Is hiring an architect really necessary for residential projects? Some would prefer not to, others want to but think they can't, and most think they don't need to. So, how can we architects help in educating the public, change the public perception progulmated by “starchitects” teach them the importance of hiring an architect?
In today's episode I speak with David Andreozzi, AIA. David is a custom residential architect based in Rhode Island who specializes in designing custom luxury homes on the East Coast.
He's also the current National Chair of the Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN) a knowledge community focused on supporting custom residential architects and educating the public on the importance and value of hiring an architect for their projects.
In This episode we learn:
- How the Custom Residential Architect's Network is helping residential architects (with the support of the AIA).
- “Starchitect” vs. architect.
- How to educate the public on the importance of hiring an architect.
- The role of the architect in protecting a client's nest egg.
- Defining good architectural design.
- Making custom residential architecture accessible.
- Everybody deserves a well-designed product.
- Mark your calendars for Septermber 18-20, 2014 for the Architecture of Influence Symposium at Charleston, South Carolina.
- Vist the CRAN website at AIA CRAN for news about upcoming symposiums, conferences, events, and projects.
- Preorder CRAN's first book Houses for All Regions: CRAN Residential Collection
- Subscribe to CRAN's newsletter The CRANicle and their YouTube channel CRAN TV
This interview is on iTunes. Subscribe above, and be a hero! If you know another architect who would benefit from watching this video, share away using the social share buttons.
Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:
Enoch: Welcome back, Architect Nation. This is your host, Enoch Bartlett Sears. This is the show where we talk about creating an architecture business that is both fun, flexible, and profitable, so we can stop worrying about paying the bills, and focus on creating great architecture, and having fun being architects.
Today’s show is sponsored by Business of Architecture Conference, which is coming online only in early October. So, I encourage you to be on the lookout for more information about that.
During the conference we’re going to have a lot of great information about starting a firm, running a profitable firm, and managing your finances specially tailored to smaller firm architects and solo practitioners. You’re not going to want to miss that.
For today’s show we have an excellent opportunity to be joined by David Andreozzi. David is a custom residential architect based out of Rhode Island. He specializes in luxury homes on the East Coast and maybe elsewhere; maybe we’ll find out more about his practice a little bit later.
In addition to being an architect, he’s also the National Chair of the Custom Residential Architects Network, which is, sort of, a subgroup or a knowledge community – I’m sure David can correct me – in the AIA (American Institute of Architects).
David has an interesting story. He originally started out loathing the AIA or seen some deficiencies, I would say. Now, he’s the current chair.
So, David, welcome to the show.
David: Thank you very much, Enoch. I really appreciate your inviting me.
Enoch: Excellent. Did I overstate it when I said you loathe the AIA?
David: Maybe understated it. Yes, I resented, loathe, I was not a fan. The reasons are pretty obvious because most of the residential architects that I’ve known that have been paying dues for ten, twenty, thirty years have felt similarly that we have not received support from the AIA.
So, we pay our dues. We get AIA in the back of our name, and we get a discount, or we used to get a discount on cheap AIA contracts. Those are expensive now. Basically, we receive nothing else.
Over the years I went to national conferences all over the country and basically realized that there was nobody on the floor with residential products. There are no residential courses. Basically, I’m out there by myself struggling. That became a resentment over the years – paying that bill every year, to be honest.
So, about ten years ago a group was formed by Jeremiah Eck, Duo Dickinson, and Dennis Wedlick called CORA, the Congress of Residential Architecture. Originally, I jumped on board just soon after it was instituted and I became involved nationally with them. What we originally thought or what I originally thought was that this might become a replacement for the AIA and actually provide support back to architects.
Well, after about a year or so, it continued to do great work and support content, but it morphed in to really becoming an advocate to support the concept of educating the public on the importance of using an architect or using good design as opposed to supporting architects per se. So, they sort of drifted and morphed in to something different.
I continued to stay involved, and ran that forum, and involved with their symposiums and things. But, over time, a group of us that were actually involved with CORA decided, you know, “Let’s just see if we can actually get in to the belly of the beast, the big ship AIA, and see if we can actually create something within that organization.” It started with the first conference or symposium in Chicago. They actually invited me to speak at that conference.
