Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition 2014

March 20, 2014 — 39 Comments

Of all the amazing things I am fortunate to do, the Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition is right up there at the top. I am extremely proud to say that it’s time for the 3rd Annual Life of an Architect Playhouse Competition!! Last years event was a spectacular success and I am hopeful that we can have similar – and possibly greater involvement this year. At the end of last years playhouse competition, we were able to build three playhouses. This year I know that we can build two, I am confident that I’ll be able to get that to three playhouses before it’s all said and done.

I thought I would start this year call for entries with a quick look back at last years playhouse winners and their final constructed playhouses.

Katie Friesen The Swiss Chalet 2013 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition Winner

The Swiss Chalet – designed and submitted by Katie Friesen. This was a popular playhouse for taking photos (I know it was hard for me to get the photo above without someone else in the picture.) The realized version of the design was pretty much spot (get it?) on.


Thanh Ho Phuong 2013 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition Winner

The Hive – designed and submitted by Thanh Ho Phuong who received his Bachelor of Architecture from Hanoi Architectural University in Vietnam and is currently getting his Masters of Architecture in Politecnico Di Milano, Italy. This was one of my favorites based on the design board, I was very happy with how this playhouse turned out. As much as I liked the exterior and the overall concept, the interior space was a great extension of the design.


Sarah Fox Shroom House 2013 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition Winner

The ‘Shroom House – designed and submitted by Sarah Fox. This playhouse turned out to be a great backyard folly – the scale of the individual pieces that went to building this playhouse really fit well with the size requirements for these playhouses. I think the success of any playhouse ultimately really depends on whether or not the scale is set properly. Seems pretty straightforward but it’s not as simple as it might sound – construction materials don’t always come off the shelf at the right scale and designing a playhouse with an eye on how it will ultimately get built is important.


That was a quick look back at the 2013 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition winners … let’s get to the details of 3rd Annual Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition!

LoaA Playhouse Logo Year 3

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 (or at least be able to fool others into believing that you are).
  • 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 Deadline has Now Passed for the 2014 Life of an Architect Playhouse Competition **


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 that designs that require CNC routers, GFRG castings, or cast in place stainless steel will most likely not advance to the final round. I would also strongly advise you to avoid using any glass block if you want to get past my personal prejudices regarding that loathsome material.

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! You have approximately 8 weeks to develop your concept and prepare your digital submission board. Designing these playhouses should be fun and as a result, don’t have to be so complicated that you have to design some new algorithmic computer software to help resolve your plan geometries.

May 12th (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 approximately 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.

May 19th (Monday) – 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.

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

June 23rd (Monday) – construction documents are due to the contractors (4 weeks to complete – easy) IF you can get them done sooner, I’m sure the contractors would appreciate the additional time to build your playhouse masterpiece. All playhouse design competition winners are required to prepare construction drawings for their entries which will be submitted to their designated contractor. 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 – priceless as every architect living that has internet access reads this site daily*. Your fame as a designer will be boundless** (*estimate) (**also an estimate)
  • 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 t-shirt (retail value $25+ but the actual value is priceless)
  • Possibly other goodies, I am starting to solicit stuff from people so  you’ll just have to take it on faith … this is a small time competition, there’s only so much I can take on myself. If you are reading this and want to kick something into the pot to be awarded to the winners, the cream of our society, just drop me an email.

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 Playhouses some of these posts include the actual construction drawings used to build the playhouse. You will also find past entries to see how presentation boards were assembled, loads and loads of valuable data. Everything that you want to know can be found in these previous posts so use this resource wisely, Grasshopper.


Who is this playhouse competition benefiting?

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

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 designers can use their skills to benefit a community … everybody wins.

Keep on being awesome,

Bob AIA signature

Print Friendly

even better

  • sachgsach

    hi bob, i can’t find the update on the competition, can you please help me out..?

  • ts

    What time will the results be out tnrw ??

    • The results will be posted at 12:00am Central Standard Time in the US – which is 6.5 hours from this very minute.

      Good luck!

      • ts

        Thank you for the time and wishes.:-)

  • Pingback: Win Every Design Competition- GUARANTEED! | Architect's Trace()

  • rageb rafie

    if there any rules to submit my design while sending you via email.
    i mean any information( about me or my team members name/ university/ or anything ) you need extra , that i have to send you while emailing the file …
    or i have only to submit my design by emailing you only the png/jpeg file of the design, with my previous email id which 1 registered on your competetion.

    thank you ..

  • Bryan

    How can i register as a group?

    • you just need to register with the main contact person. When you send in your entry, just include all the team members names in the email that will have your entry attached.

  • rageb rafie

    i have already registered on you awoesome competetion,…
    my question is, what should be the clear height of the roof ???..
    i mean what should be the mean height of the user group ..

