Discover why architects Rand Soellner and Craig Isaac are spreading the word about Architects Creating Homes (ArCH) an organization to support residential architects.
Today's episode is all about advancing the cause and interests of residential architects.
Note: Membership in ArCH is very affordable and comes with many benefits including a residential architect certification program and opportunities for continuing education. Join the movement to support residential architects by visiting Architects Creating Homes.
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Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:
Enoch: Well, welcome back, Architect Nation. Today, we’re joined by Rand Soellner. He’s the Principal and Owner of Home Architects. We’re also joined Craig Isaac. He’s the Owner and Principal of Craig W. Isaac Architecture.
So, gentlemen welcome to the show.
Rand: Thanks, Enoch.
Enoch: Yeah. So, I just want to get a little bit of background on each of your firms and what you do. Rand, do you want to start out telling us about your background in architecture and a little bit about what your firm does?
Rand: Well, just like you, I started out in commercial architecture and probably did about $3 billion worth of that. I was architecture [Inaudible 00:02:16] with a firm I was Vice President of back then. We did about half of Jurassic Park Universal Studios in Orlando. We did quite a few homes down there; also, hospitals, NASA facilities, high schools, water treatment plants, office buildings, just about anything you can imagine, restaurants.
About fifteen years ago, I decided to focus primarily on residences. I pursued that for a while with my own name.
Enoch: Why did you do that?
Rand: Well, I just always enjoyed it.
Rand: It’s a love. So, after about five or six years of doing that with my own name, Rand Soellner Architect, I realized people probably really don’t know me. I mean, I have a national practice, and maybe people close to me, within 50 miles, maybe have heard of me – maybe – but, I thought, “Gosh, it’s awful arrogant of me to imagine that people across the United States have heard of me.”
I decided to change the name of my company to something that I thought maybe people might actually want. So, I became Home Architects. That has been a very good move. Any time you type that in to your browser throughout the United States, I’m probably going to come up.
Enoch: Yeah. So, just for the organic search traffic, it’s been a huge win for you.
Enoch: Alright. What kind of homes are you doing nowadays?
Rand: We primarily focus on mountain-style homes. A lot of people ask: What’s mountain style? It’s, kind of, like arts and crafts on steroids. It’s more of a muscular approach with rock, and timbers, and bracing, and bracketry that’s larger than you’d expect to find in other kinds of architecture. They’ve got it up the New Hampshire, New England area, what they call shingle-style, which is, kind of, a less robust version of what I do, but, just the same, the shingles are elements that we tend to use also.
Some people might even call it “parkitechture” – a lot of what you see at national parks like Yellowstone and others like that except, those tend to be, kind of, rough, and we try to have our level of detailing a little more refined than that. My wife has a term for it – she helps me with the interiors – she calls it rustic elegance.
Enoch: Nice. Craig, tell us about your firm. Give us a background on what you’re up to and what got you to where you’re at?
Craig: Well, I came to Charlotte from Montreal for college. Once I graduated in Charlotte, there was, at that time in ’83, there was really no construction going on in Montreal. It was absolutely dead. I actually interviewed with architects up there and they offered me positions, but they said that they didn’t have any openings and as soon as they had an opening, they’d hire me.
So, Charlotte was booming. I stayed in Charlotte and worked for a few different architects and worked for a very good residential firm. I’ve always been very detail-oriented. I’ve always enjoyed building furniture, building, designing furniture, crafting, any kind of models and stuff, so residential has always been an interest.
I actually left that firm to work for two guys that had started their own firm, and they ran out of work. That was in 1990 when things in Charlotte really slowed down. I had the option to go back to the original firm, and I just thought I’d try it on my own. So, they actually let me go back in, pull whatever drawings I wanted to pull out that I worked on while I was with them, and to use or show as a portfolio.
In 1990 I started on my own and concentrated on residential work. I picked up the odd commercial job here and there, but really residential is what I’ve always done. I’ll do small tenant outfits and some small buildings. They usually end up being chiropractor’s offices or just some sort of little space, nothing huge. So, the big, commercial projects, I don’t think I can handle. I’ve been on my own basically since 1990 and just plugging away at residential work.
