Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dismantling Prefab

The 2,380 sq. ft. Sidebreeze by MKD.

Sad news came in over the Memorial Day weekend about California-based Michelle Kaufmann Designs. As the L.A. Times reports, Kaufmann will close her firm after 7 creative years pioneering sustainable prefab designs. She is probably best known for her Glidehouse:

Kaufmann says a confluence of factors resulted in her needing to shutter the business, including the fact that several major prefab factories have gone out of business. On top of that, increasingly stringent rules for mortgage financing have impeded clients' ability to underwrite their homes. Having just refinanced myself, I was shocked at the difference in process from a few years ago. Some of this is understandably necessary to combat the laissez-faire banking practices of the last few years, but the pendulum seems to have swung in the extreme direction. As the owner of my own small business, my "non conventional" employment meant that I had to jump through some serious hoops. I can only imagine the challenge of getting an experimental prefab design past the processors at Wells Fargo. What we may find is that financing will continue to impede design innovation.

That said, contemporary prefab hasn't exactly captured the home buying market. Even with all the hype over the last few years, it represents an infinitesimal percentage of homes in this country. Why hasn't architecturally-sophisticated prefab taken off? Writer Karrie Jacobs has an interesting theory: What if prefab were in the hands of product designers, like IDEO, instead of architects?

Well, you may never be able to live in a Glidehouse, but you can at least take a virtual tour: