Modular Prefab Elevated Home on Stilts, Maryland

Floor plans
About Kieran Timberlake Associates

DesignKieran Timberlake Associates
ProjectLoblolly House
Area2,200 square feet
Assemble Time6 weeks
LocationTaylors Island, Maryland
PhotographyBarry Halkin, Peter Aaron / Esto, Halkin Photography


AIA Institute Honor Award
AIA Housing Award
AIA Pennsylvania Honor Award
AIA Philadelphia Gold Medal
Architect R+D Award
Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award and International Architecture Award
EPA Lifecycle Building Challenge
World Architecture Festival (shortlisted)

This modular prefab elevated home on stilts is composed entirely of ready-made components and off-site manufactured elements, assembled in less than six weeks. The install process begins with off-site manufactured ceiling and floor panels. They distribute cold and hot water, radiant heating, waste water, electricity and ventilation through the building. Fully integrated mechanical room and bathroom modules are lifted into planned position. Wall panels containing insulation, structure, windows, exterior rain screen and interior finishes complete the cladding.

Description from architects

How can we holistically transform the way we make architecture, compressing the construction timespan and making use of technology to create a truly sustainable, aesthetically moving shelter?

Loblolly House was inspired by the childhood urge to build tree houses. An effort to bring back the magic of a house in the trees — one that requires climbing up to gain a view — Loblolly House appeals to a primal instinct about how we inhabit space. It also represents a home that is uniquely integrated with its setting among the tall loblolly pines from which it takes its name.


Positioned between a dense grove of pines and a lush foreground of saltmeadow cordgrass leading to the bay, the prefab modular elevated home on stilts is formed about and within the elements of trees, tall grasses, the sea, the horizon, the sky, and the western sun. The skewed piles upon which the foundation rests mimic the form of the forest, fusing the natural elements of this barrier island to architectural form.

Loblolly House also reflects an environmental ethic; by lifting it off the ground, we ensure that it touches the site very lightly. Our desire in conceiving this stilt home was to reimagine what was possible in the realm of building — with the intention to improve the productivity of design and construction, enhance affordability and quality, and do so in an ethical and aesthetically moving manner.


Most houses are built from thousands of parts, which are transported separately to the construction site and pieced together by hand — a process of extraordinary duration, cost, and environmental impact. With the prefab home made from pre-built modules, by contrast, we wanted to use integrated assemblies of those parts, fabricated off site, to build a house in an entirely different way. Specification was no longer structured around the 50 divisions of the Construction Specifications Institute traditionally used to organize the multitude of parts. Instead, the conception and detailing were formed about four new elements of architecture: scaffold, cartridge, block, and equipment. The connections between elements were designed to be made using only simple hand tools.

Each element — and its junctures with other elements — was first digitally modeled to an exquisite level of detail. At the time, in 2004, parametric modeling software was in its nascent stages and required significant effort, but its use ensured that elements fabricated simultaneously would fit together perfectly. The assemblies were then fabricated off site, anticipating their attachment to the aluminum scaffold system that would eventually support and connect them. Unlike a traditional building process, in which construction must happen sequentially from the ground up, with the prefab home made from pre-built modules, the various elements could be prepared at the same time, shifting 70 percent of the effort to the factory. All of the modular prefab elevated home's systems were pre-integrated into the floor and ceiling panels, termed smart cartridges, to distribute radiant heating, hot and cold water, waste water, ventilation, and electricity throughout the prefab elevated house on stilts.


At the Taylors Island site, the building began with traditional, site-based preparation of the foundation. However, once the aluminum frame was in place, the assembly process could continue apace. Floor and ceiling cartridges and pre-built modules — including entire bathrooms and mechanical blocks — were lifted and fitted into place. Exterior wall panels containing structure, insulation, windows, interior finishes, and a wood rain screen of western red cedar completed the cladding. From the platform up, the prefab home made from pre-built modules was assembled in less than six weeks.

