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The house that Larry built

MIT architect Sass puts up a prefab at MoMA
MIT architect and assistant professor of computation Larry Sass is displaying his work in "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling" at the Museum of Modern Art this summer.
MIT architect and assistant professor of computation Larry Sass is displaying his work in "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling" at the Museum of Modern Art this summer.
Photo / Donna Coveney

Larry Sass, assistant professor of computation in the MIT Department of Architecture, is one of five architects featured in a major show this summer at the Museum of Modern Art titled "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling," which focuses on the importance of prefabricated and sustainable housing.

Sass' project--Digitally Fabricated House for New Orleans--will be on view from July 20 until October 20. The New Orleans-style "shotgun" house is currently being erected alongside four other architects' works in a lot next to MoMA. Sass and the other architects are detailing their work on blogs at

As of June 19, Sass' plywood and plastic, 600 sheets of them, had been delivered to MoMA for construction of the home, he noted on his blog. "The most important factor at this stage is getting started. If there is something wrong with a part or if the site pours are very un-level, we will soon find out," Sass wrote.

The fabrication, delivery and assembly of the projects are being documented in a special online exhibition that offers, in combination with the physical exhibit, an in-depth examination of factory-produced architecture.

Based on research in New Orleans--including meetings with local homeowners and documentation of houses throughout the Garden District, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and the Lower Ninth Ward--Sass' house is fabricated entirely of friction-fit components with tabs or slots for easy assembly, and the structure is put together solely with muscle and mallets, without any nails or screws or glue.

Another impressive feature of Sass' house is the use of mass-customized as well as mass-standardized components--at scales ranging from details to major structural features--so that the main body of the house, for example, employs a standardized structural shell while the porch can be customized at will.

For the museum show, the interior space of the house will be used for educational purposes, with displays that illustrate the design, fabrication and assembly of the house and hands-on exhibits offering visitors the chance to interact with the fabrication software and hardware.

The show is part of a MoMA tradition of exhibiting houses outdoors, most famously in its sculpture garden. This year's outdoor exhibit is complemented with an indoor show of historical documents, full-scale reassemblies and films that trace the roots of prefabrication in the work of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Jean Prouvé and Richard Rogers, corporations such as Lustron, and the imaginative systems of other influential figures including Thomas Edison and Bucky Fuller.

In addition to Sass, the architects in this year's show are KieranTimberlake Associates of Philadelphia; Douglas Gauthier and Jeremy Edmiston of Manhattan; Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf of Austria; and Richard Horden of Horden Cherry Lee in London. The museum gave each team $80,000 to develop their project; the Rockefeller Foundation contributed more for Sass's project and, along with the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, sponsored of the overall exhibition.

As director of the Digital Design Fabrication Group in the Department of Architecture, Sass' research focuses on design fabrication using computer modeling and prototyping as representational tools in the design process, as opposed to paper drawings; previous projects have included the reconstruction of Palladio's unbuilt works using rapid prototyping tools and fabricated surfaces.

Sass has served as project architect at Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbot, designer for Payette Associate Architects and Planners, designer at Schwartz Silver Architects, and as intern architect at Hirsch Danios Associates. He has also served as consultant for Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and Neighborhood Partners. He holds a bachelor of architecture from the Pratt Institute, a master of science in Architecture and PhD in Design and Computation from MIT.

The MoMA exhibit was organized by Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, and Peter Christensen, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design. It is supported by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.

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