Out of the Box

Mobile Homes

Apr 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
Green Light On

When building a new home, maximize natural heating, cooling, and lighting (and slash your power bills) by facing longer sides to the north and south, with few windows facing west.

Jennifer Siegal

METAL WINNER: Architect Jennifer Siegal puts the fab in prefab.

Living in a heap of metal is suddenly ultrahip, thanks to a new breed of talented prefab designers. Take 39-year-old Jennifer Siegal: The founder and principal of the Venice, California–based Office of Mobile Design (www.designmobile.com), she builds kinetic, affordable, wheelless homes that tread lightly and travel well—so you can take them with you when you move.

A hot-dog-cart operator while in graduate school, Siegal—whose own home in Los Angeles is part bungalow, part shipping container—admires all things easily disassembled. "Portable structures," she says, "are dynamic, accessible, and sustainable." Her Portable House—which starts at $79,000 for 480 square feet—is fully constructed, then trucked to your site. Her modular, endlessly reconfigurable Swell House gets assembled like Legos at your dream spot and features Biofiber (a recycled cabinet composite made from sunflower seeds), finishing material made from recycled newspapers, and "ply-boo" (renewable bamboo) flooring—for $200 per square foot. And if you're picturing your uncle's cheap vinyl double-wide—with its propensity to blow across the plains in tornado season—think again. Siegal's sleek, modern models sit on solid foundations, with optional multistories and annexes. The dwellings in EcoVille, her 40-unit live-work development for artists, in downtown Los Angeles, are 60-by-12-foot boxes, stacked two high. She's even designed a (not-yet-built) pod of neoprene-skinned, solar-powered, floating Hydra Houses, for a future of rising oceans. Homes, as she sees it, should be more like computer chips and less like immutable castles. "We have our iPods, our cell phones, our laptops. Mobility is integrated seamlessly into our lives, yet our residences are stale," she says. "If we want to be lighter and more compact, why shouldn't our buildings be, too?"

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