2 May 2004

Am I in Texas yet?

Two nights in a row now I’ve dreamed about Austin.

Finances permitting, I think we’ve worked out where our house is going to come from. Today we got a Zipcar and went out to Acton, MA to visit Deck House.

The woman on duty at the sample house turned out to be an architect, a recent graduate of MIT who had worked for Autodesk and was now designing houses for Deck House customers. She’s very keen on green design, energy efficiency, and modern architecture, and had just returned from a green building conference in Austin, so it couldn’t have worked out any better, really.

Deck House make custom designed houses using parts prefabricated in their factory in Acton. Prefab components have a number of advantages. Firstly, because they’re assembled using factory equipment, there’s less waste, and the materials tend to be of higher quality (because otherwise there’s a risk of screwing up the machinery). Secondly, the construction standards are more rigorous, because the components have to withstand transport. Thirdly, building time and costs are reduced.

Unfortunately, most prefabricated and modular housing looks really awful. In fact, having looked at literally hundreds of house designs in the last couple of weeks, I have to say that houses in general look really awful. Like any business, the construction industry responds to consumer demand, and consumer demand is mostly for generic boxy ranches with enormous floorplans. Deck House have been forced to respond to demand by launching a line of more “normal” houses called Acorn, and apparently a lot of people ask them if they can hide the wood beams and put in multi-pane windows.

When it comes to architecture, sara and I are both prepared to think inside the box, as we seriously considered the possibilities that Glidehouse might offer. However, I’ve experienced the delights of living in a piece of modern architecture, and the bauhaus influence didn’t really lead to buildings which work as practical machines for living in. There are many good reasons why roofs should be pointy, it’s not just something mankind did for thousands of years for no good reason.

I’ve been reading lots of books on architecture and home construction. As far as materials go, our hope is to use as many natural materials as possible, and avoid chemical exposure. Wood, glass, metal, rock, cotton… and concrete. You can do amazing things with polished concrete. Wool is natural, but I’m allergic, and carpets are a great breeding ground for mold. Again, all this is subject to budget… I’m gradually building up spreadsheets of cost estimates. Next I think I need to select some major appliances, and on Monday I need to chase up the UK estate agents.

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