It seems that everywhere I go, every architect is spreading the word that Less is More – smaller, more affordable houses are the goal. Architects should be accessible to all people, regardless of the budget, and the movement is away from the McMansion. Actually, McMansion has become a 4 letter word?
The one BIG problem with this notion is that Builders control over 97% of residential construction without architects and create the majority of neighborhoods, but no one ever told THEM. The economic model they work under is that everyone wants 4000 – 5000 square foot homes, to be unfurnished for many years until either they sell their house to get out of a $1m mortgage, or they inherit enough money to afford furniture. More important than this movement of “less…” is the notion that if a builder builds an extra 1000 sq ft, they can sell the house for an additional $200,000., and profit an additional $100,000. The math just makes sense.
The notion that size matters is very important here. To whom does it matter? Wouldn’t most people be comfortable in a 5 bedroom 3000 square foot home? Maybe one with a little character? Maybe one with quality windows, siding and insulation that actually provide some energy conservation? Maybe room left on the site for landscaping? Maybe even save a few trees?
Architects are not without blame here. I recently received the yearly issue of Architectural Record Houses, showing the absolute best projects of the year. While every house featured was incredible, I don’t believe that there was one house that cost less than $20M. Every year the local AIA chapters select the best homes and renovations to award honors. These projects are more and more becoming spectacular displays of glass, steel, exotic woods and, of course, money.
I recently spoke to the editor of the hottest architectural and interior design magazine in the metropolitan area about this very thing. She whole-heartedly agreed with me that we should feature projects of great design which did not require a Fortune 500 inheritance. However, she also maintained that people WANT to see those glamorous projects – that is what sells the magazines.
Most of my clients cannot afford such extravagance. But all of my clients want design, and appreciate it. They want something that few architects can create, and definitely not a BIG cardboard box. MY biggest challenge is not what to design, but how to make it affordable. If some of these magazines and awards programs would just acknowledge that it is far more difficult AND significant to provide a $300,000 piece of architecture worthy of note than a $2M glass and steel box, then Architects may be able to influence more of the houses built or renovated and greatly improve more of the fabric of our neighborhoods.