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    Architectural Practice in Small Towns: A Master's Thesis

    Megan Basnak
    Jan 16, '14 10:01 AM EST

    Architectural Practice in Small Towns: A Study of the Architect-Client Relationship in the Western Erie Canal Region

    Contributed By: Megan Basnak,  M.Arch. Thesis Student

    Thesis Committee: Korydon Smith (Chair), Sue Weidemann, and Kenneth MacKay


    The architecture profession is rooted in a long-standing history of locally-based practice. As advancements in technology permitted practice to become more removed from the local focus, the field slowly left behind many settings, including small towns. Despite the fact that there are currently over 11,000 small towns in the United States, the architecture profession has focused relatively little on practice in small towns, and less yet on practice in their main street districts. Unlike most clients in the urban setting, clients in a small town may not have any previous experience working with an architect or the general construction process. As a result, successful navigation of this environment may depend on architects’ abilities to understand the nuances and expectations of small-town communities and their main street building owners.

    This study, focused on the Western New York Erie Canal region, utilized interviews with main street district building owners and architects, as well as an online survey with main street building owners, to gain a better understanding of the nature of the small-town architect-client relationship. The study found three substantive findings. First, the architecture profession’s relationship to the small-town main street corridor and its clients is rather unique to that in other settings. Second, the social nature of the small-town environment appears to have a significant impact on the ways in which both architects and clients interact in relation to their projects. Third, the findings concluded that familiarity is key, reputation and results matter more than appearances; and persistence, an open mind, and a positive attitude get more positive results for both architects and clients when working in the small-town setting.

    While the findings from this study offer a better understanding of the small-town architect-client relationship, it also yielded a methodological framework that has the potential for replication in other geographic locations. Moreover, the study also provided valuable insight into new opportunities for practice for architects in the small-town setting such as architect as building owner and architect as consultant. By adapting their methods of practice to better accommodate the needs of small towns and their clients, architects serve to only further broaden the generally accepted scope of the architecture profession.


    • This is important work.  Small towns are the best method of beating back the globalist satanic assholes.

      Actually, cats are the best weapons but small town is a close second.

      Jan 16, 14 10:33 am  · 

      Good topic, the challenge will be to steer away from the new urbanist mentality and the DSB mentality so that the thesis will be saying something new.  Focusing on "practice" in small towns is interesting but you will also need to define intent and method.  I suggest that you look into failing small towns - ones being destroyed by corporate global forces and the introduction of big-box retail, fracking, etc... Are there ways to resist such forces? in these situations can the architect take on an activist role?  Can the architect introduce an alternative?  What is the economy of main street?  Is it a "real" economy or a nostalgic "fantasy" serving only tourism?  Its a hard nut to crack.  Also, what about boom towns?  Out here in AZ, there are several incredible boom towns that are now completely ghost towns and poor slums...on the other hand, some are thriving on a small artist/tourist industry...only a few (very few) are what I would describe as authentic and functional in that their economy is rooted in a real mainstreet with locally serving business.  It will be important to distinguish the "real healthy main streets" from the "tourist disney main streets"  from the "failing main streets."  What factors are at play in all 3?  How does an architect position oneself in these 3 very different situations.  Small town practice is not a uniform thing because small towns are all very different so you will need to create some type of classification system and then address each seperatly while still recognizing the overall issues and challenges of the general fabric of a small town...

      Jan 16, 14 11:55 am  · 

      Great topic, and congrats bc i'm a ub arch alumni myself, but the entire first paragraph makes so many assumptions about the small town practice that i was discouraged the rest of the way.

      Jan 17, 14 3:28 am  · 
      Wilma Buttfit

      Good topic. One of the problems facing young architects who want to practice in a small town may face that it is so much harder, maybe impossible, to satisfy IDP in that setting and so most young architects have little choice but to be in the city. My original dream was to be a small city architect. 

      Jan 17, 14 7:11 am  · 

      Great topic. Mainstream thought should be more focused on the small town practices. My first interaction with architecture was through a small town architect who did great work, additions for houses. He drew everything by hand, great proportions and rich work, was a true professional. We had no previous experience with an architect, so that point is true in my case. 

      The first paragraph is a thesis, which I am assuming is proved throughout the study. I don't see it as an assumption more of an idea that can be proved or disproved. 

      Jan 20, 14 1:14 pm  · 

      Little old of a thread, but interesting topic. I would love to move back to my hometown someday and start a business focusing on Architecture and Urban Design/Planning for smaller communities throughout the Midwest. I have found it is hard to get the local community onboard at times due to the lack of understanding what it is we do in the design professions. Sometimes we are perceived as nothing but "extra-expenses" unfortunately.

      Apr 23, 20 3:13 pm  · 

      This is a very interesting topic! Look at what MASS Design Group is doing in Poughkeepsie. A bigger small town... but their intention has a lot of overlap with your thesis. 

      Apr 24, 20 11:20 am  · 

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