Interviews Reveal How U.S. Architects Design Homes

The American Idea of Home Gives an Inside Look at Architectural Motives

“Home is an idea, a social construct, a story we tell ourselves about who we are and who we want closest in our midst,” writes Meghan Daum in her foreword to Bernard Friedman’s The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design.  The new book—published by University of Texas Press—gives readers a peek inside the design process of America’s most well-known and up-and-coming architects, as well as the field’s foremost commentators.

From AIA Gold Medalists and Pritzker Prize winners Thom Mayne, FAIA, and Robert Venturi, FAIA, and Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA, to theoretical practitioner Gregg Lynn, and shelter magazine favorites Lee Mindel, FAIA, and Tom Kundig, FAIA, a wide range of architects expound upon meanings of home, importance of site, and necessity of sustainability, among many other wide-ranging topics.

“We’re giving people a look ‘under the hood,’ so to speak, on how architects set the stage for them to turn a house into a home,” notes Friedman.  The book of compiled interviews stems from conversations the author and documentary producer conducted for voiceover commentary for his short film “American Homes.”  The 11-minute animated film displays 1,800 years of American culture through the lens of residential architecture and has been shown at Edinburgh International Film Festival, London International Animation Festival, and Architecture & Design Film Festivals in Rotterdam, New York, and Chicago.

Thirty conversations are organized into five themes: The Functions and Meanings of Home; History, Tradition, Change; Activism, Sustainability, Environment; Cities, Suburbs, Regions; and Technology, Innovation, Materials.  In addition to designers and architects, Friedman sought commentary from thought leaders, such as Sarah Susanka of the small-homes movement, Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity, Arid Lands Institute’s Hadley Arnold, and Robert Ivy, FAIA, executive director of the American Institute of Architects.

Opinions range from what the home represents (“a breeding ground for culture,” Tom Kundig, FAIA), how it’s used (“The living room was a shrine to furniture,” Lester Walker), and the power we give it (“Building a house is not a really good way to save a failing marriage,” Tracy Kidder), to current topics of sustainability (“The most sustainable building is one that people love, maintain, and cherish,” Marianne Cusato), size (“Bigness is not a virtue,” Robert Ivy, FAIA), and the challenges of urbanism (“Sprawl emerged from the American dream as a single-family house on a lot,” Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, FAIA).

“If all architecture, no matter its purpose, is shelter, then architecture intended as shelter must be the ultimate haven,” says Friedman.  “These conversations appeal to all fans of architecture and design—indeed, to anyone interested in design decisions that fundamentally shape our ideas of home.”

For review copies, please contact Julie D. Taylor,

The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design
By Bernard Friedman; foreword by Meghan Daum
University of Texas Press; 2017; Hardcover; 246 pages; $27.95
ISBN-10: 1477312862; ISBN-13: 978-1477312865
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Quotes from The American Idea of Home: Conversations About Architecture and Design

“The living room was a shrine to furniture.” Lester Walker

“Normally, architects view their work as a contribution to society from themselves. I would say that what we’re trying to do is extract the creative spirit from our clients.” Max Jacobson

“Home is something larger than the house that you occupy.” Hadley Arnold

“I think that using learned styles actually takes away experimentation, originality, and individuality.” Eric Owen Moss, FAIA

“When I first encountered the Case Study houses, I thought they were thin and diagrammatic, the most boring works of architecture I’d ever seen.” Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA

“We’re in a period of pluralism. We’re not in a period of purity.” Sam Watters

“Building a house is not a really good way to save a failing marriage.” Tracy Kidder

“If you really want to effect change in the world, you have to understand that utopia is dead.” Cameron Sinclair

“The most sustainable building that you could ever build would be a building that people love and want to be around, because then they will maintain it and cherish it.” Marianne Custano

“How long do people keep such big houses in a world in which we routinely shed spouses, in which families break up, in which the social order seems to be tenuous at best?” Robert Ivy, FAIA

“It’s never been about size; it’s always been about content.” Charles Gwathmey, FAIA

“We live in a time in which the dream of the Bauhaus has been fulfilled by IKEA.” Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA

“Most of the houses we see today are plopped rather than sited.” Jeremiah Eck, FAIA

“Basically, a sunken living room was a perfect place for somebody to trip and fall.” Tom Kundig, FAIA

“Sprawl emerged from the American dream being articulated as homeownership, as the ownership of a single-family house on a lot.” Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, FAIA

“Connectivity in humanity is the biggest goal of the built environment.” Toshiko Mori, FAIA

“A house is not a product, It’s not something disposable.” Greg Lynn

“Residential architecture is the most fluid, malleable subject matter for architecture, and it’s that reason it’s become the most useful experimental tool.” Thom Mayne, FAIA

“American houses being built are controlled by what is available, affordable, and desirable, which is in complete contrast to what and how we should be building.” Frank Escher