Enoch: Yeah. Can you remember the insights you had, Craig, when you first started out back in 1990?
Craig: Well, I wish I had some better insights, but… It’s kind of funny because I started with the possibility of two projects and that neither of those came through, but ended up getting other projects that basically pulled me through, sort of, the first year. Then, after that, it just, kind of, kept going.
I originally had thought that if I went to around North Carolina to these golf developments that were with nice houses around them, that if I got in to those places, that I probably have continual work. So, I went around to a lot of different places, left portfolios, had very good, sort of, interviews, and very positive, and really never got any work out of that at all except at one point. I got a very good project that we started working on there and it was put on hold, so I never did do anything else in that development. That was sort of, my marketing plan, and besides that I had no idea.
A lot of architects they end up on their own and running a business, and they’ve never even taken a business class. They have no idea what to do. So, that’s me. I’m a good example of that, but, you know, you have the passion, and you just plug away. That’s what I’ve done.
Enoch: Yeah. It’s good to have both of you on here – both veteran architects, good experience under your belt. But, the reason we’re here talking is because I am now a member, and we’ve talked about this offline, of an association called Architects Creating Homes.
Enoch: Tell me about this organization. Let’s just jump in to it. What needs is it filling? Tell me about the origin of this and how it came about, and let’s tell our listeners what Architects Creating Homes is.
Rand: Craig, want me to give this initial part?
Craig: You do it, Rand. You’re the first one that got us going, so you need to start us off.
Enoch: Are you, Rand, you’re the first guy… IS this your brainchild?
Rand: Yeah. But, there were a couple of other fellows that… We used to communicate on another blog [Inaudible] Edward Shannon and another fellow. We had some seeds of discontent and I guess we became the rebels. So, I asked them, “Why don’t we start our own organization?” People seemed quite disturbed by that idea, but I said, “I think we can pull it off. Let’s go ahead and try it.”
That was about two years ago, and we seem to be doing okay. Here’s a big answer, and I need to, kind of, look at our screen here to look at some statistics. We need to review some statistics to really answer why we created ArCH and why it’s here.
There has been other people that say, “Oh, isn’t it the same as” so-and-so, or “Is that the same as” this-and-so. No it’s not. NCARB (National Council of Architecture and Registration Boards) indicates that there are about 104,000 licensed architects in the USA as of 2012. The AIA claims to have around 54,000 licensed architects as members, and about 83,000 people also as members. So, the other shoe isn’t falling here. What does that means?
Enoch: 50,000 architects who aren’t members of the AIA.
Rand: There you go. You said it, not me.
Enoch: I can do my math. That’s about all I can do though.
Rand: So, it’s our belief that about half of the architects in the United States that are practicing are practicing some form of residential architecture. I can’t prove that. I can’t find those statistics anywhere, neither NCARB, or AIA, or other entities that I have been able to find to support that, but I believe it’s true.
If that’s the case, we believe that ArCH is an alternative with a stronger focused, only directed toward licensed architects practicing residential architecture. It’s sort of like you are an engineering firm that mainly design bridges – if there was a structural engineering society consisting of only bridge engineers. It’s a question of focus and richness of information relative to what your primary practice happens to be.
We believe ArCH offers an affordable price point, $150, instead of some other organizations that can be more than four times that amount. ArCH is an independent professional organization where 100% of the dues that comes to ArCH goes to support the mission of licensed residential architects, none of it is used to support any other type of endeavor. So, there are some major differences right there.
Enoch: Yup. I guess, when we talk about differences, we’re contrasting it to the other large organization that represents architects in the United States which is, of course, the American Institute of Architects, of which I’m also a member.
Craig: Right. I am too.
Rand: Many of our members are. Most of our members are. I was asked to discontinue my message of saying that it’s okay to belong in both even though it is. The main message that we’re trying to communicate is that if you tend to practice residential architecture, if you like all of your dues going to support that mission, if you like the focus of what you’re doing strictly supporting that endeavor, then ArCH might be something for you to consider.
