As we at residential architect busy ourselves with planning our next symposium, we thought we'd take a moment to recap the first one. When we first conceived of “Reinvention 2004: The Next American House” early last year, we envisioned a small event, hoping to attract 100 architects who were passionate about improving mainstream house design. The core goal, though, was to bring residential practitioners together, face-to-face, for an educational and networking experience designed just for them. Apparently, the time was right to do this because we closed the doors at 300 people—our maximum capacity at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Immediately following Reinvention was the inaugural meeting of the Congress of Residential Architects (CORA), which drew about 150 attendees to explore “Adding Value: Architects and the American House.” The discussions at both events were far-ranging but a common refrain emerged: It's high time architects reach out at a grassroots and national level to improve design for all segments of the housing market.

Reinvention kicked off with a house tour. Three of the four houses featured were architects' own, including Steven Ehrlich's infill house in Venice, Ray Kappe's in Pacific Palisades, and David Hertz's Venice house. Koning Eizenberg's Eleventh Street Residence for a private client in Santa Monica rounded out the roster. Each house had a distinct message to convey. Ehrlich's emphasized passive heating and cooling with a flexible structure that directs and diffuses the local climate. Kappe's showed how a structure can weave so intimately into the landscape it becomes one with its site. Hertz's employed his invention Syndecrete, a lightweight concrete made of recycled content, and other green materials and systems to reduce its energy consumption to zero. And Koning Eizenberg's demonstrated how off-the-shelf materials used in innovative ways can create a satisfyingly custom house on a tight budget.

The next morning, Sarah Susanka, FAIA, gave the breakfast keynote address, exhorting architects to reach out and teach the public about good design in words and ways they can understand. In the subsequent panel discussion, “Lessons From the American House,” Ray Kappe, FAIA, of Kappe Architects and Planners, walked the audience through his 50 years of innovative design, noting a resurging interest in ideas he's tackled in the past, including prefab housing; Jeremiah Eck, FAIA, Jeremiah Eck Architects, Boston, encouraged the audience to abandon the debate about architectural styles and work instead toward fundamentally better houses; and Russell Versaci, AIA, of Versaci Neuman & Partners, Middleburg, Va., urged architects to partner with production builders to bring more architecturally rigorous houses to market.

In “Houses to Go,” architect/developer John Vetter, AIA, Vetter Denk Architects in Milwaukee, showed how his firm is using prefab and tilt-up construction to revitalize a waterfront parcel in downtown Milwaukee; John Tanney, AIA, of New York City's Resolution: 4 Architecture, explained why his modular component system promises to bring efficiencies and economies to custom house design; and Jennifer Siegal, of The Office of Mobile Design in Santa Monica, shared her vision of more flexible, portable structures built to factory tolerances and, eventually, more affordable prices.

At lunch, residential architect's editor, Claire Conroy, gave out the magazine's annual Leadership Awards to Hall of Fame winner Ray Kappe, Top Firm Koning Eizenberg Architecture of Santa Monica, and Rising Star Jonathan Segal, FAIA, of La Jolla, Calif. Breakout sessions followed the lunch, with Segal, Tanney, and Vetter detailing their firms' approaches to improving the affordability and appeal of mainstream housing.

A panel discussion on sustainable design topped off the afternoon. David Arkin, AIA, Arkin Tilt Architects, Berkeley, Calif., described his firm's hybrid application of cutting-edge green technologies and low-tech salvage materials; Dennis Wedlick, AIA, Dennis Wedlick Architects, New York City, argued that architects should involve their clients directly in the search for sustainable products; and David Hertz, AIA, Syndesis Inc., Santa Monica, presented his blend of dynamic design, recycled materials, and reduced energy consumption for his largely high-end projects.

Reinvention concluded with a brainstorming session led by Advisory Board Chair William Kreager, FAIA, of Seattle-based Mithun, on the near future of American housing (see “Predictions”), followed by an informal charrette and presentation of “Next American House” ideas. Audience members voted on their favorite presentations, and we'll publish the gussied up winners at a later date. Many attendees stayed on to continue the conversation with CORA. Both events were marked by lively debate, emotion, and energy—the buzz of residential architects reinventing how they connect to their work, each other, and the public. Don't miss Reinvention 2005; details are coming soon.