Michelle Kaufmann, the darling of the latest prefab movement, has fallen on hard times. Even in these hard economic times where up is down and change is constant, I think this is one of the most significant and clear signals about the future of this practice.
I didn’t fully understand the depth of her talent and passion until I saw her speak at a conference in LA. Before this, I thought she was only superficially interested in things like “affordability” and “sustainabilty”, leaning more on style as a selling tool. I was wrong. She is persistent. She is talented. She is invested. She believes deeply in providing sane, sound, responsible buildings and spent as much time designing the construction delivery system for her great homes as she did on the homes themselves.
She (still) represents the leading edge of modern home building, having completed 40 homes in 5 years, more than any other similar practice that I am aware of.
So what, then, is the lesson learned when the best example we have of “new practice” fails? The lesson is that the model is flawed.
In the shift to provide architecture as a product and not a service, size obviously matters. There will always be individual developers doing responsible projects. The large spec home builders understand better how to deliver product on a larger scale, but none of them have 21st century product, and to date they have built in a way that is by definition unsustainable.
As sad as I am to see Michelle Kaufmann’s recent struggles, I think because of this a new direction seems to be coming into focus.