When you hear prefab building, do you think of a mobile home or one of those metal barns? Well, those are prefab products, but there is so much more…
The earliest component buildings were homes like the Manning Portable Cottages and Sears Craftsman homes, which were available through catalogs. Customers could order everything from the frame to the flooring, the bathtub to the stain glass windows – even the kitchen sink. Modern versions of prefab homes are featured prominently in Dwell Magazine.
In the early 1900s, John Alexander Brodie invented the tilt-up style of construction with a series of apartment blocks in Liverpool. Tilt-up construction is still utilized today, in the manufacture buildings with large floor plates, like warehouses and big-box stores.
When Disney started work on Walt Disney World, they wanted to use the “latest” technology in construction techniques. Many of the buildings on property were constructed using prefab methods. Most of them, like the Polynesian Resort, were constructed using a stacking technique.
But, in my opinion, the coolest idea was the design of the Contemporary. This design was a collaboration between, Disney, the United States Steel Corporation and architect Welton Becket. Steel frames were erected on-site and modular pre-constructed rooms, designed by California architect Donald Wexler, were lifted into place by crane. The thought behind this design was to create an easy method of remodeling the resort in the future. The rooms could always remain contemporary by just removing an aging unit and replacing it with a newly decorated room. The thought was fantastic – too bad the foundation didn’t cooperate. Over the years, the building settled causing the rooms to be permanently stuck in the frame and against one other.
At least monorail track through the lobby wasn’t derailed by the shifting earth.
A little bit of trivia – On November 17, 1973, President Richard Nixon delivered his famous “I am not a crook” speech in a ballroom at the Contemporary in front of reporters from the Associated Press during the ‘Annual Convention of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association’.