Enoch: Yeah. okay. I was talking with David Andreozzi a couple of episodes back. I know that he is someone that you guys have exchanges comments with over discussion boards, and even you know him personally, I’m sure, and he took a different track. He is a part of the CRAN Network, which is a part of the AIA now, which is, you know, they’re, kind of, spearheading the change from within, whereas you guys are approaching the change from without.
So, tell me about the two different approaches, and the strengths of each, and what motivated you to go for the change without as opposed to the change within.
Rand: Well, I’m going to leave David to address his approach. I’m not going to step on his toes, so he’s welcome to do that. We’re friends. As a matter of fact, we’ve served on committees together and a lot of our intentions, I think, are identical. He actually was in another organization that was different than AIA, and he pursued that for a number of years as well, and he ultimately decided to go ahead and join AIA.
I actually was a member since 1984, off and on, and I’ve been a member of various committees. It’s just that I finally felt that things have come to a head where I just thought we needed a fresh break and new start, something that didn’t have to ask permission from a parent organization to do things which seemed obvious to us. When you’re dealing with a big corporate entity, things that seem so obvious you just can’t do. That seemed, kind of, a path of resistance there that I didn’t want to follow, but I respect that organization very much and I wish them well.
Enoch: Yeah. Do you have an example of something that a large, corporate organization wouldn’t be able to do, Rand?
Rand: We, for instance, we have… We’re in the process. We already trademarked it. We created some new programs that we think are going to be pretty amazing. One is the CRAfts Program which is a Certified Residential Architect Program, which I don’t think would ever get approved in that other organization.
I respect the fact that they want unification of all architects. I appreciate that. I get that, however, it is a specialty that we’re in and I think that there have been countless comments over the years how… I keep hearing the words square, white, box architecture winning awards and being the focus. That’s a good analogy.
Even David agrees with that and he agrees that that should not be the case. You can see comments of his on various things out there that underwrite that. But, I don’t think that would ever be approved with another organization. I think it’s high time it’s happened. I think that we’re all up against a tremendous amount of economic pressure from entities that don’t have a collegiate organization, that don’t have the right amount of experience, that don’t have any internship, that don’t have any licensure. They call themselves certified residential designers. Certified by who?
Craig: I think that’s the big thing with ArCH. The only way you’re a member is by being a registered architect. The reason to be part of ArCH is because your main focus is residential work. I mean, you could still be a member of ArCH, essentially a regular member, but you can go through the CRAfts Program and be a certified residential architect which basically says, “Listen, I want everybody to realize that I’ve gone through. I’ve taken all these hours of tests to let people know that I know what I’m doing in residential work.”
It’s not just how you design, but it’s actually detailing and knowing that things are done properly. It’s just basically saying that’s one step above. It’s saying that “I am a legitimate architect and I’m not a certified residential designer.” So, I think that’s really one of the goals with the CRAfts that we’re working on and trying to develop.
Rand: I remember we did Mark LePage interview. That was a nice one. I know you two are friends also. He’s a good guy. I like him. Tell him to join. I think he’s considering it. We’ve had some fallout from some people that were FAIA. They said “Oh, design of a house is simple.”
Craig: Yeah, exactly.
Rand: You know, if you’re doing it correctly, it really isn’t. Even the AIA itself, the entire country of where Craig came from, Canada, all state governments, most universities declare the design of a residence as one of the most complex activities that an architect can engage in.
I should know. I’ve designed NASA laboratories, I’ve designed high schools, I’ve designed incredibly complicated theme parks, world class office buildings, and other facilities, airports. I’m telling you, there is more happening per square foot and per square inch in a house than there is in any other kind of facility.
If anybody says that, “Oh, it’s simple, and they do it in two or three sheets, they are not doing a complete and good job, in my opinion. As a matter of fact, the state of North Carolina there is a Board of Architecture that takes the practice of architecture very seriously. They don’t think there’s any distinction as to whether you’re designing a house or whatever, and I think that’s a good thing.
I’ve seen architects lose their licenses and be suspended… Enoch, where you’re at in California, do they have, like, a rogue’s list publicized by your state board of architecture that comes out about once a quarter?
Enoch: They have a list of people that have become censured because of unethical conduct or basically not following the architect’s practice act.
