Prefab Goes Modern

By Angela Cabotaje

Earlier this month, The Seattle Times wrote an article about “cargotecture,” upcycled shipping containers that are turned into homes or accessory dwelling units. Prefabricated dwellings like this aren’t exactly new on the scene, but they are changing the face of modern architecture today. So what is prefab anyway?

Prefab is an umbrella term used to describe types of off-site construction methods, two of the main ones being panelized and modular. With panelized prefab, finished walls, floors, doors, roofs, and siding are shipped as a “kit” and assembled on site. These projects allow for more adjustment and customization during assembly. With modular prefab, nearly complete modules (think door knobs and light fixtures already in place) are built off site and transported to a permanent location, where they are quickly installed on the building foundation.

Benefits of Prefab

Much of the excitement about prefab, especially in terms of modern architecture, has to do with its green benefits. Construction begins in a facility, where energy and resources are carefully managed. There’s also less waste. Materials are protected from the weather, so nothing has to be thrown out due to warping or water damage. High-tech tools and instruments can be used to minimize scraps, and any excess can be easily recycled or reused.

Prefab projects also provide time benefits. Work on the foundation can be done on site, while work on the walls and interiors can take place at the same time in an off-site facility. Plus, prefab projects aren’t dependent on the weather. Construction can take place in the facility rain, snow, or shine.

Companies Doing Prefab

In Seattle, several modern design and architecture firms are revamping the face of prefab, making everything from contemporary accessory dwelling units to customizable modular homes available to all.

Backyard Box

 Contemporary, architect-designed, Passive House–compliant modular accessory dwelling units


 Modular single-family homes in five contemporary styles with consideration for LEED, Green Built, Energy Star, and Passive House certifications

 HyBrid Architecture | Assembly

 Firm creating modular projects (including a 5-star Green Built, LEED Platinum–certified house in Seattle) as well as commercial cargotecture

 Method Homes

 Custom manufacturer of modern modular homes in partnership with Seattle’s Balance Associates Architects (Method, Cabin, and Balance S-M-L Series), Portland’s Skylab Architecture (HOMB), Seattle’s Grouparchitect (Option Series), and New York’s Bogue Trondowski Architects (Paradigm Series)



 Customizable panelized kits for backyard sheds and accessory dwelling units


Stillwater Dwellings

Contemporary and sustainable modular homes—all featuring a signature butterfly roofline—in 21 different floor plans

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