What these exhibitions demonstrated is that there is no dearth of splendid ideas for prefabricated mass-produced housing. Were the best of these ideas adopted by the market—and in the right climate, more good ideas would be forthcoming—there is no doubt that the bulk of newly constructed houses would be less toxic to the environment, better built, and last longer with fewer repairs. They would more fully and attractively accommodate the ways people currently live.Et voilà—the future of homebuilding in the United States? I have no clue, but assuming energy and environmental issues continue to be central in the coming years (and why wouldn't they be?), I'd expect the question to bubble up now and again. Greening the construction industry and our built environment, after all, pretty much has to be a big part of any push to nudge down those greenhouse-gas emissions.
Why do we continue to settle for residential litter in ever-more-degrading landscapes? That is the question these exhibitions fail to address. But of course it is not an architectural question. In social policies, better ideas by savvier architects will change little. For quality affordable mass-produced housing to be built, we need to create different conditions for a mass market. A new legislative structure must clear away the obstacles presented by non-standard, municipally controlled building codes and create enforceable national standards for prefab-friendly, environmentally responsible manufacturing and construction practices. Incentives must be offered so that the entrenched and intransigent construction industry, which has made plenty of money on its poorly conceived, shoddily built, environmentally toxic houses, will re-configure itself.
If the necessary legislation were passed and new market incentives put in place, and the designers and manufacturers of prefabricated homes made all the real innovations in quality and reduction of price that the automobile industry has made since the Model T, who would walk away from a better designed and better built home for less money?