William Stewart Photography

To the extent that human behavior is predictable, the primary factor in these predictions is demographics. The trick is to take a clear-eyed view of where those trends that are already in place are heading, and then plan for the future that is likely to emerge. This is especially important for those of us who work in residential design.

Historically, we’ve been pretty good at both observing trends and acting to influence them. After World War II, architects and home builders recognized that millions of returning veterans would be eager to have families and have homes, preferably on their own plots of grass. Residential design trends shifted as homeowners’ needs to accommodate children and automobiles increased, leading to a style that required less maintenance on the part of the owner.

That was then. The drivers of American society after 1945 were primarily white males who were married, but this is not the market anymore. A more ethnically diverse society is both our reality and our destiny, a society increasingly inclined to find alternatives to what was once the status quo. In the future that is unfolding before our eyes, the two-car garage will move from dominance to niche.

Two more factors are caring for aging relatives and kids moving back home after college: There are more of both of these. This poses challenges for the design of new and existing homes, as well as challenges for the community. How will multiple families be housed under one roof? What zoning restrictions will need to be rewritten? How? By whom?

The issues we face are clearly more than aesthetic. Questions of sustainability, transportation, resource allocation, and vibrant placemaking will be taken up in city halls and statehouses, even more passionately than they are today. Informing and helping citizens navigate these discussions cannot be left to developers or to those who are fearful of change. Our engagement in these discussions is job one. The challenges to developing a new residential paradigm are great. But the powerful energy being driven by demographics is too important not to seize and turn into an advantage. What’s at work today can be the driver to shape a better tomorrow for all citizens, a tomorrow shaped by that building block of America’s prosperity: residential design.

Jeff Potter, FAIA, 2012 President