Life of an Architect Playhouse Competition 2013

February 28, 2013 — 15 Comments

2nd Annual Life of an Architect Playhouse Competition

Whooo-weee! Hard to believe that it’s already been a year but I am proud to say that it’s time for the 2nd Annual Life of an Architect Playhouse Competition!! Last years event was a spectacular success (many thanks to those who participated) and I am hopeful that we can have similar – and possibly greater involvement this year. At the end of last years inaugural playhouse competition we were able to build two playhouses. This year we know that we can do two, but we are shooting for three!!

So let’s get to the details shall we?


Who can enter?

This competition will be open to anyone from anywhere – the only entry criteria is the following:

  • you have to be a living member of the human race.
  • A good attitude should also be a requirement but that’s more of a personal judgement call.

That’s pretty much it, so there really isn’t a good reason not to participate. Oh, wait a minute … did I forget to mention that there’s no fee required to enter!! It just keeps getting better and better doesn’t it? If I am going to ask for you to flex your design chops to benefit needy kids, I’m sure as heck not going to charge anybody an entry fee.

What do I submit?

All submissions are required to be in electronic form with a file size not to exceed 5MB. For the judging process, you should submit plans, elevations, sections, perspectives … whatever you feel best conveys your design. Whichever drawings you do choose to create need to be arranged 24″ x 36″ and vertically oriented – it is very important that you follow these submission guidelines. I would humbly request that no animations be submitted.

**You are not required to generate construction drawings unless your design is selected as a winner**



The judging process will most likely be handled in two rounds; the first round will be a review of all the entries judged by me and up to 4 other people who will be chosen at a later date. The number of qualified entries we receive will determine how many entries will advance to the final judging round but I am shooting for around 20%. The criteria used for judging will be:

  • creativity
  • appeal
  • originality
  • buildability, and
  • the ability of the playhouse to be built for approximately $4,000 in material costs

On the costs, there are lots of people who don’t know how much stuff costs and that’s okay. The point is that you need to be mindful of the cost as you are designing your playhouse. This means designs that require CNC routers, GFRG castings, or cast in place stainless steel will most likely not advance to the final round. Entries can be submitted by individuals or by a team, it doesn’t matter and it will not be a consideration during the judging. I will also feature all the entries that advance onto the final judging round here on the site.



Registration starts immediately – fill out the form above and you are good to go!

April 15th (Monday) – design submissions will be due. Deliverable will be a 24″x36″ vertically oriented JPEG or PNG file format emailed to (file size not to exceed 5MB). In the case of multiple entries by a single designer (person or group), please send each entry by itself. Do not place any personal information (like your name) on your digital submission – I want to keep things fair during the judging process.

April 19th (Friday) – initial round of judging (by celebrity judges not yet selected) to bring number of entries to be judged to manageable number of finalists will be complete with the finalists announced here on the Life of an Architect website on April 22nd.

April 26th (Friday) – the final judging round will be completed and the winners will be announced here on the Life of an Architect website on April 29th.

May 27th – Winners are required to prepare construction drawings (with possible value engineering considerations) for their entries and submit final construction drawings to the designated contractors. In the possibility that you are unable to prepare your own construction drawings (because you don’t know how, not because you get busy with other things) with a little heads up, I have people who have offered their time and skills to prepare constructions drawings on your behalf. Seriously?!? How many competitions have that offer on the table?


Playhouses will be constructed and ready for delivery to Dallas CASA by July 30th where they will be installed for display and raffled off.


So, What do you get out of this?

Other than being a decent person and helping out some kids who need all the help they can get, if your playhouse is selected as one of the winners (yes, there will be more than one winner), you receive:

  • your playhouse will get built and will be part of the Dallas CASA Parade of Playhouses event that takes place later this year
  • you will get profiled here on this site
  • you will receive my undying gratitude for participating (actually, everyone will receive this particular “prize”)
  • you will receive this year’s Life of an Architect Playhouse Competition t-shirts (retail value $25+ but the actual value is priceless)

There might be other things but that should (hopefully) be enough to get you to enter a design. It looks like we will have at least two winners, possibly three.


