Building Affordably In A Small Dutch Town

Sophisticated prefab homes have thrived in Europe over recent decades, more than in the U.S. In one strikingly expansive example, a Dutch university town has set up a kit-home supermarket for first-time home buyers, who get to choose among diverse designs from twenty different architecture firms.

Each is shipped as a “flat pack” rather than in truck-width modules, and can be assembled in four to six weeks. Most prices are between $150,000 and $175,000. Government loans are available to pay them, and the town also owns plots for sale to build on. Cutting out the developer as a middleman yields substantial savings. Some buyers may be able to assemble the houses themselves.

voorkant

8A’s house in its darkest finish. Via 8A Architecten.

The firm 8A Architecten drew up a single steep gable and four dormers; it’s a bit obvious, at first glance, but offers a veritable supermarket aisle all on its own. You can look through its wide array of colors, sizes, and floor plans on the program’s website, which is not available in English but almost looks like it is, with headings “contact,” “nieuws,” “specificaties,” and “wat is ibb8A?”

Hayhouse

Hayhouse. Via LRVH Architecten.

Then there’s Hayhouse, a straw bale house from Lilith Ronner van Hooijdonk. And there’s Deckhouse, cube-shaped but darkly timbered for a Nordic rustic look. Surprisingly, Deckhouse comes from a firm of Greek women with offices in Belgium, Netherlands, and Crete under the name EX.s Architecture. I’d say they tend to avoid excess, actually:

Main interests and activities include Urban Agriculture, Cladding and articulated systems with Eco-materials and recycling materials, various forms of community and collective housing  and participatory design… We have been exploring the potentials of the fabrication laboratory combined with crafting, especially in the cases of multiple prototyping for layered molds of the eco-stones Wallpot and Trico.

From that, I’m guessing the dark “timbers” cladding the Deckhouse may be engineered wood or not wood at all, but there is no text explaining Deckhouse in particular. Perhaps Ms. Karanastasi will see this post and hire me to edit her website into native-speaker English.

Deckhouse EXs

Deckhouse. Via EX.s Architecture.

That’s just three of the 20 styles on offer. Even if all the new houses are in one subdivision, there’s little danger of it looking too uniform. The program’s name, IbbN, stands for “I build affordable in Nijmegen.” A similar recent program offers flat-pack prefab row houses rather than free-standing ones in the town of Almere. Nijmengen is one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands, and Almere one of the newest.

I haven’t seen any remarkable energy-efficiency claims for these designs, but building codes in northern Europe require reasonably high standards, and the Netherlands’ numbers for energy use per household are among the best in the region.

Daniel Mathews writes about plants, animals, geology, and culture—most often writing in book form. (Bible form, if you listen to his fans. And now also in iPhone app form.) But he got his start in green homebuilding. Fresh out of Reed College, he went into the Oregon woods and built himself a tiny house out of timbers he cut and a cedar shakes he bucked and split all within 100 feet of the site. Fortunately he keeps up with the times, and focuses today on high-tech paths to a small carbon footprint. He lives in Portland with his wife, son, daughter, cat, dog, vegetable garden, and lots of music.

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