Rand: There you go. Well, same thing here in North Carolina, and I actually practice all over the United States. I’m licensed in multiple states and every single state has that same thing. I’ve had some people pooh-pooh what I’m talking about, and I’m here to tell you: boards of architecture enforces.
For instance, let’s just make one example: This is something that should happen to commercial architecture as well as residence. If you have a steel angle supporting stone work or brick work on the outside of the house, or on the outside of any building you’re supposed to have flashing in there. You’re supposed to dam the ends of the flashing and seal it so that water that might come down through the wall is transferred to the outside.
Okay, I’ve seen architects that do a really lousy job of detailing homes that they don’t include it, detail like that. They don’t even refer to it. They don’t even include it in your specifications. There’s not even a note about that. I’ve seen them either be suspended or lose their license.
So, people that think that boards of architecture don’t take such things seriously just because you’re designing a house… It’s like they think the rules don’t apply to them. That’s not true. When we’re up against so called designers that don’t do things like that, they don’t have to. They’re not licensed. They can ignore the health, safety, and welfare of the public. There is nothing that requires them to do it properly.
This is one of the reasons why ArCH exist – so that people are aware that they deserve better for the design of their homes. [Inaudible] be healthy in there? Many people have COPD, mold causing organism. I mean, mold is everywhere. It’s in you. It’s in me. It’s everywhere. You’ve got to be very careful in how you design things and vapor barriers and so forth, you’ll propagate that.
So, the design of a house, which is primarily where most people live… A lot of people still think it’s okay, for instance, to put in polyethylene as a vapor barrier. Nothing could be wronger than that. Maybe they can get away in some regions of Canada up there, but most in the continental United States you cannot, and it will create mold.
I’ve been called in by risk managers of various counties and cities down south where they have black mold growing inside walls when I was doing commercial architecture. We’ve transferred those lessons to residential architecture. That’s one of the main things you should not do.
So, one of the programs in this CRAfts Program, people say, “Oh, there’s nothing to it.” No, there’s absolutely a lot to it: mold prevention, vapor barriers, those are some of the courses in division 7. We, sort of, break it down like at CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute, not Crime Scene Investigation, although might be interchangeable sometimes.
We’ve broken it down to the various divisions. There are things you need to know in each one of the divisions if you’re very serious about designing homes because it is a specialty. If you’re designing only hospitals, and only high-rise buildings, and only schools, there’s really a lot you don’t know about when you design a house.
There are so many technical issues about stairs. There are tremendous amount of information there about what’s legal, what’s not, what makes sense, and what’s structurally sound and what’s not. A lot of it just comes down to experience, you know, how long you’ve been doing this.
Most of the people at ArCH have well over twenty years experience. I’ve got about forty. That’s 4-0 years of experience doing it. So, you tend to learn things that a lot of people think you can get away with not having specifications when you produce a home design. I think that’s shameful.
I did that once back when I was starting, decades and decades ago. The contractor got away with not using pressure-treated wood at site and some things fell because they rotted. So, I said right then and there I’ll never do that again. So, we try to learn from our errors, and so I’ve always provided specs since then. I’m really glad that I do.
Enoch: Yeah. Does ArCH have a, kind of, mission statement or a list of points, of belief points, things that you support? One of the questions in my head is do you advocate that a licensed professional should do homes – that it should be a requirement to get a license to design a house?
Rand: Craig, you address that issue because I could go on for an hour on that.
Craig: Well, we would like to think that every house should be done by a licensed architect. Whether that will ever happen, I’m not really sure. I think the point is that we need to impress upon people the value of hiring an architect and not just use a designer.
You know, the thing you hear a lot is, “Well, if I hire an architect, I’m going to pay this exorbitant fee, and the house is going to cost twice as much, and it’ll never be in budget. Well, that’s personally not true. I mean, if you’re doing your job as an architect and you have a budget to work with, you’re designing a house to a budget, and doing the best you can for what the client wants.
So, I hear that all the time. “Oh, they just always put stuff in that they want to put in.” “Well, no, I’m sorry. I’m designing a house for a client, not for myself. They live in it.” I mean, I don’t know if every house really should be designed by an architect. It would be nice if it was, but, you know, that’s one of those topics that is really, kind of, hard.
