KHouse Modern – Progress Update 03

October 14, 2013 — 36 Comments

If your new here at Life of an Architect, say hello to the KHouse Modern project. This is the project that I will be featuring as we go through the design, construction document, and construction process. It’s been just over a month since my last update and quite a lot has happened.

If you want to play catch up, you can read all the previous KHouse Modern articles.

(note – you can click on any of these images and a new window will open with the images 2x larger)

KHouse Modern View from driveway

This is a look down the driveway – it’s really the service corridor to the house. This house actually has two detached garages; one off the main street which is the main garage and the owners daily point of entry, and the other off the alleyway at the rear of the lot where the owner can store a secondary vehicle and maintain a working shop area. The cantilevered concrete wall at the end of the driveway is a screening device so that the owner doesn’t have to look at trash cans, air-conditioning equipment, electrical meters boxes, etc. as he comes and goes from the house.

KHouse Modern View from South Wall

This is a look towards the front elevation of the house. There are 3 main materials on this house; the darker colored material on the left is the garage and is metal siding, the lighter buff colored material is a 4″ x 24″ masonry stretcher (think of it as a really long brick), and the light gray color is cast in place concrete. The drawings are currently out for final pricing so it’s possible that the materials may change but at this moment in time, these are what we have detailed into the project.

On the right hand side of the image above is the master bedroom wing and deck.

KHouse Modern view towards Master Bedroom

For the view able, we are standing in the side yard looking at the master bedroom wing directly in front. The cast in place concrete wall on the right is an outdoor seating area at the end of the deck – it’s easier to see in the next images. One of the things we are trying to incorporate into our drawings at this stage are lots of little details to address coordination items that normally show up during construction administration. While it might not be very sexy to look at downspouts and foundation vents, they do exist and we want to make sure that their locations are addressed now. In the rendering above, on the left-hand side, you can see where the downspout and the foundation vent are in close proximity to one another. When we rendered this image, we saw that the downspout ran down in front of where we located the vent and as a result, we went back and moved the vent over to the left. Not that big a deal really, but it’s these little details are the reason why I like to think we are good at what we do.

KHouse Modern View at End of Ramp

In the original design, we had this entire walkway as a cantilevered concrete walkway. We ended up changing it out to be a Ipe wood cantilevered deck – which I think was aesthetically the right decision because the wood softens the transition between the built house and the yard. One other item that we are considering is the texture on the concrete walls that are in use on the project. We currently have them detailed as board-formed concrete – the texture of which would soften the effects of the concrete while allowing the concrete to visually anchor the exterior pathways. The way the board-formed concrete texture is created is that a 2×6 board is sawn down the middle and then attached – sawn face pointing out – to the inside face of the concrete formwork. These boards are then sand-blasted to increase the amount of texture. It is not a cheap process but it visually makes a huge difference.

KHouse Modern view at North Terrace

This is the view looking back towards the house from the rear of the yard. On the right-hand side is the only two-story portion of the house, the detached guest quarters with the secondary garage. This space is functionally separated from the main house by an outdoor cooking area that is under a shared and connected roof.

We completed the permit drawings a week ago and successfully acquired the permit before the end of September. The drawings are currently out for pricing and the project will most likely break ground within the next 4 weeks. So far, this project and the client have been terrific.

For some of you that read this site, you’ll know what I mean when I say that this project has been developed using “Revit” – a brand name for a drafting program that we use to prepare our design and construction documentation. This type of drafting software is more generically referred to as Building Information Modeling – or BIM. Since I’ve come over to the office, we are in the process of changing a bunch of the existing standards. Part of what we have been attempting to address is how our drawings look. This is something that is particularly important to me because I think that if our drawings look like we took the time to craft their appearance, the contractors know that they need to take time to pay attention to what we drew. We have been working on our graphics, the symbols we use, how our dimension strings look – lots of little tiny details. If you don’t draw, or if you aren’t in the business you might not appreciate the effect proper line weight can have on a drawing – it not only looks better but the drawing is actually easier to read and therefore, understand.

As a result of the time we have been putting in to fix our standards, we have had to have meetings to make sure that we monitor how this time is spent so that the client’s deadline isn’t adversely impacted due to these modifications. These efforts and revisions benefit all of our projects so this doesn’t go down as time spent on this project .. it’s an internal cost that we have decided is worth absorbing because we want to set the bar high.

One other item that I might try to cover was the software we were using to create our PDF’s from Revit – they looked terrible!! We just made the switch to Bluebeam Software for Revit and it made a huge difference. We kept making line weight adjustments to the drawings but when the plots came back in from the reprographics company you couldn’t see the changes we had made. We had some heated conversations in the studio – I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see and some people thought it was the fault of the reprographics company. We received some advice that we should try using Bluebeam to create out PDF files so we downloaded the 30 day free trial, created some test plots and *BOOM* things look terrific!

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  • Tauran

    Bob, Thought you should check out REVIT Kid on youtube. Shows you what Revit is capable of in terms of how drawings can look if you know what you are doing. I think updating your companies CAD standards is a great idea.

