Jennifer Siegal is the founder and principal of Los Angeles-based firm Office of Mobile Design, which is “dedicated to the design and construction of responsible, sustainable and precision built structures.” The firm uses prefabrication and modular construction as well as sustainable and environmentally sound building products in its sleek, modernist homes and buildings.
Siegal is an expert on portable architecture, editing two books on the subject: Mobile: The Art of Portable Architecture and the new More Mobile: Portable Architecture Today.
Siegal’s work in environmentally conscious architecture brought her to the attention of USA Networks, who just honored her with one the first Character Approved Awards as a leading innovator shaping American culture.
Recently, I was able to interview Siegal about her work and philosophy. Part 1 of my interview follows after the jump.
Were you always interested in green technologies?
Yes, I was always interested in the concepts, and I think a lot of it stems from my childhood. My parents were ex-New Yorkers and moved us out to New Hampshire, to the country, where my brothers and I were raised. And it was definitely a moment in history when people were looking for alternative lifestyles for their families. My father was a painter, so we ended up moving to the end of a dirt road, for whatever reason, and got involved in farming and nature.
Sort of the “back to the land movement”?
Back to the land, right, out of the city and into the land. It was around the ’70s and the energy crisis was in full swing, so I distinctly remember the long gas lines and not really being able to go anywhere and a lot of people talking about alternative energies at that moment, and particularly solar power. There were a lot of people coming to my area, that region, to investigate alternative energy sources.
Are you seeing those trends resurfacing now that we’re back in an energy crisis of a sort?
Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? The sort of cycle of excess and time. Yeah, it is, and I think it’s being done in a more rational way this time, so while I think change at that magnitude or scale only exists in North America when we’re forced to look at alternatives, I think it’s been a growing grass-roots movement for quite some time. It’s definitely a topic that comes up in my office for at least 10 years going. Every client that walks in asks those same questions: How can I live lighter on the land? What are my alternatives?
And a lot of those tax incentives and credits that were there in the ’70s that were then removed I think are being put back in place, so you’re going to see not just mandatory changes, but people making a choice instinctively.
You’re very interested in prefab homes and construction. What are the advantages of that style of construction?
Well, there are three advantages, which are the issues that play out in every building. There’s always this issue of design or style, the issue of cost, and the issue of time. And what’s exciting about factory-built or prefabricated systems is that all three of those become possible — better design, less time, less money. And that’s really the holy trinity in the design world.
How many of this sort of homes have you done, and are they all in Southern California?
Yes, all of the built examples have been done in Southern California. We’re starting to travel north right now, but we’re still along the California coast. Which is interesting, I think that California tends to be at the forefront of a lot of new ideas and technologies, and not only are there dreamers out here, but there’s also doers, so you can pay for or get the funding for what you desire. We’ve completed about a dozen custom single family homes and one middle school using the same technology, and we’ve got a bunch of new projects on the boards.
Have you seen a lot of interest in your work from outside of California?
Absolutely. I get calls from everywhere — from all over the world, from all over the country. It’s not just an isolated idea — housing is a necessity, right? Everyone needs some form of shelter. And there haven’t been that many advances made in the world of housing for a long time, so I think when there’s some new viable idea out there, everyone’s ears prick up. And because of the Internet and blogs, news travels fast, and so if there’s a possibility of change, I think people want it, and they just don’t know how to go about getting it.
Read the second half of the interview tomorrow on Awearness, and learn ways you can apply Siegal’s philosophy and green home technologies to your own home.