"Urban" and "green" lead the way in Cincinnati home design, say local architectural leaders

Local architects, their clients, contractors and builders will celebrate the best of Greater Cincinnati residential architecture Sept. 8 when the local chapter of the American Institute of Architecture — the nation’s second oldest — hosts the eighth annual CRAN Awards at the Bell Event Centre in Pendleton.

It will be a night of friendly competition, education and sharing as well as a night of pride for the 10 or so local architecture firms that win awards.

Ken Workman, an associate partner at RWA Architects in Hyde Park, which won two CRAN Awards in 2015, sees the Custom Residential Architects Network event as an opportunity to advocate what licensed architects bring to residential construction.

“Our goal is to let the public know the value of working with an architect as opposed to going directly to a builder,” Workman says of AIA. “Architects bring knowledge, education and aesthetic sense to residential projects. We are trained to think with vision ... to think how this building is going to impact lives in a positive way.”

The CRAN Awards, says Andreas Lange, project architect with John Senhauser Architects in Mount Adams, gives Cincinnati designers the chance to get an unbiased evaluation of their work. It’s not a cutthroat competition, he explains, but more of an opportunity to share what you’ve done.

“Once a year, you can come in and say, ‘Aha, so that’s what Drawing Dept. has been doing the last year,’” Lange says, adding that a slideshow of submission photographs will run on a big screen throughout the evening.

Award submissions had to be made by July 15. They included written descriptions of how architects with a local office arrived at their design solutions. A panel of outside jurors reviewed the nominations and will present awards in new custom home, architectural addition, architectural interior and multiple-unit housing categories.

This year’s head juror and keynote speaker is Steve Raike, a certified associate partner at Lake/Flato Architects in San Antonio, Tex., who has more than 20 years of experience in designing high-end family residential, institutional and civic projects.

The CRAN Awards come at a time when the residential building market is on the rise and shifting gradually from single-family homes to renovations, remodels and new multi-family units.

The latter includes the multiple condominium projects that have been popping up in urban neighborhoods in and around Cincinnati’s urban basin that formed thousands of years ago where the Mill Creek and the Licking River empty into the Ohio River.

“For folks who are older, who have lived their lives and are ready to retire, (urban downsizing) can be a statement for them as they do interior projects such as a condo,” Workman says.

Increased interest among homeowners of all ages in urban living and the growing desire to be part of a vibrant, walkable neighborhood have bolstered the remodeling industry and, in particular, have given architects unique opportunities to create bold and innovative interiors.

“Instead of a dream house, they're looking for a dream community,” Workman says, adding that bolstering historical architecture with innovative designs by professionals is a key part of that community.

The increase in renovation of older, diminished properties in desirable locations such as the urban basin neighborhoods of Walnut Hills, Mount Auburn, Bellevue and Dayton has increased local architects' opportunities to work closely with clients to personalize what often are small spaces.

This year, the trend in residential housing is reflected in that CRAN Award submissions in the architectural interior category have grown significantly to about a dozen, Workman says. Competition in the new home category will be stiff as well, Lange says.

“We’ve done a lot of urban projects at Senhauser, but we’ve always had custom residential homes in and around the city in places like Indian Hill,” he says.

The new home category — which includes traditional, contemporary, modern and mixed architecture — will be competitive, as it was in 2015 when Workman’s firm, RWA Architects, won an honor award for an Aurora, Ind., home they designed to look like “an old house with new wings.”

There will not be a specific CRAN Award for “green” projects, although some projects submitted earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the United States Green Building Council, which can earn homeowners significant tax credits.

Renovation and remodeling are forms of recycling and therefore “green” by nature, Workman says. How architects have embraced numerous energy saving and carbon-footprint reduction technologies will be widely apparent during the CRAN Awards.

“Ideally, those kind of strategies are being worked into design seamlessly, not tacked on at the end,” Workman says. “Good architects are incorporating (green technology) into their designs to the point that it is almost second nature.”

The CRAN Awards will begin with a 5:30 p.m. cocktail hour followed by short remarks by sponsors and then Raike’s keynote address. The banquet, which is catered by the Bell Event Centre, will be followed by the awards ceremony.

Tickets for the banquet and awards ceremony cost $55; online registration is here. CRAN sponsors include Marvin Windows & Doors, Louisville Tile of Cincinnati, Pinnacle Engineering, The English Contractor & Remodeling Services and Big Ass Solutions.
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Read more articles by Brent Coleman.

Brent Coleman, from the West Coast now living on the West Side, specializes in writing about homes and history.