Wednesday, September 30, 2020
  Building Bridges  

From the moment we decided to launch Connected Design as a brand, there was really one main goal in mind for our team: building bridges between the many different home-building and networking professionals— from custom integrators, to builders, to designers, architects, and so on. So often, professionals from those industries collaborate on a home or commercial project without even knowing that they’re collaborating.

Though speakers and subwoofers might not be top of mind for an architect when they’re drawing up a blueprint for a new home build, so much of what we see today and what’s been written about in this publication shows that conversations between these industries need to start way sooner in the home-building process. And that’s especially true as smart home technology proliferates and consumers start asking for those products and automation systems to be integrated into their homes from the very beginning.

It’s with that goal in mind that Connected Design recently entered something of a strategic friendship with the American Institute of Architects. Similar to the traditional home-building relationship between architects and tech guys, our meeting AIA happened by chance, as their annual meeting in June happened to located at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City during the same week that our parent company, CT Lab Global Media, hosted our annual tech event—CE Week—in the same Javits Center halls. It’s possible that you’re reading this while walking AIA’s trade-show floor or after snagging a copy from one of the media bins during your time in New York City.

Part of the process of building those bridges between communities involves reaching out to the “other side” and understanding how the architect community views technology in their job. What challenges does it present? How can an integrator work more efficiently with them? And so on. To get at the heart of some of those questions, we spent some time with the chairman of AIA National’s Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN), Stuart Narofsky, FAIA. Here’s a look at our conversation.

The Lofts at Washington University in St. Louis is a 2017 AIA Housing Award recipient by William Rawn Associates, Architects, INC., photography by Sam Fentress.

Connected Design: What’s the cliff notes version of Stuart Narofsky’s career history to date?

Narofsky: I’m the principal of Narofsky Architecture, a multi-discipline design firm that I founded in 1983. Our projects have been recognized on a number of levels through various design awards, by national and international publications, videos, and exhibitions. Aside from the work at my firm, I teach and serve on juries at New York Institute of Technology (since 1989), Pratt Institute, and Drexel University. I also am dedicated to providing pro bono service in South America, where I’ve lectured and overseen workshops at various universities in Bolivia and Argentina.

I’m a past president of AIA Long Island and currently serve as the Chair of AIA National’s Custom Residential Architects Network (AIA CRAN). Through AIA, I’ve had the opportunity to present at three AIA National Conventions and three AIA CRAN Symposiums. In 2016, I was inducted as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and AIA Long Island recognized me with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Stellar Residences and Townhomes at Northstar is a 2017 AIA Housing Award recipient by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, photography by Nic Lehoux.

Tell us a little about the American Institute of Architects.

Founded in 1857, the AIA consistently works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through more than 200 international, state and local chapters, AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business. In addition, the Institute engages civic and government leaders and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation, and the world.

What attracted you to want to put in time with an organization like AIA?

Much like with any professional association, AIA offers its members the opportunity to learn, network, and give back to the profession. That in and of itself makes it worth investing my time in.

Roxbury E+ is a 2017 AIA Housing Award recipient by Interface Studio Architects, photography by Sam Oberter.

What, specifically, does AIA CRAN focus its efforts on?

CRAN is a knowledge community (KC) of the AIA. CRAN endeavors to educate and advocate for the residential practitioner and firms whose focus is on custom residential design. Each year we sponsor a symposium, which brings together approximately 250 residential architects from around the country who spend three days networking and gaining experience through participation in significant educational lectures and tours. CRAN has published educational videos through our CRAN TV network. The group publishes articles in architectural journals, as well as sponsors a biannual student competition.

What have been the biggest disruptions or changes for the architect industry over the last few years?

The recession took a toll on the profession. Architects are the canaries in the mine as it relates to the greater construction industry. When there is an economic downturn, the construction industry usually takes a hit, and our members felt it. For the most part, the profession has recovered from the recession, though the lasting effect has been greater service offerings by architects. Being highly trained and educated problem solvers, the skills architects have can be applied in many different facets; graphic design, real estate, consulting.

Sustainable concepts supported by technological advances, I believe, have changed and are changing the cultural mindset of the design professional. This, though, is creating a rift between traditional building and building methods. The idea of building for resiliency and longevity is not the founding of the post-World War-building world, which endeavored to fill needs quickly and cheaply. Architects are the ones who are bridging the gap and pushing for advancement with balance. I believe this places us in a more secure position to drive the industry and build a more sustainable profession, not as susceptible to market trends as in the recent past.

VIA 57 West is a 2017 AIA Housing Award recipient from Bjarke Ingles Group, photography by Iwan Baan.

We have been hearing a lot recently about green design. Is that a focus for your network, being on the residential side? And how does (or how can) technology play a role?

Green or better sustainable and resilient design is a major focus with our group. Technology plays a significant role, from the development of new materials to controls, which assist in energy management—these would be two good examples. Home technology today extends far beyond just a home theater and really nice speakers. How have you seen home technology expand and influence your work/industry over the years?

How, if at all, has the emergence of smart home technology impacted the work of an architect?

Similar answer to above: security, climate control, lighting control, integrated and responsive systems, which help monitor and maintain efficiencies.

Smart home technology hasn’t changed the fundamental design of a home, but architects utilize these new features to enhance their clients’ experiences. The trends revealed in the AIA’s Home Design Trends Survey show that clients do want these smart home technologies incorporated into their homes, and architects are perfectly positioned to employ these features in a seamless fashion. However, applied (integrated) technology does not compromise the basic and historic human needs for the very essence of what a home is to its occupants.

We have found that over the past few years, we are pulling back a little on the highly integrated smart elements, as our past clients found many features frustrating and in fact a distraction from enjoying their home. As with the way the communication industry constantly pummels us with upgrades, which makes our devices obsolete very quickly, we have to be thoughtful when implementing certain technologies so as to not compromise our goal of being durable and resilient.

Blue Lake Retreat, Lake is a 2017 AA Housing Award recipient by Flat Architects, photography by Ryann Ford

How important is the relationship between an architect and a technology integrator or custom installer?

It depends on the client’s appetite for these features. If a client has a desire for the features a custom installer can provide, the relationship is vital. Architects are trained to work collaboratively, as they do with all subcontractors, to produce the best possible product for the client. We include an integrator or technology consultant on our team from the beginning.

What makes that relationship click?

Individual personalities play a big part, but a mutual respect for the skills and talents of those working on behalf of the client is necessary for the process to be successful.

Cover photo - Sawmill Canyon is a 2017 AIA Housing Award recipient by Olson Kundig, photography by Gabe Border.