After World War II, many designers tried to apply the techniques developed for wartime industry to housing; Fuller with the Dymaxion House and the Lustron houses were attempts in steel; in 1947 Acorn structures tried it in wood. Their first experiments were in a form of sandwich panel; Like almost every other builder who has attempted that since, they ran into trouble with the inspectors. Soon they were building kits, with small, Scandinavian-modern designs. They expanded, merged with Deck House, got into sustainable efficient design early, joined up with Dwell Magazine to introduce new architects and ideas into their mix. Now, 61 years after the first little cabin, they are bankrupt and closed.
The Boston Globe describes their start:
Empyrean's roots go back to 1947, with the founding of Acorn Structures by John Bemis, a tinkerer who studied architecture and building construction at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduating from Harvard College. He and his collaborator, architect Carl Koch, noodled through various efforts at affordable manufactured homes as the postwar building boom took off.
A Life magazine story in 1974 described the arrival of an Acorn house in an article titled Unfolding House: "Inside are walls, roof, partitions, bath, kitchen and one of the new Jet-Heet furnaces. Once at the building site, the box unfolds on giant hinges to become, in the space of a few hours, a complete house 23 by 35 feet."
According to The Lustron Home, the Acorn House was fabricated of plastic-impregnated paper and was projected to cost $ 4,000.
Read John Bemis's obituary from 2006.
They merged with Deck House, maker of lovely post and beam structures in 1995 and started the joint venture with Dwell Magazine, introducing houses by Charles Lazor, Resolution 4 and Joel Turkel, then Creative Director for Empyrian. It didn't quite work out as planned; Empyrian had a bit of trouble building the flatpack. According to the Wall Street Journal,
image: Charlie Lazor
Shipments of the exterior parts came missing steel beams. Walls that were supposed to arrive fully assembled were in pieces. Mr. Grant [the client] ended up having to buy replacement parts from local suppliers. Patrick Gilrane, owner of Empyrean, acknowledges delivery problems with the Lazor-designed kits. "There were a number of special items that were designed specifically for that house," Mr. Gilrane says. "If you utilize a standard kit of parts, we're pretty good at that."
They also had some problems adapting the modular designs from Resolution 4.
But notwithstanding the problems, it is a company with a reputation and a history that goes back as far as anyone in the prefab industry and it is sad to see them go. The Boston Globe concludes:
Given the company's history and standing in the industry, Grossman, the receiver, is hopeful Empyrean will revive. He said several prospective buyers have already come forward.
"They make a great product, but I think the most amazing asset this company has, which you see so rarely, is committed people who have worked for the company for decades," he said.
They were also one of the very few prefab companies producing modern designs that could be built by their contractors almost anywhere in America. This is a great loss.