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Prefab Green

By Michelle Kaufmann and Catherine Remick. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 2009, 173 pages, $30.

Reviewed by David Sokol

With the sudden preponderance of prefab homes that carry the dual torches of Modernism and sustainable design, the title of this book suggests an overview of an exploding marketplace. The byline, however, alters expectations. Co-author Kaufmann is head of Oakland, California–based Michelle Kaufmann Designs (MKD), and one of the leading lights of this prefab movement.

Prefab Green
Image courtesy Gibbs Smith
Prefab Green
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To those ends, significant pages are devoted to MKD products on the market—its inaugural Glidehouse design, followed by Sunset Breezehouse, mkSolaire, mkLotus—as well as the studio’s custom work. (Signaling the continued slower pace of print publishing, MKD’s website announced the sale of multifamily as well as farmhouse-inspired designs, while Prefab Green just hints at them toward its conclusion.) And these chapters helpfully guide consumers through their potential selections, portraying ready-to-go homes’ indoor-outdoor connections, daylighting, fixtures, and other design features in a variety of sites and climates.

Yet Prefab Green is not merely marketing collateral. Kaufmann reaches for a wider audience, casually telling readers the story of MKD’s origins in multiple failed attempts to find an affordable home in the Bay Area, and admitting, if not at length, that modular and prefabricated homes require some custom design and contracting work. Moreover, in five “EcoPrinciples,” the authors relay concepts that not only guide MKD, but should drive all decisions concerning home construction and renovation. In advising readers to “minimize the force a building will have on the land, both in terms of the impact of the built structure itself and also the techniques employed during its construction,” or in statements like, “Building swales into your landscape will also prove effective in reducing runoff on your land,” the writers aspire to improve all homes, and not just push MKD inventory. In that sense Prefab Green wears two hats: salesman and sustainability educator.

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