Two key assertions—one a corollary of the other—put this issue of BIG BUILDER, which focuses on design that’s trending in new-home and new-community development, in context.
One is this: housing’s recovery continues as we speak, and will continue. True, in our tendency to attach human traits to the inanimate, we may look at this recovery as weak-willed, anemic, and fickle; it is frustratingly choppy and lumpy; and it is going to be far from the salvation and redemption of all comers in the home building game.
Look, and it’s plain to see there are signs that more individuals who can buy homes are doing so. This phenomenon results in more people who choose to do so being able to sell their homes. Choice has truly begun to replace desperation and capitulation as the reason more residential real estate is exchanging hands.
Our correlative assertion is that a large gap separates the few who can participate in housing’s early recovery, and those who would if they could. The big issue to solve among millions of people who would but can’t engage in buying or selling a home right now is money. They don’t earn enough, or they don’t have enough, or they owe too much already. Money either locks them in or locks them out.
This serves to explain why it’s appropriate to nickname this the “A-lot recovery of 2013-14.” This recovery’s different in its plotline than normal. Capital did move, to a degree, but new regulation and risk-aversion kept it pouring into the “sure bets” of real estate. These top A lots, to date, have been the sure bets because they go to developers and builders and then to home buyers who have both motivation and cash wherewithal pull the trigger on sales without any stress to post–Dodd-Frank risk-reserve hurdles.
Most key trends we observe—what KTGY executive director Nick Lehnert describes as the demand drivers of design—serve buyers’ “wants” versus would-be buyers’ “needs.”
Still, we’d say the A-lot recovery is a fair sobriquet. Within this context we more easily understand how builders think about value and the way they’re providing it for the portion of the demand universe that currently has the means to play the new-home buying game. We can grasp why lot orientation in neighborhood planning attaches importance to frontage width over depth from the streetscape standpoint. We can understand in Les Shaver’s “Inner Space” exploration of the small vs. large debate that square footage itself ultimately may be far less significant than scale and livability, and that density as an answer to “wants” means something entirely different than density as a solution to “needs.”
We also can begin to see how, although home has never so much as now represented its occupiers’ desire for refuge, escape, and solitude in a social, emotional, physical, and spiritual sense, it’s also true that the box itself is no longer enough. Neighborhood and community, as Cheryl Weber’s showcase of projects illustrate in “Beyond the Lot Line”, now play an essential role in filling in some of the blanks that houses themselves leave in the full experience of home.
Author, artist, and tech guru John Maeda writes, “Simplicity is subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” There’s no better way to describe how design works its magic on the A-lot recovery. And there’s hardly a better illustration of this precept than Western Window Systems, the sponsor of this issue of BIG BUILDER.
What Western Window Systems does in homes today is to add value—and solve for “wants”—by bringing the outdoors into the living experience of a home, and by creating a true two-way flow of light, air, natural beauty, function, and pleasure. By allowing an independent editorial exploration of production home building’s design trends of the moment, Western creates a similar two-way flow in our community.