by Mathew Aitchison, et al. Lund Humphries Publishers, March 2018. 192 p. ill. ISBN 9781848222182 (h/c), $89.99.
Reviewed September 2018
A dwelling unit hovers in midair on the cover of Prefab Housing and the Future of Building: Product to Process. As if being placed by a Divine hand, the boxy single-family home-to-be floats down toward its destination atop an urban apartment building, complete with halo glinting in the sun (the crane truss), as construction workers gaze upward. This optimistic vision presages Prefab Housing's content: readers should not expect an historical assessment, but rather a construction- and product-centric argument about industrialized housing and its great potential.
Prefabricated housing ("prefab", hereafter) is rooted in Industrial Era idealism. From catalog-ordered Sears homes to New York City's multi-unit modular projects, prefab's base concept remained consistent: a residence can be manufactured in advance, delivered, and assembled on-site. Prefab assumes many forms: one must not forget the typology goes beyond Dwell's architectural eye candy, it also includes Levittowns, and mobile homes.
University of Sydney professor Dr. Matthew Aitchison and his international team of seventeen co-authors declare early on that Prefab Housing was conceived as a "guidebook to help navigate a path towards industrialized building" drawn from the authors' "experiences in the construction industry." What follows is largely an anthology. Aitchison presents the thesis, organized into six chapters with a one-page conclusion, and his text is interleaved with seventeen essays—called "Thematic Text Boxes"—written by construction professionals, who bring global perspective. Standout sections include Masa Noguchi's contributions on Japan and Duncan Maxwell's assessment of Sweden's joint Ikea-Skanska venture, BoKlok. The text is sprinkled with history, but there is no prefab timeline. Prefab Housing includes several examples covered in the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling (2008), but readers looking for a solid overview with sparkling critique are advised to consult that exhibition's catalog instead.
Full-color illustrations in Prefab Housing showcase the past (America's Lustron homes), conceptual whimsy (Slovenia's Ecocapsule), and technical mastery (Japan's Sekisui House), and the book is accented by diagrams and flowcharts. One editorial decision in Prefab Housing that might have been otherwise improved: the multipage illustrated "Text Boxes" are presented inconsistently throughout, and might have had greater impact if offered as appendices or as standalone signed works. Prefab Housing concludes with an index, list of illustration credits, and ten pages of endnotes, which reveal a somewhat self-referential book that also cites graduate-level output and canonical works.
Overall, Prefab Housing is suitable for academic libraries that support undergraduate programs in construction site management, architecture, real estate development, and urban planning.