This modular home from the 1960s still inspires

When I was in high school and thinking about becoming an architect, I was often inspired by the architecture and design magazines my interior designer mom subscribed to, including Better Homes and Gardens (BHG). My father was in the shipping container business, so I was very interested in moving big boxes.

Better Homes and Gardens is now owned by the same parent company that owns Treehugger, so I’ve been browsing through their archives, looking for projects like this cool home I showed earlier. But there was the shock of recognition when I saw this in the September 1969 issue: A New Approach to the Expandable Home. I remember cutting it out of the magazine and pinning it to my wall as inspiration.

Times have changed, but there are still lessons to be learned from this.

The house addresses the problem of changing needs, something that is very problematic today. The issue wrote: “Have you had a home that was a perfect fit when you bought it, but seemed to be getting close to you? Join the club. It’s true that a family’s needs usually go beyond their original expectations. Rather than faced with a series of costly moves, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a home in line? with your family? ”

Better Homes & Gardens


So designer Steve Mead created a form of what architect Avi Friedman later called a “growth house” where you can start small and, in BHG Design, add boxes as you need them. Mead, who died in 2021, was the architectural editor for Better Homes and Gardens before opening his own residential design firm.

“Each work-in-house sector consists of two rectangular units placed side by side. The traditional on-site setup is limited to staging, foundations and mechanical fixtures. The units themselves are assembled at the factory and finished, complete with windows, doors and cabinets in place. Units will arrive on trucks, turnkey for on-site installation.

Better Homes & Gardens


This sounds like standard housing today, but there’s a twist: All units are identical in size (12 feet by 20 feet) so you can switch them in. “Because all the units are actually the same rectangle, any change in the arrangement of the room will work.”

Each plan illustrated contains an efficient core identical to all the expensive plumbing, kitchen, laundry, and first bathroom, with all other spaces circling around as required. “Electric wiring runs inside the floor joist space – connecting it is no more complicated than connecting a lamp.”

Need more space? Just call and ask for another room. “All units are joined together with a mechanical fastening system, using gaskets to allow independent movement of the units. Subsequent settlement of the new additions will therefore have no effect on the original house.”

Better Homes & Gardens


When you can, add a garage! “This is the final product, a four-bedroom home with two full bathrooms.”

Better Homes & Gardens


They show some configurations and other differences.

“The key to making the entire system work is factory assembly of just about everything. Because the base unit stays the same no matter what the final home looks like, customization comes through how you place it on site and choosing your plans. When you decide what you want to do with the additional units , they are wired (a simple wiring is all you need. So go on – use your imagination and see what you can come up with to make this idea work for you. Although the concept of dividing a home into separate living areas is far from new, this method In doing so – one area at a time – it’s a whole new way.”

Here are some great ideas on modular, prefab, pre-designed housing and a new model to buy. But there are several reasons why it does not spread.

It can only operate when the land is cheap enough so that you can build the small two-bedroom version on an area large enough to expand. And did you buy it with spill foundations for future additions? Today you can only add spiral piles as needed. Then there is the issue of ordering more units. It can’t just be dropped in the front yard. You need a crane, which is expensive.

Five years after this design was published, the Arab oil embargo caused an energy crisis and the first real concerns about energy efficiency. Pinwheel designs disappeared overnight; Lots of roof space and lots of walls to insulate. All of these homes are going to be a heating or cooling nightmare.

But more than half a century later, architects and engineers are still trying to do many of the same things that the system’s designers have proposed: factory-designed modular construction, installation and operation connected to a service core. Our homes today must be adaptable, resilient, and possibly multi-generational designs, adapting to the changing demographic, economic and lifestyle needs.

They’ve been onto something here, and it’s still inspiring.

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