That’s how I actually, then, dove head first in to CRAN. Again, that is a knowledge community and it’s the Custom Residential Architecture Network. We have a website. The website is www.AIA.org/CRAN. Anybody can go and anybody can join. You don’t have to be an AIA member.
So, once the ball started rolling, basically, we started to grow. The symposium which started out at 75 people, started to just go from city to city, over to Indianapolis, the next year to Austin, then to Newport where I actually hosted it (I’m from Rhode Island). Then, last year, to Santa Fe where we had almost 200 custom residential architects come together for three days to share ideas or to listen to the most amazing residential architectural practitioners speak, and educate us, and get true content on this little, teeny conference.
Our next conference is actually coming up in September 18th to the 20th. It’s called “Architecture of Influence.” It’s going to be in Charleston South Carolina. It’s going to have, I think, seventeen amazing architects and it’s going to be headlining with Andres Duany and Robert A.M. Stern. We’re talking about rock stars.
As we started to work within AIA, basically stepping back, we went to the AIA and said, “What’s going on here? Why aren’t you providing content back to us?” We actually had, I think, like, seven or eight of us that flew in to DC and we sat around this conference table. The answer to us was, “Listen, we provide support for volunteers. Most of the volunteers involved with AIA come from large, commercial firms. So, we provide them support.”
“What do you want to do” they said. We looked, kind of, speechless. We were surprised and we were like, “Really?” They said, “Really. What do you want to do?” We realized at that moment was that the AIA support was really there for us and we just had to organize what to do. So, one of the things was, obviously, the symposium which was growing.
I can go on, and on, and on with the many things that we’re involved with. I mean, we have a book series that’s… Our first book is coming out for the convention and it’s specializing on well-designed regional architecture throughout the United States. How we defined it is: Is it good or not good irrespective of its style?
What we feel, in CRAN, is that it’s been put upon us that only modern architecture is good. I mean, we’re taught that from college to the point where I was taught that. When I judge things, I tend to choose modern things as being better. But, our feeling is we need to forget that and say, “No, architecture can be good whether it’s modern or the other 90% of architecture, which is traditional, and all variants thereof.”
So, by creating a book that judges architecture on almost commodity, firmness, and delight (Vitruvius) using those aspects as a datem, but then taken in to relation the importance of vernacular, handmade local materials, true green, as it were, putting that on to it, then you can actually judge great architecture based on how its response to the individual vernacular or region. So, that’s coming out as well very, very soon.
We have all of these little projects. Obviously, one of the projects which originally sparked our dialog back and forth was CRAN TV. That was actually borne as an idea of, again, educating the public on the importance of what an architect does, and educating them on how to choose an architect, and why it’s important to have an architect.
Our feeling was with CRAN TV was that you could actually create small, three-minute videos that would be viral. They’re not viral in the sense that we expect 50,000 people are going to watch them tomorrow, but viral in the sense that you would do a search for architecture and stumble upon one of these, and all of a sudden be on a cache of wonderful, small vignettes of:
- What’s the role of the client in the architectural process?
- How to choose your architect for your project.
- Who needs an architect?
- The architects’ education. I mean, honest to goodness, how many people even know the difference between an architect’s education and a kitchen designer’s education? I mean, there’s a little difference, about a decade’s worth of education, two weeks compared to a decade.
- The importance of when you should be reaching out to an architect and why – the resale value.
All of those aspects all get wrapped up in to CRAN TV.
We just published our fourth video. It’s on YouTube. So, if you just search CRAN TV in YouTube, you’ll get our first four videos. If I was thinking clearly I could give you other projects that are our larger group, CRAN, is working on to, again, try to provide once and for all content back to residential architects for the AIA.
I have to say, in the last AIA convention we were heralded as one of the darlings of repositioning. As a matter of fact, we actually received a repositioning grant to produce two extra videos last year. So, they’re looking at us being this perfect, ideal example at the ground level creating content, and then pushing it up to the top of the AIA so that it can actually be distributed back down to the AIA.
So, it’s a cool thing to be involved with this and starting to develop power. The fact is, that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for relevancy. You’re looking for power. Power – maybe that’s the wrong word – it’s relevancy.
Enoch: Why is CRAN right now focusing on, it seems, a lot on the education aspect of educating the public. What’s important about that?
David: Well, we have different aspects. There are different roles within CRAN. One role is to educate the architect on the importance of, basically, content.
