John Brown, one of three principals at housebrand in Calgary, works for one of the most innovative architecture firms around. And how he and his partners got here and continue to innovate was the topic of his packed breakout session, Architecture for All—Design Education as Advocacy.

“Early on I asked myself, why aren’t more architects involved in the housing industry,” he said. The architect and his partners set out to change that. “We set up housebrand as a vertically integrated company that combines different services—architecture, real estate, education, interior design, and product retailing,” he said.

Brown launched housebrand with his wife, Carina van Olm, and Matthew North. They help working families and individuals buy houses and then provide design and construction services to tailor the house to their budgets. But the firm has expanded since the early days. Brown and his partners believe education is the key to creating a client-base that appreciates design, so housebrand launched a design-advocacy movement called Slow Home. “There used to be a time when food was real and home were real,” Brown said. “Slow home is about site and materiality, design and construction, quality of life. It’s a cultural argument.”

As part of its advocacy mission, the firm also buys ad space in a local publication where it addresses design problems and provides answers to resolve them. Weekend workshops also allow consumers to come into the firm’s office/retail space to hear presentations about design and to take basic design classes. “Some people spend more time picking out a flat screen TV than they do a house,” Brown said.

The design advocacy efforts have yielded interesting results, Brown said. Among them: The public needs and wants to work with you; a public-friendly office location is key; consider information-based advertising; lectures and open houses are good ways to connect with the public; get your real estate license. “Design education as advocacy takes the long view,” he said.

For more about housebrand, see our Rising Star profile of the firm:

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