The Loblolly House by Kierantimberlake provocatively rethinks the pre-fabricated home in a way that attempts to reconcile the mass-customization capabilities of 21st century fabrication with more elemental aspects of place. This is no easy task.
Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the house is the design of its construction process. The architects broke the construction process into two parts that developed separately but concurrently, each requiring different sets of skills. The off-site team, Bensonwood Homes, coordinated the prefabrication of all of the major building components, including the manufactured extruded aluminum frame, roof and floor systems, accordion glazing facade, hydraulic-powered second skin, interior surfaces, exterior cladding, bathroom and kitchen modules, and all mechanical systems and fixtures. This team’s work was carried out entirely within the controlled environment of a factory, enabling a non-hierarchical production process of multiple components simultaneously with very precise tolerances. This work can be seen as something more akin to manufacturing than that of traditional construction.
The on-site team, on the other hand, dealt entirely with issues related to the house’s connection to the irregular qualities of the site. Their work consists of driving wooden piles into the sandy soil of the bayside location, assembling the prefabricated pieces atop the pile foundations, and making connections to the below-grade utilities.
Structurally, these two worlds intersect at one location: the wooden collars which connect the irregularity of the wooden piles with the universality of the extruded aluminum frame structure. Aesthetically, the site is brought into the building through the use of color, texture, and patterns of the material finishes. The irregular cedar paneling on the exterior references the irregularity of the surrounding forest; the green color of the floor references the grasses along the shore, and the dark blue of the ceiling mimics the color of the sky. Even the piles themselves were intentionally driven at angles (to the dismay of the pile-drivers) to mimic the adjacent tree trunks.
While the marriage of standardized fabrication with site-specific considerations is a provocative and worthwhile issue with profound implications for the efficiency and affordability of architecturally designed housing , its hard to see these site-specific adjustments as a truly transcendent synthesis of a new industrial zeitgeist with the genius loci of the site. The house seems caught between wanting to fully express the technology of a new industrial age and wanting to be a Decorated Shed of environment contextualism. While these conflicting forces have yet to be fully reconciled (or at the very least their contradictions poetically articulated) the Loblolly House at least begins to address some of the under-examined technical issues currently facing the architectural profession.