So, when you come to our symposiums, we’re bringing in LED lighting experts, we’re bringing in great, vernacular architects, we’re bringing in great traditional architects, we’re bringing in restoration architects. So, we work at providing content back to educate the architect themselves, but part of our wing or our responsibility almost ties back to CORA which is to actually begin to educate the public on the importance of hiring an architect.
The fact is that there’s this illusion we created. We, and I include myself in this, we have propagated this image that an architect does starchitect crazy architecture. They’ve got their bowtie and they’ve got their Le Corbusier glasses, and they’ve got their three Mont Blanc pens that they have bought right out of college with their money from gifts.
The fact is it’s like, that’s just a bunch of crap. We like to say it’s not about the architecture. We should not be celebrating the architecture. We shouldn’t be celebrating the architect as a starchitect. We should be celebrating the process of doing architecture.
We need to be teaching the public that the reason you buy or that you go to use an architect is the same reason that you go to an attorney when you’re going through a divorce. It’s the same reason that you go to a doctor when you’re sick – because you need to have a professional that is going to bring you from point A to point B, and it’s going to protect your, in our case, in the architect’s case, it’s protecting our nest egg.
So, we buy a $300,000 house and we want to put an $80,000 addition on to it. Well, you don’t want to put $80,000 of things that are bad, zit on the side of your face things on to the house that the next person, when they come to buy that house, is going to say, “Why do you have a swimming lane? One out of every 300 people wants a swimming lane. So, that doesn’t add value to me.”
To have an architect making smart decisions to protect the resale value of your house… Let’s face it, at the end of the day – think of our parents and grandparents – the resale value of your house, that’s your nest egg. That’s what you’re relying partially on in retirement.
Enoch: Yeah. I’d just like to point out to those who aren’t watching the video, who are just listening to this that when David was talking about the Le Corbusier glasses and the bowtie, David has a bowtie and he put on some very, very similar circular glasses that Le Corbusier used to wear. So, if any of you have Le Corbusier glasses and bowtie, it’s all in good jest, right, David?
David: You know what? You can make fun of yourself. You have to really and truly have fun.
Enoch: So, we have a book coming out. That sounds fascinating. Tell me a little bit more about the book that CRAN’s coming out with in terms of the content and the focus of this book. Who is it geared towards architects or clients?
David: It’s going to be geared towards clients. I wish I had the information in front of me. I think it’s Houses for All Regions. There are links on that main AIA CRAN website. Basically, we’re looking at projects of really good design.
The first book is going to be amazing. We were involved with picking every project. We didn’t give this to somebody else. We picked great modern projects, and we picked great traditional projects, but they all have one thing in common – they have an immense sensitivity to their local vernacular.
So, really, when you pick it up it’s going to be a glossy book not for architects, but it’s going to be a glossy book that’s really going to be dumbed-down. By “dumbed-down,” what I mean is there’s going to be not lot of archispeak in there, not a lot of Le Corbusier glasses. It’s going to be made for the average public so they can look at it and go, “Okay.”
The problem is, again, it gets back to, I really believe, that the average public believes that, “I don’t want what Frank Gehry and I don’t want what Zaha Hadid does, so I must not need an architect. Maybe I need somebody less than an architect,” which is basically the problem with, again, ourselves basically shooting ourselves in the foot for the last four decades giving awards, and celebrating in published magazines, and celebrating it in school up until recently what’s the most modern greatest thing, and then celebrating that as the only right thing.
So, we’ve created this dynamic, this flawed dynamic and it’s our responsibility to start to change that ship moving in the other direction.
Enoch: How big of a problem do you think it is, this juncture between the public’s perception of what architects do and what custom residential architects really do?
David: It’s night and day. I mean, if you go and you ask anybody what an architect does… I just had a client call up for the possibility of an absolutely beautiful commission.
The first time that they’ve designed the house, they bought a four acre lot, and they’re interviewing me, and they’re asking about the process. They said, “Look, explain how it works. Are you involved till the end? What’s your involvement as far as… Do I have to get the contractors?”
What the public hasn’t been educated to… That sounds condescending. That’s not, obviously, how I meant it. But, what the public doesn’t realize is that it’s not the architect’s job to give you this fluffy piece of sculpture with program placed in it. It’s the architect’s job to bring you through the process from the very beginning to the very end, to protect you, to oversee you from the contractor, and to be involved as an integral team player and protect your nest egg. So, there’s no connection there. So, we’re starting, really, at the zero level, I believe.
