UQAM Centre de design presents Prefabrication Perspectives: Architecture Off the Assembly Line

The UQAM Centre de design presents Prefabrication Perspectives, Architecture Off the Assembly Line, a historic and analytic look at what has been called one of architecture’s oldest new ideas.

Lustron House. Components and systems for prefabricated enameled steel houses.
Carl Gunnar Stradlund (1947)
Photo credit:
Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection

From simple prefabrication of elements, to highly complex industrialized building systems, to off-site construction, today’s architecture is driven by advanced digitization that points to the same concept: the preparation of reproducible components and sub-assemblies in a controlled environment, before being used in the realization of a building. The appeal of prefabrication lies in its potential to increase productivity and quality, while also condensing schedules and reducing costs.

Maison des jours meilleurs. Prototype dwelling with a central core on concrete base. Jean Prouvé (1956)
Photo credit:
© CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Although sometimes decried for its standardized and repetitive patterns, prefabrication also fuelled modernism’s desire for architectural newness. As shown by Konrad Wachsmann and Walter Gropius’s universal joint leveraged to mass produce houses, Kisho Kurokawa and Arata Isozaki’s proposals for aggregating mobile dwelling capsules in aerial cities, and prospective proposals like Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, prefabrication idealized by architects has produced some of the most exciting, powerful, and ambitious architectural visions. Today’s application of additive and digital manufacturing is renewing the quest for fabricating the future.

Peanut Cabin (Project 124)
Tiny house for two mounted on a boom crane
Photo credit:
© Eliška Kaplický Fuchsová, Praha

There are many ways to look at prefabrication. Manufacturers, inventors, industrial designers, architects, process engineers, builders, and specialized tradespeople have all developed distinctive attitudes toward factory-made buildings. While some have embraced prefabrication’s potential for solving problems like housing crises and the building industry’s stagnating productivity, others have seen it as a threat to designers’ creativity and architecture’s distinctiveness.

Prefabrication Perspectives examines offsite construction as a bridge between two rival fields: architecture and industrialized building. Inspired by the idea of these interconnected fields, the exhibition employs three strategies to present the diversity and abundance of experimentation since the beginning of industrialization.

Rollohome™ Single-wide mobile homes
Elmer Frey (1947)
Photo credit:
Collection Carlo Carbone

Architectures in production, Architecture Off the Assembly Line: one exhibition, three strategies

  • A graphic timeline of proposals chosen from more than 700 explorations over a two-hundred-year period in almost 50 countries reveals how manufacturing methodologies motivated and dictated prefabrication’s trajectory throughout the 20th century and continue to shape contemporary strategies.  
  • A comparative analysis of key projects illustrated through drawings and photographs elucidates the conceptual relationship between “old” and “new” prefabrication framed by ten themes: Mechanization, Batch Production, Mobile Homes, Capsule Dwellings, Universal Connectors, Megastructures, Readymades, Do-it-yourself Prefab, Service Cores, and Design Platforms. The comparative analysis proposes an original way of looking at prefabrication as an evolving continuum of similar manufacturing methodologies applied in different eras.  
  • Four prototypes presented in scale models highlight enduring and archetypal approaches covering in the most elementary terms – boxes, panels, pieces, and hybrids – the vast possibilities of prefabrication. 

A bilingual glossary of terms highlighting and identifying the progression of the dream of the factory-made building through its evolving vocabulary will be available in the exhibition.

Two study days will be held in conjunction with the exhibition:

  • December 2, 2022: “focus on current prefabrication approaches in Québec and their potential customization”. A day organized in partnership with FORMES magazine

  • January 2023: organized with Docomomo Québec, this study day will discuss prefabrication as a sustaining principle of modernism and consider what heritage conservation challenges are posed by industrialized building systems.