  • Mathias

    Bob. I really enjoy reading your blog and you do great design work. I have a question regarding the house-landscape relationship. The walkways are a nice addition, but they also seem to be a barrier between inside and the yard. If I read the renderings correctly you have to walk down to the second garage or the front driveway and then turn back to get to the yard. Or maybe the yard is more of a nice scenery to look out over. That’s the thinking about the yard? Thanks.

    • we need additional conversations regarding the yard. In one of the earlier iterations of the plan, we had stairs coming down from the main terrace area. In later revisions it was removed. The terrace does hover about 4 feet above the yard at the terrace level with the yard sloping downhill from there so there is definitely the aspect of standing out on the terrace and surveying the rear yard in play here.

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  • Bob, nice evolution of the design and presentation out of Revit. Thanks for putting a design “mid-stream” out there for us all to critique – most aren’t willing to go through it. Glad Bluebeam solved a lot of your issues. Graphic standards in Revit are a different beast than ACAD days. It takes some front end time, but well worth it. As for rendering in Revit, I really wish site modeling and entourage were easier . Interiors can look very good without a lot of work (especially with the free cloud rendering from Autodesk’s subscription site), but something like a few good reflections and trees to give some scale to your building are more difficult than they should be.

  • Jake

    Love it, especially the rear view of the house.

  • Bob T.

    Bob, I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble getting an overall perspective of the home without a floor plan for reference…any chance of your posting the floor plan?

    • Probably not. There is a line I am walking with the client between sharing this process and divulging information he does not want shared. I can only recall one project I’ve looked at on this site where a full floor plan was shown – it’s seems to be where the line is drawn.

      My apologies for only showing enough to make the rest confusing

  • FWilson

    Bob I love following your designs. I have a question. I’ve done cantilevered decks before and eventually they become nice homes for unwanted critters and blowing trash not to mention fire ants and weeds. No matter what you put or plant under them, it eventually grows unwanted stuff. What is your plan for the surface below the deck at ground level?

    • 2″ mud slab and gravel bed – that will take care of most of those issues, I would hope the owner doesn’t have blowing trash in his back yard

  • Holli Lynn Jackowski

    I work in a small firm and am trying to make the transition to using REVIT as the primary/only design software. It has been a difficult/uphill battle with my boss, as the drawings quality looks “cartoon-ish”. I received a trial copy of BluBeam software at this year’s Dwell on Design Conference. I will have to experiment and see the difference… Thanks for the tip!

    • We went back and forth in the office on why the pen weights were less than expected – once we made the switch to to a different pdf driver, things seem to be turning a corner for us graphically.

  • Sam

    How is Bluebeam Software better than Adobe Acrobat PDF?

    • I can’t technically describe how it is better, I can just tell you that we made a bunch of modifications to the pen weight standards in our drawings and the process of outputting them from Revit somehow lost many of these settings. We just got through running a test print using BlueBeam and the settings were retained and the outputs looked terrific.

    • Sam, Bluebeam has nearly become a standard within the AEC industry for creating and managing PDF’s. I use it now and have at the previous three firms I’ve worked at. It has plugins with direct hooks into Revit and AutoCAD with presets, so it’s actually aware of what program it’s creating a PDF from. Also, it’s cheaper than Adobe Acrobat Pro and has better markup tools. Essential for your software toolbox.

      • Marcel Uttech

        Thanks for posting this Sam. I take then that Bob is using Bluebeam Revu Cad? I see you mentioned that it is cheaper than the Acrobat Pro, which is what we are using now and yes, it sure throws off the lineweights! I will have to look into this alternative. I am loving the design of this house, and enjoy watching it come along!

  • Dan Jansenson

    I see a great deal of architecture in the design. The sequential progression of movement through the building is evident. The contrast between the closed, heavy enclosures and the light, glassed-in components is handled deftly. The emphasis on a centralized balancing core, visible above the rest of the house, anchors the design and provides a rotational center that allows the perimeters to express their individual characteristics freely, while remaining within the overall context of a single narrative. Very fine design.

    My comment, however, pertains to the intersection of BIM use and client billing. In my own work I’ve found that the traditional phase-based sequence of billing doesn’t work very well with a BIM-based workflow, because of the sheer amount of labor that must be invested up-front to develop the model.

    It all pays off at the end, of course, because of the information that is already embedded in the model by the time one generates the 2D permit and construction documents. But it is difficult to bill a client in parallel with the work that is done because much of the early BIM-related work is invisible (to the client, I mean). So invariably there’s a disconnect, in the early phases of a project, between the work that’s put into the project, and the billing during that phase.

    I’ve found that this disconnect has increased the risk in my business, because some projects fail or are put on hold, and the billing may not catch up with the early work. That is, projects that get stopped before the permit or construction phase (where my early investment was made) may end up generating a big hole.

    Has that been your experience, and if not, how have you solved this?

    • So far it hasn’t been to difficult of a situation to contend with because on our residential projects we bill hourly and not by phase. As soon as I thought this sentence through in my head I thought – “wouldn’t billing it hourly make things even more disconnected.

      Yes – it would.

      Somehow we seem to make it work, if I figure out how we do that I’ll share my secret.