The interesting thing about this is that if you look at commercial architecture, you wouldn’t even consider doing a project without a commercial architect. It’s like it’s not even a consideration. So, somehow there’s this divergence. You can blame to some states not forcing everybody to use architects, but I don’t believe that that’s actually the solution either. I think there has to be a middle ground.
Everybody can’t afford a custom designed $3 million yacht. That’s not the reality. The reality is that: How do you get good design, and make people demand good design, and get it to the middle level? I mean, look at examples that do that. One would be the iPhone. I mean, being able to say, “Okay, I’m going to package something up that’s amazingly well designed. Then, I’m going to give it back, and the public is going to realize how good it is and they’ll say, ‘Wow. How did I live without this?’”
I make the analogy about the difference between a Honda race car that they may be doing for Le Mans – I think they used to, I’m not sure that they do anymore – and the five or six Honda Accords that I owned. They were the most reliable cars that I ever owned in my life. So, how does one company supplying cars to race for Le Mans able to take that technology and same design department and give these Honda Accords – I’m talking about ten years ago/twenty years ago, were designed so magically, efficiently – how do you create that same thing and get it to the public?
So, that’s sort of something that I think CRAN is actually looking at as well. How can we get good design and filter it down to the masses?
I think part of these videos, when you watch them, you start to realize almost at an HGTV level you’re like, “Okay, I see that. I don’t even necessarily have to hire an architect to design it, but maybe I’m going to just hire an architect as a consultant. I’m going to have him come out, give me four hours of time, pay him for his time, and begin to get some educated decisions.” “Go with this window.” “The windows don’t need to be replaced, they need to be restored.” “Save your money and use it over here.”
So, that’s an example of, again, just because you’re hiring an architect doesn’t mean that you have to be hiring the architect that does the custom residences that gets the big fees. You need to take it in teaspoons and other alternatives. I think we have to figure out how we can actually do it as well. How do we provide that service and make it available?
Enoch: Have you found that it’s difficult to get architects to embrace what you’re doing, David? Have you felt any push back or skepticism based upon previous prejudice against the AIA or maybe criticism of what you guys are trying to do there?
David: I think, in the beginning, the part of the history of CRAN is that we started out as when we asked for a place to live within the AIA they gave us a closet. The closet was off of Housing which we’re very friendly with the Housing knowledge community, but we were a subset of Housing. They said, “You stay there for a year or so and we’ll see how you do.”
We, actually, within the first year, we had $50,000 in the back from starting to create content from the sponsorship. When we were starting to create content, they’re like, “Whoa. Whoa.” So, we then asked can we become our own knowledge community? At that moment though there was just little divergence really, “What are you doing? Why are you leaving?”
Well, custom residential architecture really is a little bit different. So, I will say that there, definitely, in the very beginning, was this sort of feeling like we are only doing it for the super rich, so you need to be putting an effort in to all of housing. Our feeling was, no, the custom residential architecture can be done at all different levels. Again, it can be consulting. It can be, “Okay, can you just provide me a sketch? That’s what I can afford.” We are also getting involved at the more middle levels.
So, as time is going on, I think that the connection is definitely is increasing as far as both sides really understanding that there is a direct connection back and forth between what we do, which is custom residential, and what is considered, sort of, housing in general, which is such a more broad thing and it takes on five or ten different types of housing.
Enoch: I have two questions here just to finish up talking about CRAN, David. The first one would be: How can architects use what you’re doing in CRAN to help their businesses? I guess, just go ahead and answer that one and then I’ll follow up with the second question.
David: Well, this was the biggest thing about these videos… I have to jump in one more thing. The videos were originally an idea that came… We set up a relationship with Doug Patt. With Doug and his “How to Architect,” he basically has a video series that basically educates people on what it is to be an architect. We actually had him speak at one of our symposiums on unrelated things, his amazing inventions and his creativity. Also, one of those was his “How to Architect”
From that, years later, we stumbled on talking back and forth about the possibility of creating these videos. We believe that these videos, as they’re standing still, these are already set up on the AIA sites. Not all of them, but many AIA sites are already providing links to our videos on their local AIA sites. We’re encouraging architects to provide links.
