MiniHut - A Prefab Prototype
The prefab prototype "MiniHut", designed by the Wellington firm Bonnifait + Giesen in collaboration with Jimu, a Chinese design and manufacturing company.
In essence, the latest prefabricated design by Wellington architects Cecile Bonnifait and William Giesen is a sort of apartment on the ground – a single-storey structure for those seeking a small dwelling that comes with plenty of outdoor living. Bonnifait + Giesen has long been interested in efficient prefabricated and modular buildings: their first attempt, ‘Port-a-Bach’, was a converted shipping container that opened up like a Swiss army knife. The couple has since explored a number of efficient and delightful projects.
The MiniHut, however, is new and exciting territory. An economical option for first-time homeowners seeking to build a standalone home, it takes advantage of new technologies and thinking that unlock a multitude of issues. “Our enthusiasm is not for prefab, as such,” says Giesen, “but for delivering high-quality architecture at a reasonable cost.”
Factory-built from cross-laminated timber (CLT), the design is based on a services module that’s built and fitted off site. The structure and walls are erected on site – a good option for those wanting a house to be built quickly – and cladding, joinery and decks are designed to be added in just a few days.
MiniHut feels grander than its 36 square metres, thanks to a high stud that contains living areas in the main volume and sleeping areas on a mezzanine. Additional modules, meanwhile, have been designed to serve as entrances, utility sheds and covered decks.
And, with one side of the 3×8-metre structure filled with windows, the hut can take advantage of views and have a connection to the outdoors – benefits you might associate with something much grander than a small prefabricated timber building.
Sustainability is key. Giesen is excited about the use of CLT, which comes with good insulation properties; the roof angle, meanwhile, slopes to the north to accommodate solar panels. “The crafted house has a small footprint,” says Giesen. “It’s low energy and can be an energy-positive solution with the correct equipment.’’
Bonnifait + Giesen designed the house in collaboration with Jimu, a Chinese design and manufacturing firm that also built the ‘Port-a-Bach’ in 2006. This time around, Jimu secured private and government funding to build the prototype in Hangzhou, a garden city three hours south of Shanghai. The idea was presented at the Green Architecture and Construction Materials Expo 2017 in Shanghai, generating much interest.