Prefab Proponent Jennifer Siegal Explains the Wind-Up Toy She Always Keeps on Her Desk



A tiny metal knickknack keeps the designer’s mind on mobility.

I founded my design firm, Office of Mobile Design, in 1998 to work on transportable and demountable environments—what many people refer to as prefab or container homes. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with mobility. As a child, I turned wood blocks and Hot Wheels into cities of flying cars, ran a mobile candy store, and broke my knee while riding my bike down a hill in front of my house with roller skates on. It’s in my blood.

On a shelf in my office sits a wind-up metal robot-vendor toy, a gift I received when I was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard. I spent that year exploring the use of intelligent, kinetic, lightweight materials. Today the whirling toy reminds me of when I owned and operated a hot dog cart while putting myself through graduate school at SCI-Arc. (I followed in the footsteps of my maternal grandfather, who had a hotdog cart on Coney Island.) My record-breaking sales day came at a Grateful Dead concert. I ran out of dogs and made do with mustard, sauerkraut, and buns. But most of all, the toy reminds me that joy can be found in simplicity and through living lighter on the land, which remains my true life’s work. 

For 20 years, Los Angeles designer and  professor Jennifer Siegal has been pushing the limits of modular housing through her  firm OMD, most recently with a series of prefab accessory dwelling units just released  this fall. Here, she shares the story of a toy that she always keeps nearby.

For 20 years, Los Angeles designer and professor Jennifer Siegal has been pushing the limits of modular housing through her firm OMD, most recently with a series of prefab accessory dwelling units just released this fall. Here, she shares the story of a toy that she always keeps nearby.

Photo: Michael Friberg

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