Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unhappy Houses

For years the magazine Dwell has featured modern houses, or "dwellings," as they're called, in issue after issue. Now Dwell's vast photo archive has inspired the wonderful Unhappy Hipsters blog, which pairs photos of modern houses with new captions reflecting existential angst and isolation.

It became their routine.
d so the evenings stretched out
before him: still, gray, and gravel-strewn.
(Photo: Dean Kaufman, Dwell, November 2006)

No time to marvel at his sheer luck: Larry just ran.
( Dwell, July 2009)

In her Psychology Today blog Design and the Mind, designer Ingrid Fetell writes about the psychological effects of minimalist spaces in Unhappy Hipsters: Does Modern Architecture Make Us Gloomy.

Fetell looks at the characteristics of much modern architecture -- "clean, often angular lines, neutral colors in tones of gray and beige, bare materials, and a general sense of spareness and minimalism" -- and wonders if they are inherently threatening to the human psyche:
"Delight and joy are primally connected to wellness, and wellness in nature is lush, plump, vibrant, and bountiful. Throughout our evolution, these were the aesthetics that signaled a good place to settle — one that provided adequate water, food, and shelter to sustain life. The matte, bare surfaces beloved of modernists signal something else entirely. I can't help but think there must be something primal within us that understands such stripped down spaces as inhospitable — the emotional equivalent of dry desert, or fallow fields."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Absolutely Fabricated

Until recently, modernism has been the only architectural style to make serious inroads into prefab home manufacturing. That made sense, since boxy, minimalist houses are well-suited to the process of prefab manufacturing, whether delivered as kits of parts or modular components.

Several designers became known for their modern prefab home designs, including Michelle Kaufman for the modular Glidehouse (right, above) and Rocio Romero for the LV Series kit homes (right, below). As public awareness of prefab grew over the past five years, many other designers joined Kaufman and Romero in designing modern houses for factory fabrication.

Traditional architecture has been slower to make strides in prefab, but that's changing. The collapse of the housing industry has goosed public demand for cost-effective alternatives to custom design of traditional homes.

Russell has been promoting factory-fabricated traditional homes for years, and his Pennywise House collection includes 22 designs that can be built modularly.

Recently Dwell Magazine, the bible of modern home design, interviewed Russell for his thoughts on the future of factory-fabricated houses:
"In September 2207, we saw the beginning of the end of the old way of making houses. By 2030, we're going to see nearly all houses made to order in factories. There are fewer qualified tradesmen coming along, and young people are less interested in working in the trades. Hand-built houses are going to be far fewer, as they're going to be so expensive, available only to a few at the very highest income level. Factory manufacturing of modular houses by that time is going to be well established, and it'll become exponentially more sophisticated, more efficient, and cheaper to do it. It'll never replace the elegance of something handcrafted, but the economics are going to favor doing it this way."
We applaud the ability of Dwell magazine to stay alive in a world that's increasingly hazardous to the survival of shelter magazines (Cottage Living, Southern Living, Metropolitan Home, Country Living, House & Garden, and Domino, are no longer being published).

And of course, we were happy that Dwell chose to include Russell as a "prefab mover and shaker." A bit surprised, but happy, nonetheless.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Getting Back to Roots

Last April Russell spoke at Bundoran Farm in Virginia during Charlottesville's Design Week. Here is a short clip in which he introduces his book Roots of Home, which chronicles the 500-year history of American house styles from their European origins to the present day:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Modular goes upscale

Mansions go modular as costs,
timeline lure high-end buyers

Washington Post, 3/3/10

"Custom modular -- it sounds like an oxymoron. But elite architects who've seen their business drop in the recession are teaming up with manufacturers across the country...

'Without the recession, nobody would be paying attention,' said
Russell Versaci, a Middleburg architect specializing in farmhouses for wealthy clients who partnered with Haven [Homes] in 2008."

Once the scourge of homebuilding, modular homes have gone upscale. Washington Post writer Lisa Rein tells of a "prefabricated, modular mansion, dropped in from the jib of a crane and set in place like a layer cake" in Bethesda, Maryland.

In a mere 32 hours, the $2.5 million, 7200 sf house was set in place and ready for finishing -- a process that would have taken at least 18 months and cost nearly $400,000 more had the house been built by a crew at the home site.

In addition to time and cost savings, modular building stacks up environmentally, with advantages that include a tighter building envelope made possible by factory construction, increased energy efficiency, and reduced job site waste.

Until the recession, very little had changed in homebuilding since the Middle Ages. Men still trudged up and down ladders, toiled through inclement weather, and waited for parts arriving late.

Given the degree to which technological invention has altered every other facet of life, this stasis seemed counterintuitive. Modular construction has the potential to change homebuilding permanently, with quality and cost advantages achieved by controlled indoor production.

Builders who have been slow to embrace modular construction are gradually coming around, spurred by the need to offer more cost-effective building options to homebuyers. Likewise, homebuyers who never would have considered building modular homes in the past are realizing the real benefits offered by this method of building. Even architects, who have long turned up their noses at the very notion, are seeing the writing on the wall and are designing homes meant to be built in factories.

In the new economy, pragmatism trumps all other considerations.

Above: Currier Farmhouse, right: New Republic Cottage
Pennywise Houses, Russell Versaci Architecture

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pennywise Web Presentation

Russell has created a 15-minute presentation titled The Pennywise House for Hanley-Wood's virtual Directions conference, which is targeted to builders. In a narrated slideshow, he talks about what led to the housing meltdown, and he gives his prescription for restoring the health of the industry with smaller, greener, factory-built homes.

In addition to Russell's presentation, the conference includes 3 others:
Although the conference is free, you need to fill out a very short registration form to gain access to the presentations.