My friend the Instapundit is interested in interesting things. But he's got a blind spot:
I remember reading a Robert Heinlein essay from the 1940s on how absurd it would be to have your car hand-built in your driveway by a collection of artisans, and how homebuilding as practiced was equally absurd. I think he was right.I suppose that's better than the script-kiddies who think Gene Roddenberry is John the Baptist for our generation; but just.He's linked to the most tired old trope in architecture: Let's build houses in a factory! You know, instead of letting cavemen make it out in the landscape! It will be all gadgety and glittery and you'll be able to plug your iPod into the toilet or the wallpaper or the driveway without a dongle!
Me and Donald Fagen have heard all this crap before:
I've taken issue with what passes for architectural analysis at Wired before, and I'm not going to stop now.
Prefab is "modernism's oldest dream," curator Barry Bergdoll says. Since the industrial revolution, architects have been in thrall of the idea that houses could be built in factories, like any kind of widget. But reality hasn't been extremely cooperative. Whether because of conservative public tastes, unachievable economies of scale, or designers' less-than-stellar business acumen, their utopian visions have mostly remained fantasies.
Don't you just hate it when reality is uncooperative? Their "utopian visions" have remained fantasies because that's exactly what they are. Unmoored from the real world in real-time or the future, they identify a problem that does not exist, suggest solutions that are worse than the imaginary problem and have internal inconsistencies that make them null anyway, and then try to ram their goofy ideas into the public sphere over and over. Normal people don't want to live in an expensive, desolate, cramped, bleak, lifeless terrarium. Film at eleven.
Mass production of houses is an ancient idea, and has already been accomplished to death:
Levitt was able to offer these houses so cheaply because he was applying construction methods perfected in the deployment of prefab housing in the armed services during World War II. Bill Levitt had served as a Seabee during the war, and he learned the techniques of rapid construction using standardized parts, tightly controlled suppliers of goods and services, and a workforce with highly specialized skills. Like the Army's builders, like the Seabees, Levitt took the mass-production assembly line and converted it so that workers moved from site to site doing their specific targeted tasks. Life, Newsweek, Time, and many other magazines delighted in the story of the painter whose sole job was to paint the window sills of each house; but the example was an apt one, for by moving crews of workers sequentially from house to house, Levitt avoided the necessity of craft workers, unions, and the rest. In addition, his program could tolerate high labor turnover, a dreaded feature of the new prosperity after the end of the war. If one worker left, another could be quickly hired and trained as a replacement.
Economies of scale for cookie-cutter housing were roped and branded the better part of a century ago. There is no more mechanized, technologically astute, nimble, large-project process in America than single-family home building. Why don't you call up Apple and tell them you want a big black rotary knob on your iPod? You tell your general contractor you want to move bearing walls in your house when it's half built. Who would take longer and charge more money to accomplish your request? Only Bill Gates can afford to order an iPod with a rotary dial. I see pregnant women in flip-flops moving bearing walls in their own homes on HGTV every night.
The Levittown houses are the very houses that the factory housing apparatchiks sneer at while they try one more time to round us all up and force us to live, alternately roasting and freezing, in the terrarium daytime and fluorescently lit darkness of their glorified stackable FEMA trailers.
Look at the video linked to the article.
At least Lawrence Sass from MIT knew enough to choose a New Orleans Shotgun House to make, which is an essentially humane place to live. But where's the value added? He plops a CNC router at the jobsite and routs the panels. Whoopty. That house could be made by a framing foreman and a handful of willing grunts in less time and for less money than any prefab deal. The spindlework on a shotgun house was pre-fabbed in factories and shipped to the job way back in the 1800s. Where's the value added, Lawrence? You're not bringing much.
The rest of the video is just have the same tired old the house is a machine nonsense we've been hearing since 1910, and it ends up looking like the galley kitchen in a 747. Please note that the houses these people make never have anything that looks like humans or their possessions about. I'm sick of people with Martin Bormann accents talking about how ve mussht maik howsays dat ahr masheens fvar livink und the yoomans musht be made to leev in tem fuhr zehr own gut!
People watch high-school dropouts portray businessmen in Wall Street and think that's how the economy is run. People join PETA because they saw Bambi and think animals can do long division. People read glorified comic books like Heinlein's and think it would be good public policy if you were required to kill big alien bugs before you could vote, and we should make a 124,000 pound thing in a factory and then drag it to your houselot.
I know exactly how a house was built in the 1940s. I know exactly how a house is built now. Robert Heinlein had no idea what he was talking about then. He has absolutely nothing to offer about the topic now.
Ever read any Heinlein? I have. Here's a part of a plot synopsis from Wikipedia of one of his:
Their alien kidnapper is nicknamed "Wormface" by Kip, who refers to the species as "Wormfaces". They are horrible-looking, vaguely anthropomorphic creatures who do not recognize other species as equals, referring to all others as "animals". Wormface has two human flunkies who had assisted him in capturing the Mother Thing and Peewee, a preteen genius and the daughter of one of Earth's most eminent scientists. The Mother Thing speaks in what sounds to Kip like birdsong, with a few musical notations in the text giving a flavor of her language. However, Kip and Peewee have no trouble understanding her.
Kip, Peewee, and the Mother Thing try to escape to the human lunar base by hiking cross-country, but they are recaptured and taken to a more remote base on Pluto. Kip is thrown into a cell, later to be joined by the two human traitors, who have apparently outlived their usefulness. Before they later disappear, one mentions to Kip that his former employers eat humans.
You know, you read that, and think: that's the guy I want picking out tile with me and my wife.