The Congress of Residential Architecture’s “Great Debate” took place on Wednesday, October 17th, during Residential Architect magazine’s Reinvention Symposium, and addressed no less a subject than the future of residential architecture. Ombudsman Duo Dickinson, AIA, set forth the debate’s objective, which was to discuss whether residential architects should remain private entrepreneurs or should move toward a public service model.

Talk show radio host and architect Curtis B. Wayne moderated the conversation, which started off slowly but grew livelier as more people voiced their opinions and concerns. One attendee brought up environmental protection as a vehicle for architects to serve the public. “Our job is to educate,” he said. “We are stewards of building and of construction.” Another agreed, but pointed out: “We have to balance stewardship with our need to pay for our own house.”

Dickinson posed the question of whether the American dream of a single-family house in the suburbs was still viable. (A question, by the way, that dominated many Reinvention discussions this year.) After some spirited debate on this topic, the conversation turned to the controversial idea of limiting the design of single-family residences to registered architects only. The crowd reached no formal conclusion here.

Last, Dickinson asked whether residential architects should be aesthetes or technicians. This query drew a particularly thoughtful and articulate response from audience member John Senhauser, FAIA. “I appreciate technicians, but we live in a world where we create more and more technical buildings every day, and less and less architecture,” Senhauser said. “Big box, sprawl—they aren’t architecture, they’re just buildings. Architecture embodies a community’s aspirations, does something to your head, makes you think about the way we live. I hope I’ll deliver a good service to a client, but I’ll do that as an entrepreneurial endeavor, not a servile endeavor. Technique is an entrepreneurial skill—so is aesthetics.”

Moderator Wayne drew the following conclusions: “My sense in this room is that it’s the resolution of the participants that the American dream is sustainable, that residential architects should be aesthetic entrepreneurs, and it is agreed that we should serve the public by being good stewards.”

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