With Michelle Kaufmann, Architect + Designer
F I V E Q U E S T I O N S
ichelle Kaufmann is an architect, designer, author, and advocate for sustainable and accessible design. Her work has been widely featured on television and in major publications, and her homes have been showcased in a number of museums including a full-size model home in the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. She is the author of "Prefab Green," a book that outlines her green design principles and the benefits of constructing buildings off-site in a factory. Most recently Michelle co-founded FLUX (www.flux.io), a Google-backed software start-up working on the future of architecture. She and her husband, Kevin, live in Marin County, CA in a home they designed and built themselves.
Why did you decide to start working with prefabrication?
O N E
MICHELLE : After working for years with Frank Gehry (which I loved), I started my own firm with a mission to make thoughtful, sustainable design affordable, timely, and, therefore, accessible. I chose modular construction as a means to that end and spent years stalking factories to learn how they build, where their efficiencies and possibilities are, and the potentials of mixing existing systems with new materials and approaches.
Over the last half century in the U.S., we have been using innovation in every industry other than home construction to streamline the delivery process. When you also consider that buildings account for more than 50 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. and produce about that share of our CO2-equivalent emissions, you can draw two conclusions: 1. this is insane, AND 2. it is an amazing opportunity for architects. We can help make things better.
What is the mission of FLUX?
T W O
MICHELLE : Many architects strive for simplicity in their designs, and yet forget to think about creating simplicity in their lives and how they work. Our profession is not an easy one. It requires a lot of knowledge on many things, much communication, and effective coordination. This often translates to long hours with little pay and not as much time with our families and friends as we would like. Many of us also no longer have as much time to design as we want. We can change this, though. We can rethink how we work to maximize efficiencies for the parts that can be repeated so we can have more time to innovate on other parts. Simplicity in our lives should be designed as much as simplicity in our work.
This is part of the reason that we started Flux. Flux’s mission is to spread design knowledge and improve the accessibility of design tools in order to help meet the world’s demand for durable, sustainable buildings.
What was it like to work under two giant figures in your field: Frank Gehry and Michael Graves?
T H R E E
MICHELLE : I drew much inspiration from the work of my mentors Michael Graves and Frank Gehry, two of contemporary architecture’s most remarkable practitioners. Although best known for their iconic building designs, both Graves and Gehry are also product designers. Michael Graves was one of the first contemporary architects to venture beyond the realm of building design into product design. This really helped me to think about sustainable buildings like product industrial designers.
What inspires your creativity?
F O U R
MICHELLE : The landscape. Whether it be the canyon walls of the Missouri River in Montana, watching the sunset melt into the ocean’s horizon, or the form of sand dunes at Point Reyes, I find that I am most inspired after being outside with my husband, Kevin.
What are some of your favorite Steller stories?
F I V E
MICHELLE : I love Nick Frank (@vuuus) - both his “Subways” and his “Concrete Living” stories. There is poetry in modest settings with an architectural eye. We can find beauty in almost everything if we look closely enough.
Follow Michelle on Steller : @mkaufmann