Motivated by the desire to build a house on a rugged site in Southern California’s high desert, marketing executive David McAdam discovered a company that had devised a lightweight framing system for industrial applications—a point-loaded, bidirectional, moment-resisting frame made not of structural steel, but primarily of cold-formed, light-gauge, galvanized steel. McAdam worked with the manufacturer, a structural engineer, and an architect to modify the system for his house. The application proved so successful that McAdam solicited partners and formed Blue Sky Building Systems to market the frame for general residential use in 2010. Fifteen more projects have now been completed or are under development.

Manufactured with up to 70 percent recycled content, the Blue Sky Frame is shaped, cut, drilled, detailed, and labeled in a factory. Then it is shipped flat to the jobsite, where it is quickly bolted to peripheral columns made of structural tube steel. No welding is required, because the system is assembled using a specialized eight-bolt connection. “In my world of small buildings and residential architecture, there doesn’t seem to be much innovation from companies in terms of trying to extend their products,” juror William Massie says. But “this is a big extension.” Massie also praised the system’s pregalvanized option, noting that galvanizing a frame is usually a separate step that costs time and money.

With the Blue Sky system, a 1,000-square-foot house can be built in six to eight weeks. And given the absence of load-bearing walls, it is easy to achieve interior spaces with spans of up to 40 feet. There are eco-benefits are well: Since the system anchors only to a series of small footings, there is no need for intrusive site grading, which means minimal damage to the land. Factory prefabrication also minimizes site waste. “Architectural history, particularly in fabricated houses, is littered with great ideas,” juror Sylvia Smith says. “I thought this was very clean.”