Carl Koch

Born Albert Carl Koch in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1912, Carl Koch was educated at Harvard College and received his Master of Architecture degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1937. His tenure at Harvard coincided with the transition of the institution from a traditional Beaux-Arts architectural education to a completely new system instituted by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius (1883-1969). Koch traveled to Sweden in 1940-41 and worked in the office of Sven Markelius (1889?1972), where he modified his Bauhaus-influenced approach to architecture to adopt some of the ideas advocated by Markelius.

Koch's first project upon returning to the United States was a community housing project called Snake Hill (1941) in Belmont, Massachusetts. Koch developed the project as a way to design an inexpensive home for himself and his family, who moved into the one of the complex's five houses when it was completed. The experience inspired Koch to pursue a career in creating quality affordable housing for American families. He believed that the best post-World?War-II housing solution for the shifting and expanding American population was the creation of demountable, prefabricated housing. Koch was such an innovator of the design and technologies of this housing type that he was later dubbed the "Grandfather of Prefab." His first attempt at pre-fabricated housing was the design concept for the Acorn House (1948). The Acorn House consisted of room units placed around a central core with an exterior formed by folding stress skin panels, engineered by John Bemis (1916-2006). The Acorn House was covered extensively by Life magazine and other popular publications, but was not commercially successful because of local building codes and some resistance by local governments.

His most commercially and critically successful prefab-housing design was the Techbuilt System (1953). The Techbuilt House was more harmonious with traditional suburban tastes and settings than Koch's earlier work in its use of natural materials such as wood, the expansiveness of the interior, and its peaked roof with overhanging eaves. Six different models were designed of varying plan and scale. At least three Techbuilt Houses were constructed in New Canaan, Connecticut. Over 3,000 packages were sold in the United States before 1963. In 1958, Koch co-authored a book with Andy Lewis titled At Home With Tomorrow that outlined his experiences with the Techbuilt House and his other prefabricated housing designs.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Koch moved on to large-scale public housing projects utilizing pre-stressed concrete components that he dubbed Techcrete. The Techcrete Academy Homes (1962) in Roxbury, Massachusetts were the most lauded of this period. Many of his projects utilizing Techcrete technology were built by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, but have not been considered successful due to their poor condition and lack of upkeep. Until his death in 1998, Koch continued his lifelong dedication to "the real challenge [of] how to bring dignity to the everyday" through architecture.

Carl Koch died in 1998.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.