Where is good design? Is it coming?

Residential architects are being influenced by issues such as the green movement, the search for the new modernism, the globalization of architectural styles and the demand for trendy styles such as Old World and Tuscan designs, which dictate the aesthetics and functionality of today’s homes.

Some residential trade publications are overly influenced by and clearly embrace specific niches of design, stratifying their focus on certain stylistic trends. We see very little evidence of design variety within the industry or in consumer home design magazines which hugely drive public demand.

Struggling with this general lack of good architecture to provide inspiration, publications fall back on the charms of good interior design. Advertisers do the same. Whether it’s residential real estate or design services, the image conveyed most often is based on furnishing vignettes rather than great architectural lines.

Aesthetics and a functional plan constitute the same tried-and-true formula as form and function, which traditionally has defined good architecture. Currently, however, we seem to be in a mode where function follows form, and I feel that when one ingredient takes over, the result is mediocre design. Good architecture surfaces when these two elements are taken to their highest levels of expression and performance, therein creating harmonious design balance.

For some reason, the residential architectural industry continues to struggle. We’re lacking the kind of yesteryear heroes such as the prolific architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In today’s search for higher levels of design performance, many architects and publishers are choosing to pursue the much overused “edgy design,” searching for the next shock or new trend. But holistic good residential design continues to be elusive.

Currently, however, we seem to be in a mode where function follows form, and the result is mediocre design.

Despite this, I have high hopes. I feel that residential design is at its highest point in the past several decades. There is a new leadership within residential architecture that transcends generational or trendy groups. I feel that we are in the dawn of discovering new heroes and better products. Whereas in previous decades, architects often practiced residential design as a pastime in between their “more important” projects, today, architects of all ages and levels of experience are beginning to approach residential design as the main focus of their practices. It’s in this way we are going to reach a higher level of architecture.

And as I’ve mentioned in past articles, the media and the public continue to be enamored of our trade more than ever, and this trend doesn’t seem to be losing steam.

The custom home building business is a multi-billion dollar industry. Depending on locale, custom home values may range anywhere from $500,000 to $5 million. Currently, residential architects are getting a very small portion of this custom home pie. We should strive to represent no less than two-thirds of this market, and we can make this happen by elevating the bar for good design. We then can create a demand for our services and command professional fees commensurate with our expertise. And architectural fees as a percentage of construction costs in a multi-billion dollar industry represent a hefty amount of money to finance a movement.

A revolution is underway among residential architects and it’s up to each of us to capitalize on the movement. It all starts with good design. Residential architects as a professional community must commit to producing high-quality custom home design and construction drawings. We must take the leap of faith and believe that we can create a more positive reality for our industry. If God is truly in the details then good architecture lies in design development.

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