President’s Letter – May

Residential Architects

We are all Residential Architects…With apologies to President John Kennedy and his historic speech in West Berlin, we do spend the majority of our daily hours in our residences. We cook, eat, clean, garden, relax, sleep and enjoy our lives at home. We know how to best accommodate life’s daily schedule as it relates to how we move through the day. There is a sense of peace, balance and familiarity with where we choose to nest.

Yet when we travel for work or vacation our rhythm of the day is disrupted and we alter our routine in noticeable ways. This forces us to see things differently, and as designers and critics, we take note. We all love vacations for the adventure and experience of new places, buildings and cultures, and we look forward to that special core emotion of being ‘on vacation.’ Inevitably the “why don’t we live here?” question is asked. That feeling is one of the primary goals we seek for our clients in the design of their residential project.

Residential construction spending is over half the amount of total private construction spending, according to the US Department of Commerce. Much of the residential construction that has surged around us over the past decades has been at best uninspired and at worst poorly constructed and a poor investment. The qualities of good residential design that we seek embody a balance of function, quality and aesthetic that we see when we travel to historic places continuously reinterpreted over time.  Design, materials, culture, regionalism, and sustainable solutions merge to create that balance, peace, and joy that we feel. It just seems right.

Having just returned from an annual Spring Break travel adventure (this year to visit our daughter in graduate school in Houston) I was quite surprised by the number of people that live in Texas. We traveled to less-populated west Texas and ended in San Antonio and Austin. Along with much construction, sprawl, and the resulting traffic, I did notice a higher level of design intention across the spectrum of recent residential single and multi-family projects, and the related retail villages, than we see in this region. It seemed to be generally more of the time and less pseudo-historic.

It has been written that residential architects are involved by a single digit percentage in the design of residential projects. Architects are—through education, experience, and the possession of a broader understanding of the interrelationship of construction and environment—best equipped to improve the quality of residential design, construction and the quality of life for residents. We must take every opportunity to increase the awareness of the value that we bring to design in the housing industry. This may be with our friends and family, in our neighborhood, in our County, City, State and, of course, professionally. We are all Residential Architects.

I attended a discussion hosted by the Capital Area Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN) last week in Bethesda. Featured panelists were residential design-build firms all headed by architects. It was an enlightening example of another path that residential architects can pursue to insert themselves into the building industry to affect the discussion of scope, quality, cost and design. We intend to continue that conversation here in Baltimore in the near term.


Rob Brennan, AIA
President, AIA Baltimore, 2015
Principal, Brennan+Company Architects

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We are third oldest chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and have over 1,100 members creating and advocating for great, sustainable design in Charm City!
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