Q. What should prospective homeowners know about design before they build or buy a house?
A. The goal in designing a house should be to build a house you love to come home to. To do this, a house should reflect the personality of its occupants more than the expectations of the neighbors, but if you take care of the first, the second should take care of itself: the best neighborhoods reflect a variety of architectural expressions. The first thing is the site: How do I take advantage of the natural lay of the land; optimize site orientation and existing vegetation for shade in the summer and solar gain in the winter; natural day-lighting and prevailing breezes. Are there views, either of or from the house? Let the way you live every day shape your budget priorities - not the party you have once every five years, or plan to but don't.
Q. What are some of the most quickly regretted decisions people commonly make in building a house?
A. Most bad decisions are not regretted; they're simply missed opportunities.
Don't stint on low-cost, high-impact systems that provide long-term comfort, utility and economy, such as thermal insulation and programmable thermostats. Don't ignore newer technologies, such as geothermal heating and cooling, solar thermal heating, and photovoltaic electrical generation. Even if you decide they are unaffordable, plan to incorporate it later as their costs decrease and energy costs continue to rise.
Plan for phased growth: Design what you ultimately want, and build what you can afford now with plans for how you can add the rest later. Build the best quality you can, even if you have to build less. You can always add on, but you can't add quality later.
Don't overinvest in seldom-used formal living and dining rooms at the expense of the other rooms you use every day.
Q. Why is "local architecture" important in both residential and public building design?
A. It's important for any architect to understand a community's values and resources. Good local architects build on the local traditions and advance them to represent the community's vision for the future. By contrast, an outside architect might, through willfulness or ignorance, propose less appropriate solutions. His or her attempts to provide a context-specific solution might be cartoonish or lack nuance.
Architects tend to be community-minded citizens, active in volunteer activities, boards, and commissions. Architects' altruism benefits their local communities. To some we're artists; to some we're technology wonks; to others, we're savvy business-people. Architects should be community bridge-builders, connected with artists, artisans, builders, bankers, and other corporate executives. Architects provide some of the social glue that holds a community together.