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So You Want To Do Houses? Residential design is not for every architect, says one who has learned from experience b y M i c h a e l M a l o n e , AIA

Renderings courtesy the author.

A casual survey of why people become architects will inevitably lead to an early interest in or passion for the design of houses. It is therefore surprising to many people that not all architects design houses. Single-family residential design is something most architects feel they have the skills and knowledge to do effectively, but the reality is few of us makes an ongoing practice of it and even fewer can earn a meaningful living doing it. I know, I try to do it every day and it is tough. A good friend of mine, Tim, got the opportunity to do what all of us architects (and a lot of nonarchitects) dream of—to design and build his own house. Tim enjoys a successful architectural career working almost exclusively on commercial projects. Using this experience, he used his considerable organizational skills when he designed his house in an orderly manner that reflected everything he’d learned about how to lay out and plan an efficient building. Using the careful assumptions any of us would make when planning for economy and efficiency, he arranged the rooms in a compact mass with a minimum of exterior surface area. He utilized standard sizes of lumber and masonry when laying out and organizing his elevations. He avoided curves, expensive finishes, and difficult details. He stacked his plumbing in a logical manner, minimized lighting fixtures, and oriented the house to minimize solar gain while maximizing opportunities for natural lighting. He reviewed his completed drawings carefully with a responsible contractor with a reputation for fair pricing and an acceptable level of quality and provided cut sheets and data for all of the materials he thought necessary, so as to leave no questions unanswered and to avoid gray areas that could lead to higher or incomplete pricing. A few weeks later, the contractor called him with news that his bid number was ready and a meeting was arranged to review the pricing. That night Tim (and his wife), for the first time in his professional career, were on the receiving end of a cost estimate that was significantly over budget. He’d been in the room as a consultant many times when a client reacted with shock when a bid or budget price for a building project came in high and he was

In his forthcoming book, the author relates the value of using drawings and models as tools to help residential clients through the design process. These two renderings depict a recently completed house he designed for a couple just outside the northeast Texas town of Athens.


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Texas Architect July/Aug 2009: Residential Design