A site-specific prefab house sounds like an oxymoron. Can any preconceived plan truly relate to the idiosyncrasies of place? This project comes close, even if it doesn’t literally trace the land’s three-dimensional contours. Is it flexible in form? Check. Responsive to environmental conditions and landscape views? Check and check.
The Porch House, named for its vaulted breezeway, or dog trot, is Lake|Flato’s first completed modular house. Located deep in Texas Hill Country, this weekend retreat for a family with twin daughters consists of three metal-clad modules—living, master bedroom, and secondary bedrooms. After they were delivered by truck, the “porch,” decks, and a carport were made on site out of Eastern red cedar.
“What makes this house specific to its place is the part that’s built custom, away from the factory,” Ted Flato says. “That porch element is a way to add texture to the design.” In a modular scheme, it can be an indoor conditioned space, an outdoor space, or something in-between. Here it straddles both realms, serving as the “connective tissue” tying the living module to the master bedroom. The dog-trot porch—a Southern vernacular form designed to channel cooling breezes—is fitted with slatted rolling barn doors that protect it from strong winds. And its structure is exposed, “in contrast to the nice, clean rooms with 10-foot ceilings,” Flato says. “These porches can be vaulted spaces, because they don’t have the constraints of the highway.”
As every child knows, there’s tremendous creative potential in simple forms that can be stacked, pushed together, or stand alone. Facing the trio of buildings across a courtyard are a two-bedroom unit and a carport. This arrangement produces several effects: The one-room-deep modules allow for balanced day lighting and cross-breezes, and separating them gives each a unique vantage point. “By being able to pull apart the rooms, you have a more complete experience of the site,” Flato says.
With its hybrid prefab approach, Lake|Flato aims to reach a broader audience and solve some of building’s dicier challenges, while avoiding the constraints of one-size-fits-all. “We’re trying to create a custom home with all the consistency of a factory by having just the right things made in the factory,” he says. The modules, which take seven months to build and cost $130 to $200 per square foot, are delivered with a weathered-in roof system. A site contractor installs the gable ends and flips up the metal or shingle roof, which is hinged on a truss and folded flat for the journey. “The idea of building high-quality houses efficiently and at a reasonable price is hugely exciting for us,” Flato says. “We’re meeting with clients, going to the site, and helping to figure out the configuration. It’s still design work, but it goes faster.”