Architects Design Just 2% of All Houses–Why?

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Paul Ringstrom
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Architects Design Just 2% of All Houses–Why?

Post by Paul Ringstrom »

Owner of the G. Curtis Yelland House (1910), by Wm. Drummond

outside in
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Post by outside in »

how about because they have failed to inspire people to think about the future, and instead have turned into providing slightly better versions of what has been done before.

clydethecat
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Post by clydethecat »

Maybe "architects" would be well served to propose some sample houses that (1) have style, (b) won't scare off planners, builders and punters, and (iii) can be built affordably? Maybe circulate a pattern book among professional circles? Show us what you can do.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Architects in America have been doing just that, some of them at least, since at least the Case Study House program of the war years. And many
continue on that path today -- always have, and probably always will. A few have even made a name for themselves in the process; not too long ago we
had Rocio Romero in the news, spawning Dwell in the process ? And there are dozens of other kit or prefab house manufacturers around the world as
we speak, seeking to provide progressive design at a reasonable cost.

https://www.dwell.com/article/kit-home- ... s-105fe4cf

But progressive design, as outside in's comment might suggest (to some), hasn't been the ideal sought by the majority of home-buyers. I'm not sure
what sort of education will overcome an inbred resistance to the unfamiliar.

SDR

outside in
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Post by outside in »

SDR - I'm giggling looking at the first photo of the "kit homes" article, showing a poured in place reinforced concrete home. oops.

Kit Homes do little to reinforce the idea that a home should reflect the nature of the site - they are the opposite - often called the "helicopter drop" - they ultimately lead to a Pete Seeger-like "little boxes all the same" outcome.

For 20 post-war years the British Government housing authority attempted to create manufactured housing and found that the initial costs of factories vs. the number of housing units was simply not worth it, and that site-built homes cost less and tended to be better built.

The best thing going right now are the companies who will prefabricate wood framed walls in the shop, which are then shipped to the site. This method saves 10-15% on framing costs with less waste and can be built to nearly ANY design an architect can dream up.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

There you go. One thinks of the difference between a Lincoln Logs set and a PlasticVille model: the one permits a wide variety of designs from a single
set of parts, while the other can produce only one predetermined product. A box of Lego bricks vs a Lego building model is another analogy.

It has long been true that the stick-built house is the one most familiar to the carpenter, the homeowner, and bank and the building inspector, and
comes in at the lowest cost as well. That didn't stop Wright, and many others, from trying to guide the design of the architectural object by means
of preselecting the parts that go into the house. The designer's challenge, then, is to provide that guidance while not committing the builder and owner
to too stringent -- or too novel -- a building method ?

It still comes down to "my style vs your style" -- doesn't it ? That's the education component you cited. The avante garde has always been an uphill
climb, embraced by the few and ignored by the man. The Case Study guys (for instance) hoped to slip Better Design to the masses when they
desperately needed housing, and were in an optimistic mood, perhaps. While dreaming of Better Housing for Everyone, we continue to work at the
margins . . . ?

Is that how you see it ? As you suggest, the industry can streamline the building process incrementally without trying to take the whole thing away from
conventional practice . . .?

SDR

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Yes, outside in, that was a hoot! Poured-in-place, the future of affordable housing. The Dwell site is tedious to page through, but what I saw was not convincing, other than a simple gabled house in Japan which hoi polloi might go for.

In the 60s, it was popular for architects to design and build a prototype of an affordable house for mass production, which they would market to AR and such, and live in themselves. It was mostly a way to build a house for themselves and justify it as an effort to provide cheap housing for the masses. None of them ever took off.

There was a brief news story on TV about an Indonesian entrepreneur who has devised a way of making construction panels out of trash. The material is cheap, fire resistant, stronger than wood and easy to work with. Looks a bit too much like trash, but is interesting. Reduce the cost of building material and you are half way there. And the resource is without end.

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

Roderick's reading of the architect's-own-house thing is spot on, wouldn't you say ? "Not that there's anything wrong with that . . ." !

Is there anything to the old notion that the building trades, and the unions (I am pro-union, in general), have mounted effective resistance to, for example, off-site construction activity ?

SDR

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

I would bet there is such a movement in New Jersey, which in general gives unionism a bad name. In Jersey, the spell union M-O-B.

jay
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Post by jay »

Seems like a decades-old complaint: Architects are doing a poor job of supplying the market with valuable solutions for the affordable housing issue.

While I agree with the author in sentiment (and appreciate his analogy to the American food system), I feel like his "call-to-action" was nothing more than an "architects should do better" retread.... As Roderick points out, architects have been offering their prototypes in affordable designs for decades. Is it really their fault that their design ideas haven't caught on, en masse?

Perhaps architects are poor marketers. Or perhaps architects have done a poor job at making themselves "linchpins", as Seth Godin would say... Clearly, builders and developers have circumvented the necessity for design services. (You need a builder to build a house, but you don't need an architect to build a house... That's the problem, in my opinion.)

If we're looking for new solutions to old problems�and not just complaining about the way things are�I'd suggest that architects infiltrate the building and developing industry (if that's even possible). Instead of offering boutique design-services, architects might instead focus on becoming integral to the process of homebuilding, by owning or partnering with a company that builds.

