Can assembly-line houses find mainstream traction? Time will tell, but this project struck our judges as a viable model for reducing the cost of distinctive design. The 2,300-square-foot structure will be built as a permanent model home and design center on Mare Island, near Blu Homes’ factory and headquarters.

One of the design’s most practical innovations is its trademarked “breezespace,” a glass-enclosed living area and butterfly roof that joins the two legs of the H-shaped house. That configuration creates a void filled by two large courtyards in the front and back, while 14-foot ceilings and sliding glass walls (folding walls are an upgrade) keep the outdoors front and center. The prefab home is meant to be site-specific, in terms of orientation if not terrain. Its west-facing façade aligns with prevailing breezes. “When the doors are open, trade winds off the San Francisco Bay flow through the center of the house, so that even in 100-degree heat, you don’t need air-conditioning,” says Blu Homes CEO Maura McCarthy. Mother Nature’s harsher side was taken into consideration, too. The steel-framed three-bedroom, two-bath home is built for 140-mile-per-hour winds.

The Breezehouse comes pre-customized from thousands of options, including technology such as Nest smoke detectors, home automation, and electric car chargers. But the standard features are robust, too: radiant floor heating, high-efficiency HVAC systems, a PV-ready roof, FSC-certified products, no-VOC finishes, and LEED-Silver certification. “It’s very cool, reachable to the average person,” said a judge. “I’m shocked to see this is prefab.”

Getting It Done

A patented hinge system allows the houses to be cost-effectively shipped on one or two 18-wheelers instead of wide-load trucks that must be accompanied by escort cars. “It lets us get into tricky sites,” McCarthy says. “We build the enormous steel hinges for each module in-house, so that the walls unfold and the roof panels go up and get welded together on site.” Homes are set in a day and finished in three to four weeks.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.