designs change in the next century.

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