God knows Americans love one-stop shopping.

clydethecat
Posts: 125
Joined: Thu May 24, 2012 8:29 pm

Post by clydethecat »

SDR wrote:Architects in America have been doing just that, some of them at least, since at least the Case Study House program of the war years. And many
continue on that path today -- always have, and probably always will. A few have even made a name for themselves in the process; not too long ago we
had Rocio Romero in the news, spawning Dwell in the process ? And there are dozens of other kit or prefab house manufacturers around the world as
we speak, seeking to provide progressive design at a reasonable cost.

https://www.dwell.com/article/kit-home- ... s-105fe4cf

But progressive design, as outside in's comment might suggest (to some), hasn't been the ideal sought by the majority of home-buyers. I'm not sure
what sort of education will overcome an inbred resistance to the unfamiliar.

SDR
And most of these seem to be expensive. Looking at Suzanka's Not So Big houses for example, you get a 1800 sq ft designer house for the same price as a 3800 sq ft McMansion. Same goes for Ross Chapin, and much of the Dwell set. And the Turkel pre-fabs. That Usonian cottage they built at FSU, how many $$$millions did that end up costing? None of these things are quite the Volkshaus that could turn the market around.

Paul Ringstrom
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Joined: Sat Sep 17, 2005 4:53 pm
Location: Mason City, IA

Post by Paul Ringstrom »

jay wrote:If we're looking for new solutions to old problems�and not just complaining about the way things are�I'd suggest that architects infiltrate the building and developing industry (if that's even possible). Instead of offering boutique design-services, architects might instead focus on becoming integral to the process of homebuilding, by owning or partnering with a company that builds. God knows Americans love one-stop shopping.
This sounds like an argument in favor of the already existing Design/Build model that some architects have been doing for quite some time. Architects who have "partnered" with specific builders over many projects is not new. FLW did it with several builders who were not scared of his designs. Harold Turner was one that comes to mind.
Owner of the G. Curtis Yelland House (1910), by Wm. Drummond

jay
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Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

Paul Ringstrom wrote:This sounds like an argument in favor of the already existing Design/Build model that some architects have been doing for quite some time. Architects who have "partnered" with specific builders over many projects is not new. FLW did it with several builders who were not scared of his designs. Harold Turner was one that comes to mind.
The argument from the article's author regards the 98% of homes that are built without an architect. Perhaps I did a poor job of clarifying my suggestion, as it wasn't geared towards the 2%.... My suggestion is that architecture, widespread, invades the building trade. I'm aware that this concept has been done here and there, but I meant as a whole big ordeal.

Another suggestion would be for the architects of America to buy billions of dollars of television ads, showcasing the benefits of custom designed dwellings. That's sort of a joke, but if mainstream America is generally not exposed to architecture in any direct way, why would anyone expect 98% of the population to desire something they know so little about?

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

I'd be interested to hear something of the curriculum that would do the desired educating (re-educating ?). What would be "taught," exactly ?

More alarming is the suggestion that Architecture (i.e., architects) "invade the building trade." How's that -- armed attack ? Wait, I've got it: Facebook and Twitter propaganda !

Know any architects with oodles of loose cash ready to spend on Madison Avenue ?

SDR

jay
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Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

I hope you guys can see that my suggestions are half-baked on purpose... I disagree with the author's conclusion that the reason why only 2% of newly built houses use an architect is because the collective Architect hasn't offered worthwhile designs.

"Unless we satisfy the hunger for better places to live with affordable, useful, relevant services, residential architects will keep surfing the artisanal 2%" (from the article)

It seems silly to me to look at this problem and to focus on that 2% number. My thoughts quickly turn to the problem of the 98%. Why the heck are the majority of homebuilders�490,000 per year, according to this article�foregoing the service of an architect? This seems clearly a problem of American culture, and their/our lack of demand for this higher quality service.

If we boil this issue down to simple Supply & Demand, then architects are the suppliers of 2% of the building plans for all new houses in America. I guess you can call me a Keynesian, because I don't believe in Supply-side economics, which is the application one would be using if concluding that the architects are to blame for this overwhelmingly lopsided equation.... Clearly, there is almost no demand for residential architectural services, and that is the problem within itself, not a shortcoming of supply.

So, if people actually care about all of this, then the question is how might the demand for residential architecture dramatically change?

This is where the suggestions I offered become half-baked, because I think America's lack of demand for architecture is a symptom of a much larger cultural problem. It seems to be a fairly pointless exercise to think about what might make Americans more apt to use an architect when building a house, but I like pointless exercises, so I replied. :)

Further to the pointless point... To use the author's food analogy, my suggestion of architects "invading" the building trade would be akin to a chef opening a fast food chain... While it's hard to imagine a quick, affordable, chef-designed meal on every corner in America, it would dramatically help solve the goal of mass-consumption of good food.

Realistic? Of course not.

But we don't blame our country's chefs for the fast food problem; I don't know why the author blamed our architects for the "fast food homes" problem.

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