Saturday, March 06, 2010

Contest entries to vote for - our recommendations

In our last installment of our House Design Contest blog entries we described what we thought were the important characteristics of a good house plan product. Lets look at some of the entries that live up to this. I believe they are significant because they roll together the best aspects of creating a product and creating good architecture at once.

Of course our first choice is our own design entry, the Lagom House.

The Lagom house is pushing the boundary in size, coming in several hundred square feet less than most other 3 bedroom homes in the contest. Obviously this will limit its appeal for some, but also extend its reach to many who can not afford to build an extra 300 sqft. Please vote for the Lagom House here.

See the rest of our choices after the link below.

Moving on to my favorites I would like to have you look at the Duval design by Content Design Group. This understated design is successful on many levels.

Here is a modern house that fits well in existing traditional neighborhoods as well as sets out a pattern for developing new neighborhoods of similar scaled and priced homes. In fact this would be an ideal neighbor to the Lagom House. The Duval makes good use of the site by creating a central outdoor space, a courtyard enjoyed from the main living space in the center of the house. The rear of the property is reserved for work - parking from an alley, gardens, and yard work tools. Have a look at it, and vote for it here.

Next take a look at the design by freelancer Tim Brennan. He has created a small 1136 sqft home, one of the few designs in the contest smaller than the Lagom House. Two bedrooms with a garage within the footprint, his subRural House design has a scandinavian austerity to it that really appeals to me.

I like this design, I like its restaint, and I like the way he has represented it in a range of situations. This house design is a good house plan product, and a size that is sorely lacking in the market. Give it a vote here.

Next I'd like you to take a look at the equilibrium house by the same named design office in the UK. In some ways this house breaks some of my rules. The dense placement of freestanding homes is a pattern once common in our cities, has largely fell out of use. More common in the US are attached "townhouses", or detached homes with wider spacing. But the pattern suggested by the equilibrium is so nice its well worth my endorsement.

The staggered footprint of the house makes great use of the site. It allows for shallow lots, and therefore narrow blocks, yet wide frontage and rear gardens that is great for integrating the driveway and cars. The floor plan is smart, and even though a UK design they seem to have pegged US expectations. I think more study of US house industry could yield more feasible cladding and construction. But I'm cutting slack here because I so like the overall design. Check it out and vote for hit here.

Next I invite you to take a look at Rober Swinburne's Simple House. Sinburne is from Vermont and his design takes into account many of the issues faced by homes located in colder climates, and as a result energy conservation is definitely on the plate here.

The Simple House is a good blend of modern and traditional sensibilities, such that a home buyer looking for a traditional house, or a home buyer looking for a modern house would probably both be satisfied by this design. I think that says a lot for the reach and appeal this design could have - I think it would be a very successful product. Construction is very conventional, and any builder could make this house without a blink. None of the edginess and design in your face of many of the other entries, but I can guarantee you that this design would outsell the other swoopy ones by a long shot. A contest winner? Maybe not, but a product winner, yes. Vote for it here.

Next have a look at the Transition House by Studio Interpretation Design. This is a house I could see existing comfortably in many US neighborhoods of homes of similar size. Its modern, it fits in a traditional neighborhood, and basically has its cake and eats it too.

It has a really nice, smart, rational floor plan, well configured for a narrow deep lot. The house would fit perfectly on a street of other homes oriented in a similar way - narrow and deep. This house could have easily been articulated with overt gestures, green lattice on the walls, wishful edgy technology, and other bells and whistles to win green points. Instead the design shows great restraint. It telegraphs the designer's understanding of what might really get built and widely adopted. This is a house that an average Jane and Joe could afford, and an average builder would have no problem building. Support it with a vote here.

Next is the Passive Solar House by Jason Roan. This was designed for the retirement house profile, so its only two bedrooms within its 1800 sqft. But its a simple and well laid out design.

Clearly something any average home builder can execute and do a fine job with. View it here, and vote.

Next have a look at the O-House by Modaby Design. This house has an interesting modular layout that allows the house to be reorganized to take advantage of sun exposure on different lots. Very clever.

The design does include a number of diagonal wall surfaces that could drive the cost up, but it would also turn out just fine if these were simplified by the owner and builder to meet a budget. The design of the house can stand up to that kind of tinkering. See it here, vote for it.

