Connecting With Your Peers

Custom residential architecture continues to grow more sophisticated and specialized. As custom residential architects, it is vital that we find opportunities to connect and share knowledge with one another beyond what occurs at continuing education classes.

Speaking from almost three decades of personal experience, it’s difficult to identify and connect with peers. The feeling of being out there all by yourself and having to reinvent the wheel at every turn is strong, but it’s changing.

The architectural world traditionally was dominated by institutional and commercial companies. Custom residential projects have naturally gravitated to these same architectural firms because too often residential clients were the executives of the same institutional and commercial projects designed by these architectural companies.

This also is changing due to the increased demand for custom residential products. This demand is creating a prolific industry that has caught the attention of many architectural firms. Even so, many architects doing more residential work have found themselves dealing with large multifamily projects and high-density housing.

Media attention on initiatives such as sustainable and green design as well as the not-so-big housing trend has drawn the custom residential architect into the spotlight. Unfortunately these areas cover only a small part of residential design, leaving the lion’s share of the custom residential professionals without identity and recognition.

Professional associations traditionally were the vernacular for information and networking among architects and design/build practitioners. Having been a member of the AIA for the past 25 years, however, I find my thirst for connecting with my residential and design/build peers has yet to be quenched. I have been a member of the Housing Professional Area of Interest and the Design/Build PAI for at least the past 10 years. Recently these PAIs were renamed as Knowledge Communities.

To AIA’s credit, one of the great initiatives undertaken in the past few years is its participation with the National Association of Home Builders. As a result of this interaction, there is hope for establishing an ongoing forum for residential architectural firms.

Custom Residential Architects Network is part of the housing Knowledge Community. The principal objective of CRAN is to grow the best practices exchange among architects committed to residential design. At the AIA convention this month in Los Angeles, CRAN will have its first meeting called Trends and Tools for Custom Residential Architects from 8 a.m. to noon on Wed., June 7. It’s a great opportunity to participate at the ground level of what has the potential to become a formidable group.

National conventions, whether AIA or NAHB, typically offer very little for residential architects to sink our teeth into. I have tentative hopes that if CRAN is successful at this upcoming convention, we can establish our voice at the AIA. Meanwhile, another great networking opportunity exists for design/build firms. Offered through the NAHB, the Builder 20 group is a tremendous program consisting of noncompeting construction companies in similar national markets that meet twice a year to exchange information. It’s a great way to interact with your peers if you are in residential design/build.

Those of us whose firms are dedicated to custom residential design, we are pioneers leading a wave of architects that will cater to clients willing to invest in the design of their homes. Communication with our peers will be key as we work for the growing success of our endeavors.