As the weather gets cooler, people start snuggling up inside their homes, or wandering around others during AIA Houston’s annual fall tour. But because of the pandemic, AIA Houston has broken its mold (but not the crown molding) this year, and is instead offering architecture aficionados a digital peek into a diverse group of residential projects through a new At Home with Architects series this month. 

The community of architects decided to call off its signature in-person tour over the summer, as the popular events would typically pack dozens of people into strangers' homes for an entire weekend. 

“The hardest part about putting on a home tour is getting the home owners to say ‘yes,’” AIA Houston Executive Director Rusty Bienvenue says. “The added level of [wearing masks] still puts a large burden on homeowners when you tell them, 'we can have 2,000 people come through your house in a pandemic.’”

It’s certainly not a novel idea for AIA Houston to go virtual. Other city chapters of the national institute have showcased properties through livestreams, slideshows, and the likes. The Bayou City’s own Preservation Houston even released a series of newsy videos for its Good Brick Tour in October. 

But AIA Houston has allowed its members to experiment. “Architects are about as creative as anybody on the planet,” Bienvenue says. “We decided to unleash them and see what they would do virtually.” 

The result: 15 virtual tours, showcasing micro units to country cabins to mid-century modern abodes from the architects’ and owners’ perspectives. Some of the five-minute videos feel like mini HGTV episodes, while others are more homemade—though all offer commentary and insights about everything, from the design process to what it’s like to cook a Thanksgiving meal in the kitchen. 

And, without the need to consider driving distance for tour-goers, several of the featured homes this year are located outside of town, with a handful in the Hill Country and one as far out as Queensland, Australia. 

“When you’re looking at opening up houses to the public, you want to inspire in a number of different ways and sometimes that’s difficult. Sometimes what we get are all these modern houses with shiny white boxes that are fine and beautiful, but they’re not going to appeal to everyone,” Bienvenue says. “This tour—by accident we have a more diverse tour than what we usually get. They are kinda all over the map.”

The experiment garnered a strong response. In the pre-pandemic world, the group would be thrilled with an attendance of about 2,000, Bienvenue says. But by early November, the At Home With Architects Series already had roughly 3,500 unique visitors and counting. 

The virtual tour and an introduction by Stephen Fox, architectural historian and a lecturer at the Rice School of  Architecture, is free at aiahoustonhometour.org and will run until November 15. Click through the slideshow for a preview of this year’s participating homes.

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