    And is that mandatory to have a door on my play house, it cant be open all the time ?!!
    thank you ..

    • Technically, it can be whatever you want but I would estimate that the clear interior height should accommodate at it’s lowest point, a child who is 54″ (137cm) tall.

      You do not need to have a door on your playhouse but whatever openings there are will need to be protected while on display so that children can’t access the interior. This is a design consideration that will be evaluated during the judging process.

      Good luck!

  • Yuri

    I am really interested in this competition.
    And I have some question!!^^
    1. Can I register with my friend, as a group? If so, what shoul I write down in the ‘Name’?
    2. Do you have any maximum of the works?

    • Richi Mohanty

      I also have a similar question. I want to work with a friend for this competition and would like to know if its possible to do that? thanks!

      • Olivier Bideau

        I have the same question! 😉

        • Register with the main point of contact, but include the names of all team members in the email when you send in your entry.

          Good luck

      • Register with the main point of contact, but include the names of all team members in the email when you send in your entry.

        • TS

          Hii , Great initiative. Excited to be a part…
          I registered twice , was not sure if it was submitted properly.
          I am thirupurasundari sevvel from india ,please let me know.

          • I have received your registration – good luck!

          • ts

            hii…I submitted my entry :):) Had so much fun ,got an opportunity to go and explain to the children near by to get feed back :):):) Had so my fun doing it 🙂 Thanks for the wonderful opportunity.

    • Register with the main point of contact, but include the names of all team members in the email when you send in your entry.

      Sorry for the slow response, I missed these questions

  • Chihi Ya

    I think very interesting competition.& I want to entry it.
    But I have a question , I can’t understand this figure, ”24×36”
    Is it mean 24inch×36inch?
    Could anyone help me…?

    • you are correct. The design needs to be arranged into a single image that is 24″ wide (610mm) by 36″ tall (915mm)

      Hopefully this clears things up for you. Good luck!

      • Chihi Ya

        Thank you so much! I understood.
        I’ll do my best, and I ‘ll send it as soon as possible.

  • jongyeol Jung

    I am also interested in this project.
    I also have a daughter. Somethime, i am really thinking about playhouse but i do not have any chance. so for this project,i want to participate 😉
    I have a question..
    Do i have to Register and Submit MAy 12th? at same time?
    or can i register before may 12?
    thanks havea nice day 😉

    • you can register at any point between now and the May 12th. Your completed design entry needs to be sent to me by the end of your day on May 12th. I’m actually pretty loose about this time since entries will be coming in from all over the world. If the submission is in my email inbox when I wake up on May 13th, you’ll be fine.

  • Pingback: Life of an Architect Launches 3rd Annual Playhouse Competition | Style of Design()

  • Pingback: Life of an Architect Launches 3rd Annual Playhouse Competition | Steal Mag()

  • Pingback: Life of an Architect Launches 3rd Annual Playhouse Competition | ArchDaily()

  • Michael Rollins

    I was beginning to think it might not happen this year; glad to see the post go up! I’ve been sketching ideas when I have needed a break from drafting my thesis. Best of luck to everyone submitting!

    • Glad to see that Austin is going to be representing!

      With the new job and responsibilities at work, I have been even busier than normal, the time to get this going was just about to get away from me and I couldn’t let that happen.

      I look forward to receiving your entry

  • AlmostJane

    Looking forward to seeing this year’s entries. Best of luck to all the good folkses involved in this very worthy project. :>)

    • Thanks – let’s keep our collective fingers crossed that we get good participation!

  • Prakruti Desai

    I am unable to register myself. Can anyone help me with it?

    • What sort of issues are you having?

      • Steve Jordan

        same here… The form is not working. It does not appear to be a live form. Tried in Safari and Chrome with same result

        • Hi Steve,

          It works for me and a bunch of other people so far so I would say just try again. If you still can’t get it done, just send me a regular email with the questions answered. I’d prefer the form be used because it makes it easier to track everyone’s information but I’m not going to turn anybody away.

  • CJ

    Could you find out where that mushroom playhouse architect had her photo (of herself) taken? I want to go there and live there.

    • You probably could live there, for free even … if you were homeless and wanted to live outside. That is Park Guell by Catalan Architect Antoni Gaudi.

  • Kerry Hogue

    this is a great annual event you have started Bob. I will see I can drum up interest here at the old work place to get you some entries. I would, but my design skills are still in that wet paper bag somewhere. its a good thing that there is a place in architecture for people like me that can figure out to make things work.

    • Thanks Kerry – I’d appreciate any support you are willing to throw behind this event. Getting a good turn out is important because it helps with momentum if this is to remain an on-going yearly event (which is my hope).

      Right now, it’s a one man show regarding organizing, fund-raising, construction document creating (at times), contractor + construction coordination, question answering … but I love doing it for the cause.