In the midst of the current pre-fab craze, we could not help but notice the incredible press and recognition awarded to the "rolling huts" designed by Seattle-based Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects (OSKA) for an alpine floodplain guest facility in rural Mazama, Washington.
These single-roomed pre-fabs on wheels are grouped in a herd and beautiful in their simplicity. The layout of the huts is modular, allowing for flexibility in the way the interior is arranged. The huts do not, however, offer amenities such as restrooms or kitchens.
We wonder about the utility of the manner in which these structures are set on wheels. The four separate fixed-axle wheels sets are rigidly attached to the piers of the pre-fab unit, allowing the hut to be moved...but how? Perhaps pushed or dragged with a bulldozer or a tractor? The structures are reminiscent of a medieval trebuchet, where the fixed wheels were designed to dissipate some of the kinetic energy of the catapult motion. It's unclear how the fixed solid wheels add much ease of mobility to the huts, and since the huts are desirably static while in use, there is no need for kinetic energy dissipation. And how about when the floodplain gets flooded? Fortunately, the huts' floors are raised off the ground, but the huts' mobility must be severely limited when they are set deep in mud.
Typically, when a structure is combined with wheels, the result is a recreational vehicle or travel trailer. The functionality of a trailer is that it can be pulled behind a car or a truck and be easily transported to a different site using the defined infrastructure of roads and bridges. Another example of a structure on wheels is the railroad car. Arguably the most famous example of a railroad car is the caboose, a structure that can travel across the nation on the railroad tracks, yet still offers space for sleeping, working, cooking, and "resting." In comparison, the minimally-equipped rolling huts do not offer kitchens or restrooms, and their wheels do not add any assistance if and when the structures need to be transported off the site.
Guest facilities across the nation have, for years, accepted travel trailers and cabooses as attractive lodging options for travelers wanting to escape the city in search of the rural surroundings. So we are intrigued by the accolades awarded to the rolling huts that offer limited guest comfort and do nothing to support adaptive reuse and offer limited mobility for future uses. It appears that the structures were conceived as a "new" idea, combining elements from other previous designs to create a fresh pre-fab form of architecture. This has been well-received by many critics; however, to us, the concept of reuse and the ability to utilize existing infrastructure as a means of transportation are more important than trying to invent what has already been invented.