A New Avenue for architects

newavenuehomes_450(New Avenue) It’s not easy to break into design – even if you’re already an architect.

Many of my arch school peers are entering their 8th and 9th years in the profession mired in nuance – as “job captains” and “senior project managers” their work lies very far from the design authorship we all prepared for in school, school again, intern development, license exams, and then maybe more school.

The architectural profession has a notoriously slow metabolism. Across the country, those of us now at mid-career disdain that the best ideas – those befitting the 21st Century, rapid change, new economies, services, and relationships – won’t find built form for decades to come. We dream of throwing off the yoke of professional “dues paying” and setting out on our own to work directly with clients, manifest our values, and contribute to a new generation of architecture. We are often stopped because that first client simply isn’t there – and not every architect’s mother can underwrite that inaugural project.

It turns out moms have (even) more to offer than we thought.

Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs, or in-law units), featured this month by San Francisco urban advocates SPUR in print and exhibition, represent a critical component to tackling the Bay Area’s housing crisis while preserving charming neighborhood profiles and responding to shifting residential dynamics. Proceeding in a pragmatic, post-Great Recession world, many homeowners see how ADUs can bring grown children, parents, or mothers-in-law closer to home, or generate extra income hosting renters and tourists. In the past year, new laws in San Francisco and Berkeley have loosened restrictions to building in our back yards, with the intention of promoting ADU development.

One startup group is finding these benefits to just scratch the surface of the ADU movement’s impact, and their secret ingredient is: architects.

New Avenue Homes is a small Bay Area software company with big ambitions – and astonishingly good chances of meeting them. New Avenue attracts homeowners nationwide who want to build an in-law unit, a remodel, or a new house, but don’t have the savvy to select an architect or the expertise of being a construction project client. For five years, New Avenue has been filling those gaps, connecting and assisting homeowners, designers, and contractors via their interactive online platform.

Once a homeowner reaches out, New Avenue prompts them to answer a survey about the parameters and character of their envisioned project – a series of visual selections that define a scope of work. The company then introduces the homeowner to a nearby designer whose work and values match the ambitions surveyed. The coup de grace here is the platform’s interactive project management tools that walk a client through project line items, offer a transparent, collaborative communications space, and archive built projects and architect portfolios, generating a positive feedback loop of realized architectural visions.

This “integrated project delivery process” isn’t rocket science – yet it breaks into a fresh new field of architectural clientele.

Since 2010, I’d become one of a handful of experts of the Open Architecture Network – an online, collaborative project management and portfolio database. At the platform’s host nonprofit, Architecture for Humanity, I orientated team members and partner architects on the ins and outs of the OAN, it’s many merits and pitfalls, and depended on it for AFH’s project tracking and documentation, impact metrics, file storage and presentation slideshows. Launched in 2006, and little modified since, the OAN was ahead of its time – ahead of the countless apps that now streamline our lives, for work and play.

What I see in New Avenue’s platform is a years-refined, user-friendly project management experience that can leverage the latest developments in online collaboration and actually encourage and perpetuate that collaboration. I’m excited to see it grow into the momentous ADU market and bring the architectural profession along with it.

In a year’s time I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my arch school buddies “went New Avenue” and found the path to their dreams in the hidden backyards of our greatest cities.

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