Finding a Home within AIA

Those of us who have dedicated our careers to a custom residential architectural practice have, as a group, been inclined to keep to ourselves and our own studios. Our interaction overall with our peers has been somewhat minimal. While many of us belong to various professional organizations, the participation has more likely been within allied groups such as home builders, real estate agents and interior designers rather than with architects exclusively. There really hasn’t been a professional home for us.

However, with the resurgence of attention placed on the American home within the media and culturally, residential architects have been handed a call to action to unify as a cohesive professional group and exercise leadership in the industry. We need to start talking more to one another, learning from and helping each other in our practices in the same cooperative manner found within every other professional organization.

For years, even decades, many of us have steadfastly been members of the American Institute of Architects, yet felt unrecognized within our profession. But things are changing. The Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN) is really taking a foothold within the AIA and gaining momentum nationally. Begun just five years ago at a grassroots level, CRAN has evolved out of a communal sense among custom residential architects that the AIA has been unsupportive of our needs and interests as a whole.

All of this is evolving at a quick pace. Until recently, the only Knowledge Community within AIA to tangentially include residential architects was the “Small Project Practitioners.” In reality, it was a mix of small firms doing mostly small commercial projects and the occasional custom home. “Housing and Custom Residential Knowledge Community” is the first initiative within AIA national to include the words “Custom Residential.” This is a small but significant shift. It embraces CRAN as a specialty network within the community. Custom residential architects now have a home within our national organization.

Both at a national level and locally, depending on locale, AIA remains primarily focused on urban housing and ultra-contemporary design to the exclusion of broader, more mainstream residential architecture. CRAN, the Custom Residential Architects Network, seeks to expand the image of the AIA architect beyond lofty academia or corporate worlds. I think this is in response to today’s marketplace. Consumers are placing greater value on well-articulated, livable design and on seeking professional services from residential practitioners. It’s becoming glamorous to be a residential architect.

Those of us who design for the average American family need to get involved with national AIA as well as our local chapters. In my local Austin chapter this year, we have renamed the “Residential Architect’s Roundtable” to “CRAN,” reflective, I think, of our national foothold as well as a strong local forum. Participation has become much more robust among custom residential architects who previously had never participated with the local chapter. As a group, we hosted a roundtable with architects and home builders this year, and have planned a great itinerary of programs for next year, including tours of custom homes under construction; marketing/photography and websites; net-zero footprint; residential specifications; software analysis (Revit/ArchiCAD/SketchUp), and many other interesting topics pertinent to our practices.

There already are many great places within established CRAN groups as part of the local AIA chapters. Cities such as Seattle, Cincinnati, Austin, Denver and many others are very active and meet regularly. CRAN now has a higher profile at national AIA’s May convention in Florida next year.

If there is not already a CRAN initiative within your local AIA chapter, put together a proposal and present it to your local leadership. Call some like-minded peers and form a grassroots chapter. You’ll be among the first architects to establish this effort for your communities. And if you’ve resisted joining the AIA through the years for any reason, now’s the time to join. Become a member and become part of the change. It will make us all better practitioners through consolidation of our knowledge and expertise. Our clients will benefit as will the future of residential architecture.