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Instant Suburb of Prefabs Hits New York

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Old 10-04-2008
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Instant Suburb of Prefabs Hits New York
Tourists press up against the construction fence on the corner of 53rd and Sixth, staring speechless as a giant crane lifts an entire bathroom into the air and deposits it in what will be a master bedroom. Cellophane House is five stories tall, with floor-to-ceiling windows, translucent polycarbonate steps embedded with LEDs, and exterior walls made of NextGen SmartWrap, an experimental plastic laminated with photovoltaic cells. Its aluminum frame was cut from off-the-shelf components in Europe, assembled in New Jersey, then snapped together in 16 days on a vacant lot next to the Museum of Modern Art — joining four other full-size houses onsite through October as part of the exhibit Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling. It looks as if a suburban cul-de-sac took a wrong turn at the Holland Tunnel.Prefab is "modernism's oldest dream," curator Barry Bergdoll says. Since the industrial revolution, architects have been in thrall of the idea that houses could be built in factories, like any kind of widget. But reality hasn't been extremely cooperative. Whether because of conservative public tastes, unachievable economies of scale, or designers' less-than-stellar business acumen, their utopian visions have mostly remained fantasies.Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and Charles and Ray Eames each had compelling concepts of housing for all, most of which turned out to be housing for a few. Modernist masters Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier were among...

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