Ongoing weakness in single-family housing markets has resulted in dramatically fewer large residential developments, but according to the American Institute of Architects' (AIA) third quarter 2010 Home Design Trends Survey, smaller infill developments close to public transit, commercial opportunities, and other amenities are filling some of the void.

Residential architecture firms reported that access to public transportation and mixed-use facilities has increased substantially in popularity since 2009, along with continuing high demand for infill development. Smaller developments are placing greater emphasis on affordability, as well, both to compete with the swell of lower-priced foreclosures on the market and to offer better value to potential buyers. According to the survey, which focused on community and neighborhood design, architects also noted higher interest in dedicated open space for recreation. 

AIA's chief economist, Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, points to a variety of conditions encouraging the shift toward smaller infill projects, including home foreclosures that continue to drive down the market, a general resurgence in urban living, and a renewed interest in home affordability that considers commuting time and costs.

Increased interest in multigenerational housing not only reflects growth in immigrant households, but also the surge in formerly independent children boomeranging back to their family homes because of job loss or lack of employment opportunities, as well as the need to provide in-home care to an ever-growing aging population.

While many exterior features that add flavor to a home's exterior are now deemed extraneous, there is one element that consumers are loathe to part with: porches. Architects reported a significant upswing in the popularity of the porch in 2010, as it tends to add character to infill construction and facilitates a closer neighborhood connection. Sustainable roofing materials, solar reflective roofs, and tubular skylights also experienced increased popularity in 2010, as well as high interest in durable exterior materials, according to the survey.

As part of the quarterly Home Design Trends surveys, the AIA takes the pulse of the residential architecture market. In the third quarter of 2010, business conditions continued the downward trend that began in 2007. However, reports Baker, the downturn has started to even out, and despite a still-sluggish market, inquiries for new residential projects are showing signs of stabilization. Billings in the third quarter scored 42, while inquiries scored 49—both well below the 50-point mark that would indicate an increase in activity, but also substantially higher than the same period in 2009.

According to the survey, remodeling is the only truly healthy residential sector, with nearly double the percentage of architects in 2010 than in 2009 reporting improvements in both kitchen and bath remodeling (43 percent, compared with 27 percent in 2009) and additions/alterations (42 percent, compared with 26 percent last year).

In comparison, architects indicate that all new residential segments have weakened again in 2010, though most not so severely as in 2009. In particular, the custom and luxury home market and the second/vacation home market have been hit the hardest overall, but they both experienced less weakness this year than in 2009.

Read Baker's full report on the third quarter 2010 Home Design Trends Survey.