Instant House

A blog tribute to the manufactured, mass-produced, modular and kit homes that grace the American landscape.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Instant House: An Introduction

For years, I have poured over books of historical house plans and drawings.  Growing up in a suburb that was built largely during the the first golden age of mass-produced housing, I loved looking at these old plans and comparing them to existing houses.  While all houses are "built", there is something different about these houses.  They differ from the traditional custom-built house or the speculation development, not just in final product, but in the way the product arrived.  Ordering your own house out of a catalogue (or on the internet, in recent years) is a strange notion, yet there is something very American-consumer-culture about it.  Pick the one you like, pick up a phone, and one monetary transaction later, it's delivered where you want it.  It's strangely easy, and no different than ordering any other product off the internet.

Often times, mass-produced housing is looked down upon.  "Housing for poor people."  "Housing for low-class people."  "Too cookie-cutter."  These statements all have a kernel of truth to them, but in reality do not hold up.  If this type of housing were truly for the dregs of society, then why have so many major architects tried their hand at designing this type of house?  Frank Lloyd Wright, R. Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, etc.  These architects all believed that the average American consumer deserved quality housing at an affordable price.

Mass-Produced housing generally falls into one of four categories, and I will try to keep the vocabulary constant on this blog (that's the good academic in me).

Manufactured Homes:  Also called mobile homes, these homes are homes with permanent chassis and wheels designed for transportation multiple times.  This is the standard "trailer park" house.

Modular Homes:  These houses are built in a factory setting in multiple sections and are assembled at the construction site.  Rarely are the homes shipped completed, there are often multiple modules that are combined to create a unique home.  These are often referred to as "prefabricated" housing, though manufactured homes also fall into that category.

Mass-Produced Homes:  These types of homes are built on-site, but in massive quantities at the same time.  Often, they have modular components, but are generally "stick-built".  If you've seen or read anything about Levittown, then you know what this is.

Kit Homes:  These homes are for the do-it-yourselfers.  Made famous by the Sears & Roebuck catalogue, when you ordered one of these homes, you got plans, instructions, and a complete set of materials to build your own home.  These are sometimes referred to as "ready-cut" homes, because the lumber often arrived cut.

Hopefully, this site will shed some light on this often mis-understood type of housing that is so common throughout the American landscape.

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