Rand: Let me chime in here for a second, Craig. I remember the AIA had some numbers back a couple of years ago, about 2012. I really don’t think the numbers are correct because NCARB says it’s a 104,000.
Craig: Right, yeah.
Rand: But, I remember reading something that, maybe I misunderstood something, but I think they said that there was, like, 220,000 architects in 2008.
Rand: Then, by 2012 there was like about 40,000 less than that.
Rand: I don’t think those numbers are right because NCARB’s numbers contradict the total, which is a 104,000. At any rate, I think what the AIA was trying to say is that there has been a tremendous amount of attrition. I know for a fact that there are licensed architects that are no longer practicing architecture because there was not enough work for them to do.
So, you know, if everybody hired an architect to design their home, then all those people, all the attrition we’ve had would come back in full force. We’ve had tens of thousands of architects that would just love to come back in to the profession, and practice what they love doing and what they’re good doing.
I’d just like to make sure that for those that are naysayers about that issues: we’ve had plenty of architects that deal with this. They have lost their positions because there hasn’t been enough. So, go ahead, Craig…
Craig: Well, I was just going to go back to that whole issue about spending money. Rand, you had talked about it at one of our Skype meetings also that an architect adds so much value to a job that we can actually save clients money just from efficiency of design, efficiency of materials. I mean, there are lots of things that we do that save client money regardless of what they’re paying us as an architectural fee. I think that’s important.
Rand: Let me go ahead and do address that because you’re right. I’ve actually conducted some Excel spreadsheet analysis that actually proves that when you hire an architect to design your home, thatmost architects these days are extremely energy efficient-oriented.
For instance, I can’t imagine any architects specifying incandescent lighting. Almost all architects now specify either CFLs or LEDs, and they consume a tremendous amount less of energy that, in association with improved methods of insulation, appliance specifications that actually exceed energy star levels, we’ve actually proven that you could end up saving so much money in future energy costs during the lifetime of the home, which probably will exceed the lifetime of the original owner by a hundred years.
An architect-designed home will probably consume probably about half the amount of energy as non-architect designed home.
What happens is, the amount of money that you spend on energy during that century will exceed the original cost of construction many times over. So, the fee that you pay an architect, you get back during your lifetime in reduced energy costs.
We’re going to do a whole series of the value of an architect. We’re going to be doing some videos and some other things that display some of these to the public. I don’t think other organizations have done that good a job of explaining the value of an architect’s services. So, once again, we don’t need to get approval to do that. We’re just going to do it.
Craig: Well, we get approval through our own executive committee, we have organized bylaws, but we’re not going through a huge corporation that we’re trying to get approvals from. So, that’s the difference.
Rand: You asked what the mission statement was, Enoch?
Craig: Yeah, I was going to say that. Rand, you have that in front of you?
Rand: Yes, sir. ArCH is an American Organization of licensed architects focusing on residential architecture, professional excellence and achievement, client value and service.
Enoch: Okay. What are some reasons that people might want to join ArCH?
Rand: Sure. There are both advantages for the clients as well as advantages for being an ArCH member. Sometimes they coincide; sometimes they’re a little different. The advantage of being an ArCH member as we imagine, to our knowledge, ArCH is the only independent professional organization in the world composed solely of licensed architects practicing residential architecture.
Any other entity that says that they’re doing that, they really aren’t. They have non-licensed members as fully as ¼ to 1/3 of the membership. We believe that that compromises the goals of what licensed architects are and what they’re trying to do because when you’re in competition with people that haven’t paid what we pay in terms of time, energy, money, it’s just unfair. It doesn’t take in to consideration health, safety, and welfare of the public adequately.
So, first of all, an advantage is we’re solely focused on the needs and the interest of licensed, residential architects. That’s one advantage, and that’s a huge one because we’re not compromised with trying to be all things to all people. Okay. So, there’s a philosophical approach there that we think is important.
We also have a find-an-architect database that help the public find ArCH members. Some of us are already coming up throughout the United States because of their listing on the ArCH database. So, that’s a good one.
