One look at the work of Jefferson Riley, one of the founders of Centerbrook Architects and Planners, and there's no doubt he and the firm are fending off what he calls housing's homogenization. “It's almost embarrassing,” he says of big, garrison houses of similar, mundane style. “We need to reintroduce rationality and individuality and get back to some interesting stuff.”
His work is decidedly that, whether it's a custom house or a student residence hall—a nearly equal number of which have earned him nine of the firm's 27 Builder's Choice awards since 1984, including one for his own house in 2003.
“[The house] captures the elements of places we've been,” he says. “It's important for buildings to have some part of your imagination and history and nostalgia of who you are.”
Among those in the profession who began the alternative-energy movement following the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, Riley and his four fellow Centerbrook founders celebrate the resurgence of sustainable practices and products now steaming toward housing's mainstream. “It got lost, but now the sane, wise use of materials and simply smaller houses is regaining some interest,” he says.
Despite (or perhaps because of) his and the firm's commitment to designing individuality into their projects, Riley is keen to listen to his clients for clues about what can make their home or building distinctive as well as successful. “Good design depends on attending to the business of the client,” he says. “If he doesn't have confidence [in you], you'll never have the trust to promote good design.”
Rich Binsacca is a contributing editor to Builder.