Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kiwi Prefab

We decided to rent a car and drive wherever we felt like for our two weeks in New Zealand. Doing this gave us the freedom to change our minds and follow a whim if we wanted. We decided to detour along the west coast on our way down to Wellington, and stayed in New Plymouth over the New Year’s holiday (which spans both the 1st and 2nd in New Zealand, for some reason).  While staying there, we visited the Puke Ariki museum, which had a fantastic exhibit on prefabricated architecture: Kiwi Prefab.  While the portion of the exhibit inside the museum was great, with history of prefab construction, design examples, and practical details from quick-assembly shelters for disaster relief to designer, eco-friendly cottages, the best part of the exhibit was outside, where four prefabricated buildings were open to visitors.

Some were very basic, like the converted shipping container above.  In New Zealand, buildings like this are called a “bach,” short for bachelor.  This one is designed to expand when the doors on the end are opened up, creating an additional covered porch area for bunk sleeping in warm weather.  The deck is hinged, so it can be delivered as a compact box, and very quickly deployed on a prepared site.  There are some details on all four models here.

As an aside, in the far right of that picture you can see Len Lye’s Wind Wand, an art installation of fiber glass that flexes in the constant sea breeze, and an icon of the New Plymouth.
Two of the structures were compact but complete homes, rather than studios or weekend cottages.  They were amazingly welcoming and comfortable, with airy open design, and efficient use of space.  This is a 1000 square foot house, with two bedrooms, a study, one bathroom, and an open living/dining/kitchen space, which sells for NZ$220,000, as seen (minus furniture, but with all fixtures), and is delivered, completely assembled, to your building site.  We loved the light—especially the full glass across the front of the house which gives you a 180 degree view.
One cool detail of this kitchen—the microwave beneath the counter on the right actually ascends into the cupboard above (there are actually two boxes) and can be drawn up or down depending on if you need the appliance or the counter space. The tall cupboards on the left house a washer and dryer, with nifty pantry storage to the right of the refrigerator, and a mail sorting desk in the storage to the left.
Maybe it’s just where we are in our lives right now, and the fact that we are currently living out of two carry-ons and two daypacks, but the idea of a compact, completely finished home was very appealing to us. The design was simple but welcoming, and seemed luxurious compared to the various motel rooms and apartments we’ve been staying in.  Seeing these homes gave us an opportunity to imagine a different life than the one we left behind, on that is simple, uncluttered, and open to new possibilities.  The thought is that you could put this house anywhere you have a water supply and electricity.  But dreaming isn’t doing, and this design would need a place to land and a garage for our climate (assuming we return to our climate when this is all over).  We could imagine unpacking just our four bags into this house, adding only our little dog to the mix, and being quite content.  We’ve tabled most of the discussions about what will happen when we’re done with this adventure, but seeing these baches roused a little bit of interest in what life could look like back on the other side of the world.