Why has the house lost its power?


It seems to me that most of the heavily studied architects in school are more known for their houses than the larger buildings they designed.  I'm talking about the Farnsworth, Tugenhat, Savoye, Stein, Falling Water, Robie, and so on...You may even include the Barca Pavilion in there.

I know the starchitects of today have some-what known houses...Gehry's Norton house, Eisenman's House VI, etc...but these latter architects are almost completely known by their public buildings, highrises, etc...

Why is the house no longer a viable means to receive notoriety as an architect?

Perhaps I'm simply misunderstanding something. Were the houses of modernism notable right after they were completed, or did it take time for them to receive recognition?

I've been pondering this for a while, and I appreciate any input!

Apr 26, 13 6:24 pm

My opinion is that the current practise of architecture, in regard to residential, has shifted toward higher-end and multi-family. When I was in school we had discussed this, and I did a little research into it for a course as well. Today architects account for around 3% of residential design, leaving the bulk (97%) to developers and builders. This means most architects today do not see the value of residential work (under a certain dollar figure). The average home buyer cannot afford to buy in that range, nor do they have the money upfront.

Enter the builder/developer. They buy large tracts of land and/or lots, use standardized plans and materials (there are some exceptions, but I will generalize here). This lowers choice but maximizes profit, estimation of cost and ease of design for the builder/developer, freeing them to help streamline a client getting into a house, making it more affordable, (as bank will finance the completed building and the builder can afford to float the cost of construction), and the process easier. Leading to greater success and proliferation of this model over the architect making a custom design and requiring various deposits/payments on a regular or per stage process. 

 This trend was not always the case, in the past (19th C) architects would publish plan books or work with department stores to provide plans and whole house kits to people. Around 1914 or so some architects realized residential could benefit even more from their services and in the US the Architects' Small House Service Bureau was created. The ASHSB published plans for houses that the average person could afford that were architect designed. They held competitions for famous architects of the day to provide plans to fit this idea as well. They were eventually dissolved as the concerns of the AIA trumped the goals of the ASHSB and it has never been reborn. 

So what does this mean? The concerns of architects as a profession have changed, shifting away from residential, meaning less is being done in that area, hence the blah beige McMansions that have come to define that segment. 

I for one am interested very much in residential design and improving it. I see the 97% as a target market to capitalize on, especially in terms of quality designed (and affordable) housing for the average consumer. 

Apr 26, 13 10:49 pm
norton house? how 'bout gehry's gehry house?

but yeah i agree it's hard to think of a major architectural residential work since early '90s villa dal'ava. definitely some great work all along but nothing hyouge like farnsworth et al.
Apr 27, 13 12:44 am

The only thing notable about personal consumption of resources on a gluttonous scale for the sole purpose of egotistical display of wealth is how inappropriate it is.

And that's what most residential architecture is now, as the only people who can afford a custom designed house are the 1% (or less).

Architecture has also been commoditized, like everything else, where "brands" are promoted regardless of quality or substance.

Apr 27, 13 10:38 am

 The only thing notable about personal consumption of resources on a gluttonous scale for the sole purpose of egotistical display of wealth is how inappropriate it is.

And that's what most residential architecture is now, as the only people who can afford a custom designed house are the 1% (or less).

there are other notable things to said 'egotistical display of wealth':  employment of architects, employment of landscape architects, employment of interior designers, employment of contractors and their crew, employment of product manufacturers, employment of shipping/freight truck drivers, employment of landscape nursery employees, employment of building/planning department agencies, and employment of moving company employees.

Apr 27, 13 11:31 am

And that's what most residential architecture is now, as the only people who can afford a custom designed house are the 1% (or less).


And they often have horrible taste. Yeah, I watched mtv cribs.....

Apr 27, 13 12:26 pm

and they often have great taste.  so what?

Apr 27, 13 1:32 pm

I think it is a shift in thought. Personally, I have a hard time working on single family housing as no matter what you do as an architecture, you do not have the ability to turn a house into a home. Yes the design can certainly help in comfort, energy efficiency, views, etc... but it is the memories and experiences of its occupants that turn it into a home.

As a caveat, I'm a very urban minded person very much attracted to civic architecture due to my own upbringing and personal experiences.   

Apr 27, 13 2:26 pm

Thecyclist, forget about how things are studied in school and instead visit and you'll see innovative architect-designed houses everyday.

Anymore, it seems that nototiety in architecture is something that's demanded or paid for if not actually earned.

Apr 27, 13 3:44 pm

It is also the rise of home magazines, tv programs on home design and proliferation of real estate, furnishing and equipment industries' effort to eliminate the middle man, the architect, making the homeowner the direct consumer/producer on the retail level, sometimes enabling them to design their own with intuitive digital tools with increasing success rate.

Architects are still designing custom houses that are par or better than their predecessors in some cases because there are so many good examples already and methods of construction are much easier, standardized and copied. You have a lot more architects who are capable of doing what was revolutionary up until few decades ago and it is no longer a big deal to see architecturally significant houses on every block (at least in Los Angeles.)

So, these are some more reasons why the houses lost their significance leading the architects' career and housing the innovative ideas. In addition to what are mentioned already.

Apr 27, 13 4:00 pm


Looking at is good and all (I spend a lot of time there), but isn't it the architecture presented to us in school that has the bigger potential to influence us?  No professor will ever bring up a house published on

Apr 27, 13 4:12 pm

Perhaps "no professor will ever bring up a house published on" because that will undermine the hyperbolic cost of architectural education.

My mind just started to wander because I'm now imagining a bitingly ironic book entitled You Get What You Pay For.

Apr 27, 13 4:38 pm

You Get What You Pay For

Applies to both students and clients.

Apr 27, 13 6:05 pm

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