Constructive Reconsiderations

In their new book, architects Mark and Peter Anderson present their site-specific approach to prefabrication.

Mark and Peter Anderson’s approach to prefabrication is becoming the new standard for innovation in offsite construction. As part of Emerging Voices 2007, a lecture series founded by the Architectural League in 1982 to recognize architects achieving prominence, the March 8th lecture by the Anderson brothers addressed a packed room at the Urban Center.

The design principals of Anderson Anderson Architecture, based in San Francisco and Seattle, began by highlighting their background as construction workers and carpenters growing up in Tacoma’s industrial landscape. Early collaborations with Japanese construction companies taught them that “the big opportunities in construction for efficiency and changing the world come through the much more rich aspects of project management and project delivery, and how materials get to the site, where they’re fabricated, how they come together,” explained Peter Anderson. Coinciding with the publication of their new book, Prefab Prototypes: Site-Specific Design for Offsite Construction (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), the lecture traced the development of their methodology from its roots in experimental, site-specific projects to their current focus of offsite, prefabricated construction processes and recycled materials.

Peter talked at length about Orchard House (2005), a private residence built for former Manhattanites on a five acre site of century-old Gravenstein apple trees in Sebastopol, California. Only after photographing, indexing, and naming all 322 trees on the site did the architects devise a design for integrating the structure into the pre-existing grid of the orchard, placing walls where they found a weak or missing tree. The house is structured from site-cast, concrete, and u-shaped walls that were developed using a limited set of repeated, modular prefabricated formwork.

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Mark continued with a series of projects that adapt similar systems of prefabricated modules, natural ventilation, energy collection, and rainwater recycling to mixed-use family living units. The most complex implementation of this system was for a site along the Mississippi River in Bywater, New Orleans—a winner of the High Density on the High Ground Competition. Their project, Camel Back Shot Gun Sponge Garden, combines prefabricated steel-framed living units with walls and roofs that filter runoff water into sponge-like garden decks and plant-supporting wall panels.

The Anderson brothers’ method of what they call “rationalizing the construction process” often starts with a serious assessment of site and continues with a complex layering of both natural and industrialized systems. “We’re very interested in the way that human experience of both the earth and the natural world can be re-fabricated and reconstructed in these machine environments,” says Peter. “We explore the way the air exhausts out of the building, the way fresh air comes in, the way water can be gathered and collected, and the way all this rich experience of life can be compacted into very dense, modularized systems.”

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