As you approach this modular stilt home from the 800-foot-long drive in the afternoon, when the sun shifts to the west, you can see a mysterious glow at its center: the orange glass of the footbridge connecting the main house to the guest quarters. Like its perch amidst the trees, this is one of the elements of magic to the structure of the prefab elevated house on stilts, accentuating the daily ritual of the passing of the sun. With this project, we wanted not only to envision anew the process of design and construction, embedding within it an environmental ethic, but also to create a house that evokes the extraordinary natural world that is its home.

Loblolly House is built on tree-like piles that lift the house off the ground. The platform entry to the second level projects like an osprey nest. 

The orange glow of the footbridge—evoking the setting sun—is visible through the staggered rainscreen siding, which was composed over a photograph of the site to mimic the solids and voids of the forest wall. 

Prefabricated house, Taylors Island, Maryland

Prefabricated house, Taylors Island, Maryland

Prefabricated house, Taylors Island, Maryland

Prefabricated house, Taylors Island, Maryland

Prefabricated house, Taylors Island, Maryland

Prefabricated house, Taylors Island, Maryland

Making a Full-Scale Critical Detail of Loblolly House

The built detail (left) and the reconstructed detail (right), under inspection by Stephen Kieran, Shop Manager Peter Curry, and Research Director Billie Faircloth.
 Loblolly House was built in just six weeks in 2006, inaugurating a novel approach to building off site using integrated component assemblies that are factory-built and assembled together on site. We recently constructed a full-scale critical detail of Loblolly House in our Philadelphia shop, and it is currently on display at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum's National Design Triennial, Why Design Now? exhibition, on view from May 14-January 9, 2011.

In the same way that an anatomical section provides insight into the body, this critical detail offers a view of the house's physical properties beyond what can be learned from drawings or photographs.

Measuring 4 x 6 x 11 feet and weighing approximately 1,000 pounds, the Loblolly House detail contains the aluminum frame and steel connectors that support the modular home; a section of the fully integrated floor and ceiling cartridges containing radiant heating, micro-ducted cooling, ventilation, and power; glass and metal floor components; and wall cartridges with integrated windows, interior birch ply finishes and exterior cedar rain screen cladding.

The detail assembly followed roughly the same sequence as Loblolly House, beginning by erecting the aluminum frame and bolting the other components to it. To ensure that this building fragment could be freestanding at the Cooper-Hewitt, the vertical systems—specifically the roof cartridges and roof framing—needed to function nearly unsupported while some of the loads are transferred through the window units. This was achieved by using special fastening brackets to support the framing and by connecting the vertical systems together so they would act as a single unit.

The critical detail was assembled in our shop, disassembled, shipped and re-assembled at the museum. This allowed us to re-engage the design for the disassembly principle central to the Loblolly House: that it can be disassembled as readily and swiftly as it was assembled, keeping the various elements whole for re-use in the future.

A photo sequence of the building process follows.

The framing is laid out and prepared for assembly.

The floor unit includes a painted steel plate attached to the central support post.

The remaining sections of floor framing are attached and the assembly is tilted up.

After installing the roof support framing, the roof cartridges are lowered into place.

The wall panel is tilted up and fitted into the structural framing.

The casement window is installed into the wall cartridge.

The fixed window unit is installed and the smaller roof cartridge is lowered into place.

The floor cartridges and glass floor are installed.

Floor plans

Prefabricated house floor plans, Taylors Island, Maryland

About Kieran Timberlake

The alchemy of art, science, analysis, and intuition with regard to the built environment is our core mission.

Founded in 1984, KieranTimberlake brings together the experience and talents of over 100 professionals of diverse backgrounds and abilities in a practice that is recognized worldwide. Our projects include the programming, planning, and design of new structures as well as the conservation, renovation, and transformation of existing buildings, with special expertise in education, government, arts and culture, civic, and residential projects.

Common to all KieranTimberlake work is that each project begins with a question and continues its development within a culture of continuous asking, ensuring that design results from deep investigation. KieranTimberlake is committed not only to delivering the highest quality services to our clients, but also to pursuing ideas that push the practice of architecture forward.

KieranTimberlake has received hundreds of design citations, including the Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects in 2008 and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Architecture from the Smithsonian Institution in 2010.

Address841 North American Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123

Modular Prefab Elevated Home on Stilts, Maryland