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Prefab with a twist

February 18, 2010

Prefabricated houses are often seen as simple and relatively cheap. But this cliche does not apply to the houses designed by star architect Daniel Libeskind. He has recreated them in a luxury version.

A prefabricated house in Datteln designed by Daniel Libeskind
Brimming with individuality: a Libeskind-style houseImage: Frank Marburger

The prototype of a prefabricated house designed by 63-year-old star architect Daniel Libeskind is located in the tiny town of Datteln, 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Dortmund in the Ruhr region. But, according to the New York architect, "it doesn't look at all like a prefabricated house."

Even from a distance, it's easy to identify the trademarks of Libeskind's style: The two-storey house resembles a crystal that consists of superimposed block-shaped parts and has a silvery zinc facade.

Aesthetic experiment

The structure is both an eye-catcher and an experiment. From the inside, it feels foreign, like unexplored territory. The floor plan is neither square-shaped, nor practical or modern.

"I wanted to blur the distinction between a residential home, a museum and a beautiful villa - starting from the kids' room to the impressive area where you can entertain your friends," explained Libeskind.

A prefabricated house in Datteln designed by Daniel Libeskind
Libeskind aimed to blur the distinction between a home, a museum and a villaImage: Daniel Liebeskind

There is no real middle point or central room around which everything is arranged. Instead, there are many odd angles and large, asymmetrical window facades. A new perspective opens up behind every wall.

"Through this prefabricated villa I wanted to show what it means today to design a house that you can put on a truck and transport through Germany, across Europe or somewhere else and then erect in a short time," said Libeskind. "I wanted to design a prefabricated house which has a kind of soul to it and a feeling of light and surrounding, and which is also modern. This means it should have low power consumption and utilize geothermal and solar energy."

A personal touch

The villa does not fit the typical image of a prefabricated house. It has a floor area of 515 square meters (5,500 square feet), four rooms, several bathrooms, a cellar, a sauna and a 100-square-meter lobby with a built-in kitchen. The buyer can choose between two options: the Libeskind style with white floors, or the more subdued style with wooden floors and dimmed lighting.

Libeskind denies that these options were created to accommodate the taste of the keen but conservative prefabricated-house clientele.

"If someone wanted a marble bathroom, that's what they would get," said Libeskind. "But I have designed the house to match my own taste. I have actually just designed it for myself - I thought about how the shower should be, how I would like to wake up, how the front door should look. Seen from this angle, the house has become an artist's residence."

Daniel Libeskind
Libeskind designed the houses to his own tasteImage: Michael Marek

Limited series for exclusive buyers

The house is meant to be a work of art - a sculpture, according to Libeskind - which matches the standards of our time but which is also comfortable and suited to daily life.

Construction only takes six months. A two-storey house goes for 2 to 3 million euros (2.8 and 4.1 million dollars), not including the plot of land. There are only 30 of the houses on offer and the Berlin-based company that sells them guarantees its buyers exclusivity, meaning that only one house may be sold within a certain area.

It's too early to say whether Libeskind's prefab concept will sell well. In the past, prefabricated homes designed by star architects always received a lot of attention, but were not always a sales success. Libeskind disagrees with the opinion that his villa is a response to the financial crisis.

"In times of crisis one should not settle for mediocrity," he said. "Now is not the time to let big ideas slide and only pursue the small ones. On the contrary, now is the time to rethink things. During the financial crisis we have seen that a lot of money was wasted to achieve short-term gains. Now we need a sustainable type of architecture - we need to plan things with stability."

Author: Michael Marek (ew)

Editor: Kate Bowen