HOUSTON — A few years ago, manufactured-housing displays at the annual convention/exposition of the National Assn. of Home Builders were relegated to the parking lot of the convention area--if they were permitted at all.
At the 41st annual NAHB convention that ended Tuesday at the Astrodome complex here, all three houses displayed on the floor of the dome were built in factories--and all three were designed by California-based architects.
U .S. Home, a Houston-based housing producer with a manufactured-housing division, displayed two of the three houses: a single-level, 1,317-square-foot entry-level house designed to sell for about $70,000, plus lot, and a move-up house with two stories and 2,263 square feet of floor area designed to sell for $118,000 without the lot.
Both were designed by Richardson, Nagy, Martin, Newport Beach, decorated by Carole Eichen Interiors Inc., Santa Ana, and landscaped by Lifescapes Inc., San Diego.
Expanding a house almost as easily as piling play blocks on top of each other is the essential idea behind NEST '85 demonstration house, designed by Berkus Group Architects, Santa Barbara, built by Mill-Craft building systems, Waupaca, Wis. and sponsored by Professional Builder magazine.
As he explained the idea behind his "New Expanding Shelter Technology"--the source of the house's name, architect Barry Berkus toyed with a model of the house, arranging and rearranging elements of the house on top of each other and side by side to demonstrate how the 11-foot-wide modules can be used to produce houses ranging from well under 1,000 square feet to the 1,785 square feet of the four-module demonstration house.
The system can also be used for multifamily housing, college dormitories and congregate housing for the elderly, he said.
The "host" module, containing the living room, dining room and den, is 38 feet long with 11-foot, 6-inch-high ceilings. The kitchen/master bedroom and the greenhouse/second bedroom modules each measure 42 feet long and the guest bedroom module is just under 29 feet long.
Despite the relatively narrow module width, the system opens up walls between modules, allowing high-volume ceilings that make the house look much bigger than it is. Furniture is built in wherever possible throughout the house, with benches along walls and fold-down beds to make the bedroom serve other uses when they aren't being used as traditional bedrooms.
Mill-Craft manufactures about 400 units a year and has been producing factory-built housing in Wisconsin since 1969, according to company spokesman Leon Church. He added that the exterior designs of the modules can be tailored to different preferences with a more conservative look than that on the exhibit house available for many areas.
The Berkus firm, now in its 25th year, has been responsible for nearly 500,000 housing units in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Europe. Berkus commented that he has been working with factory-built housing, including modular systems, since the late 1960s.
Like the NEST '85 prototype house, the two U .S. Home modular houses on the Astrodome floor were shipped from a plant nearly 2,000 miles from Houston, in this case Salt Lake City, and assembled with cranes on the floor before the convention opened.
Gary Emsiek, project architect at the Richardson firm, explained that the biggest compliment he heard during the convention from visitors to the houses was that "this home doesn't look like a manufactured house."
Emsiek and Walter R. Wood of U. S. Home said that getting away from the boxy look of modular housing was a major goal of the display homes. Both feature open plans, high ceilings and architectural detailing designed to make them look much larger than the square-footage figures would indicate.
The entry-level, 1,317-square foot house is co-sponsored by Family Circle magazine, which has a feature on the portable housing in its current issue.
"Forty per cent of the people in the market for a new home today are looking for houses in the $55,000 to $85,000 range," Wood said. "For that sector of the market, manufactured housing is the logical alternative because we can build the entry-level house in the typical Sun Belt city lot for about $85,000 complete."
The larger home and another house, away from the Astrodome complex in the southwest side of Houston, the New American Home '85, were aimed at the move-up housing market.
Gabled Roof Pods
Designed by Fisher-Friedman Associates, San Francisco, the new American Home '85 has 2,200 square feet in five rectangular gabled roof pods joined by interconnecting central hallways. The sponsors are Builder and Good Housekeeping magazines and the National Council of the Housing Industry, the Manufacturers Council of the NAHB. Builder magazine is the official publication of NAHB.
As it sits on the lakeside site, the house will be priced at more than $300,000, according to Frank Anton, editor of Builder magazine.
"A survey we took indicated that the move-up market, which has been quiet for several years, is re-emerging," Anton said. "As we enter the last five years of this decade, the move-up market segment is going to reappear. We decided to design a house for this market."
From the outside, the house resembles a group of houses on a small lot, not unlike a condominium development. One wag commented that it looks like a series of prefabricated churches but the design is one that makes more sense as one investigates it.
"The image of housing in many cultures around the world is a rectangle with a peaked roof," said architect Rodney Friedman, partner in charge of the project. "We wanted to take this shape and make it work with an American family--in this case a husband, wife and two children."
The house was built by Gemcraft Homes Inc., Houston, in the Lakes of Fondren subdivision.