I'm not sure how many people outside of the journalism profession know this, but there's a great divide between the consumer press and the trade press—or “business-to-business” publishing, as we insiders like to call it. In general, consumer magazine folk look down upon us trade writers and presume that we couldn't get a “real job” in journalism. Surely our reporting and writing abilities must be inferior; certainly our audiences are less discriminating and demanding.
Do you think you're a less discriminating reader of this magazine than the average reader of Metropolitan Home is? I doubt it—and I like Met Home. But having worked for both the consumer press and in the B2B world, I'd say what I do now is much more difficult. The average consumer shelter magazine must teach a novice audience something it doesn't already know about a profession it doesn't practice. Our magazine, on the other hand, must offer information to an expert audience about its own profession. Despite evidence to the contrary, the image of consumer magazines as more important and glamorous than their trade counterparts persists.
I've noticed a similar divide within the architecture profession between commercial architects and residential practitioners. Designing museums, office buildings, libraries, courthouses is considered real, grown-up architecture. Designing houses is something you do when you're first out of school and building a career. But you're expected to graduate from that “House for My Mother” and move on to bigger and better things.
I'm reminded of this by the American Institute of Architects' “New Home on the Range” competition. We're publishing the results of that competition in this issue's “Home Front” section (page 20). Although I'm delighted to see the AIA pay attention to residential work, I'm disappointed by the subtly patronizing language of its call for entries: “... the single-family residence served as the test bed for architectural principles, theories, and ideas in the 20th century. Through the most influential houses of the last one hundred years, the ideological course of architecture can be understood. Built or unbuilt, these projects have not only defined the architectural moment but, often, launched the careers of such notable architects as Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Graves, Eisenman, Meier, Gehry, and Mayne to name a few.”
Maybe I'm too sensitive. But it seems to me that, like the best stealth put-downs, this one flatters while it condescends. Are houses only valuable as architectural experiments? Are they only worthy of launching a career and not sustaining one? I've been so preoccupied with the problem of the laypeople's perception of residential architects that I'd forgotten about the homegrown enemy within. It's time architects of every discipline understand residential architecture for what it really is: everyone's most intimate connection with architecture. It's not simply a “test bed”—it's a vessel for our lives on their most personal level. That makes the stakes very high indeed. No one is more discriminating and demanding than a residential client. And no architectural medium is more infinitely expressive and endlessly challenging.
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: email@example.com.