Tag Archives: home design

Proposed Raised House in New Orleans

I just added a new design under Past Projects–something that was inspired by the homes I saw built for the Make It Right organization in New Orleans.

I think Make It Right is an incredibly noble cause, and Brad Pitt and everyone else associated with it should be commended.

I also think some of the houses can be designed better.

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Why do I need an architect? Reason #11 – We’re trained to identify crap design

Crap is one of my favorite words in the English language. The fact the word is both singular and plural is a reminder that more of a bad thing does not make it any better. More of crap is still crap. It doesn’t matter how much of it you have, it’s still crap.

This is completely relevant to design. Of course what is considered good design and what’s bad design will always be predicated on the personal preferences and prejudices, likes and dislikes, and whether you woke up on the right side of the bed. But there’s a level for judging architectural design that transcends the aforementioned measures, and it’s based on its crap factor.

I have discovered that it actually takes years to hone in on this ability for identifying crap. I look in those floor plan magazines and see it everywhere. I see inexperienced people trying to pull off a design for a commercial space and I see it. I watch a home improvement show on television and I catch a glimpse of it.

I don’t mean to sound like an elitist, and propagate the architectural cliché that all architects are design snobs and look down at all other architects’ work. The crap I see isn’t based on design aesthetics or style. The crap I and other architects identify is a result of placing ourselves in the design and thinking about how the space is to be used, how people will feel inside the space, how much natural light and air will penetrate the space, how will people travel through the space, how will important moments in people’s lives be framed by the space, how will it be constructed and how will those materials affect the space, how will the space benefit the owners financially and psychologically, how will the space kick butt.

We architects understand the constant pull and push between the tangible and the intangibles of the design. There is a sweet spot when designing a space, and it’s not achieved by making every space bigger and louder. A space for congregating can’t be too small because it’ll feel like everyone in the room is sitting on top of each other, but it can’t be too large because the social interaction will feel awkward and disconnected. Architects are trained for finding that sweet spot.

This begins to touch on the idea of quality over quantity. Due to a myriad of financial reasons a lot of developers are beginning to build smaller homes, which is a right step for finding that sweet spot in design. It’s real easy to be impressed with big, but there is a rule in architecture that permeates into everything in life – more of a bad thing is still a bad thing, especially if it’s crap.

My unintended summer vacation, and my need to be a smart ass

For the past couple months I’ve taken a break from parts of my weekly routine to spend more quality time with my son before my wife and I ship him off to the harsh world of preschool. (Harsh for my son, who is a self-proclaimed crazy guy who doesn’t like to share, not harsh for my wife and me.) I’ve discovered two things when hanging out with my son, who I love dearly: 1) Hanging out with a four-year old is like being sober and hanging out with a drunk person, and 2) my opportunity to be myself (i.e. a smart ass) has diminished at the same rate as my son’s knack to assimilate my words into his vocabulary.

I’m sitting here writing as my son sits on my lap watching toy train videos on YouTube (probably the absolute best reason to have two monitors plugged into a desktop computer), and as I’m watching various Autodesk programs downloading for some upcoming teaching gigs I’ve attained I came across this article about a nearly 14,000 square foot glass house (it’s a very short article).

In short – the house is big, it has a lot of glass, and it’s pretentious. The glass house has been done before, so the design didn’t move me at all. But, like with all the other glass houses done before (see Mies, Johnson, Eichler, Neutra), there are the typical quotes from the designers of these styles of homes:

“I have complete privacy”

Yes, you do. As long as anyone within a hundred yards of the home is legally blind. The sense of privacy is an illusion based on seclusion, and that seclusion is based on no crazy neighbor setting up a blind in the trees and checking you out through his high-powered binoculars.

“It allows you to be one with nature inside the house.”

This one is also an illusion. You can see nature from inside your house, and the expansiveness of glass minimizes the framed views that are created by the position and size of a window. But you’re still sitting inside a conditioned space artificially modified to accommodate your desired level of comfort. Saying that nature is inside your glass house is like walking by a large aquarium and telling people “I swam with all of the fish.” The experience may have given you the illusion of being with the fish, but at no time were you ever in danger of being bitten by the shark in the exhibit.

The glass house – an aquarium for people.

Why there’s no such thing as Big Green

There are many shades of green, and apparently anyone trying to sell you something is trying to convince everyone that their green is the best shade. Green has many definitions and variations, so in an attempt to explain to people what green truly is I typically default to the sustainable mantra of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Most buildings constructed before the Industrial Revolution were considered sustainable (if you consider that these buildings produced nearly no pollution and were built from local materials), so green doesn’t have to include shiny hi-tech gizmos.

So this is why I default to the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle concept for explaining green (in order from worse to best):

Recycle – SOMETHING is made from raw materials and energy. SOMETHING is then shipped to stores where people purchase it. SOMETHING is then used, and then shipped to a recycling center where energy is used to turn SOMETHING is turned into SOMETHING ELSE. SOMETHING ELSE is then shipped to stores, and the cycle continues. SOMETHING has the potential to end up in a landfill.

Reuse – SOMETHING is made from raw materials and energy. SOMETHING is then shipped to stores where people purchase it. Then SOMETHING is used, and used, and used some more. SOMETHING has the potential to end up in a landfill.

Reduce – NOTHING is made from raw materials and energy. NOTHING is then shipped to stores where people purchase it. Then NOTHING is used. NOTHING has the potential to end up in a landfill.

So Reduce has the greatest potential of saving the most raw materials and energy. It’s obviously not the sexiest choice when it comes to conveying how green a person or company can be. (Would you believe a company’s ad if they stated “We’re green because of all of the things we didn’t do” – probably not.)

So is there such thing as a green mansion? I guess this questions parallels a question about “green” cars – which is more green, a large hybrid SUV that makes 20 miles per gallon or a compact car with a typical gas engine that makes 32 miles per gallon? There are families of eight that require a large SUV so that they can go places in one vehicle. My math tells me that when this family travels 40 miles they will use 2 gallons of fuel in the large hybrid SUV, and 2.5 gallons of fuel by taking two compact cars.

So green is (or at least should be) based on a per person basis. A 10,000 square foot mansion can be considered green, if there are around sixteen people living in the mansion. (Despite the average American family being 2.5 people and the average American home being 2,400 square feet, I’m using 600 square feet of living space per person. I had a 600 square foot apartment once, and I thought it was the perfect amount of space for me and my stuff, and not too big for me to clean.)

The architect in this article argues that green is dependent of size. I completely disagree with this argument (as well as the notion that you’re a greener person just because you drive a Prius), as well as the architect’s argument that being told your mansion isn’t considered green is somehow a sign of socialism. (If the land the house was built upon and the means of production and distribution of building materials were owned by a single collective then he might have a point, but since they aren’t then he’s coming across like he’s a whiner.)

Green resides in that gray area between what a person needs to live comfortably and what a person requires to show off to other people.