Christopher Hawthorne over at The Los Angeles Times broke grim news in green home land late yesterday: a marquee name in the world of green architecture, Michelle Kaufmann, is closing up shop at her namesake design firm that helped establish the modern, sustainable prefab design movement.
As suspected, the economic downturn is mostly to blame. Hawthorne explains:
After launching her own firm in Northern California in 2004, she oversaw an office that grew to include two dozen staffers, operated its own factory outside Seattle and completed more than 40 prefab houses, most of them on the West Coast. The firm developed several house templates and also offered lighting, sinks and other products on its website.
Kaufmann sold the factory last year and in November trimmed the size of her Oakland office to 17. She thought those moves would help see the firm through the recession. But two factories MKD worked with have gone out of business since then, and clients and potential clients have found it almost impossible to get financing.
Sad news indeed but as Hawthorne points out, introducing modern prefab housing into the mainstream building market hasn't exactly been easy:
... despite the media attention showered on sleek new designs in the last five years, the newest generation of modern prefab has captured only a tiny sliver of the home-building market. And with the construction costs of site-built houses falling thanks to the recession, prefab may lose some of the cost savings it has enjoyed over traditional architecture.
Kaufmann has publicly stated that moving forward she hopes to switch focus to sustainable multi-family projects — an exciting idea considering the creativity and innovation involved with her single-family prefab designs like the mkLotus — and may take up consulting on Michelle Kaufmann Designs projects that are already in-progress.