Residential market is in AIA’s sights

From talking with my peers throughout the years, I know that many of us in the residential part of this industry have encountered very few opportunities to participate at the top level and have experienced few benefits of AIA membership. After attending the AIA convention in June, I’m happy to say it was particularly well rounded and encompassed residential interests.   

The emergence of prominent members of the AIA in the media spotlight, such as Sarah Susanka, has brought much attention to the custom residential industry within the design profession. As the media buzz grows louder, the residential design niche will gain broader exposure and support a growing demand for architects.

The first official workshop of AIA’s new Custom Residential Architect Network was presented at this year’s convention. This four-hour workshop, titled Trends and Tools for Custom Residential Architects, started with a terrific presentation by Marc Vassallo on the “Emerging Trends of Residential Design.” Particularly noteworthy was his talk on the five mega-trends in residential design that include: Home as a Haven; The New Informality; Designing for the Way We Really Live; The Softer Side of Modern; and Sustainability. Mark coauthored with Sarah Susanka the book Inside The Not So Big House as well as an upcoming book on informal houses, The Barefoot Home. 

Among the other initiatives is the Residential Media Database, which provides a database of every custom home currently standing in North America. The concept is to serve as a design resource for writers, editors, academicians, as well as prospective clients and other architects. It provides a great resource for greater connection in the design community.  All rights of intellectual property are to be respected.

Another resource in the works is the Residential Client Survey, a generic web-based questionnaire to be completed by clients soon after completion of their projects. Architects are encouraged to have their clients complete a survey to evaluate their satisfaction with architectural services. This database provides feedback to architectural firms about who are hiring architects, the criteria being used for selecting an architect and how firms can improve their processes and services. 

The best part of the AIA convention was the Best Practices Exchange for Residential Architects. This was a round-table discussion between companies of similar size and/or focus. Groupings included multifamily/single-family; production housing; design/build and commercial residential practice. Each group met for one hour and thereafter shared their findings via a designated facilitator. I participated in the design/build group and enjoyed stimulating dialogue with firms that had from six to 130 employees. The firm with the largest volume was the Orren Pickell Design Group from Chicago which is one of the nation’s largest design/build companies. I was interested to see how our company, which does approximately $20 million in volume, compared to this firm of $120 million. 

I encourage everyone involved in design to make an effort to participate in these AIA coalitions and to embrace these opportunities. The AIA is at the very beginning of these initiatives, and they can either become a great resource or die on the vine for lack of participation. Visit for more information.