2016 Life of an Architect Playhouse Competition – Clarifications

March 2, 2016 — 37 Comments

I’m not going to lie, there were a lot of questions surrounding the changes to this year’s Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition. After I introduced everyone to my awesome new collaboration with Houzz and the American Institute of Architects, there were a number of folks that seemed perplexed by the changes and told me “privately” that they didn’t really understand what was happening. So I am writing an all new shiny post just for you that should clear up any remaining questions … and to point out one really simple but important fact:

You Have More Opportunities to Get Your Playhouse Built!

Did you know that last year when I managed this entire competition by myself, there were three winners, and there fore 3 playhouses built? Don’t get me wrong, three winners is awesome – BUT – this year there could be as many as 16 playhouses built!!  Let me break this down for you:

  1. Go to Houzz and set up a profile (if you don’t already have one)
  2. Once you have your profile, go here and upload your sketches, drawings, renderings – anything. you. want. You can upload as much as you want. There are no limits!
  3. Write a brief description of how your design fits this year’s theme of “Adventure” and inspires imaginative play.
  4. Share your entry on social media with your friends, family and colleagues, and ask them to “like” your entry on Houzz.
  5. Do all of this as soon as you can because entries are due by 5pm PT on April 8th. The sooner you have your entry online, the longer period of time you’ll have to get people to vote for your playhouse. The voting will end at 5pm PT on April 15th. I can reasonably assume that most people would like to take as much time as possible to get their entries completed but in this case, it really is to your benefit to get your design in early so that the Houzz using general public (of which there are over 35 million of them on the Houzz website) can see your entry and vote for it.
  6. Make sure you read the PlayHouzz official rules – there’s important information on there (design and size criteria among other things.)

(If you haven’t read the original post introducing this year’s Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition, you should check it out since it provides all the links to construction guidelines, where you upload your drawings on the Houzz – all sorts of data that you should at least be familiar with)

**Side Bar**

A handful of people expressed some concern to me that they thought that unless they had 15,000 relatives, they have no chance at winning. This is not true … nobody has 15,000 relatives. There are really two categories of winners. People that win the Houzz Playhouse portion of the Competition (which is determined by popular vote) OR they could win my playhouse competition which involves me sitting in the front room of my house with other architects, contractors, friends, and the children of my friends. We will still sort through all the entries submitted to Houzz regardless of the popular vote and select our own finalists, just like I have done in all previous versions of the Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition … so that’s pretty awesome, right? Wait – it get’s better but you have to go all the way down to the bottom to read new and very exciting developments.

Like I said, there are more chances to win, which also means more playhouses built, which translates to more charities that can benefit from your talents. Win-Win-Win.

** Resume**

Okay, back on the Houzz portion of the competition. There will be one super-duper overall winner of the The PlayHouzz 2016 competition. That person will receive:

  • Houzz editorial coverage featuring the playhouse designer and entry
  • Playhouse built and featured at AIA Convention 2016 in Philadelphia
  • Prize trip to AIA Convention 2016 (including airfare and hotel) for U.S.- or Canada-based winner. Clarification – anybody can win this category but you have to be a US or Canada based winner to get the trip to the AIA Convention in Philadelphia.

There will be 2 PlayHouzz Runners-Up. Those folks will receive:

  • Houzz editorial coverage featuring the playhouse designer and entry
  • Houzz will work with PlayHouzz partners to build the winning designs for a charity or nonprofit that benefits children. Clarification – you still get your playhouse built, it just won’t necessarily be in Philadelphia.

Finally – in the PlayHouzz portion of the competition – there are 10 AIA Local Winners. What that means is that up to 10 participating AIA components will be eligible to receive funds from Houzz and the AIA to build playhouse designs from their members entries that receive the most “likes” in the competition. AIA components will donate these playhouses locally or use them to raise funds for a charity or nonprofit that benefits children. Houzz will also feature these playhouses in an editorial article. The way this works is that the AIA component will need to have at least 20 entries to go submitted in order to go into the lottery (assuming that there are more than 10 AIA components that have more than 20 entries). From there, 10 Components will be drawn at random to determine which will be eligible to have a winning playhouse built. The way the winning playhouse is selected is that the entry from that AIA component with the most online votes will be the winner. It’s complicated the first few times you read it through but once you get it, it’s not that complicated.

