This past May, Michelle Kaufmann closed the doors to her 5 year old company MK Designs. A combination of logistical misfortune and financing difficulties forced the prefabricated housing company to fold. The company had built a total of 40 homes when the announcement was made. On that day, Kaufmann wrote a hopeful blog post and urged us to "stay tuned." Less than half year later, it seems like Michelle has dusted herself off, reinvented her practice, and is back on track.
As a speaker at this year's West Coast Green– Michelle Kaufmann gave a talk titled "Housing 2.0: Rethinking the prefab model." She was honest and direct. She described all the factors and events that led to the closing in May, citing all the emotions she experienced when it became clear that the closure was inevitable. She said, "I was depressed for weeks, couldn't get myself out of bed some days." But then she went on to show examples of work that she was engaged in since – housing complexes, mix-use communities and so forth. She also told us that the designs that were developed under MK Designs were purchased by Blu Homes, and those complete preconfigurations would be available through them. She seemed more convinced than ever to prove that prefab is a sustainable model. Her argument is that it is most importantly a question of economies of scale. The majority of homes that were previously built by MK Designs were one-off single family homes which did not take advantage of the real benefits that prefab could potentially provide. The strength in prefab is in replication, she argued, without scale, the benefits of the mass production process could not convert into a profitable model.
A single-family home by Michelle Kaufmann slated to be built in Northern California.
The number of projects that she was engaged in since May was astounding – I wondered if she was really only depressed for a single day. She told the audience, "If one of your ideas fails somehow, it doesn't necessarily mean that the idea is wrong. You have to rethink it. Find a way to make it work." In my previous post on the subject, I wondered if prefab would ever get a footholding. However the prefab industry pans out, you can be sure Michelle Kaufmann will be a major player regardless. It takes great courage to admit failure gracefully, sidestep defeat, and blaze a new path with regenerated conviction. Follow Michelle's path on her website.