Witold Rybczynski's latest slideshow in Slate takes aim at neomodern prefabricated housing, with somewhat deadly aim. He makes the valid points that:
a. This has been attempted many times in the past, and
b. No attempt has ever really "revolutionized" domestic architecture.
Both of these things are undoubtedly true. From Lustron to Gropius, prefabrication has been part of the "future" of housing for a century now, and with seemingly little effect upon the vast majority of housing. This is not to say his thesis is perfect. For one, he makes a vastly misinformed case for manufactured (mobile) housing, one which I hope he reconsiders. He also shows us a spec house making extensive use of premanufactured components, and somehow manages to draw the obvious conclusion; that the changes that architects have been attempting to force are being slowly brought to bear by the market itself; prefabrication is now de rigeur for a lot of structure, sheathing, cladding, and even MEP systems, and seems be trending even further in that direction. It is my opinion that this is somewhat unavoidable; that in an age of advanced consumerism homes will become more product-like, a process that must take advantage of the fine tolerances and replicability of factory production. The role of architects in this case is to get on board before we become the rear guard; that is, embrace the ideals of the product world - branding, image, tactility, assembly-- in addition to those that we have been brought up to idealise - form, light, material, process. This may be a tiny revolution against what people have attempted in the past, but it is a significant one.