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On a Tuesday morning not long ago, I entered a half-assembled house tucked into a quiet corner of Somerville, Mass. In much of this small city, adjacent to Cambridge, you can no longer walk down the block without passing a yoga studio or an artisanal butcher. But this residential street still felt more like the blue-collar town of a previous generation. Outside, a yellow crane lifted a floor deck high overhead. A few men wearing hard hats and tool belts busied themselves inserting screws and climbing ladders.
The house is the brainchild of Adele Naude Santos, dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, and is squeezed between Santos’s home — a converted bronze foundry — and a six-unit condo building. With a split-level second floor, high ceilings and generous windows, the house is a photogenic ambassador for the movement to bring prefab housing into urban settings.