Assemble Me

Thomas Edison poses with a model of one of his more obscure and less successful inventions, a poured-concrete house of 1906-08. Contractors required some $175,000 in equipment, including nickel-plated iron forms, to fabricate the houses. Fewer than 100 were built.

Project: BURST*008 Architects: Jeremy Edmiston and Douglas Gauthier This house is a formula-driven solution that starts with a client's needs and plugs them into a computer algorithm developed by the designers. The system can create a range of different-yet-related designs that are customized in a 3-D modeling program, then broken down into planar pieces that ae cut from plywood using laser or CNC technology. The entire structure—which rests on a steel moment frame—can be packed flat and delivered by truck.

Project: Micro Compact Home® Architects: Horden Cherry Lee Architects and Haack Höpfner Architects Smaller than a typical suburban bedroom, this cubic house delivers maximum impact in 76 square feet of space. Framed in wood and clad in anodized-aluminum, this cozy cocoon is "geared toward single people with mobile lifestyles" and features two flat-screen TVs and an array of data connections. Interior fittings include two double beds, a sitting area, work table, shower, toilet, kitchen, and dining space for five. Basketball players need not apply.

Project: Cellophane House Architects: KieranTimberlake Associates Built using off-the-shelf structural steel, this house is conceived as a matrix that "collects" other materials. The intention: Anything applied to the framework can be disassembled and recycled—not discarded. The project is keen on green: Photovoltaics in the thin-film PET plastic membrane and roof canopy harvest energy. Solar collectors heat water. And an active double-wall system anticipates internal temperatures and eliminates undesirable heat gains and losses.

Project: Digitally Fabricated Housing for New Orleans Architects: MIT School of Architecture and Planning MIT students working with professor Lawrence Sass developed a building that marries high technology and low cost. The one-room structure taps the architectural traditions of New Orleans. It is made of laser-cut plywood pieces that fit together with wooden joints set in place with a rubber mallet. No other tools are needed. The low-tech, on-site assembly makes this system applicable to many situations where the need for housing is dire.

Project: System3 Architects: Kaufmann/Rüf Architects This stackable prototype is a building block that can form larger complexes. The 15-foot-by-38-foot unit is divided into two equal parts: the "serving" space and the "naked" space. The serving space contains the guts of the house—kitchen, bathroom, electricity, internet, laundry, dishwasher, and HVAC. It comes to the site preassembled. The naked space is formed by planar elements, such as a slab, walls, windows, and a roof, that require assembly.

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