I mean, if you think about it, how many times do you get in a telephone call from a client that says, “Well, I really don’t know if I need an architect.” “I’m interviewing you, but I’m also interviewing a designer down the street that charges the same as you”?
So, our feeling is wouldn’t be great to say, “Do me a favor. Can I just send you some links and just take a look and see what an architect is, see what their education is, see how they can be relevant, see how they’re a little bit different?”
Realize the fact that, guess what? An architect has the ability to buy an E&O an Errors and Omissions policy and a designer doesn’t. So, in a way, they’re protecting your nest egg. You’re being protected by that insurance policy, so there are so many different aspects that you’re getting protection. So, I think this video series is our primary way we’re trying to reach directly out.
Enoch: Okay. So, there’s the video series. I would encourage architects to embed those on your websites. Is that allowed, David?
David: No, no, we encourage it. Absolutely.
Enoch: Send it out in your email. You can send this to people in email to educate them. So, that was the first question. The second follow up question, David, would be how do you foresee these helping architects in their practices?
David: Well, in that aspect, the only result of that would be that you’d have increased business. I think that’s asking a lot to expect that the videos are going to increase your business in a year. So, that’s why I think some of the other things that CRAN are doing are where the benefits to our residential architects really are occurring. Those are the things like the CRAN symposiums.
Once you sign up you’re getting a CRAN newsletter we’re producing. It’s called the Chronicle. It comes out every quarter and it has a dozen or so articles of relevant information right to your desktop. That’s being produced by us, CRAN. So, those are the ways that we’re trying to educate people on new products, new ideas, interviews, and things like that. So, we’re definitely taking different tacks to come out from different angles.
Enoch: Okay. Then, let’s just tell everyone really quickly how they can get involved or how they can benefit from some of these resources, how they can connect with CRAN, get the Chronicle and join the community even if they’re not AIA members?
David: Well, the place to start is to go to www.AIA.org/CRAN and basically just sign up there and become a member of that website. It’s on the knowledge net. Again, you don’t have to be a paying member of the AIA.
Although, I have to be honest with you, it’s funny… As people are there over two or three years and become more and more bonded in to what we’re doing, they become involved and become members of the AIA. But, if you’re not an architect or you didn’t go to architecture school, I mean, go, and become a member. That content is there and it’s ready for you to start using.
Enoch: Okay. So, give me the pitch for the symposium. Tell us about that and why people who can be there should be there?
David: The symposium is one of the most amazing events. I can’t even explain how many people… Put it this way: It’s so good that our advertisers every year sign up almost automatically as soon as the event ends.
It’s two and a half days. We usually have one day as our bus tours. This year we’re going to do a half day walking tour of Charleston, and then we’re going to take a bus tour to the islands, and we’re going to be seeing all sorts of custom residential design architecture, both modern and traditional.
In addition to that we have lectures. I’m talking about, again, unbelievable lectures, not just local people that we can just fill in. We’re flying people in from all over the country to give lectures. Again, I mentioned Robert A.M. Stern and Duany among many others.
In addition to that, it’s the communication that you have with your fellow brethren. You’re sitting there and you’re at the table with all people that you have things in common with. So, you’re talking about, of course we can’t talk about fees, but we’re talking about other things except for fees. We’ll talk about portfolios, and talking about clients.
Also, every night we have dinners where we actually go out and we go to dinner together. You actually sign up in groups with a sponsor, and they basically take you out to dinner in a group and you sit with ten people, and you’re sharing ideas and things.
I have to tell you, you leave after three days just so invigorated. It will blow your mind. So, I would encourage anybody to go. The link is not active yet, but it will all be driven from the main www.AIA.org/CRAN website. It should be up within about one month, but if you follow it there, there’s already information about the event itself. Please come and get involved.
Enoch: Excellent. Well, David’s going to be there, and I’m going to be there. I hope to see anyone who’s interested in custom residential architecture visit the symposium and help it to continue to grow.
So, David, thank you for everything that you’re spearheading right now for CRAN. I know you put in a lot of work and effort, and your service to the profession is truly appreciated.
David: Yeah, for somebody that loathe the AIA. Thank you.
Enoch: Thanks for being on the show.
David: Thank you.