Residential Architect vs. Commercial Architect

bump out additions

The difference between a residential architect and a commercial architect

My husband, Bob Davis is a commercial architect at HDR Architecture, Inc. in Dallas, Texas. And I am a residential architect. We met at Texas A&M University in 1994 and were in the same graduating class. We both also attended A&M’s College of Architecture for grad school.

In Episode 74 of The Architecture Happy Hour podcast we take a close personal look at the differences and similarities between commercial and residential architecture. While my training and interests inspired me towards residential architecture, Bob had a passion for construction, institutional architecture, and critical regionalism-an approach to architecture that places importance on the geography and local culture of a place. Together, we uncovered some instrumental information that will be of special interest to architecture students and interns. Rest assured, no marriages were harmed in the making of the podcast or this blog.

What influences an architect?

As in sports, business, medicine, the arts, etc., architects bring varied skill sets, temperaments and interests to the table. Those interests can be greatly influenced by where an architect lived growing up and the landscapes and architecture they were exposed to.

For instance, Bob was raised as an Air Force brat and lived in several different regions of the US. That exposure contributed to his appreciation for monuments, historical buildings and varying landscapes, and also paved the path for his academic pursuits. Bob’s design studio professor and mentor at Texas A&M, Vincent Canizaro, Ph.D. was instrumental in sparking Bob’s passion to study critical regionalism. Vince, as he was known around the College of Architecture is now an associate professor in architecture and historic preservation at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

My passion, as a residential architect,  is in discovering the personal wants and needs of my clients as well as the “why” behind their unique wish lists.  I want to know about the details of my clients’ lifestyles and the daily activities of their family members. With that knowledge in hand, I can then work on a new build or home remodel or assess and design adaptations for more accessible living. I also find great satisfaction working with existing spaces to bring new life to older properties and I am energized by the character of older homes and the stories of those who have lived there.

Let your passions guide your architectural path

Whether you gravitate towards being a residential or commercial architect, it’s important that you follow your heart and your passions. Different architects can significantly and effectively serve different clients in unique and important ways.

For example, Bob enjoys large-scale commercial projects that have more layers and moving parts, and a bigger impact on society as a whole. I prefer smaller-scale residential jobs that require more one-on-one and intimate architectural conversations with a family, couple, or even an individual person.

While the educational background and skillsets are very similar for both commercial and residential architects, it ultimately comes down to the scale of the project.

Is commercial or residential architecture right for you? 

  • If you desire to make an impact on as many people as possible with the public buildings you design, you might be a (future) commercial architect. Understand that you will be involved in many collaborative conversations with project partners and will exchange an array of ideas. You should also be prepared for big projects with many consultants, project team members, and longer timelines.
  • If you desire to help a family, couple, or individual homeowners live their best lives in their homes, you might be a (future) residential architect. Residential architects should excel at one-on-one and intimate conversations with homeowners, and also be prepared to be a “jack of all trades” during the process.

Don’t forget, it’s the exposure to different design problems, the desire to serve a different clients and community, and the scale of the projects that start to divide those who gravitate towards commercial vs. residential architecture.

More Architecture Career Posts

An American in Paris, Working to Save a 1,000-Year-Old Church

An American in Paris, Working to Save a 1,000-Year-Old Church

It's no secret that architects Laura Davis and Holly Hall of hpd architecture + interiors share a passion for architectural historic preservation, however the American idea of historic preservation pales in comparison to our European counterparts. With America only...

Tips for Architecture Students and Emerging Professionals

Tips for Architecture Students and Emerging Professionals

Getting and Making the Most of Your First Architecture Job If you are an Emerging Professional, securing your first architecture job seems like a tough task. We've been there. We get it. The internship and first year design  job market is competitive, and you are...


VP, Architect, hpd architecture + interiors
Laura Davis is a Texas and Colorado registered architect and interior designer, and a co-founder of hpd architecture + interiors. With a diverse portfolio spanning residential, commercial, retail, and historical projects, Laura’s heart lies with her specialty in Historic Preservation. She loves to revitalize older properties, cherishing their character and the stories they hold. Her true passion lies in understanding her clients deeply, uncovering their desires and motivations, and crafting designs that turn houses into cherished homes.

Laura Davis is a registered architect and interior designer in the state of Texas and Colorado, and a founding member of hpd architecture + interiors. Laura's extensive experience includes residential as well as commercial and retail projects.  She also has a particular interest in restoration, holding a certificate in Historic Preservation. She is energized by the character of older homes and the stories of those who have lived there. Responding to the needs of the current owner, while also honoring the personality of the original home is a delicate process to be enjoyed.

Laura Davis

Vice President, Architect, Interior Designer Principal , hpd architecture + interiors


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


* indicates required