Design Competition

2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 1Within the architecture profession, design competitions have a love hate relationship. Many architects either love them or hate them. Me, I don’t cut it so black and white, I prefer an off gray stance. I don’t enter many design competitions, perhaps a future post as to why. However, when I do, I look at them from my own ** insert pun ** perspective and I win every competition I enter.




How? Simple, I enter them with a specific challenge for myself to achieve. I don’t care about ‘winning’ in terms of Charlie Sheen, or the competitions definition of winning. Sure, it’d be great to win and receive the accolades from peers, or a quart of tiger’s blood, but I’m in it for more than that. I win by using competitions as exercises to further my knowledge of the architecture profession and/or add new design tools to my arsenal. There are two, and only two criteria to meet if you want to guarantee a win- and in reality one of them is optional.

The two critical tips to win every competition you enter:

1. There needs to be an entry fee. It’ll force upon you responsibility and commitment. If you’re anything like me, you expect to get something out of the monies you pay- I’m looking right at you AIA, sorry, that’s another post.

2. You need to commit to learning a new technique, trying new software, testing a new concept, investigating a new material or new usage of a typical material, etc. the key here is ‘new’ as the only way to win is doing something new.

You can win without meeting tip number 1. However, your winnings will be greater if you do. Keep in mind, there is no way to win if you don’t adhere to tip number 2

2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 3One of my most recent projects was the design of a new residential house. The clients are great and it’s been a fun project. The design was done via SketchUp and the design package was presented via renders right out of SketchUp. The graphic results for the schematic proposal were good. At the schematic stage, I try not to get caught up in materials and color selections- I want clients to focus on form, massing, and layout. I’ve used SketchUp for several years, the renders are good but a bit cartoonish. If you’d like to learn the basics of using SketchUp, check out my post SketchUp 101. I’ve tried a few other rendering plug-ins with Sketchup in the past, while the results were better than the standard Sketchup, they were cumbersome to achieve. I knew there were better Sketchup plug-ins. Time to go win a design competition.

My local chapter of the AIA was having their annual design awards competition, a perfect one to enter. As previously mentioned, there was an entry fee and the new software I was going to learn was Maxwell Render. I wanted to learn a new software to enhance the Sketchup renders. In addition, I was looking for a technique to better render grass, and Maxwell fit the bill on both counts. The free version of Maxwell is a plug-in that runs within Sketchup. While you’re limited to certain functions and output resolutions, it greatly enhances renderings of your Sketchup models. I chose Maxwell because Evan Troxel raves about it and if he does, trust me it’s got to be good. So Maxwell it was. I won’t go into specifics about the usage of Maxwell, perhaps a future post, but honestly you’re better off checking out Evan’s get Method site.

Here are some of the images created- the original SketchUp image is followed  with the Maxwell Render below. Keep in mind these were created from one SketchUp model with minor tweaking in Maxwell. The people, trees, and sky were done in Photoshop:

2014-05-13_blog_image_competitions 2


So there you go, my latest win at a design competition. I won by learning a new software and technique. I was extremely happy with the results and haven’t even begun experimenting with Maxwell materials… maybe I’ll save that for my next winning entry. If you care to forgo an entry fee, be sure to check out Bob Borson’s Life of an Architect annual Playhouse Design Competition, its for a great cause.

So go out there and win yourself a design competition, you’ll be happy you did!



Design On,

** Seriously… you’ll win… do it!


We were asked to submit our entry from Free Green Who’s Next? design competition- of which we placed in the top 12 out over 400 entries from around the world- as I am sure we were only 1 of 7 people asked to submit our design, we felt obligated….. so we re-fomatted our design and submitted to The Earth Awards, check out the submittal below:

A quick video of the project can be seen here: shedIT animation

For more information about the competition check out the web site The Earth Awards

GOOD NEWS!!! The initial round of voting is complete for Free Green’s Who’s next design competition. With over 400 entries, we are pleased to announce that our entry is one of the 12 finalists. It will be open to public voting again to determine the winner and we ask for your support. Once the final round of voting is open we will post a link. We are excited to have made it to the final round!

the birth of the verbiage to go with the house design for fregreen’s who’s next? design competition…….keep in mind this is a work in progress:

shedIT: affordable housing without compromise

re: american dream

The single family home is a defining element of the American lifestyle. The challenge in housing is to provide a single family house that is truly “affordable.” To succeed, the design must engender the sense of home, as much as it provides for basic needs. The design serves the inhabitants which varies diversely, but whose typical patterns abide. Spaces for personal privacy, as much as for common purposes, must be provided. This is readily accomplished by providing for private rooms and the careful assemblage and separation of common spaces. However, exponential consumerism growth has resulted in over inflated homes of inefficient structure and an abundance of superfluous space. The past decade saw consumers desiring, and in most cases, demanding, more than the essentials of a house- they expected larger and larger quantities of square footage. With those expectations come no questions as to the value of the space nor the long term effects on the life-cycle of the house and the environment as a whole. The current econ climate has seen a resurgence of consumers wanting more efficient homes with less space but more quality. Only spaces necessary are provided in the design. They are sustainable and reduce overall energy consumption and pollution.

A plan based on a traditional paradigm makes sense. However, details redefine the familiar plan organization. The four-foot wide gallery is not really a luxury- it allows for niceties that decorate the typical family dwelling: bookshelves, umbrella stands, planters, childrens toys, collections, artwork, sound systems, storage units, etc. Pocket door closures between the dining and living room achieve privacy, and conversely, a linkage when open to effect a single spacious room. A space at the top of the stairs for play, television, or study, affords a secondary common area. Some may elect to close off for storage, others a sitting area for the adjacent bedroom. Though a compact dwelling, the typical “three piece vanilla bath” is enlarged significantly to accommodate room for two working adults, a nurse assistant, accessibility for walkers and wheelchairs, and useful for parent-child training periods.

Cost efficiency is primarily achieved by the minimization of the plan. The simplified framing plans allow for time efficient construction. The employment of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) often results in a cost savings, and the prefabricated roof trusses add further savings. Additional cost savings are achieved through the reduced roof pitch design, utilization of common, readily available materials-asphalt shingles, cement board siding, and casement windows. In some locations, a slab on-grade may replace the crawl space and result in more savings. The structural design economizes with an intermediate bearing wall on the first floor, allowing for minimal floor joists, nominally 10″. The best opportunities for reducing long term costs in the building commence during the design process. To this end, the proposed design is indeed livable, buildable, sustainable, and affordable.