From the First Kit House to the First Starchitect Kit House
Why were the initial kit houses developed in the world? Where were these kit houses delivered and built? One of the best books that I began to read this week called Prefab Houses by Arnt Cobbers and Oliver Jahn gives a great primer on the evolution of kit houses over time. Starting with the first one that we have documentation for, this research is beginning to reveal more ideas and purposes of the kit house idea. Here’s why the initial kit houses were developed in the world and some interesting facts about one of the first star architect developed kit houses.
It all began in Europe
Some might argue that developing a kit of parts that were transported to a building site and brought together to create a house happened throughout the world at roughly the same time period. Although this is most likely true, I’d like to focus on one kit house adventure from 1853 that can reveal the initial reasons why kit houses were developed.
Back when humans were still developing new technologies for building, transportation, health, and other fields, one of the biggest focuses of any village was the voyage. Traveling to find new land that had yet to be discovered and to explore these lesser known areas for places to settle and colonize. These travelers would sail across the seas and find their way to these faraway lands with rations of food that had to last the entire trip.
When these voyagers found places to settle and colonize, they had to use their tools to cut down local resources and build shelters for everyone. In essence, every voyage that ended with colonization of a new place required the voyagers to start from scratch and build a settlement using the tools that they had and the local resources.
How can they expedite this process of building at a new location?
Sail with the building components
After the building industry invented new and more efficient ways of cutting building materials down to size in a short amount of time, it would only make sense to develop a kit of parts for voyagers to construct a small shelter at the location where they would eventually settle. An example of this is Hemming’s patent portable house manufactory that presented a portable town for Australia. Manufacturers would cut house kits, package them on ships where they would sail to their final destination, and be assembled by the end user.
This reduced the labor and time involved with building a shelter at a new location and allowed the occupants to focus on exploring the new area and settling. As this method of settling at new places began to grow, settlements were quickly erected and eventually, they would grow to a point where local resources could be gathered and additional buildings could be constructed.
Scaling up the kit house industry
As you might know from one of my earlier posts on kit houses, companies would eventually begin and grow with the transportation industry. When railroads connected new towns, the ability to purchase a kit house and have it delivered to its site appealed to many people. Eventually, companies like Sears Roebuck and Company grew to one of the largest kit house manufacturers in America. Railroads and ships brought their materials to their customers where these kit houses would be constructed.
Enter the Star Architect
Although one could argue that there were many star architects who developed a kit house before this particular person, Albert Frey’s kit house called “Aluminaire” was designed and constructed in 1931 for the Architectural and Allied Arts Exhibition. This house’s aesthetic was unlike any other kit house at the time. It included a steel skeleton frame structure clad in corrugated aluminum which could be disassembled and moved at any time.
In fact, the Aluminaire was purchased by another architect named Wallace K. Harrison who designed the Rockefeller Center and Lincoln center for $1,000. The Aluminaire was deconstructed and moved several times throughout its existence and in 2003, it was still looking for its next destination.
Personally, I’ve found this book to be a great read so far because it provides general information about a lot of different kit houses over time. It’s organized from oldest to newest and shows as much information as possible about each design, concept, and final building. The authors also give insight on the reasons why some of these house designs and companies failed.
I have lots more to read with this book and I’m excited to continue learning more about kit houses. As I continue my research, I’ll be developing some initial ideas about the various elements that I should incorporate into my kit house design for project 28x30. Stay tuned for more!