Pattern books once guided the development of charming, well-designed neighborhoods, with or without an architect on site. At the "Reinventing the Pattern Book" panel discussion held at this year's Reinvention Symposium, speakers Edward M. Binkley, AIA, of BSB Design; Charles Lazor of Lazor Office; and Russell Versaci, AIA, of Russell Versaci Architecture shared how their respective firms are formulating new ways of delivering affordable housing using some of the elements of the pattern book approach.

Binkley, the Oviedo-Fla.-based national design partner of the venerable firm headquartered in West Des Moines, Iowa, spoke of BSB's internal and external explorations, which it hopes will better help merchant builder clients. Building on firm founder Jack Bloodgood's belief that every home buyer deserves a house designed by an architect, BSB uses its in-house research and development charettes to help understand the issues its clients are dealing with, especially with small-lot single-family home models.

"We develop intercompany design competitions to help us develop fresh ideas for customers and to keep our people fresh," Binkley said.

BSB also focuses attention on miniature lots measuring 14 feet, workforce housing, and modular housing. "Working in modular dimensions shows us that you can live well in small spaces," he explained.

Binkley said the firm also is helping its builder clients understand green and sustainability, and is advising them to pick the low-hanging fruit when it comes to eco options. Examples he cited included site orientation, exterior colors, and window placement, because they are essentially free.

Lazor, whose company produces the FlatPak modular housing system, told attendees he chose modular as a way to make architecture more accessible because "it's a way to get from point A to point B without compromise and still deliver a good house." The FlatPak system of components includes walls, cabinets, bathrooms, kitchens, and other pieces that form a complete house.

Lazor also said his shift early on from architecture to product design and the launch of his furniture company, Blu Dot, "helped us understand other ways of designing [a home]." The idea of FlatPak, he explained, "is to do something over and over, front-load it, and then just hit the resend button." Though FlatPak is a modular system, it can be organized to fit a variety of situations. "It can be configured to solve issues of site, orientation, needs, and desires," he said.

Versaci delivered a somewhat different take on the subject, in what could be considered a shot across the bow of many architects. "What has gone wrong with American home building?" Versaci asked. In short, he answered, architects "just don't get it." Referring to architects' proclivity for designing ultra-modern houses far removed from the traditional houses the average American prefers, he said, "We are hermetic, self-absorbed, and out of touch."

He went on to say that architects had "abdicated their responsibility and turned it over to builders. We are now left with overbuilt places" and the question: How do we fix home building?

Versaci said he believes architects must reconnect with home buyers who want and need their services. The best way to do that, he continued, is through pattern books of styles and designs with which people are familiar; house plans that make it easier for merchant builders to build those houses; and factory fabrication that makes it easier and more affordable to build houses.

Versaci pointed to many examples of pattern books by such architects as James Strickland of Historical Concepts; Geoffrey Mouen of Geoffrey Mouen Architects; and Eric Moser of Moser Design Group. He also referenced the successful kit house business that Sears once ran.

Because they're, better, greener, and cheaper, "panelized and modular construction are the future," Versaci concluded.