Okay … are you still with me? Good. Now let’s talk about my portion of this competition. As I mentioned previously (in the sidebar portion above) I will still have my competition just like normal, and I will still be building (at this point) 3 playhouses … just like last year. I will assemble my typical assortment of kick-ass judges and we will go through the evaluation criteria just like always. The only difference is that you aren’t sending your entries to me … they’re going to Houzz and from there, my crack team of judges will select the finalists and ultimately, the winning playhouse designs.

You’ll need to know some basic parameters in order to actually design one of these playhouses. Click here for the playhouse guidelines – this is the document that tells you the size constraints. This is Very Important!! If you don’t get the size right, we can’t use your playhouse. Please make sure that you don’t design a playhouse that is bigger than allowed!

Protection – since the playhouses from my competition will be on display in a mall, they must have all openings either closed or protected so that enthusiastic children don’t actually play on the playhouses during this time. A common solution is to put Plexiglas over the openings but the amount of openings you may have can make this solution difficult to execute. Things like slides and rock walls are frowned upon because they are difficult to protect without resorting to making a giant Plexiglas cover. Think of these playhouses more like little buildings than structures you would find on a playground.

Click here for examples of playhouses that have been built in the past, past design entries, and examples the construction documents for my playhouses.

SketchUp 3D BaseCamp

I have a super awesome piece of news to share with you. I have been working with SketchUp to get them involved in this years competition. Not only have they enthusiastically agreed, they will be funding the construction of one of the Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition playhouses. In addition to their financial support, they have put together an awesome prize pack! I am creating a special SketchUp category to showcase the skill of the best winning design that uses SketchUp software. Considering that over the last four years almost every single entry I have received was created in SketchUp, this collaboration was a no-brainer. Check out this prize pack:

  • A SketchUp Pro license (and a credit to get the SketchUp Mobile Viewer for free)
  • A free trip to 3D Basecamp 2016 in Steamboat Springs (for US/CA participants)
  • A SketchUp swag bag
  • A project review on the SketchUp Blog.

Hmmmm …I’m wondering how I can win this for myself.

Finally, there is one last piece of information that I should point out. If you have submitted an entry to the Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition in the past, I have spoken with the powers that be at Houzz and they have agreed to let you re-enter previously submitted designs into this years PlayHouzz 2016 competition! It would be to your benefit to reformat your entry from a single 24″ x 36″ vertically oriented board into several individual files – they will show much better if you upload your drawings separately – not to mention that you get to pick which image you use for the cover of your PlayHouzz Ideabook.

Seriously – think about this for a minute. If you’ve ever submitted a playhouse to me in the past, I am telling you to resubmit it to the PlayHouzz 2016 competition so that the 35 MILLION people who use Houzz can check out your design and vote for it. This really couldn’t be easier.

I hope this clears things up – I can appreciate how change is sometimes confusing. Hopefully you’ve now come to realize that this is just as awesome as before, but more awesomer.

Cheers – and get those playhouses designed!

Bob-AIA scale figure

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  • Dewan Mashrur

    Is your portion of the competition date updated as well with the Houzz? See they pushed their deadline back to April 15th.

    • Yes – I will follow suit since I will be reviewing the same pool of entries for some of my entries (previous entries that made it into the finals rounds will automatically be advanced in my competition).

  • Mark Storch

    Hi Bob,
    Many of the playhouses already submitted do not conform to size requirements. Some are not even close. Others have “removable” accessories that considerably alter the design and expand the footprint?

    • They will not be selected as one of the winners – rules are rules.

      • Mark Storch

        True. But it’s hard to compete for votes against a three floor, 750 sqft château

      • Brooke

        Hi Bob!
        I had a great time trying out this competition for the first time. Thank you for putting it on each year! It was a very fun design exercise.
        I wish I would have seen your comment section down here earlier (my fault). I have some removable items on my design. At least I know now per your response above and within the finalist article that it MUST fit the size reqs. Hopefully next year it can be made clearer as Houzz states the entry can be revised to fit the parameters as necessary. I.e. scaled down (but that obviously only works within reason). 🙂
        That said, it is very confusing that if you are sticking to the size rules meaning those that don’t meet the size reqs still made it into the finalist category, like the new Planehouse (14′-7″ wide) and the Thout (has a slide outside the parameters) – will they now be disqualified from the finalist you posted today?
        Just trying to understand the whole judging process so I know how to better plan for next year 🙂
        Thanks again for any clarity you can provide. And not trying to come across negatively, just trying to better understand the evaluation process. 🙂 I plan to try my hand at this again next year!

