Dead Projects

September 5, 2012 — 16 Comments

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it doesn’t count if it doesn’t get built.

Side Elevation alternate scheme in SketchUpI am talking about architectural projects although I am sure this phrase applies to some other areas as well. One thing that I don’t spend a lot of time on is going back and revisiting projects that had some life to them at one point and for one reason or another got put in the drawer only to never see the light of day again.

I call these “dead projects.” Granted, it’s not a very clever title but it does have some style to it.

Maybe it’s a little dramatic but that’s just what they are … and it’s painful to go back and look at these projects and think of all the “what if’s?” and “maybe’s” … except that is exactly what I am doing here today.

Front Elevation alternate scheme in SketchUp

All of the images on today’s post were generated by me back in 2009 for a repeat client of the firm. He is a modern style home builder who went to Rice University to get his degree in architecture (in case you haven’t heard, Rice has one of the best architecture programs in the country.) This was going to be his own house and if there ever was a client who heartily embraced the design process, this is the guy. Even though I have put up maybe a dozen images in today’s post, there might be 50 -75 electronic files on my computer. These just represent a few of the design ideas we went through. I also have a 95% complete set of construction drawing’s to go along with these images.


Side Elevation alternate scheme in SketchUp


There were massing studies, window studies, material studies, square footage studies, etc. and on and on.


Rear Elevation alternate scheme in SketchUp

The downturn in the economy, followed by the collapse of the residential market, led to this project going in the drawer and becoming a dead project. That was a sad day, I thought this project had some real potential to it. One of the features that I was particularly drawn towards was the building massing for this project. Clear expression of forms, straight-forward geometry – things that I gravitate towards when given the chance.


Side Elevation in SketchUp

One of the design features of this house was a lattice screen wall along the west elevation of the house. This particular lot was on the corner and faced a really nice park. It would stand to reason that you would want to open the walls up facing the view, introduce as much glass as you could … except it was facing West. So what to do?? Introduce a screen wall (at least that’s what I would do) that would allow you to capture the views while providing some level of protection against the sun.

*yes, in the image below, the lattice screen needs to turn the corner – thanks*


Perspective 01 in SketchUp

The massing is dictated by two overriding principles: 1) let the plan shape the massing, and 2) have the massing dictate the materials. Even though I don’t generally try to add materials to my SketchUp models, you can get an idea where the different materials would get placed. The reason I don’t like adding materials to my models is that these are study models and when the client sees them, I want them to remain focused on the point in hand – which at this stage is usually massing and concept … not the brick color or stone patterns.


Perspective 02 in SketchUp

Yes … I think this project would have turned out pretty nice.


woodland lower level plan 01

This is the lower level floor plan –

woodland lower level plan 02

This is another version of the lower level floor plan – (I have dozens on these.)

woodland upper level plan 01

Upper level floor plan – this version explored the idea of having a semi-private patio as well as having a small office type space in the Master Bedroom.

woodland upper level plan 02

This version removed the semi-private patio off the Master Bedroom and introduced it on the East elevation off the Master Bathroom – a room that would be greatly enhanced with nice early morning light.


While it pains me to go back through any of my “dead projects”, at least this one might have a happy ending. The client recently came back into the office and asked us to dig it out and revisit the project. In the few years since it was mothballed, the client has decided to get the square footage under 4,000 and remove some redundancy (like 2 sets of vertical circulation) that was adding cost and square footage to the project. While this project – as it exists today – is still dead, like the Phoenix, it has risen from the ashes to be born anew.

… maybe.

Wonder if I’ll still get to do the screen wall?




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  • Adam Jack


  • Bob, may I ask you a question? I am a sudent in my 3rd year of study. My teachers are always nagging about how we should start learning complex 3d modeling programs and render software. How does an architectural firm make use of these skills? Do we have to know them to perfection because it convinces the client to choose the project? I keep wondering if it is worth investing so much time in this aspect rather than working with much simpler programs.

    • we use our 3d modeling programs as a part of the design process but the fruit from the process has considerable value as a communication device when meeting with the client. These programs are definitely worth learning.

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  • tmston2

    just out of curiosity, are you just modeling in sketchup, or do you use a rendering plug-in? if so what plug-in?

    • all of these 3d models were made in SketchUp with no plug-in

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  • Richard

    I don’t call them “Dead”. I call them “Unreleased”. At some point these old ideas come back around and the project gets built by a new client. Sometimes with a long list of revisions, sometimes with very few. The point is, if I’m investing my time on a project, I’ll do my best to match it up with another family down the road.

  • Damian

    I’m currently killing and reviving a project in a monthly base 🙂 Anyway, I’m not sure I agree with your first statement. Many architects built careers or reputations based on dead projects. For me a dead project is just another step stone in building yourself.

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  • I try and avoid using ‘Dead’ much prefer ‘ceased to be’, ‘no more’, ‘a moribund state’ 😉 Nice project btw

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  • Oh no, it is not just you – us designer have the dead project/room file too. The tough ones to look at are the one with the really great un-built version in the drawer, and the no so great version alive and living. Oh well.

    But like your project above how does the file look for your own house? I’ve got about a dozen versions of possible builds for my project/home. Robert is right about practice and there is a luxury to putting something away for a while and revisiting it with a different mind. But each time one creates a solution we always have it to fall back on built or not. 🙂

  • Nice project. I hope the scaled down version gets built. Often, leaner versions of the original turn out better.
    I actually have one unbuilt project that has served me very well. Designed a house for a very difficult site. Steep slopes, significant impervious area issues (both Chesapeake Bay watershed driven. We just can’t pour a patio here), major privacy concerns. Came up with a very creative solution. In the middle of Cd’s, the client ended up buying another lot with a house and someone else purchased the lot. The architect involved came up with a non creative box. Prominent location so everyone knows the house. When courting other clients with similar site issues, the comparison seals the job.

  • After 25 years in the same location I moved into a different office. Taking the opportunity to clean out the DEAD FILE was sad but a little cathartic. What did I learn from these and which ones were a waste of my time? If you believe architecture is a “practice”, i got a lot of practice.