Volume 13, Issue 4 - May 2012

feature

Custom-Made
Residential Architects Find Knowledge, Education and More Within AIA Group
by Ellen Rogers

All it takes is one little idea shared by a small group to make a huge impact. And the Custom Residential Architecture Network (CRAN), an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Knowledge Community, is proof of that. The group was born in 2005 of the idea that there needed to be some avenue dedicated to the needs of the single-family, residential architect and over the past seven years has seen tremendous growth. Door and window companies across the country have also seen the value in CRAN and have taken strides to get involved.

In the Beginning
After attending a Knowledge Community Leadership meeting at the 2005 AIA National Convention in Las Vegas, John Isch with RWA Architects in Cincinnati, John Connell, with 2Morrow Studio in Warren, Vt., and Drew Porth of Porth Architects Inc. in Red Lodge, Mont., left wanting more—more information geared toward their needs as custom residential architects.

“We shared the idea that by working within the AIA, something of value could be created for custom residential architects,” says Isch, who is the group’s current vice chair. “The importance is to advance and protect the interests and address the unique needs of those who primarily practice single-family, residential architecture.”

The leadership committee they formed, which has since been awarded status as its own Knowledge Community within AIA, has now grown to include more than 900 members.

"Without those working relationships how can manufacturers respond to help [architects] meet those challenges? CRAN helps us stay abreast of those issues and they have firsthand experience and that helps them be a better architect.
—Sue Weiland, Weiland Sliding Doors and Windows"

“This group is important because it gives custom residential specialists a home within the AIA and a unified voice that can help shape AIA policies, practices, and programs,” says Porth, who served as chair from 2005-2008. “At the start, there were skeptics who felt that nothing could be accomplished by working within a bureaucracy such as the AIA. It took more than five years, but I think we may have silenced those critics. It has been tremendously rewarding to see the organization grow and gain recognition as a full-fledged AIA Knowledge Community. The support and encouragement we have received from AIA staff over the years has been nothing short of amazing.”

Shared Learning
One of CRAN’s biggest programs is its annual symposium, the first of which took place five years ago in Chicago. Architect Chris Rose of Chris Rose Architects in Johns Island, S.C., says being there was like an epiphany.

“There were home tours of the area and we talked about the homes and the details, the exterior envelope, different elements of the design … and the seminars were pertinent to our practice. I knew I wanted to be involved,” he says, and today is on the group’s board.

“Last year we were in Indianapolis and we chose that area because about 80 percent of the population is within about a one-day drive,” says Rose.

Recognizing architects as an important part of the design and building process, several door and window companies have stepped up as CRAN sponsors. Weiland Sliding Doors and Windows in Oceanside, Calif., has been a sponsor for the past five years.

“We’ve sponsored every event so far,” says Sue Weiland, principal. “As we’ve become more involved we’ve been impressed with the sense of community of the group.”

“[Our involvement] is about establishing relationships and based on design solutions rather than sales,” adds Steve Donner, general manager for Weiland.

Likewise, Cindy Bremer, vice president of marketing with Kolbe and Kolbe, says at her company they got involved as a CRAN sponsor for the first time last year.

“The benefit [of involvement] is developing relationships and better understanding how we can work together,” says Bremer.

Group members all agree that having the support of their sponsors is critical and integral to its ability to fulfill its mission.

Common Goals
The specification of doors and windows is very important to the group.

“Considering that doors and windows are a primary element in the building envelop they are essential in how we control our interior environment and, because they operate, can be a common source of liability,” Isch says. “Therefore it is important to keep up on issues regarding their energy performance, durability, maintainability, operability, aesthetics and adaptability to unique regional stresses.”

Porth adds that door and window companies that make products for custom residential projects are a natural fit for CRAN.

“We love having the opportunity to meet with the manufacturers’ representatives when they attend our events and they, in turn, get a better understanding of what we are looking for when we make product choices,” says Porth. “Information wise, we always like to hear about new offerings.”

He adds a word of caution to manufacturers. “Sometimes we get too much information or are told things we already know. We are, by and large, an experienced bunch, so educational materials should be geared toward an expert audience. We care as much about performance as we care about design.”

And Rose agrees that glass products are important for many reasons, such as missile impact requirements in coastal areas, and even mountainous areas that must be designed for high windloads

“Product suppliers can give seminars on such topics because there are so many choices. It’s interesting to learn about what manufacturers are doing,” says Rose, who adds, “There have even been times when some of the sponsors have approached us when they were thinking of new products. [Through the group] we are able to send out an email blast to members and they can then provide feedback, which can help the sponsors with product developments, improvements etc.”

Weiland agrees.

“Without those working relationships how can manufacturers respond to help [architects] meet those challenges? CRAN helps us stay abreast of those issues and they have firsthand experience and that helps them be a better architect.”

Donner adds, “Most architects don’t like to be sold something. They want to discover, create and have a partner in the process to find solutions. We embrace that approach and appreciate the relationships.

“CRAN is a good environment for the exchange of ideas and we value those relationships and input we get from involvement,” says Donner.

Bremer agrees, “The group is important because we can help architects and be a resource for them. There are a lot of products that architects need to know about, so this is a great opportunity to work together to achieve a common goal.”

And architects are of a like-minded nature.

“I cannot overemphasize how important the processes of designing, ordering, detailing, and installing doors and windows are, they are integral to the aesthetics and function of a structure,” says Isch.

Ellen Rogers is an assistant editor for DWM magazine and editor of its sister publication, the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal.

 


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