The clear take-away from the session, Innovating Community Design and Mass Market Housing, is that architects have at their disposal many ways to broaden their contribution to mainstream housing.

Donald Powers, AIA, LEED AP, principal of Union Studio, talked about refocusing his already extensive work with merchant builders to address the trends in the housing market. “2007 was an opportunity to reset,” he says. “We started looking at small footprint houses for opportunity.” The architect said that recent projects that fit into this new focus include a 15-unit infill development of cottages measuring 900 square feet. Powers said architects must do sophisticated outreach with all stakeholders—civic, neighborhood, etc.—to deliver creative housing in a market-rate reality. “If you understand the market and the price point” projects have a stronger chance of success, he added.

While Powers refocused his efforts on more mass-market housing, Adele Chang, AIA, of Lim Chang Rohling & Associates, spoke of her firm’s breadth of work before and after the recession. “Land prices are the number one barrier to homes for the 99 percent,” Chang said. And there are other obstacles too, such as bad zoning ordinances, design guidelines, civil and traffic engineering driving land planning, too much influence from real estate agents, fear of experimentation, and lack of selection in affordable off-the-shelf products.  But there are solutions. Chang said her firm has been pursuing more attached housing and utilizing more small-lot ordinances that allow 30 units to the acre. “It’s a creative way to address housing issues,” she said.

John Brown, of housebrand in Calgary, takes a different approach to reach middle-market consumers. The architect talked of the unique firm that he, Carina van Olm, and Matthew North set up. “We do architecture for the 78 percent,” Brown said. “We wanted to work directly with individuals.” The firm encompasses everything. Working mainly with middle-class consumers, the firm has licensed real estate agents—including Brown and North—that help buyers find and buy a home, does design work that fits into their budget, offers contracting work, and runs a retail arm that supplies furnishing. Brown believes education is the key to creating a client-base that appreciates design, so housebrand launched initiatives to do just that. “We created an advocacy movement to help people make better decisions, and we started a real estate business to help them as well,” Brown said. The architect concludes, “We look to address the middle of the market in a sensible way. It’s not about designing in the typical way. Rather, it’s about finding new and innovative ways to bring design to the market.”

If Brown works for the 78 percent, Brian Phillips, AIA, of Interface Studio Architects, works for an even broader range. As the architect said in his presentation, “We don’t know what the 1 percent is.” Phillips described the various types of projects the firm works on, including affordable housing and an effort with a local Philadelphia builder to develop a house that costs $100,000. “Everyday projects need to be better,” he said. “We explore off-the-shelf materials to bring innovation to everyday housing.”

When it comes to doing affordable housing, Michael Pyatok, FAIA, is on the leading edge. “We design for all types of people with special needs,” the principal of Pyatok Associates said. These include low income seniors and those recovering from substance abuse—in essence, Pyatok said, “populations who neighbors don’t like to have around.” The key to getting such projects approved, Pyatok said, is organizing. “It’s important to involve all in the neighborhood to help design projects,” he said. “Projects can’t be sprung on homeowners nearby.”

“Architecture has so much unrealized potential,” Bryan Bell, of Design Corps, said at the beginning of his presentation. Many architects don’t realize what they can do to affect change in society. Conversely, people don’t realize what architects can do for them either. “Every issue is a design issue—drinking water, disease, disaster relief, etc.,” Bell said.  “We need to prove to the public that everything is a design issue.” In trying to get projects approved or funded from public money, Bell recommends, it helps to layer issues and partners together—unemployment, health, crime, historic preservation, affordability, environmental issues. “When you multiply funding sources, you multiply funding sources.”

Finally, David Dixon, FAIA, of Goody Clancy, said architects need to start following the trends that shape what the profession does. Architects need to be engaged in those trends that will be shaping the community in the future, such as walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development. “People who live in the suburbs are less healthy than those who live in the urban core,” Dixon said. “The cost of auto dependency is becoming unsustainable. We must help people understand the merits of transit-based developments.”

For more about housebrand, see http://www.residentialarchitect.com/architects/2009-leadership-awards-rising-star-john-brown-raic.aspx

For more about Michael Pyatok, see http://www.residentialarchitect.com/affordable-housing/2002-leadership-awards-top-firm-pyatok-architects.aspx

For more about David Dixon, see http://www.residentialarchitect.com/planning/hall-of-fame-david-dixon.aspx

For a full program of Reinvention 2012:http://www.reinventionconf.com/downloads/2012%20Reinvention%20Brochure.pdf

Reinvention 2012 will be viewable soon online at:http://hanleywooduniversity.com/learncenter.asp?id=178409&page=758

To view last year’s Reinvention sessions:http://hanleywooduniversity.com/learncenter.asp?id=178409&sessionid=3-1F47CA2A-4102-4D5C-A0F7-BAC272EA99E8&page=662