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The tarnished image of prefabricated housing may be getting a shine in Germany, with a rash of ultra-modern designs on the market.
But will a new look be enough to counteract German prejudice? Typical German houses tend to have something of the fortress about them, with thick masonry walls that are made to stand for generations.
For most Germans, prefabricated, timber-frame houses are seen as a second-rate option: A prefabricated house can be compared to buying clothes off the rack instead of having them made to order. The various elements of a house -- nearly always made of wood -- are cut to specifications in factories.
These are then assembled, sometimes within days, at a building site. But the notion that "prefab homes" are cheaply made and are cookie-cutter solutions for low-end buyers is changing.
In the past decade, prefab houses have become more diverse and individualized. They lead the industry in terms of energy efficiency, ecologically sound building techniques, and technical advances. And now, thanks in part to some star architects, they are improving their image in terms of design as well. In the past few years, architects such as Gustav Peichl, Matteo Thun and Frank Gehry have turned their hand to designing "off the rack" houses, with surprising results.
The single-family Peichl-Haus, an arched, zinc-roofed building slightly reminiscent of a quonset hut, was designed for the Hanlo company by the Viennese star architect Peichl, best known for grand public buildings like the Bundeskunsthalle, Germany's national art museum. And Milan based star Matteo Thun -- who founded Italy's Memphis design group and led the creative team at Swatch for several years -- turned out 'o sole mio' below , a pent-roofed marvel of passive-energy use, for Austrian firm Griffner Haus.
Houses like the sleek, cubist mini-home "Option," from WeberHaus below, right -- just 66 square meters square feet and Baufritz's modern, L-shaped energy-saving home "Terra 2" below are two further examples of houses that have taken home design awards in the past few years, even without star architects behind them. The new design effort is aimed at punching up the image of prefabricated housing in Germany, in order to attract a new clientele, said Christoph Windschief, spokesman for the German Prefabricated Housing Association BDF.
Many Germans feel that houses built in wood -- as is the case with most prefab houses -- are inferior to homes built of stone or cinderblock, known as massivbau. This belief stems from the s and s, Windschief said. But that is no longer the case Now the prices for prefabricated houses and architect-designed houses are comparable. Some of the prefabricated houses are even more expensive than massivbau," Windschief said.
A prefabricated half-timbered house containing wood, glass and steel elements can run into the millions, he added. The higher prices reflect an attitude change on the part of the makers of prefab housing. So if it isn't necessarily cheaper, why choose it? There are a number of reasons, said Dieter Langschwager, executive assistant at Hanlo, the company that commissioned the Peichl House.
First off, the building process is simplified. The builder doesn't have to deal with one company for the walls, another for the roof, another for the electricity and another for the paint. You get it all, finished. In the end the key is in the door," he explained. Also, said BDF's Windschief, prefab houses attract particular buyers -- people interested in ecologically sound living.
They also tend to be on the cutting edge of technology in terms of using passive and solar energy, as well as "healthy home" building materials. And, he added, prefabricated house makers are the leaders in developing "smart homes," in which multimedia devices and electronic controls are part of the construction.
Despite their positive attributes, just 13 percent of homes built in Germany are prefabricated, according to Alexander Oswald, who keeps statistics for the BDF. This number has held pretty much steady over the past ten years, a fact he attributes to the German "conservative way of thinking. Yet in Scandinavia, where houses have always been built in wood, between 70 and 90 percent of new homes are prefabricated, Oswald said.
And even in Austria, which shares a border and a good deal of cultural history with Germany, one-third of all new homes are prefab. For his part, BDF's Windschief blamed the prefab housing industry for not doing a good enough job in promoting itself. But while the designer homes may be turning heads, Windschief noted traditional designs still prevail when it comes to actual home building.
Hanlo's Langschwager noted that when the Peichl House came out, in , "it got a lot of attention We had more than 1, enquiries. It didn't meet building codes in most German neighborhoods. This points up a problem for many of the prefabricated houses, especially those with "exotic" design. The roof may have to have a certain slope, to fit in with the buildings around it.
Yet many of the designer houses rely on a pent roof -- one that is curved or only very slightly angled -- to make the best use of passive energy sources. Typical building codes in Germany call for gabled roofs, with 60 degree angles. This may explain why only 20 percent of the prefab houses sold in Germany are the designer type, according to Windschiefer. Despite the eye-catching new designs, it seems prefabricated houses face an uphill public relations battle in Germany.
Take the case of Ingo Bauer, a Cologne based businessman who recently spent a troubled year having a house built to his specifications. Would he perhaps have been better off with a prefabricated house?
Did he even consider it? You can't compare the quality, even if they are cheaper. Also, I can spot a prefabricated house a mile away -- they have thin walls that look like cardboard. I just don't like houses with thin walls. An exhibit on ecologically friendly architecture in Germany just began a world tour. It highlights the country's position at the forefront of a growing movement in 'green' building techniques. A new exhibition in Leipzig reveals that East German architecture has a lot more to offer than urban eyesores.
So why does it have such a bad reputation? Despite their strong architectural tradition, very few Germans get to build important projects abroad. But at this month's architecture biennale in Venice and at similar events, they're trying to change that. In , the Bauhaus school of design and building turns , and Germany is preparing a three-year program to celebrate the anniversary. Revisit the history and the ideas promoted by the influential movement.
How will we get from point A to point B in future cites? German researchers in Aachen are conceptualizing the future of autonomous, electric mobility.
Visionary, or monstrous architecture? Brutalist buildings are either loved or hated. Considered eyesores for decades, they're hip again — but many are still endangered. Germany is calling SOSBrutalism. Volkswagen has a new man at the wheel, Herbert Diess. Germany's interior minister has defended a request to continue checks by accusing the EU of failing to protect its external borders. Germany is one of six countries that reimposed controls in the visa-free Schengen zone.
A punk rock vocalist has criticized two award-winning artists for invoking Auschwitz to describe their "defined" bodies. The hip-hop artists have distanced themselves from anti-Semitism after public outrage in Germany. When it comes to the German military's foreign missions, leaders in Berlin tend to be hesitant.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's rejection of a Syrian deployment continues that tradition. Change it here DW. COM has chosen English as your language setting. COM in 30 languages. Environment What will it take to clear the air in Berlin? News What foreign powers want from the Syrian war Business China renews pledge to 'fight back' in trade row with the US Business Picking Designer Homes Off the Rack The tarnished image of prefabricated housing may be getting a shine in Germany, with a rash of ultra-modern designs on the market.
Star Viennese architect Peichl designed this single family home. Image boost And now, thanks in part to some star architects, they are improving their image in terms of design as well. Thun in front of "o sole mio". The 66 square meter Option, by WeberHaus. Most German houses have peaked roofs. East German Architecture's Second Chance A new exhibition in Leipzig reveals that East German architecture has a lot more to offer than urban eyesores.
Building a New Reputation Abroad Despite their strong architectural tradition, very few Germans get to build important projects abroad. DE Related Subjects Architecture , Germany , Salone del Mobile , Brutalist Keywords germany , german , building , prefabricated housing , design , architecture , gehry , thun , peichl Print Print this page Permalink http: The week in review.
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