Kaufmann & Remick's *prefab green* is a near-perfect example of its genre. You just have to be able to recognize the genre and manage your expectations of it. As a former corporate historian, I've seen enough of these works to know them. It's half marketing brochure, half serious analytic/academic work making a point, but not quite either. Thus, the voice and style switches back and forth in the narrative. When the author uses "we" and "our", it's a marketing brochure. When she glides into third person, it becomes more tutorial. Once you get used to it, you can appreciate Kaufmann for what she is: architect businesswoman, with a heart of gold and a slew of powerpoint slides and Remick's stunning photographs.
If you're going to write a book titled *prefab green*, basically you have three challenges. The first is to explain what is *green* construction, the second is to explain what is *prefab* construction, and the third is to explain why you suddenly decided to combine the chocolate and the peanut butter. What bias needs to be overcome, that the title of this book should be immediately and refreshingly shocking, a "whoa!" moment whether you are an architect or not? In short: can prefab be "green"? Heck yes, it can. Now go and read the book to find out how. Or take the shortcut and follow this review for a minute.
Kaufmann iterates five basic principles of ecological design: 1) Smart design; 2)Use of eco-materials; 3) energy efficiency; 4) water conservation; and 5)healthy environment. The first third of the book, once you get past the historical narrative that has the feel of a sales brochure run amok, explains the eleven elements of smart design, the nine aspects of eco-materials, six aspects of energy efficiency, three considerations of water conservation, and four aspects of healthy environment. This is great stuff for any layman or even a student of architecture. Among sustainability experts in the real estate field, it might be a little bit ho-hum -- they probably have read something like it about a hundred times before.
Only when she has outlined the eco-principles, can Kaufmann then turn to the heart of the matter: not just green design, but green construction of that green design. It's not only what you build, but also how you build it. There are many arguments in favor of prefabrication, but not all of them are green. She explains both. Several key "green" insights: less waste in materials because you can do precision cutting with specialized tools; higher quality control with reliable, known contractors, so again less waste; less fuel used to transport total mass to site; less fuel used to transport total labor to site; possibly less damage to the construction site itself. Prefab also has some obvious time and quality advantages over "stick-built" construction but I refuse to go there on the grounds that I have no desire to step into the middle of a gigantic pie-fight among industry associations advocating one rice bowl or the other.
I do buy the argument that prefab is greener than conventional construction methods. Maybe I'm gullible, maybe I want to believe and therefore take many assertions on faith. One does occasionally hunger for some significant academic and/or industry analysis, some raw statistical meat, to back up many of the assertions in this book. However, having interviewed hundreds of engineers and businessmen in the advanced technology & materials world, I intuitively know that the claim of "less waste" rings true. Fortunes can be made or lost over the ability to squeeze just a few extra sails from a canvas, let's put it that way, if only you know how to cut the cloth the right way. Besides, it might be a case of build them, and the academic studies will come. Do what you know is right; later the dissertations will flow.
I say that this book is 'near-perfect' because it does have its flaws. First of all, despite the excellent overall editing of Christine Rosen, Kelly Melia-Teevan and the publishing editor Hollie Keith, they might have gone over the manuscript one more time to get rid of the repetitious nature of some of it. Either someone slipped in too many powerpoint bullets, or else Kaufmann insisted on overbuilding some of her paragraphs to come up to code. Particularly jarring are sections such as the one that states, "The following numbers are ones you may have heard before but they certainly bear repeating..." (p.48) Well, yes. The reason we have heard them before is that they were listed on page 35. I didn't skip over a single sentence in this book, I swear it!
To focus on the other flaws would be churlish, because the book is what it is, basically the kind of thing that a thoughtful company might come out with to showcase what it considers to be a very important subject. You want that in a business, somebody to be proud of what they do. The book would make a lovely gift to former and prospective clients. On that note, the second half of the book is stunning, laden with beautiful photographs. To use a cliche, this is a welcome addition to any coffee table. More than that, it reminds me of the hardcover books that one might find accompanying a museum exhibit, sold tastefully at the museum bookstore. It's a keeper.
Which raises the question of audience. Who is this book trying to reach and what is it trying to accomplish? I don't get the feeling that it was merely an ego-boost. Nor do I get the feeling that it is purely a marketing tool. So the final slim section of the book is an important one, essentially: what's next for Kaufmann and the prefab green industry? Here, she reveals an objective (p.158): "...in terms of sustainability, multifamily housing has single-family homes beat. Multifamily communities are more energy efficient, use less land, and are often more pedestrian-friendly..."
What? A whole book about prefab green single family homes, and *now* you tell me the sustainable action is in multifamily domiciles? Actually that's probably true, but immediately I was struck by my own vision, of which nary a peep is heard in this book. So here it is, my idea free of charge. Sustainable base housing. "People want lower energy bills and lower water bills, and they want a healthy environment for their families," writes Kaufmann (p.161) Well, so does the military. Yes, I know. War and peace, they never seem to mix well. But trust me, if there is one movement that has legs in the U.S. in the 21st century, it is the U.S. military interested in making its infrastructure more sustainable. The advantage to selling to the U.S. government is, you don't have to make the same case 400,000 times to 400,000 different clients. I could see prefab green making a lot of sense to the blue and olive drab. Especially if you can lower their utility bills.