As I write this column, I'm about three weeks away from attending the AIA's national convention in Las Vegas. When I went to my first one five years ago, I struggled to find anything in the seminar program pertaining to residential design. This year I've received several communications from the AIA listing the eight residential seminars it's offering. I'm on that list too, moderating a panel on “Trends in Custom Residential Design.” And a few weeks ago I attended a conference organized by the Boston Society of Architects focusing exclusively on residential design. The two-day event attracted more than 7,000 regional attendees. Other large AIA chapters took notice of those numbers and some are pondering similar initiatives. Locally and nationally, the AIA is recognizing the strength and draw of this compelling subject matter. At the crest of a multi-year housing boom, it's about time the organization addressed and advanced the architect's role in it.
Until recently, AIA National paid little attention to custom residential firms, focusing its Housing Committee activities on the big players in production and multifamily design. But subtle changes are under way internally at the association's headquarters. Without fanfare, the Housing Committee has renamed itself. It's now the Housing and Residential Architecture Committee, a solid attempt to appear more inclusive and reach out to the custom residential practitioner. What's more, members of the committee and the executive staff have admitted publicly that the association has not served the residential architect as well as it should, and they've promised to remedy the situation.
How did residential architects win this important victory? They organized. The Congress of Residential Architects, spearheaded by Duo Dickinson, Jeremiah Eck, and Dennis Wedlick, gathered just enough strength in its ranks (see the list of founding members on the CORA Web site, www.corarchitects.org) to get the AIA's attention. The AIA, to its credit, recognized immediately that it needed to lend support to this fledgling group or risk alienating a substantial portion of its constituency. The association has extended a helpful hand while honoring the group's independence, as has this magazine. CORA is still figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up. But that means it's wide open to anyone who wants to voice a concern or add to its agenda. In fact, CORA has already changed its name to one more welcoming of all participants in the housing industry: It's now The Congress of Residential Architecture.
CORA also has a voice at the upcoming AIA convention. Jeremiah Eck and Duo Dickinson will hold a meeting for all interested in joining or learning more about the group. They will issue their call for more local CORA groups (it takes three willing initiators to start one). And they'll invite proposals for presentations at their annual meeting on Dec. 7 in Coral Cables, Fla., immediately following this magazine's Reinvention conference.
There was and is still plenty of snobbery within the architecture profession toward the small custom practice and sometimes scant appreciation for the well-designed, livable, lovable house. But the seas are beginning to part, and several paths forward are appearing before you. The question now is, where do you want to go?
Comments? Call: 202.736. 3312; write: S. Claire Conroy, residential architect, One Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.