Magazine article Newsweek International

You Look Prefabulous, Dahlin'

Magazine article Newsweek International

You Look Prefabulous, Dahlin'

Article excerpt

Buckminster Fuller would have had a field day with this one. A new generation of architects has given prefabricated homes--long derided as shoddy, cookie-cutter postwar structures for low-rent subdivisions--a much-needed makeover. All of a sudden prefab is getting tres fab.

As more artist types--or types on artist's budgets--lament the rising costs of real estate, architects from Tokyo to Tampa have begun searching for ways to create a fabulous yet affordable home. So they are looking to prefab--which dates back centuries in England and to the California gold rush in the United States--and vowing to ditch kitsch and overcome the industry's reputation for building flimsy shelters prone to flying away in thunderstorms.

In Britain, a growing number of policymakers and architects are also pushing prefab for political reasons. The average Brit moves every seven years, and government officials estimate millions of new homes will be required in the next 25 years to accommodate new homeowners. Add to that the Labour Party's hopes that prefabs may be the sanitary answer for brownfield sites (a plot of property previously used for a different--often industrial--purpose). Some say that the British architectural firm Yorkon (yorkon.com) had this in mind when they put up good-looking and affordable prefab units in East London.

But for many, reconstructing prefab was always about recycling the profane into something novel. Even before the government poked its nose through the sliding glass door, some were experimenting with ways to apply edgy-looking rods and metals. It's that attempt to apply style on the cheap that is getting attention: prefab is making pied-a-terre everywhere, from Channel 4's "Big Brother 3" ("BB3" directors like their set soundproof, which prefabs boast) to the cheap, hip Target warehouses in the United States. …

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