Together, architects Mike Pyatok and Bill Devereaux and home builder Bill Davidson bring more than 120 years of professional experience and a legacy of innovative and award-winning housing design to the table. But instead of reliving the past, we asked them to look forward and apply their considerable expertise to the industry’s future.
Q: How has the housing recession impacted residential design?
Mike Pyatok, principal, Pyatok Architects, Oakland, Calif., which specializes in multifamily and affordable housing: In addition to seeing smaller units, which I find heartwarming, we’re seeing designs that incorporate the need to use the home for business enterprises. Not sitting at a computer, but light-industrial or repair work. So the design has to be thoughtful about organizing space so that a piece of it can be used for that purpose without constricting the rest of the household.
Bill Devereaux, principal, Devereaux & Associates, McLean, Va., a multi-faceted residential architectural firm: When the recession first hit, we saw everyone running to smaller houses to get costs and prices down, but mostly what I saw was a lot of design innovation go away. There was no experimentation with room counts or room relationships, or different types of housing.
Bill Davidson, president, Davidson Communities, Del Mar, Calif., which builds single-family detached production homes: We’re seeing a monumental shift toward serving multigenerational families, with dual masters, more open space, and smaller but more efficient square footage.
Pyatok: We’re seeing that, too, and what’s interesting is that those families want their bedrooms apart from each other, so that the generations are separated, not on top of each other.
Davidson: We’ve also incorporated feng shui into our designs, which I struggled with at first because it was affecting what I thought was good design in terms of how windows line up and stair design and the use of light. But it’s in demand, and not just from Asian buyers.
Q: How has the recession impacted your ability to be innovative?
Devereaux: The current economy and lending practices have quashed innovation, especially for higher-density projects where most of the innovation was.
Pyatok: Easily buildable sites [for multifamily] have been consumed, so almost every project requires a certain and sometimes large degree of customization. It’s unavoidable to be experimental.
Devereaux: I definitely see a change coming, though. The builders and developers we work with are starting to see that innovative architectural solutions are what’s going to get the market moving again and motivate buyers around a new need.
Q: What about the influence of green building?
Davidson: Green building and energy-efficient housing are definitely more marketable now, and the technology has come so far in the last 10 to 15 years. But we still can’t seem to get paid for efforts that go beyond code, like adding solar.
Pyatok: It’s a combination of products and design. We’re already saving energy, because there’s less skin on each unit [in a dense multifamily project], but we work to get through-ventilation in every unit, which helps lower cooling costs and also passively vents cooking smells and steam, which many of the residents want and appreciate.
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Devereaux: I agree. There’s more success in that regard with multifamily buildings, because there are more regulations and incentives, like higher-density bonuses, to do it. The biggest carrot, or maybe stick, is the regulatory side.
Pyatok: Lowering monthly utility bills is critical to affordable housing and always has been, but you have to use more passive means instead of mechanical solutions to keep the costs down.
Davidson: There’s no doubt that systems are getting better and more efficient, but when we offer solar as an option, only about 10 percent of buyers take it. They love it when we build it in, though.
Q: What advice do you give people coming into the housing industry?
Davidson: Never give up. There’s a solution to every problem, and it’s usually a design solution that’s needed to work around it.
Devereaux: I remind them that in the not so distant past it was builders who were the risk takers. I just hope that those types of people are still coming into our world to move our industry forward.
Pyatok: I try to get them to think about the importance of people and how they live and to not be so preoccupied with being avant-garde with the craziest form they can make on their computers. I challenge them to put themselves in the shoes of others outside their social and economic circle and redirect their energy to providing housing for them.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception about your profession?
Devereaux: That architects are expensive prima donnas (laughter from the others). Truthfully, the best architects I’ve worked with are those that can work with everybody and come up with collaborative solutions.
Davidson: That builders are greedy and drive up prices (more laughter). That could not be further from the truth, and especially now. The builders who are still standing are straight up, hard-working folks, and I hope we’re not looked at as a broken industry.
Pyatok: I came to realize that there are several developers who are intelligent and community-minded and are looking to make a mark on the world that changes and improves it. And they actually produce something as opposed to these artificial profit mechanisms we have in the financial industry.
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Q: What’s the best thing that housing can do to improve design?
Davidson: We need to fight the constraints of government regulations that stifle creativity and innovation and hinder design.
Pyatok: Well, there’s good regulation and bad regulation. The codes that are pushing green building are helpful in getting people on board and gain an appreciation and awareness of it, but those concerning zoning and related codes definitely make it more difficult for low-income families to afford housing, whether they buy or rent.
Devereaux: The most important thing is to start over. There are all kinds of things coming out of this recession that are unprecedented, and we have to re-analyze everything to reach the buyer of the future.
Pyatok: One thing I’d like to see is more public-sector [regulations and policy] people spend time in the private sector, and vice versa. I think experiencing both worlds would resolve the regulatory problems by better understanding their impact.
Devereaux: We have to get back to the idea that housing is not an investment, but where people live. That’s what we ought to be selling. It’s what we do best.