Editor’s Note: Get Me Rewrite

As an editor, I know that everyone needs an editor. Everyone benefits from a little pushback to do their best work. I also know of residential architects who wish they could practice their art without clients dictating what they can or can’t do. They dream of the mythical deep-pocketed, check-signing, hands-off patron. Imagine what they could achieve! 

Somehow, they believe, that without the constraints of pleasing a paying customer, they would hit new heights of creativity and invention. Perhaps that’s true, or perhaps it’s not. It’s quite possible that, instead, they would spin out of control into self-indulgent excess or punishing austerity. 

Clients serve a higher purpose beyond their check-writing abilities. They are like editors, and architects are often better off when clients keep hold of the balloon strings, making sure that over-inflated designers don’t veer off into the clouds—or tangle with trees and power lines. 

Real budgets also serve as a kind of de facto editor, setting rational limits of size and scope on projects. These constraints combine with those of the site and jurisdiction to make residential architecture among the most compelling of the building types. Despite the dreams of complete freedom, the practice as a whole really is better for having these bumpers in place. And more architects are catching on to this. 

As the discipline of modernist residential architecture has matured, it has incorporated these constraints and others to evolve into a more dignified and humble aesthetic. Architects have absorbed these lessons and learned to edit themselves, striving more adroitly for solutions that are sensitive to precedent, site, and program. Nowadays, architects often find themselves editing their clients, instead of the other way around.

This virtuous circle of discipline and rigor yields wonderful results. One of the best aspects to emerge from this evolution is a new fearlessness and humility about looking to the past for better ways forward. Our cover story is a case in point. Architects Luis Ibarra and Teresa Rosano borrowed from Latin American precedents for a multigenerational house in Tucson, Arizona. It’s a courtyard design (an even earlier precedent) that balances privacy and neighborhood proximity, and tempers hot days and cool nights. It uses traditional elements, but executes them in creative, sculptural ways. The mix achieves a kind of timelessness that straddles the future and the past, while seeming fresh and vibrant. 

Our Design Lab projects also plumb the diversity of this new inclusive and modest modernism. Reinvention doesn’t require a blank slate, and, in fact, it can’t exist without what came before. All it needs is a sharp editor.