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Building Communities: Jeremiah Russell on Residential Design and Urban Trends

Jeremiah Russell, AIA, NCARB, RIBA
Principal Architect, Rogue Architecture

Jeremiah graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a Master of Architecture in 2003. From 2004 to 2014 he worked for way too many other architectural firms in Florida, Virginia, and Arkansas gaining an incredible breadth of experience in aviation, retail, office, multi-family, historic preservation, and custom residential design. In 2014 he took the “big leap” and founded Rogue Architecture. Since then his work and experience have continued to grow specializing in custom single-family homes, multi-family and affordable housing, commercial office and retail, custom interiors, and historic preservation. In addition to being NCARB Certified Jeremiah is licensed in 14 states – Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Colorado, DC, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia – and serves on the Little Rock Board of Adjustment and the Little Rock Planning Commission. His passion for the profession knows no bounds.

Can you tell us about yourself? How did you start architecture, what made you become an architect?

When I was a kid, my grandmother and my mother took me to a city to go shopping. I don’t remember what city it was, but the clearest memory I have of that trip was getting in trouble for sticking my head out the cab window because I wanted to stare up at all the tall buildings. From a very young age, I was always fascinated by buildings and cities and how these structures create communities. I was either going to be an architect or an architect. When it came down to making a real decision about life, there wasn’t another option.

Tell us a little bit about your practice. What do you focus on?

We focus primarily on residential design. I started with custom single-family homes, and we have branched out into multi-family affordable housing and historic preservation. Our approach to design starts with asking lots of questions. For instance, when dealing with single-family homes, one of the questions I always ask is, do you have a large extended family? Are they going to visit a lot? Do you need a kitchen that, day to day, is good enough for you and your immediate family, but does it need to fit 10 people comfortably, sitting around the kitchen island, talking or yelling or throwing things?

From Rogue Architectures: 642 North Carolina Ave SE DC

Or, do you entertain a lot? Maybe in that instance, the kitchen wouldn’t be as important, but you still need space for catering and for beverages and larger gathering spaces for larger numbers of people. Similarly, in multi-family, we want to know how many units you want in the project. Is it going to be a mix of one-bedroom and two-bedroom, or more two-bedroom and three-bedroom units? Most often, the developer is going to define that, but it informs the design.

What do you like about residential design? What’s your passion?

I think it has the biggest impact on the users. It’s more about the user than it is about the owner. When you’re designing a single-family home, the owner and the user are the same person. But you’re creating spaces that are on a more intimate level. Offices, medical office parks, or retail centers are a little bit more sterile. They’re made for the general public, for much larger groups of people to inhabit. But there’s something intimate about designing residential spaces that I find interesting and valuable.

What’s the difference for you between single-family and multi-family design? What’s the difference in your passion for design?

From Rogue Architectures: 1314 Vermont Ave/Penthouse

In a single family, you’re dealing with a much smaller group of people, generally a family, sometimes multi-generational, but probably not more than five or six people sharing the space. The list of spaces is smaller and relatively fixed: living room, dining room, bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.

Multi-family is different because you’re designing spaces not only to house families but to house families collectively. These are people who are not related before they move in, they don’t know each other. But you still need to create spaces where people can gather, and interact, to create community. 

So, the difference between the two is really a matter of scale. Spaces still need to be functional and intimate, but there are other opportunities in multi-family design for creating more intimate semi-public spaces as well and that can be a lot of fun. 

What do you think about the move to the city centers versus what happened with COVID and a lot of people leaving cities? So, you know, a city like San Francisco now is not integrated.

One of the biggest changes I noticed with COVID-19 was the shift to remote work. Many companies realized there might be a more flexible way to do business than the traditional model they had been using forever. This new approach allows employees to live where they want and still get the work done without needing to be in a large office tower. Teams can now be spread out all over the place. This flexibility is certainly easier for larger corporations but not as easy for small firms, like my architectural practice.

From Rogue Architectures: 1314 Vermont Ave/Penthouse

Despite the challenges, there was a significant shift in how we thought about running businesses. This change wasn’t chosen; it was necessitated by COVID. Nonetheless, some interesting and positive outcomes emerged from it. 

Change is certainly uncomfortable, but the pandemic prompted us to consider new ways of operating that might not have been explored otherwise.

What are some of your other interests outside of architecture?

When I was a kid, I read a lot of horror fiction. Stephen King was and still is one of my favorite authors. I’m also on a big nonfiction kick right now. My family and I went to Italy two years ago, and in preparation for that trip, I was reading about Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Leonardo da Vinci. Currently, I’m reading about the Medici family and how they became so powerful and rich in Florence. Also, the history of the Freemasons and some architecture books. There’s one titled “Millennials Say Yes to the City,” which is about the reverse migration from the suburbs into the urban core we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years.

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