The news has been reverberating throughout the green building and design community since yesterday, but it still hit me like a sledgehammer when I found out this morning. Michelle Kaufmann, known as the queen of green prefab architecture, has been forced to close up shop due to the crappy state of the economy. I have featured her work before — her mkPURE sink is made of concrete and recycled porcelain. What I never wrote about, much to my regret, is her beautiful green, pre-fab homes. My husband I spent a lot of time at her firm’s website going through the floor plans and planning our life in one of her homes. I’m not kidding. We had it picked out and were just waiting for our financial situation to catch up to our dreams.
Sadly, due to circumstances completely out of her control, Michelle has made the heart-wrenching decision to close the doors of her 17-person design firm — and this is with a backlog of 20 clients waiting for homes. According to Michelle’s interview with Treehugger, a combination of factors led to the decision. The bankruptcy and closing of the factories that were manufacturing parts of the homes was the first blow, but having financing fall through on several potential builds at the last minute was the final straw.
It really makes me sad, because Michelle Kaufmann Designs was more than just another green design firm — they were the pioneers of sustainability who stepped out into uncharted territory when everyone else was afraid to. Unfortunately, this very innovation is likely what made lenders squeamish. Never mind the fact that her homes use resources and energy very efficiently and will have a much smaller impact on the Earth than traditional homes. It boiled down to the fact that they were outside the norm, and therefore too “risky” to finance. Personally, I think that’s a crock of bull. Based on the incredible response on Twitter, I’d say there are lots of people out there who would love to live in an MKD home, and my husband and I are happy to count ourselves among them.
Thankfully, Michelle isn’t throwing in the towel completely. She’s exploring ways to keep her mission alive, including the possibility of selling her designs to another company that can continue to make them. As a designer, I understand how hard it is to let go of ideas that feel very much like children. But I’m proud to see that she understands the ultimate goal of continuing the tough trod toward sustainability may be worth it. She’s also looking at creating larger-scale, multi-family communities that will serve a greater good rather than single family homes.
For me, it feels like a dream died today. But I know the green community will rally around Michelle and her troops to make sure this blow isn’t fatal to the green building movement. We must go on.
- Read Michelle’s own words here: “The end of one dream and beginning of another”