It’s organized in multiple ways both geographically as well as by specialty. There might be some other entities that do something like that, but they don’t have it categorized in to three different silos – we do. So, we actually list it multiple times and there’s a link. You’re allowed one back link to your website. If you know anything about back links and how valuable that is with Google searches, that’s a good strong one because ArCH has a good, strong authoritative website.
Also, you have one or more ArCH member projects featured on the ArCH homepage slideshow. That homepage slideshow is actually at the top of the ArCH webste page. So, we’re looking for yours, Enoch. You need to send me what you want to feature, and we’ll put it on there for you.
We actually want you to put your copyright on there. Other organizations don’t seem to make a big deal about that. We do. We think that’s very important. You created that, you own it, and we want you to get credit for it. So, take a look at how we’ve done the other ones, and do some Photoshopping, and send those images.
Craig: Another advantage, if I could jump in…
Craig: I don’t know if I could say it’s our main goal or not, but we’re an organization that, we would like to think, that if you have a particular problem you’re dealing with, whether it’s a detail, whether it’s a client issue, whether it’s a contractual issue, whether it’s a GC issue, is that you’re going to end up having a database of other architects that you can get a hold of and say, “Hey, have you ever had this issue? How did you resolve it?” that is for residential architects. It’s not going through a large group. It’s going through somebody that has maybe experienced that.
In essence, it’s a large group of friends that can pick up the phone and say, “Hey, have you done this? What’s happened? What did you do when you did this?” Ideally, we’re a resource, a large resource for your practice, anybody’s residential practice.
Rand: We want everybody to feel like we’re professional brothers and sisters.
Rand: We take that very seriously and also in a very friendly fashion. We’ve got members from as far away now… We span the coast now, thanks to you, Enoch. [Laurie] is in Colorado, but now you’re California, so we’re the whole way.
Rand: We have members all across the nation to North Carolina, and then from Chicago down to Fort Lauderdale.
We had one of our Chicago members have some problems with a contractual issue. They were negotiating a contract and they’re trying to figure out how to handle some things. We do intend to chart money for the ArCH. It’s one that I’ve been developing for the past twenty years with the input of probably ten, different attorneys. It is solely focused on residential architectural practice. It is just about bullet-proof, and it’s fair and reasonable, and it really watches out for the best interest of the architect so you can sleep at night.
Enoch: Yup. [Inaudible]
Rand: If you’re using contracts from any other entities, they’re, once again, being compromised by trying to be all things to all people. I question the suitability of those for what we do, and they’re welcome to do it however they want to and so are we.
We are very focused. Our form agreement is three pages, front and rear, so that’s six face pages. That’s a lot shorter than other forms you’ve been seeing and it’s extremely full of meat and potatoes. So, ArCH members started using the form agreement, the problems just went away.
Enoch: Yeah, excellent. Well, gentlemen, it’s been great talking to you about ArCH. I would just like to give you a moment to tell people how they can find out more and if they’re interested in joining the organization, where they go to do that?
Enoch: Okay, excellent. Craig, any last words?
Craig: Gosh, I hate to give the last word. We look forward to new members and new input because I think that’s where ultimately striving for. The more members we have, the more we’ll be able to do. So, we’re just looking forward to getting the word out, and getting some new blood, and basically keep it going.
Rand: I’d just like to mention that we have so many programs we need to keep developing. I think everybody involved in residential architects are going to enjoy a yearly ArCH awards program.
We’re going to have our agreement forms on the store that we’re going to institute on the website soon. We have focus groups, which we need to get you on a couple there, Enoch. We believe that you save more cash in the savings that you receive from what ArCH does for you as an architect than your yearly dues every year. I think every organization ought to be able to say that and make it happen. So far, we believe we’ve been delivering that.
Enoch: Yeah. Well, that’s great. I know a lot of people, all of us at one time or another, complained about situations that aren’t ideal. I think it is commendable that you gentlemen are taking this by the horns and you’re deciding to do something about it.
So, thank you and congratulations. Thanks for sharing with us about ArCH. I personally look forward to hearing what you guys have going on.
Craig: Thanks very much for having us.
Rand: Thanks for joining.
Craig: Yes, thank you for joining.
Enoch: You’re welcome. Okay. Bye bye.