Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Michelle Kaufmann Closes: Green and Hip is Changing

The Bay Area’s Michelle Kaufmann is a pioneer in modern, green, prefab housing. She’s been recognized in countless magazines throughout the design world as a leader in the green housing movement. Her designs are sleek, modern, and gorgeous. Not only does she represent the future of home design, but her and her many copycats represented what it meant to be ultra-hip and ultra-green during the housing boom.


When money was cheap and green was glam, business boomed. But, as the economy sours, business is down. Way down. As social mood continues to evolve into a more-with-less/smaller-is-better-culture, what it means to be green and hip is changing into something more austere and homegrown.

From The Los Angeles Times Green prefab firm Michelle Kaufmann Designs is closing

Green prefab architecture firm Michelle Kaufmann Designs is calling it quits, a victim of the credit crisis and broader woes in the economy. In a letter sent over Memorial Day weekend, Kaufmann told clients the firm would close by the end of this week. She confirmed the news in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

Kaufmann, who worked for Frank Gehry and Michael Graves early in her career, was a pioneer in the so-called modern prefab movement of recent years. She was also one of the first architects to make a persuasive case that prefab design, which reduces construction waste and damage to building sites, among other benefits, was in a number of ways synonymous with sustainability.

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.

"Being a small company without significant reserves, that was more head wind than we could bear," she said.

The demise (for now) of hip, green, expensive architecture represents a changing of the guard to new ways that we consider being green:

  • Raising chickens is a hot new trend
  • More families are planting gardens and growing food
  • Frugality has become cool – Be green not from buying “green” products, but by buying nothing at all.

The new, frugal, “green" may be best represented by the Dervaes family and their “urban homestead” in Pasadena. They live on 1/5 of an acre and produce 6,000 lbs of produce annually. They brew their own biodiesel for their car. They raise chickens, ducks, goats, and bees. Their website is www.pathtofreedom.com

Here is their mission:

Path to Freedom strives to inspire individuals to "think globally, act locally" by motivating them to live a simpler and more fulfilling life on the path to eco-stewardiship.

Our travels can never be over; it is an entire life’s journey and we have many more miles to go. However, we are proving that we can attain our goal if we advance in stages whatever the circumstances. Our hope is that by documenting our personal experiences we can offer encouragement to those who are on the same journey towards a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle.

The ultimate goal is to live as simply as possible in harmony with nature and ourselves. A back-to-basics lifestyle that will re-establish us to the land, healing the disconnection of our lives and leading to the restoration of the earth.

Part of Path to Freedom's mission is to educate individuals and families to integrate sustainable living practices and methods into their daily lives. Our focus is on: organic gardening, permaculture, solar cooking, composting and other back-to-basic, sustainable technologies and practices relating to the home environment.

Going this “green” won’t be for everyone. Yet, almost everyone can relate to a feeling of “disconnection” from the consumerism of the last decade.