  • Brian D. Meeks

    Wow, I love the design. It’s interesting to read about why something was done, too.

    • Thanks Brian, I appreciate you leaving a comment!

  • John P.

    Would love to see some rendererd sections with Revit! Would love to see how all the MEP runs through the house and how it’s lit at night.

    • That probably won’t happen, probably for 2 reasons:
      1) MEP is design build; and
      2) getting these images to render properly was part of a learning process and therefore not a billable expense … there’s only so much of that I can do at a time.

      If something interesting changes and I find myself in a position to explore such a development, you can be assured that it will end up here on site.


      • Paul Scharnett


        I don’t know if you’ve used Autodesk’s Subscription services for renderings. We use them we when we need to move through renderings quickly with Revit and we are in a time crunch. They turn out slightly different in coloration due to the exposure characteristics, but the renderings are about 1/32 of the time expense.

        I also find that in Revit, it’s best to try matching materials using an artificial interior light (make a box) and then adjust your sunlight settings to match. Otherwise, the sunlight bleeds out all of the variegated color into a very blah gray. It’s also helpful to do sunlight studies at summer altitudes/azimuths, even perhaps higher than you’ll actually have because of the more dramatic angles. Just my experience.

        I also find that most materials need crazy contrasting bump-maps to work well and define the material’s detail in more depth.

        With regard to your post – I really like the Ipe wood contrast versus the more subdued colors of the building. I think the client is going to be really thrilled with that selection.


        • that is great advice and direction – thanks. I will have the proper people look into the AD subscription for renderings.


          • Architect Barbie

            We use AD 360 for our renderings as well. While there are some materiality issues with ‘the cloud’ not interpreting or mapping them correctly, the iterative cycle is accelerated by being able to crank out renderings in minutes (less than ten for test renders), not hours. I’m a fan of Paul MacCready’s ideology

            “Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again.”

            Nice work, as always, Bob. Thank you for your honesty and openness.

          • thanks for adding your two cents to the conversation … and I love that quote.


  • Ted

    Hello, Bob,
    Just listening to the anxiety that y’all have been going through cries out for examples of the older pdf creator and Bluebeam. I’m blown away with the time you put into these posts but, on the other hand, could I ask about seeing examples of the graphics?


    • I was thinking about putting something (relatively) quick together to show examples of where were were and where we are trying to head. I’ll try and find some time to put that together

  • 03306028

    Looking gorgeous. I love the bank of windows that stick up above the roof. It looks like they will let in a lot of natural light without baking that room in the middle of the day like traditional sky lights would, especially in Texas.

    I’m also a big fan of the retaining wall at the secondary garage. It’s amazing what a difference the little details make, comparing the true design next to the temporarily drawn step down wall in your previous post.

    • Thanks. One consideration we are making is that the rear of the house faces North and the large windows are in place to let in as much natural light as possible. If you look at the South and West elevations, the windows are reduced in quantity and size, restricting the amount of harsh light we get from those directions here in Big D.

      We also have large overhangs – 48″ to help provide shading and ease the interior to exterior transition.

      We are still working on the retaining wall … part of the reason there is a guardrail there is because the grade change is greater than 30″ and code requires protection. I don’t really love it but we are definitely seeing some forward development in this area.


  • Conrad Brown

    Bob, this is not personal but I don’t see any architecture in this design, just a bunch of parts. Is your new office fascinated by the process and missing the product? Jus’ sayn.

    • Actually, you’re not “Jus’ sayn.”

      One of the downsides to posting projects on a site like mine is that I open myself up to the opinions of others – something that I have accepted. Your comment is fairly ignorant considering the limited amount of information you have to base such a comment.

      I have found myself defending poor works of architecture because the person making the derogatory comments didn’t know the process that was in place or how it was impacted by outside forces. In those sorts of cases, I find it’s best just to keep my thoughts to myself because like yours, they don’t really accomplish anything but create negative feelings and ill will. Not really sure what you thought you would accomplish by leaving this particular comment, you are more than welcome to not waste your time by reading the articles on this site.

  • kerry hogue

    hi Bob — two comments. first, Bluebeam is great. We have been using it for quite some time now. It is also a cost effective software when you have a bunch of users like we do.
    second, graphic standards are important. It seems that back in the day of mylar and plastic lead (yes i still miss it, and yes i am that old!), a good draftsman was one that could communicate the subtleties of the building design with varying line weights to really make the drawings pop. Each iteration of electronic drafting software that we have adopted has brought its own challenges with getting these subtleties to read right and make the drawings pop. Good luck with your new evolving standards!

    • I was thinking about writing a post about graphic standards – at least some sort of introductory post showing what we had and where it’s headed. There is definitely some artistry that goes into the creation of drawings. It used to be up to the discretion of the person pushing down on the pencil to determine the pen weight but with people using computers to draft, it seems that the decision is designed into the system.

      • Elliott Petterson

        Please do! As someone who gets unreasonably excited thinking about line weights, I would love to see what your conversations about graphic standards have been like.

        • I’ll see what I can do – but don’t hold your breath. If I can get it together in a quick and coherent manner I’l try and do it