I get an e-mail from livinghomes.com telling me there is a pre-fab home installation of a Ray Kappe-designed house to be web cast live. I wire the news to Archinect. The whole world, including an Archinect correspondent in Dubai, knows about it instantly. Of course I am not on their VIP list so they suggest via a warning: I should sit put in front of my computer and watch it un-dangerously. Whoa, really, danger is my middle name and I know where the action is and I am going. I know Santa Monica pretty well after 30 years. I spotted the crane from Lincoln Blvd and after two turns I was there and found an excellent parking.
Hillside lot in Ocean Park. Same urban neighborhood that gave birth to the now-defunct "Republic of Santa Monica." Well educated but not corporate business people live there, older beatniks/hippies who sustained their apartments and houses. The new in-coming are the entrepreneurs/the old dot-com/new modern architecture/ 'pr' fab/ environmentally sympathetic/sustainably-aware high achievers who can create a spectacle and do it with skill and rigor. That was the developer/owner/occupier and the man behind livinghomes.com. His name is Steve and he says Ray Kappe is the "greatest living architect" with a gusto and finality. Dude is ecstatic and getting it done.
This is so historic for me. I am going to see my first actual "barn raising" of a Pre Fab Modern House by the greatest, Ray Kappe. If Ray is not going to make me like pre fab, nobody will. By going there I take my chances. Will I like PF and meet this new marketing darling of the real estate industry? "Pre Fab Residences," I'd like to call them, with an explanation: these are not "Give the people what they want" type of mass produced homes and should not be pitched against them.
Kappe house is, umm, expensive but worth it. Shelly Kappe tells me "Ray had this idea 40 years ago," as they are lowering the first floor steel framed section. Obviously it's an important piece which frames and openly zones and defines several spaces at once. As if Ray is revealing his signature secret to the trained eyes, steel frame lowered and welded on spot to beautiful exposed concrete floors with radiant heat. 1, 2, 3...7, 8 and more. 11 parts total, I recall. Truck brings a part, crane lifts it and skilled/rehearsed workers, welders/sealers, operators put it in. Everything matches up. It is more like shooting a film with 100 or so people watching it. Curious neighbors, local architects dropping in and PR's and assistants on cell phones making it look like an uber-event.
I walk to the floor slab area where all the involved are. The bouncer stops me and says I can't go any further but Ray sees me and yells "Orhan!" across the newly installed living room... I am in the VIP.
I say "Ray, the owner said you are the greatest", Ray smiles, "he didn't tell it to me." Shelly and I laugh and I snap our picture.
Ray says "it took too long to fabricate it" He is watching the whole thing rather emotionlessly and with the confidence of the master architect he is.
Concrete contractor is different than the steel fab; "how much?" I ask. He says 300 a foot for concrete only, which includes grading, retaining walls for sub garage and all the flat work, and says "another 300 for the pre fabbers." House is 2.5 thousand sq. ft. I'd say the downstairs is slightly bigger. Plus the land.
"Sir would you clear the camera, Channel 9 is doing a wide shot"
Channel 9 spends no time with the architecture part and quickly gets into the comps, the obvious angle everyone wants to know. Somehow their total construction cost is restrained for live TV. Scripted indeed. Sister does the Channel 9 and CBS and soon as she is done, she and the cameraman are outta there; perhaps there is a freeway chase somewhere. Then cameras, other reporters and documentarians pour in. Everybody has a digi camera and cam phones. Look ma no nails...
I eavesdrop the real estate agents. They are talking like the real bosses of the whole thing, throwing hee-haws. And all the PR's are catering to them. It is not your usual construction job site but more like a commercial shoot with assistants dropping names of famous architects. Girls with cell phones are everywhere.
My real agenda is, like I said, I want to see for myself if I like this gig.
Anyway, one by one they stack the pieces, bolt and weld them secure. Ray and Shelly Kappe leave before the final few pieces and I am addicted and wait out to the final whistle.
Ray wins hands down. A beautiful house is installed. He made me like it, before I look at it from a remote spot and say "hello Ray" and leave.
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