There’s a unique power in the word “home.” It’s where we grow, where we learn lifelong values, and where the generations come together in times of grief and joy. “Home” is both literally and figuratively the bedrock of civilization. As the poet Robert Frost wrote:
"Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
Given the importance of the home in society, one would expect single-family residential design to be the subject of intense academic research. Yes, government gathers a wealth of statistics and Realtors keep a close eye on market trends. But a quick Web search produces relatively meager information from objective third-party researchers. At a time when a host of issues, from affordability and resilience to the very idea of what constitutes a family, cries out for intense study, there has been a surprising lack of curiosity about a building type that historically has the longest lifespan of anything we design and build.
Whatever architecture schools bring to the university, these programs (unlike, say, medicine and engineering) typically do not bring in much in the way of research dollars. Where funds do flow in, the investment is likely to be targeted at a particular issue, such as health and accessibility. If one’s home is indeed one’s castle, few have navigated the moat to pursue research into the most elemental building type.
At the AIA National Convention, attendees will learn about the Institute's commitment to making the case among clients, elected officials, and the public for the importance of design in a rapidly changing world. Advocating for rigorous academic investigation into the built environment in a way that demonstrates the value proposition of turning to architects will be critical to our being heard.
AIA initiatives such as the College of Fellows’ Latrobe Prize and the launch this year of the Building Research Information Knowledgebase, in partnership with the National Institute of Buildings Sciences, are important steps. But we need to go much further. Given the central role architects can play in shaping a more sustainable, productive, and healthy society, we need to back up architecture’s claim with credible research. What better place to make that case than in an evidence-based conversation about the future of the 21st-century home?
Mickey Jacob, FAIA, 2013 President