Prefab Cottage for Two Families

ARCHITECT Kohn Shnier Architects
LOCATION Muskoka, Ontario

The project brief was for a year-round cottage to be shared by two related families. The site is a wooded lakefront property with a pronounced ridge running roughly parallel to the shoreline, separating the approach to the site from views of the water. In order to reduce site impact and increase efficiency of construction time and materials, a prefab structure was proposed.

Seven separate units were built at an indoor facility operated by Royal Homes, some 325 kilometres from the site. The design of the cottage accepts and exploits some of the inherent limitations of this process to respond to the site and program. The cottage is built to the 4.875-metre width limit allowed on local highways, resulting in a long, thin form. Program demands were met and the heavily treed site vastly preserved by stacking the units on top of one another. This narrow cross-section creates an intimate scale, an unavoidable immediacy to the outdoors, and an opportunity for natural cross ventilation on hot summer days. The length, some 38.4 metres, generates considerable distance within the house, offering remoteness and privacy when desired. This makes the cottage both small and big at the same time.

The cottage is embedded into the lake side of the ridge obliquely, such that there is a point on each of the three floor levels with access to grade. Shared facilities are at the highest level, affording the best views. This level is entered from the top of the ridge. Sleeping areas are in the middle level, and workshop, play and utility uses are in the lowest level. Facing the lake, the east elevation of the cottage consists entirely of sliding glass doors and provides every room with views of the water and access to the forest or balconies.

Materials were selected to be long-lasting and maintenance-free. They fall into two categories: reflective surfaces–glazing and mirror; and those with a muted colouration–unfinished cedar, zinc cladding, and galvanized steel. The objective is to visually push the structure into the background.

Construction of the units, totalling about 375 square metres in area, took 25 days in the builder’s facility. Transit and placement of the units was accomplished in about 48 hours. The use of factory construction allowed for minimal disruption on the site (and to neighbours) during peak seasons as the units arrived at the site in early fall. A summer of sawing and hammering was replaced by the concentrated and exciting event of delivery and placement. Site work–the foundations, lower level, cladding, balconies and the construction of one bay containing a two-storey-high glazed section–required normal construction durations.

Jane Pendergast: This project addressed the challenge of a remote site by using transportable prefabricated units–an exercise that has been studied by many architects over the last few years. In many ways, the Prefab Cottage characterizes our time as the pressures of time, labour costs, and issues of controlling our ecological footprint come into play. I like the linear assembly and simple stacking of the units that has brought about an elegantly simple set of hillside living spaces and quiet views through the trees.

Betsy Williamson: It takes a careful and methodical approach to building to take the raw material of the prefab house and elevate it to the level of refinement we see in this project. While the module doesn’t dissolve into the overall composition, we see it accommodate a range of spatial possibilities and site conditions, becoming much more than the sum of its parts.

Client withheld
Architect Team Martin Kohn, Brigitte Luzar, John Shnier, Barbora Vokac, Lisa Waddell
Structural Kieffer Engineering
Prefab Contractor Royal Homes
On-site Contractor Judges Contracting
Area 450 m2
Budget withheld
Completion Summer 2007