Launch Slideshow

top firm: michelle kaufmann, aia, leed ap

michelle kaufmann infuses modular housing with sophisticated, eco-conscious design.

top firm: michelle kaufmann, aia, leed ap

michelle kaufmann infuses modular housing with sophisticated, eco-conscious design.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp705F%2Etmp_tcm48-265805.jpg

    true

    600

    Max Whittaker/WpN

    Michelle Kaufmann (in her own Glidehouse) and her staff consistently try to maximize the relationship between house and site.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7057%2Etmp_tcm48-265882.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    A sunset Breezehouse in San Geronimo, Calif., welcomes sunlight and mountain views into its central dining and living room and its cobalt-blue kitchen.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7058%2Etmp_tcm48-265889.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7059%2Etmp_tcm48-265896.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp705A%2Etmp_tcm48-265903.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    The rusted, corrugated metal cladding on a custom Sunset Breezehouse picks up the red hue of the tiled roofs that populate its Santa Barbara, Calif., surroundings.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp705B%2Etmp_tcm48-265910.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    Accordion glass doors and floor-to-ceiling curtains allow the owners to control the air flow and privacy in the main living and dining area.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp705C%2Etmp_tcm48-265917.jpg

    true

    600

    Courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    By creating entire communites--such as a mixed use, mixed-income development in Denver--MKD will be able to vastly increase the number and sustainable dwellings in its portfolio.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp705D%2Etmp_tcm48-265924.jpg

    true

    600

    Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    By creating entire communities--such as Big Wave in Half Moon Bay, Calif.--MKD will be able to vastly increase the number of sustainable dwellings in its portfolio.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp705E%2Etmp_tcm48-265931.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    Kaufmann and her husband outfitted the their Glidehouse with solar panels.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp704D%2Etmp_tcm48-265812.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp704E%2Etmp_tcm48-265819.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    At another Glidehouse in Ukiah, Calif., the kitchen island doubles as a casual dining spot. "We're in the middle of a cultural shift," she says of this move toward multipurpose features. "We want homes that aren't necessarily bigger but do more, like an i

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp704F%2Etmp_tcm48-265826.jpg

    true

    600

    Michelle Kaufmann Designs

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7050%2Etmp_tcm48-265833.jpg

    true

    600

    Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    A three-story fireplace-and-cabinetry elements serves as the centerpieceof the mkHearth, the latest addition to MKD's stable of prefab home types. Its form recalls barns and farmhouses in the Midwest, where Kaufmann grew up.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7051%2Etmp_tcm48-265840.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    A green-roofed mkLotus temporarily graced the lawn in front of San Francisco City Hall in 2007. Conceived as a retreat or vacation home, it was installed as part of that year's West Coast Green conference.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7052%2Etmp_tcm48-265847.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7053%2Etmp_tcm48-265854.jpg

    true

    600

    JB Spector, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7054%2Etmp_tcm48-265861.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

    Currently on display at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry as part of the exhibit Smart Home: Green + Wired, mkSolaire is designed to slip into slim city lots. The 2,500-square-foot house will be open for tours until Jan. 4, 2009.

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7055%2Etmp_tcm48-265868.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

  • http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp7056%2Etmp_tcm48-265875.jpg

    true

    600

    John Swain, courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs

michelle kaufmann designs, oakland, calif.

It all started with a headache. In 2001 Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, LEED AP, and her new husband, general contractor and wood craftsman Kevin Cullen, moved into a rented bungalow in Sausalito, Calif. She experienced one migraine, then another. Soon the pain became an unwelcome nightly ritual for which she and Cullen couldn't pinpoint a trigger.

Until they investigated inside the bungalow's walls and found an unchecked spread of toxic mold. The mold, it turned out, was causing the headaches. But it also caused Kaufmann—who'd spent the previous five years working for Frank Gehry, FAIA—to begin thinking about the impact people's homes have on their health. She researched nontoxic materials and products, becoming more intrigued with every discovery. When she and Cullen decided to look for a different house, they noticed that many of the features they wanted—natural light, fresh air, and low energy bills, along with a definite absence of mold—fell into the green building category.

Discouraged by a lack of available green housing options, they decided to design and build their own home on land they'd bought about 25 miles north of San Francisco. The events that followed have been well-documented in the press: Kaufmann designed a house for Cullen to build, and friends and colleagues asked if they could have something similar. Their requests sparked her idea of mass-producing the design. She found an interested factory and a client willing to take a chance on a prefab house. In the end, Kaufmann and Cullen's stick-built home took 14 months to construct, while the identical prefab version took just four months and cost 20 percent less. It also produced, according to her calculations, 50 percent to 75 percent less construction waste.

The stark contrast between the two projects sold Kaufmann on the virtues of prefab. "I became so focused on my mission, which is to make thoughtful, sustainable design accessible,"she says. "Everybody should be able to have a green house. For it to be accessible, it has to be time-efficient, cost-efficient, and easy."

 

easy does it

In the five years since she started her firm, the Iowa State University- and Princeton University-educated Kaufmann has made remarkable progress in achieving this mission. Michelle Kaufmann Designs (MKD) has built 33 green, modular homes to date, mostly on the West Coast. Some have been custom. Othersare off-the-shelf or "preconfigured" residences, such as the Glidehouse, which is based on her own home, and the Sunset Breezehouse, which features a central space that opens to the outdoors. Other preconfigured offerings include mkSolaire, designed specifically for narrow urban lots; mkLotus, aretreat or vacation home; and the new mkHearth, a modern farmhouse based on barns in Kaufmann's native Iowa. (All preconfigured houses are tailored to the owners' sites and offer a carefully vetted palette of eco-friendly materials and systems.) Thirty employees buzz busily around the firm's Oakland, Calif., headquarters, which possesses the same design sensibilities as its houses: clean lines; simple, yet high-quality materials; and an overall sense of calm and order.

Since 2006, the firm has built many projects in its own factory, mkConstructs, in Lakewood, Wash. MKD purchased it from another modular housing company, retaining much of the existing staff and recruiting new workers to ensure the highest possible building quality. "Now we're taking what we've learned in all the construction phases and applying that to our designs," says Paul Warner, AIA, a principal at MKD who oversaw the transition to an in-house factory. "We're taking advantage of the fact that we are true design/builders." Kaufmann believes one of her firm's biggest strengths is its ability to learn from its mistakes, and being closely involved with the factory process gives her and her staff more opportunity to do so.