A recent survey into the billing activity of architecture firms across the country has revealed a growing trend in homeowners’ preferences. The AIA Home Trends Survey released a series of charts, marking the rise between 2011 and 2012 of preferences for low maintenance, and energy efficiency home options with a rise in a desire for homes that have a proximity to neighborhood amenities. What this means is that home buyers are moving away from the auto-centric lifestyle of mid century suburbs and are coincidentally opting for the more sustainable choice where walking and public transportation may take preference. AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA, notes that in many areas, there has been a rise in interest in urban infill locations over exurbs, and a general push within communities for public accessibility and proximity to work places, retail options and open space.
What is behind this trend? Is the influence of sustainable design breaking into the mainstream of the American home-buying conscience? Is sustainability changing the “American Dream”?
As the housing market recovers from the foreclosure nightmare, people are readdressing the priorities of where and how they live. The isolation and exclusion of certain suburban communities may not reflect the sustainable future of living conditions in America. At a time when people are consciously cutting back on spending, it follows that home-buyers are looking for options that help reduce transportation and amenity costs.
Mr. Baker notes a rise in infill development, which involves building into the vacant and unused spaces within an already developed context or retrofitting existing buildings. This indicates that people are willing to live within a more dense urban context than a suburb and it typically follows that this implies access to public transportation and public amenities which include parks and open spaces, as well as retail locations, grocery stores, entertainment and, of course, employment opportunities. These amenities don’t come standard with every infill development, but an article by Matt Tinder for the AIA notes that communities are pushing local governments to establish a level of accessibility via public transportation and amenities. Despite the rise in these higher density developments, the trend shows that people are still looking for the types of amenities found in local communities, which include community gardens, dedicated open spaces and recreational opportunities. So a push for the local within the density of the urban is a notable transition from previous generations.
In addition, home-buyers are opting for cost effective and sustainable approaches to renovation and alteration options on their homes. The AIA notes a rise in simpler, modest and contemporary designs for new homes. One story houses and porch construction are also on the rise. Cool roofs, sustainable roofing materials and easy to maintain exteriors have also been popular options. It isn’t always the case that what is cost effective is also sustainable for environmental and community reasons, but within these options there is a trend that leads to both. Fewer materials, less development of new infrastructure, more open spaces, and a decreased reliance on active heating and cooling methods are all conditions that are on the radar of sustainable developments, and so too apparently on cost-effective options.
There has been a consistent rise among additions, alterations, remodeling, first time buyers and even luxury homes between 2011 and 2012, according to the AIA’s survey which interviews 500 architecture firms that focus on the residential sector.