Everyones an expert

A few weeks ago, over an informal lunch of barbeque sandwiches, a childhood friend announced that he and his wife were expecting twins and searching for land with plans to build a house.

In a scene made for romantic comedies, I immediately began feigning humility, eager to take on my practiced role as “home architect for budding family of four,” but when the invitation didn’t arrive, I couldn’t help but ask who was designing the house. “We are,” he said, with a confidence that added to his statement, “Who else?”

I don’t pretend to understand a thing about what Kurt does for a living — something with lipids and rodents, and perhaps an impending doctorate — so I couldn’t help but flinch at the implication that anybody could do my job. I’ve never fancied myself much of a salesman, most often having the luxury of working with those that have requested my skills, but that it didn’t occur to my friend, who envied my little construction paper houses in Mrs. Froeming’s third-grade classroom, to even inquire with me about the process of designing a home. It forced me to pitch my profession more aggressively than I had ever done before.

I illustrated my point with actual examples from my own work. In a Fulton neighborhood project, we doubled the size of a too-small bungalow by adding a second floor in the massing of a traditional one-and-a-half story, and earned an award for preserving the character of the neighborhood. Across the river, I’ve been assisting a client with a modern vision for her home develop a 21st century concept within the confines of an historically significant 19th century home. I mentioned the importance of melding the house to the land, focusing views, maximizing daylight, ensuring a building envelope sealed from wind and water and creating opportunities for passive and active renewable energy sources, among other things.

Adding in(salt) to injury, Kurt went on to ask why a draftsperson couldn’t consider these things. Tempted this time to pitch my pulled pork sandwich, I reminded myself that Kurt is a good friend and answered his question. Drafting is the technical (and at its best, highly artful) skill necessary to document the design solution, but it does not create that solution. Architecture, on the other hand, is trained problem solving resulting in a functional and elegant solution.

The recent Minneapolis/St. Paul Home Tour brought more than 700 people through the Linden Hill’s home of one of my colleagues. In years past, architect-designed homes were a minority, if not an anomaly, but this year saw a surge in participation, necessitating an icon for architect-designed homes in the tour guide. The swelling ranks of those able to recognize the contributions an architect makes to a home was exemplified with a comment I overheard in the Linden Hills house: “I just don’t want to leave.”

I don’t know if Kurt will call when he begins to design his dream house. It’s naïve to believe everyone will, and I will be the first to admit that the skills of an architect add cost to any project. But hopefully Kurt can now understand, if not appreciate, the value those skills bring. After lunch and my long career justification, I was tempted to ask Kurt if I could help him out by borrowing some mice and attempting lipid extraction with my 0.3 mechanical pencil, but decided it was best to just stick to what I know.

Bryan Anderson lives in Stevens Square. He works for SALA Architects on East Hennepin.