Panelization versus Prefabrication

Process—————3 September 2014

Prefabricated buildings have been in and out of fashion since World War II. Today, we are still riding a prefab high, even though, in a residential context, prefab can often be more expensive than promised. Many “prefabricated” houses are still custom designed units, assembled in a factory-controlled environment, and completed on site. The expenses of site, foundations and utilities are the same as a site-built house. Often, labor ends up being the same or greater as contractors who are familiar with site-built techniques struggle to learn a new system.

Diverging from the comprehensive prefab approach, our studio recently completed a house with a hybrid of prefab and site-built strategies. The client asked us to design a home bound by existing foundations. We decided to use prefabricated building framing components and a panelization system. The building walls and floors are designed in panel modules, fabricated in a factory, stacked on a flat-bed truck, and then tilted and fastened together on site.

The project is located in a dense neighborhood and the house perimeter already maximized the allowable lot occupancy. So, the question became how height, floor quantities, bay windows, decks, and other appendages could transform and expand the livable area of the home. We contoured a new home to the limit of the allowable building envelope. Panelization allowed us to keep costs down, speed construction, and maximize the value of the home. 

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