Everything in residential construction revolves around lifestyle.
And that has redefined a lot of jobs in the building industry.
"Architects have the opportunity to do more than just the housing stock . . . within communities, because what people are coming for has more to do with lifestyle that's offered than with what kind of houses there are," said Donald F. Evans of the Evans Group Inc. in Orlando.
"Sometimes," he said, "you'll get the opportunities to build libraries and town halls and many of the amenities that are attracting buyers looking for that kind of lifestyle."
The reintroduction of parks into new communities has presented architects with another opportunity, said Doug Sharp of Bloodgood Sharp Buster, an architectural firm.
"Not only do we create premiums for developers by locating houses around these parks, but we also create a deep sense of nostalgia," he said.
Nostalgic architecture is neither historical nor traditional, but a marketing term, according to J. Carson Looney, a principal in Looney Kiss Ricks Architects of Princeton, N.J., Memphis and Nashville. "It is simply applied wrappings and trappings that rely heavily on marketing hot buttons."
These include highly defined details such as Victorian gingerbread and curlicues that decorate the house but are not integral to it.
By contrast, a neo-traditionalist community is one that "refers back to history and resounds well, but it is more than just a resounding theme," Looney said. "It is an interconnection of land and architecture created for the people who live there."
Conventional design refers to the suburban housing built since Levittowns began appearing in the late 1940s, according to Looney.
Sharp argues that architecture does not have to be one or the other.
"There are benefits to both," he said. "It all depends on the piece of ground you have to work with."
A town center, for example, can be ringed by multifamily housing, with larger, single-family homes on the perimeter.
"This way, it becomes organic, responding to what the land tells us we need to be doing," Sharp said. "Variety creates a much more interesting community and an opportunity for various price points."
Traditional neighborhood design is no longer a fad, but a trend, said William Devereaux of Devereaux & Associates of McLean, and "while not a majority, a growing percentage is heading toward it."
That trend is about porches and bringing attention back to the street after years of directing people away from it and toward the back of the house, he said.
There is also a lot of high-density, traditional neighborhood design, "and that can cause a lot of problems before we work them out," Devereaux said.
"We have to be careful not to bring a lot of suburban product into high-density urban areas, but design to retain the urban fabric, which is what people are looking for," he said.
Clustering homes -- as many as 10 units to an acre -- is easier to do in California than in areas where buyers still demand formal entries and privacy.
Smaller parcels and the finer breakdown of units on those parcels "to make these developments look as if they were built over a long period of time" are another trend in residential construction, said Eric Zubiak of JBZ Architecture and Planning in Newport Beach, Calif.
Courtyards are becoming more important to new-home buyers, the experts say.
Once limited to warmer areas of the country, where the climate permits year-round use, the courtyard is becoming an integral part of residential construction, especially in multifamily projects and single-family houses in urban areas.
Homeowners want their carefully planted yards and water features to look attractive at night as well as in the day. There are outdoor kitchens, family rooms with fire pits, dining gazebos, and sleeping porches -- in other words, almost another whole house.
There are "green-court approaches" to entrances, rather than "motor court," meaning that the automobile continues to be de-emphasized, Zubiak said.
Setbacks from the street are deeper, with garages lining side and rear alleys.
Architect Evans also noted that many buyers want to move farther out for solitude and larger lots.
Because such houses are so far from population centers, developers are having to provide "country club" amenities and commercial outlets.
Clubhouses are growing more important, but they "need to be designed in proportion to the community," Sharp said.
"How you treat the pool can make things different," he said. "Multifamily requires pool design that separates children from the adults. Single-family requires pools that offer a variety of activities. Among active adults, the pool is less important than the size of the pool deck for a variety of activities."
He added, "New-home developments that cater to people moving out of apartments need to provide the opportunity to participate in as many activities as possible."
A clubhouse has to be appropriately designed and include multiple seating areas and things like Internet coffee lounges, so people don't have to leave their neighborhood to get coffee, he said.
Architects have noticed that, even in clubhouses, people need space.
"It used to be that each unit in a development was satisfied with 15 square feet in a clubhouse," Devereaux said. "Now, it's 100 square feet."
As land has become a premium, "the best product grows from the best land plan," Evans said.
"The easy pieces of ground are gone, and only the hardest ones remain, but they are the best because they provide the biggest challenges," he said.