The population growth in Orange County continues to rise and so does the region’s housing prices. Brett Dougherty, president of the Orange County branch of the American Institute of Architects, points out that communities need to recognize demographic shifts and take measures to remain vibrant.
Q: What problems do you see in Orange County?
A: Several things. There are the changing demographics, population growth and rising housing costs.
Q: How are we utilizing the knowledge of architects to take care of this?
A: There is a big movement in AIA in gathering architects and infusing them into government positions to advocate and help plan our future by being part of the city’s council. Because architects are thinkers they need to take more of an active role in policy making, to get in there and infuse the very ideas needed to shift our society into something even better. And that is done through local government in a more public role.
Q: Describe the demographic changes affecting our future.
A: There are interesting shifts going on. It is the first time we have a generation of 20 year olds still living at home. The Millennials are the big hitters right now for housing trends. OC is unique in regards to rentals rates as they continue to rise. This works against the millennials as they seek living on their own. Housing rates also continue to rise making it harder to become a first-time homeowner. But at the same time, it forces the millenials to save money to buy into a home by finding alternative means to live. Then there are the baby-boomers, who are now into a new phase of living.
Q: What’s new with the baby-boomers?
A: Their needs now are based on their concerns of aging. They are looking for single-level housing, minimizing the amount of steps to climb. Newer housing developments in south county are building on those concerns but at the same time not isolating them. Developments such as Rancho Mission Viejo are bringing together both the 55+ single-level and traditional family housing for a multi-general community. This is the trend we see in places where space is readily available to build. They can develop more positive measures to address these issues. Whereas in our local area, space is very limited and housing developments are still focusing on bigger multi-level homes.
Q: So if millenials are priced out and the focus on building is still on family homes, where is the market going?
A: Unfortunately the market trend continues as is, multi-level family dwellings continue to be built while housing prices and the amount of people needing housing continue to rise in both generations. Right now in Irvine, the council is starting to recognize that the current types of housing might not be working for these generations. There are grumblings going on regarding the future impact of continuing on the same path.
Q: Who needs to get involved to make these changes?
A: I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do believe it goes back to architects becoming involved with policy making. They need to be a bigger part of the solution instead of simply building on a case-by-case basis. Part of an architect’s job is research in all aspects of building. Since it is researched based, the ability to educate the market and clients of what we see going on can help build a better future. It’s a big unknown, but if we take more notice of the issues we can avoid a lot of mistakes. Right now we are in the infant stages of planning and in the meantime the market is going to keep on growing quite a bit. Housing is going to be our big social issue for the future. Look at Orange County right now; it is unapproachable just like San Francisco and other tech areas. The cost of living is so outrageous with solutions still pending.
Q: Are there any changes occurring now?
A: In the most recent Irvine council meetings, there were talks about the amount of parks per population and getting a plan in place to improve the situation. And they also talked about how connectivity occurs and building bridges to connect major roadways. There is a lot of conversation going on aimed at improving the situation in many of our cities.
Q: What influenced you to become an architect?
A: At an early age I had a knack for art, but more on the tech side such as drafting. I began to realize architects were a positive influence on society and it was really cool to be that kind of person. I got a BA in art history from UC Santa Barbara and a master’s of architecture from Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. I was inspired by the “star” architects, the fundamental and iconic architectural thinkers such as Gehry and Neutra. Architects are trendsetters. We definitely feel it’s our personal mission to research situations and keep ahead of things through listening and being active participants in the growth of society.
Q: Why become an architect?
A: Traditionally they have placed a positive impression on society with their role in its development. And because of that I believe architects have the potential key to shift our future and the ability to put it all together. Architects are problem solvers and are trained to be thinkers, such as solving the issues we face today. It’s important for today’s youth to understand that aspect of architecture so they can create tangible solutions and be at the table to solve many of the problems we are approaching.
Brett Dougherty, President
American Institute of Architects, Orange County
4100 Birch Street, Suite 300
Newport Beach, CA 92660
By Gina Dostler