Serving their clients is the No. 1 priority for the team at Dennis Wedlick Architect (DWA). Principals Dennis Wedlick, AIA, Alan Barlis, AIA, LEED AP, and their staff have done so exceedingly well, amassing a portfolio of beautifully detailed projects that put a witty, romantic spin on traditional house forms and styles. “We don’t compromise on services,” says Wedlick, who spent 12 years working for Philip Johnson’s firm before hanging out his own shingle. “We’re old, old, old-fashioned that way.” DWA’s work is widely published, and Wedlick himself has authored four books on residential design.
The company also has devoted much care and attention to its second priority: promoting good residential design. Wedlick co-founded the Congress of Residential Architecture (CORA), a group whose mission is to improve the quality of residential architecture by encouraging better communication among homeowners, builders, and designers. Additionally, DWA has become a strong advocate for the Passive House standard. The firm has practiced sustainable design for years, but more recently it devoted a chunk of time and resources to creating a for-sale Passive House. DWA hopes the Hudson Valley, N.Y., project will inspire others to learn more about this highly energy-efficient way of building.
To further that goal, the firm produced a well-designed informational packet on the Passive House concept. Known as the Greater Good Home Newspaper, the piece was distributed last year to 15,000 people.
What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?
For me, every project is brand new. There’s no pulling anything out of a drawer. Every family you work with, even a developer—the entire experience is new every time. You’re constantly getting another opportunity to learn something new.
What is the most frustrating aspect?
Regarding the industry as a whole, residential architects have a very hard time explaining why our business is so unique. Because of that, we feel we don’t get as much support from the industry as we need. I think the industry really hasn’t given us enough tools to be as effective as we could be with this very, very unique aspect of practice.
What is your mission statement or firm goal?
We like to advocate for the power of good residential architecture. We believe that residential architecture can have a greater good. We’re different in the sense that we believe we can make a difference just one house at a time. We can produce one-off, custom solutions and still have a large impact. It’s a controversial thing—I think many people feel helping individual families isn’t universal enough to have a big impact, and we disagree. Residential architecture offers opportunities for case studies. We believe individual case studies can have an impact and make the built environment better. People see them, they test problems in real time and in real places. You can test their performance. So our goal is to raise awareness of the power of residential architecture on an individual basis.
What is the most indispensable tool in your office?
It’s funny—the most indispensable tools in our office are business management tools. We spend a lot of time with time management tools, scheduling tools, Excel spreadsheets. To make the best use of our time, we need to become very efficient in our process. All that time can liberate us to test new ideas and get new resources.
What software does your firm use?
AutoCAD, SketchUp, Photoshop. We do not use BIM. I can’t say for sure what we’ll be using four to five years from now, because our clients are shifting in their age. We have to think about what software will best serve our clients and what will help them accomplish their cost needs, too.
Who is your ideal client?
All our clients are our ideal client!
What is your favorite building?
The Philip Johnson Glass House. It’s a completely sentimental answer, but it represents a lot of things to me.
If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?
I did! I hired Jen Marsh, a stay-at-home architect and the wife of an associate of mine. I believe my clients design their own houses. Hiring Jen gave me the time to design my renovations. Designing is the smallest part of architecture in terms of time. I needed a good architect to do all those things an architect does.