        • Yes – the confusion is understandable. Sometimes a playhouse will be advanced even though we don’t expect it to win simply because it has some other sort of admirable quality – and I think as designers, we should recognize those efforts. Since there is an award for making it into the Finals, I want to reward such entries (and I encourage the judges to feel comfortable knowing that they are advancing a playhouse that will not be built).

          Sometimes – and the Thout playhouse is such an example – is that I feel comfortable taking certain liberties with the entries. The Thout playhouse will not be built with a slide … but the judges will debate if it is worthy of winning once the slide has been removed.

          See? Slippery and complicated slope.

          I try and tell people that there is some leeway with exceeding the allowable footprint but it is generally frowned upon. The wings of the Planehouse might be able to fold up (for example) but that might also complicate the construction in an equally damaging manner.

          Judging these playhouses are a lot more complicated than people realize.

          • Brooke

            Thanks Bob! That does help clarify it a bit more. Thanks for your response. 🙂

  • Jill Annarino Farfan

    Hi Bob,
    I have entered the competition and am gaining a lot of votes. I may not be the first place winner, but somewhere among the top candidates at this point. This has been an AWESOME experience. I have enjoyed immensely! (I also have read every word you wrote on this, at least twice! 😉 My question is, do I need to be an AIA member to be a runner up? I currently am not an AIA member, but willing to do so ASAP to be considered. Your response on this is much appreciated. Thank you!

    • You do not need to be an AIA member to be runner up … or winner for that matter.

      Glad you have enjoyed yourself!

      • Jill Annarino Farfan

        Thank you for your quick response. That’s great news!! Fingers crossed!

  • Austen

    Hi Bob,

    I have an idea but the idea oversteps the footprint somewhat on each of the four corners… but I came up with a solution for that by redesigning those four corners as separate, easily attached, transportable elements…

    BUT, would overstepping the parameters (even with my solution) disqualify the design?

    I can redesign it so that it fits into the foorprint but losing that interior space would make me a little sad inside…

    I await your response with some nervousness.

    • If you can make it fit within the footprint, that would be preferable. It’s not an automatic disqualification but if all things being equal …

      • Austen

        Ok! I will work on rearranging things… Thanks 🙂

  • Pingback: A SketchUp Prize For Bob Borson’s Playhouse Competition | Creation Engine Blog()

  • Camden Santo

    Hi Bob,

    I found out about this competition through SketchUp and plan on using SketchUp to help design my playhouse to put me in the running for their part of the competition. I was a little unclear about their rules. If I make a 3D model using SketchUp, do I have to take photos of strictly the SketchUp 3D model or can I render it using a rendering software (such as vray or podium)?


    • You can render it in another platform but make sure that state your model was created in SketchUp (they did say that if they can’t tell, they’ll ask you) The good news is that you aren’t limited by the number of images you are allowed to upload to Houzz so I would upload a pre and post rendered image of your model just to cover your bases.

      • Camden Santo

        Awesome. Thank you!

  • Camilo

    Hi Bob,

    Just arrive to your blog by the sketchup blog, it’s an amazing work you’ve been doing with this competition.

    I was reading the bases and i’m a bit confused about the submission requirements of the contest. I understand i have to upload sketches, images, etc. of the playhouse, but there’s a final presentation that should be submitted?

    I’ll appreciate if you can clarify this for me, or if there´s a link that i’ve missed with such information would be great o know it too.


    • there isn’t a final presentation to submit. The way Houzz has it set up, you simply upload any and all individual images you want to use to communicate and show your design. When I was managing this competition by myself, I had the required that everything had to be graphically assembled into a single image board – but that requirement does not exist this year.

  • Leticia

    Hi Bob, I was going through the rules and regulations and I didn´t find anything related to safety of the playhouse for children use…
    For example in the event of a children suffering some injury due to a inappropriate design.
    Could you tell me how that works?

    • If your design contains an aspect of it that presents a serious possibility for injury to the child, it won’t be selected. No inappropriate designs will advance.

  • Everett DeVall

    Hey i am 17. And will be 18 in october. Can i enter?

    • Yes.
      I’d have to read the rules for the PlayHouzz portion of the competition but you are eligible to have me select your entry for my portion of the competition. Just “partner” with one of your parents and you’ll be fine.

  • VaCheré

    Hey Bob, thank you for this fantastic blog. It’s brought a young stud like myself much to look forward to and prepare for. Question, as you might have saw coming.