The next entry you should look at is Windswept by David Cox. This house has a great plan layout, with a car port that doubles as a shaded outdoor living space. The home office is also divided from the home which is a great feature if you find a home office distracting.

The scale of the house is realistic, and it just feels like something that can really be built. Vote for it here.

Next is the Nock House by Red Dirt Design. At a glance it appears too big for a starter house, but when you look at the plan it is composed of discrete part that could allow the house to be built in phases. The core of the house with living and bedroom spaces is a very reasonable size.

My favorite part of the plan is the slight angle between the bedrooms and the living spaces. Have a look and vote.

No doubt there are more good designs, but I've not been able to scan them all. But I want to encourage you to keep the points I described in my last post in mind when you vote on the site. Don't be fooled by wishful and fancy drawings. Lets reward the house designs that point a way to actually getting good design into your hands.


  1. From Equilibrium: Gregory, thank you for you recognition and warm comments. Our aim is to create a truly sustainable community, where families can maintain their identity. In our view this concept marries those objectives.

  2. My pleasure - my only wish was that these designs more grounded in reality were getting more votes! However I trust the judges to have insight when they make their own choices.

  3. Thank you for the recognition. Firstly, I would like to take an opportunity to mention that the O-house concept is not modular, instead the plan is designed to be rotated and mirrored for orientation. The design maintains it relationship to yard spaces and the street through the careful design of all the facades. A similar north and west facade drive the concept.
    Your comments regarding the competition are pointed, and I appreciate that your design also does a good job at addressing the program. As you mentioned, the voters and judges should be challenged to pay close attention to how each of the designs address the key issues of the program:
    Flexibility on Orientation and Lot Size; Affordability-the ability to realistically be built for a modest price;
    Context-will the design contribute to a community;
    of course Livability of the plan.
    I agree, too often with design competitions I see the judges and voters get dazzled by flashy drawings or out of budget design details and don't pay as close attention to the practicality. I hope and expect more from "Who's Next".
    I feel my design solves these issues-all wrapped in a nice package.
    May the best design win!
    -Matthew O. Daby
    m.o.daby design

  4. Hi Matt, yes, I'm with you on that. I should have clarified my post - when I said "modular layout" I did not mean to suggest modular construction, but rather the adaptability of the plan that you describe.

  5. Greg,

    Obviously, you were unable to view all 400 design submissions when you came up with your list. I was hoping for some recognition (and a nice mention on your blog) because I find strong semblances from my work to your own.

    My entry for the Empty Nesters was rooted with the goal of making the floor plan the most flexible as possible within the most buildable layout. I also feel that my entry answers all of your points of what makes for a successful house plan. The trick with the Empty Nesters was that the program called for the largest lots possible and therefore I didn't present how well my plan might adopt to other locations, orientations, community building, etc. With only 9 files to upload it become most important to get the main goals across to the general public.

    I also share your sentiments regarding the difference of submissions that are pretty pictures and those that are truly buildable - of which mine is. Being that this competition is for a home builder, my hope is the plans that show the most promise in both buildability and new ideas are given the greatest recognition.

    Daniel Gottlieb AIA LEED AP
    Gottlieb Designs

  6. Yes- I was scanning the plans while they were being posted, and I saw about the first 100, but then they just started coming too fast!

    Your entry Dan certainly seems feasible - and just as mine leans towards my region in the North East, yours really feels like it would be ideal in the south west.

    You should have posted the url for entry - I'll add it here:

  7. As much as we would love to have more votes right now, we realize part of this competition is purely a popularity contest, fueled by how many folks you can drum up on twitter and facebook, obviously. And believe me, we've done our share of promotion as well.

    Your recognition of our design and comments on it alone, are well worth the entry into the competition. As someone we view as a real leader of modern residential design, and an obvious champion of our firm's philosophy, "Everyone deserves good design," we are happy you see the merits in the design and also feel that the Lagom House would be a good neighbor.

    We weren't interested in designing some sort of modern masterpiece for this competition, one that looked to the most current materials and pushed the boundary on structural limits, but took the "starter home" program and term to heart.

    We hope we have created a home that introduces the competition "couple" to sustainability and to modern. Not to re-write the book on what the vernacular home is, but to inform it and gear it towards modern and green living, doing so at an affordable price.

