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Letter to LA Times Editor on LivingHomes

Steve Glenn, founder and CEO of LivingHomes responds to Christopher Hawthorne's LA Times piece on the recent install of a LivingHomes prefab unit in Santa Monica. Of course we get copied on the letter, which we happily share with all of you here. Mr. Glenn is none too happy with the Times. For our past coverage of the LivingHomes project, go here, or here, or maybe here.

Dear Editor,

Regarding your coverage of my company, LivingHomes, in the recent architecture review “Such a deal?” (August 2, 2006), I’m writing to correct certain inaccuracies. Christopher Hawthorne’s story paints an unfair and incomplete characterization of my company and my mission as an entrepreneur.

· GREEN FEATURES – I stand firm by my claim that the LivingHomes model home does indeed feature an ‘unprecedented’ number of sustainable features for a production home. There are no other homebuilders in the United States that I am aware of that incorporate such a level of sustainable materials and systems into their production homes. To wit, we are on track to be the first production home to achieve the highest level of LEED for Homes certification (Platinum) from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). During our interview, Christopher challened my use of 'unprecedented,' and I specifically detailed these facts and the elements I thought were unique for a production home and I invited him to investigate and confirm or deny my claim. I was confused, then, that Christopher on the one hand criticized me multiple times for my assertion -- and even seemed to suggest we're "green washing" (see below) -- yet he offered no data or interviews that called our claims into question. Seems like even a simple call to the USGBC to understand how many production home builders were on track to receive a platinum rating for their homes would have been warranted.

· LIVINGHOMES PRICING – We have never made the claim that we are selling affordable housing, but at $250/sf we offer dramatic savings to the consumer who would otherwise commission a renown architect to design a custom home. The price for the LivingHomes model home is clearly far less than what others would charge for a 72% glass/polycarbonate, steel-framed architectural home with the highest level of environmental finishes. (By the way, Christopher was unhappy I wouldn't share the foundation cost. It was $130/sf, the exact same, I told him, that it would have cost were the home stick-built.) It turns out, though, that the final price of the model home is irrelevant. Companies can spend huge amounts of money in R&D to create prototypes. The key issue, as I discussed with Christopher, is the price of the homes we've actually sold and are producing in volume, which is the only means through prefab can provide great cost advantages. It would seem that Christopher used LivingHomes to make a larger point about the high price of prefabs without differentiating between the price of the prototype and future rollouts, where homes are manufactured in higher numbers. Without a price history, it is impossible to make a larger point about escalating costs, as Christopher is apparently trying to do in this article. More to the point, I freely shared the pricing we're selling our homes for and the fact that we're signing fixed price contracts -- a great arbitor of how real a price is.

· QUALITY + SCHEDULE – Christopher also fails to mention two other major advantages of prefab : Because the house has to withstand travel, prefabricated homes are of a higher quality compared to stick-built homes that are built on-site. Also, since site work and house fabrication can take place simultaneously, the construction schedule can be significantly shortened, reducing cost in the long-run.

· RESPONSIBLE MARKETING – It is not a secret that we are targeting people who care about design, healthy homes and sustainability. Green features are not a marketing tool for us. As with companies like Whole Foods, Patagonia and Interface, they are the core of our business model. We're proud of that.

Regarding specific quotes attributed to me, I am extremely careful with the language I choose to describe my company and mission. The following are misquotes on Christopher’s part, perhaps due to his failure to take notes or record our conversation for accuracy. Specifically:

· I never said that “the house is poised to reinvent how architecture is produced and marketed.”

· The house does indeed include an unprecedented number of green-design features, for a production home. Christopher neglected to include this important note.

· I never said that “Ray Kappe is the world’s greatest living architect.” I said that he is my favorite living architect.

· I never claimed that “the house sets a new global green standard in green architecture.”

· LivingHomes can indeed be built on hilly sites. Most of our clients are on hilly sites.

· The houses do not feature fly-ash countertops. The concrete that forms the floor is mixed with fly-ash. The countertops are made of recycled cellulose and recycled glass or porcelain.

Judging by the reactions to Christopher’s piece that I’ve received, I am not the only one to feel that his coverage was lacking.

From a blind e-mail I received today:

“I just wanted to tell you that I admire the work you are doing with your company. While the LA Times article touched on the beautiful and green elements of your home, in my opinion it missed the opportunity to discuss how you are moving the green ball forward. I felt that the writer missed the point. I love your house and respect your vision for housing in these environmentally precarious times.”


Steve Glenn

Founder, CEO, LivingHomes