Girl on the Go pix
Jennifer Siegal's Office of Mobile Design bases its practice on portable and prefabricated structures—and environmental consciousness
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Jennifer Siegal, principal of the Office of Mobile Design.
A rendering for one of her portable houses, consisting of two standard units.
The designer's Venice, California, residence combines a 1,000-square-foot 1920's bungalow with a 200-square-foot trailer addition.
A rendering for a 3,200-square-foot Swell House in Manhattan Beach, California.
OMD's 10,000-square-foot tenant improvement project for Pie.com, an extreme-sports Internet company in Hollywood.
Complete with an indoor-outdoor koi pond, real estate developer Richard Carlson's 3,000-square-foot residence in downtown Los Angeles consists of four shipping containers and two grain trailers.
It's apt that Jennifer Siegal named her practice Office of Mobile Design. Travel has been a leitmotif in her life. As a teenager, she lived on a kibbutz in Israel. As an undergraduate at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, she spent a semester in Italy. Between earning her masters of architecture degree at SCI-Arc in 1994 and opening OMD in Venice, California, in 1998, she was an architect in residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. In 2003, she was awarded the Loeb Fellowship to study at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. Along the way, her portable hot-dog stand subsidized her expenses.
"I'm interested in alternative communities," says the 39-year-old Siegal, "and connections outside of the Internet." Professionally, that translates into her designs for a "pleasure-mobile" for Häagen-Dazs, trailer classrooms for the Venice Community Housing Corporation, and a Los Angeles residence for real estate developer Richard Carlson composed of shipping crates.
Now she's into (literally, in some cases) structures that are prefabricated—as witnessed in the 200-square-foot trailer addition to her 1920's Venice bungalow. But make no mistake. There's nothing "trailer park" about her sensibilities.
What inspires you?
Science, art, the Earthworks movement, automobile and ship manu- facturing, and work by Robert Irwin, Donald Judd, and Lucy Orta.
How do you work with prefab units?
One way I do it is getting a factory-finished, steel-frame house by a manufacturer that we have a relationship with. We design the project, but work within the company's building standards. We take each module, which I call the Portable House, and put them together. We have four in production now.
How large are they?
They're 12 feet wide and 40 to 60 feet long. Interiors are up to 2,500 square feet.
Do you have another way?
Another option is the kit of parts. It's what I call the Swell House, a high-end, modern structure. I'm working on four two-story houses like these.
What about finishes?
Clients' choice, although most choose within our preselected options, which are largely sustainable materials.
What does an OMD interior usually look like?
Steel and glass with 10- to 12-foot-high ceilings. Floors tend to be polished concrete or bamboo. Baths are marble. As for appliances, Portable House clients usually go for G.E., Swell House for Viking.
How much does each style cost?
The Portable House ranges from $150 to $180 per square foot; the Swell House between $200 and $220. An upscale custom house in Los Angeles is $300 to $400 and up. Our goal is high-end architecture for half the price.
They're 15 percent of construction, but sometimes we fold them into costs.
Any other benefits?
Time and money are used more efficiently. We've developed a system that we can plug things into, resulting in a house built in 12 instead of 24 months.
How do you counter the stigma associated with prefab houses?
Today, there are a lot of environmentally conscious people who want to live lighter on the land. Prefab and mobile housing solves a moral dilemma. Now we can have taste and desires yet live in a conscientious way. I call it trans-modern architecture.
Is there any room for luxury?
It's about the materials. That's where my time and research goes. For baths, I'm designing sunken tubs molded to a person's body. They're made of bent steel with an automotive-paint finish. I'm also creating a kit of parts for closets, fireplaces, and heating systems. Water purification is a big issue, too.
Have you considered designing prefab units on a commercial scale?
Yes. I'm vice president of architectural design for a start-up called Inhabitable Art. Twelve celebrity architects are designing houses for the first fully automated manufacturing facility in North America.
Who do the celebrities include?
Shigeru Ban, Zaha Hadid, the Hariri sisters, Steven Holl, Rick Joy, Enrique Norton, and Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.
When will these units be ready and how much will they cost?
They'll begin rolling out in two years at about $200 per square foot.
What else are you working on?
The Country School in North Hollywood. I'm also doing a book series, Materials Monthly, and a monograph sponsored by the Chinese government.
Anything regarding the tsunami?
I've been talking with one of the founders of Surf Aid International about modifying shipping containers for use by the medical corps.
What can you say about prefab's future?
Better, affordable design with more urban infill and less sprawl. Los Angeles still has a lot of undeveloped space. In five years, 45 percent of residential building will be prefab. For economic reasons, it has to be.