The word had somewhat negative connotations in the 1950s. Prefabricated buildings were a pragmatic, if cramped and ugly, response to the need for rapid rebuilding following the war.
Now, factory-built housing is back on the agenda again as it certainly should be. How is it we're still building houses using methods from a hundred years ago? Has radical modern design got nothing to offer in this area?
If houses were more like cars - consumables that aren't bound up with investment, risk, life-savings, land costs, inheritance, etc. we could solve the housing shortage more straightforwardly. Car production has advanced immeasurably in the past century, while with the exception of fixtures & fittings - the 'cosmetics' you might almost say - the fundamentals of housing design have changed very little.
In Christchurch, New Zealand in 2013 I saw structurally-sound small shops built from re-fitted shipping containers. In the image above we see an innovative house being craned into completion.
The Italian manufacturers of the modular MADI house claim it can be erected on level ground in six hours. It's technically a 'temporary' structure as it can be collapsed as readily as it can be constructed. Yet it's sophisticated, elegant and well-engineered. When bought singly, 62,000 Euros buys an 84 sq m triple-unit, comparable in size with a modest 3-bedroom house, complete with kitchen and bathroom. A single unit house is under half that price. No doubt there'd be a discount for volume.