    I read a post of yours with a photo of architectural books in it. I was wondering if you could leave a list short long how-many-ever.. of books you’d recommend for a studying architect. I have some time on my hands and would like to learn as much as possible before the summer semester start.


    • I have an entire selection of books that are good for architects in the sidebar (it’s actually titled “Recommend Books for Architects”)

  • Lynne

    Thanks for the clarifications! It makes a bit more sense now… The AIA thing is still confusing. There are already a few entries up. How do we designate if we used sketch up?

    • That’s a good question on the SketchUp entires – I would have thought that it would be obvious (at least, I think it’s pretty obvious when I look at the graphics). I’ll make a point to get a better understanding from the people at SketchUp if it’s something exotic or unique.


      • Lynne

        I cannot seem to figure out how to upload more than one entry… Help? It all wants to put them in one ideabook

  • Trent

    Bob, I ,as an Australian student, therefore not a “legal resident of the 50 United States, etc.”, am slightly unsure as to my “eligibility” to enter this competition. From what I’ve gathered, if I win I don’t get a trip to blah blah etc., but I can still submit a design and potentially have it built somewhere for someone to enjoy. The latter is what interests me.
    Correct me where needed.


    • Trent

      scratch that, got ahead of myself and didn’t read the info properly, all understood!

  • Michele Grace Hottel

    I think this is a great opportunity! I personally don’t know if I can get it in on time to have 15k relatives vote on it but I am going to try!!!

    • and you always have the professional peers and children review process that I will oversee personally. Even if you aren’t a winner from the Houzz side of things, you could still be one of the three potential winners on the Life of an Architect side.

      Good luck to you!

  • Gene

    Bob, let me preface this by saying I hope reality proves me wrong.
    It worries my when I see words like “my”, “still” and “just like”which makes my warning buzzer goes off. When I saw your post last week with the big Houzz and AIA logos my reaction was Hmmm, what’s up?
    Then after finishing your post two images popped into my head. One of HOK rolling up onto your back lawn with a lovely playhouse, nourished and expanded for 5 years, hopping out of a big hulking Hummer and saying, “Hey kid, let us show you how to do this!” The other image was two gorillas wandering into your yard and plopping down in your sandbox with their garbage can size pails.
    Then I read Houzz rules for a “Global Competition”. Apparantly Global mean English speaking North America. Toronto good, Montreal, Mexico City bad, and if somehow a foreigner sneaks in and wins, they are to cheap to pay for airfare. Don’t you just love clueless lawyer boilerplate?
    SketchUp is much better with; here’s a bag of goodies and $5000 for a playhouse. Enjoy! This is sponsorship, not self promotion. If Houzz and AIA would each say “Here is $100 for “each” playhouse submission, and use it as you see fit. I would have a different feeling about their involvement. I seem to recall you had about 600 worldwide entries last year so that would be $120,000+ this year = 24 playhouses.
    I sincerely hope this competition expansion goes well for the playhouses and kids. However, I have seen too many well intentions kill off good ideas.

    • Hi Gene,
      Since I am fatally an optimist, I am going to start off by saying that regardless of how the competition evolves, there are two overriding considerations:
      1. I will still do what I’ve done regardless, and
      2. This arrangement is ultimately about expanding the format in a manner that builds more playhouses that benefit more children.

      I am not so naive as to fail to recognize that I am getting the support of organizations and business’s because they see an upside to our partnership, but having met with Houzz face to face in their California offices to discuss the ongoing development and evolution of the competition I started, I believe that their intentions originate from a desire to do something good for the communities where the vast majority of these entries originate.

      The workload on me personally has been taking it’s toll as the competition has expanded – responding to all the emails, renaming files … all the behind the scenes digital work – takes hundreds of hours, and it was only me doing this coordination and work (in addition to raising the money it takes to build these playhouses). I honestly jumped at the idea that someone with more resources could help out in that regard.

      This partnership is new and I have no doubt that there will be some growing pains – but the word to focus on here is “growing” and not “pains”. This is a good thing and until something changes, I will continue to see it in a positive light.

      • Gene

        I also tend to be optimist, and certainly hope joining forces will be a good step, and will encourage other organization to become sponsors. I hope all that will come forwarded have light fingers and not heavy hands in the vein of SketchUp’s sponsorship.
        We are in a profession that takes time to do any project and to do it well “lots” of time, and when you throw in pride it turns into “tons” of time.
        Your efforts in doing your blog and creating this competition are appreciated by anyone visiting LOOA. I think I am safe speaking for others.