Reference information?

If you want, here is a link to every post I’ve written on the Parade of Playhouses (here) some of these posts include the actual construction drawings used to built the playhouse. You will also find past entries to see how presentation boards were assembled, you can look at the two winning entries from last year for inspiration. Everything that you want to know can be found in these previous posts. Use this resource wisely, Grasshopper.


Who is this playhouse competition benefitting?

Dallas CASA (which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a nonprofit organization of community volunteers trained and supervised to serve as voices in court for abused and neglected children. On any day in Dallas County, there are nearly 2,000 children waiting for a safe place to live. Many times the CASA volunteer is the only constant in the child’s life during this very difficult process. Parade of Playhouses raises funds for Dallas CASA to continue serving more children who need safe, permanent homes where they can thrive.


Important Considerations for your Design (aka “How to win”)

Size Guidelines – stick to them!! These restrictions are in place so that the playhouses can be moved through doorways and positioned in NorthPark Mall while the raffle is taking place. As a side note, this mall is the best one in Dallas and the display of the playhouses coincides with some other events occurring at the mall during the same period. If your playhouse is selected, it will be seen by approximately 2 million people. WOW!

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. Very Important!!

Protection – since these playhouses are 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. You can follow this link to see some examples of playhouses that have been built in the past

Final Plea – This should be a fun thing for you to do and the end result could be that your playhouse gets designed and raffled off to benefit some needy kids. Doing this sort of work is what fills your karma tank up … and the effort required is minimal unless your design wins and even then – not so much work. I really hope that I can get a good showing so that I can go to more people in the industry for funds next year and build more of these playhouses. Every part of this process will be well documented and represented here on the site, I hope you come along for the trip.


Legal Stuff

By submitting a design to this competition, you agree to allow Life of an Architect, Bob Borson, and Dallas CASA the rights to use and display your design for the purposes of construction and promotion. Your will still retain the rights to your design and you will receive full credit and recognition for your effort. Just a reminder that this is a charity event and if things go well, your playhouse will be selected and we will build it but we also might have to modify your design to make it a) within budget and b) buildable within certain parameters such as time constraints, material availability, etc.


That’s it for now – please consider participating. It’s good for the kids, it’s good advocacy, it’s good to show how architects and designer can use their skills to benefit a community … everybody wins.



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  • architecture student

    Hi Bob.

    I think i didn’t catch the place where this playhouse is used!!!!!!!!! Is it just used in the backyard!!!!? I mean we should design the playhouse according to elements of backyard!!!!? Or it would be any interesting design!?

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  • Rommel

    Overseas participants? ;(

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  • Caleb L

    Hi Bob!

    Is there an average age of the children being expected to make use of these?

    • not particularly but there is definitely some consideration to you as a designer as you consider the appeal of the playhouse. We’ve never discussed a target because some of the playhouse live beyond the children’s use (i.e. parents using them as some sort of folly in the landscape)

      • architectrunnerguy

        And a case in point: Last year Steve J. And I designed the “Board Game Playhouse”. A finalist. We have a long history of board gaming, hence the theme. Still are playing today and we’re both old enough to be grand parents and we’d love to play a game in our playhouse!!! And BTW Bob, it’s not folly, it’s serious business!!

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  • K.iak

    how can a group apply?

    • Simply have one person fill out the registration form above and you can input all the names of the team members in the “Tell me about yourself” space. This is really just a way for me to keep track of how things are progressing, since I won’t be a judge myself, I will be able to contact any registrants and confirm information from them before anything gets too far along.

      Good question – thanks.

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  • Nice form ; )

    • don’t I know it!

      Evan Troxel showed me how to create it because last year I hand wrote and and individually responded to all the entrants. It literally took days to contact everyone and get the information distributed.