    I agree that the designs you have posted do have a common theme of good design and real world practicality.

    Thanks again, and it will be interesting to see how the judging turns out, good luck...

  8. Greg,
    By the way,

    I also linked this article on my website here..


  9. Greg,

    Looking over your selections, and including mine into the argument, I find it very interesting how each house truly feels like the architect's/designer's location they are accustomed to working in. I would assume this would be the case from good designers, such as these, who have spent a great deal of time in one location and focused on that vernacular.

    I guess it brings up a question for me about your characteristics of a good house plan and namely the need to be flexible and adaptable to a variety of site conditions. How adaptable are these designs to different climates/locations/ways of living?

    This was my first real house plan that was not custom and I'm trying to understand the thought process to make a house plan the most adaptable across the varied conditions presented in the US.

    Daniel Gottlieb AIA LEED AP
    Gottlieb Designs

  10. Dan - this is a great question, and you might find it useful to look through my catalog with the same question in mind. For all of my house designs I have them placed in groups according to the kind of setting that they work best in. Homes with a lot of windows on all sides are intended for large sites with no neighbors in view. Houses with compact footprints are intended for in-fill or traditional neighborhood planning.

    Inevitably somebody is going to build one of those houses in a setting that does not match that grouping. Does the house still work? Generally its easier for a design to move from a dense situation to a less dense situation. But any stock plan will not slip easily into a difficult site that puts unusual demands on any structure that would go there.

    A stock plan will never put all of the site concerns together as well as a custom design. And frankly that is the way it should be. Thats why custom design costs more, thats why it delvers more value.

    As far as the entries, I think this is just a case of showing the house in a setting that puts it in the best light. Everybody is trying to do that here.

  11. Oops. I pasted the wrong link. Here you go...

  12. Dan,
    I think your comments and concerns are valid, and greg did a good job of responding.
    I am interested in your comments on your own submission with regards to flexiblity. Is this something you took into consideration with your design?
    The flexibility is of utmost importance, and is the key point that makes a design sustainable. I felt my submission addressed this well with the orientation flexibility of the plan, and by looking at features, scale, and porportions of a variety of typical American houses. This is also why I choose the American Foursquare house as inspiration. It is a universally American (non-regional) house type is many parts of the country.
    I don't think it is neccesary to copy past architectural styles to be appropriate or regional. The functions of the house should be able to adapt to the region's climate in as passive a way as possible. Hence, why I choose a new interpretation of the pitched roof and sun shading/wall protecting roof overhangs.
    After all, any traditional architectural style has brand new at one point in time. I wanted a challenge to think about a truely 21st century form.

  13. Matt,

    I most certainly did put major consideration into flexibility with my design. Of course, the smallest stated lot size for my profile was 1-2 acres so I designed accordingly. I am assuming that if a smaller site was called for, the garage can be attached, reoriented to the entry, or placed closer to the home without much impact on the overall design so long as some protected walk and courtyard is created.

    The only aspect of my design that has to hold true is the central tower. If the house is located on a site that is oriented 180 degrees from how I show it, the roofs are able to flip their slope to provide proper shading without affecting the interior and exterior spaces. Deep overhangs on all sides will effectively shade the home properly no matter which side faces South.

    The garage has the greatest flexibility to move or reorient itself to make the house plan work on different scale lots and different orientations to the street.

    The biggest issue with the Empty Nesters, for me, was the potentail live-in help and how best to fit it into the building plan knowing that the best place was furthest away from the owner's bedroom suite. To achieve this one must simply enclose the den/reading area off the main living room and create a reoriented entrance to the full bathroom to make a mini-suite for the hired help.

    I love the form you've designed and how the simple move to taper the walls help shade all the windows no matter the orientation. The Starter Home profile enabled a 2 story option, and I feel that you have taken full advantage of this to create the most flexible plan I have seen in the competition. Sometimes the most simplest of gestures have the greatest impact. The way you have positioned the upper floor has created the two covered entry points and the 2nd floor deck so sublimely.

    I took part in a Habitat competition back in 2003 and proposed this design which has very similar characteristics to your proposal:


  14. Dan,

    Thanks for your comments.
    Interestingly, I am now working on a Habitat project here in Oregon.