Michelle Kaufmann Designs, a path-breaking seller of modern, eco-friendly pre-fab homes, is folding due to the anemic housing market and the credit crisis at large.
Kaufmann’s firm became synonymous with the contemporary pre-fab movement. On paper, it looked like a phenomenal business, offering boutique architects such as Kaufmann a chance to reach a wider market by exploiting economies of scale, while serving would-be modernistas without the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to commission a custom design. But it hasn’t worked out that way–the market for modern pre-fabs never exploded as expected. Kaufmann, for her part, has just seen two major suppliers close in recent weeks, even as home buyers were unable to secure home loans in a roiling, uncertain mortgage market.
Though founded in the boom year of 2004, her firm only managed to complete 40 homes. It’s not the first time that gravity has brought grand plans for democratic modern housing back down to earth–as Christopher Hawthorne, the LA Times‘s crackerjack architecture critic, notes, pre-fab plans by architects from Frank Lloyd Wright to the visionary California modernists of the 1970s have a long history of foundering.
Treehugger, which calls Kaufmann a “mashup of Henry Ford and Martha Stewart,” has a nice, short interview with Kaufmann on her future plans–she wants to work on multi-family housing, rather than single-family homes, which are now the bogeyman for eco-conscious architects.