Dwell homes…Prefabs empty promise?

Dwell Prefab

Now don't get me wrong, I am as big a fan of Dwell Magazine as the next guy, but their newest prefab venture with Empyrean (makers of the Deck House and Acorn House) has me wondering if we are really on the same page when it comes to defining "affordable". When Dwell launced its first Dwell Home Design Invitational in 2003, the challenge was to design a prefab house for under $200,000. The point of the whole contest was to show that prefab was a potential means for making modern housing affordable to the masses, and it was largely succesful. The winning Resolution 4 Dwell home, came in slightly over budget, but ended around $100 a square foot. Now just two years latter, Dwell has anounced its partnership with Empyrean and a new Dwell branded prefab product. The Dwell homes by Empyrean. Their latest issue manages to slip in some free advertising in the Editors Note announcing

"...not one but three beautifully designed, highly functional, and eminently livable modern prefab homes."

At least they didn't try and slip "afforable" in there. Because if you are looking for that $100 a square foot mark that Res 4 hit, your looking in the wrong place. Later in the magazine they have a full page ad that reads.

"3 Great Modern Prefab Designs All Under $250/square foot. Want to learn more?"

We would love to. The three houses featured are Res 4's Dwell home, Charlie Lazors FlatPak home, and a new house by Empyrean called the next house. All three of them are manufactured at Empyrean's 300,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Acton, Massachusetts. The sizes range from about 2,500 square feet (Next House and Res 4) to just over 3,000 square feet (FlatPak). So, what do they cost you ask? Well , according to their website:

"The general range of prices for a typical 2500 square foot Dwell home will be in the $175-$250 per square foot range, including architects fees, our components, on site construction costs, and finishes."

Let me help you with the math there. That puts the cheapest of the homes at around $437,500 and the most expensive at $750,000! I think it is fair to say that 1/2 million to 3/4 a million is not affordable to most of us. Now, I'm not trying to be negative here. I am sure there are a lot of great things that will come of this. The fact that Dwell was able to get three great designers together with one of the largest prefab builders in the nation is no small feat. It just appears that it may be some time yet before prefab delivers with its promise to make modernism affordable.

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Please excuse me while I pay some bills...