The brilliant and dramatic house below, designed by Ensamble Studio for a plot just outside Madrid, was built in just seven days. It’s the proof that, if you want to build your own home these days, you’d be a fool not to consider a prefabricated structure – that is, something made in a factory to your specification, rather than built on site from good old bricks and mortar. ‘Prefab’ no longer means those shabby post-war houses that look like Scout huts (although I am not immune to their charms): now, it’s the most cutting-edge build method there is. Being able to assemble a building – as far as possible – in factory conditions allows for a great deal more precision and vastly improves things like air tightness in the finished house (fewer drafts=lower fuel bills=greener). Plus it minimises on-site build time, an advantage immediately understandable to anyone who has tried to put a roof on in a howling gale before winter sets in. The down sides: you need millimetre-perfect foundations, or all those precision-engineered modular pieces won’t fit together right (a brickie can work around any idiosyncracies); and you’ll have to decide months in advance where all your plug sockets, light switches, kitchen units etc will go, which is a bit of a yawn. The Madrid house may have gone up in a week, but then again, it was a year in the planning – so it’s negligible whether there are overall time savings to be had. This is an extreme example, however: there are lots of cool modern housebuilders (like Baufritz) who can make a more modest prefab home without the price-tag that comes from using a tip-top architect.
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