The Next Modern House: NMH 2013 KHouse

August 12, 2013 — 28 Comments

I’ve selected a new project to focus on Life of an Architect – I think it’s going to be a good all-around project to feature. It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to focus on a project … since I left my last firm, the Cottonwood Modern project continues on without me (which is killing me) and I’ve only been in my new position over here at Michael Malone Architects for about 7 weeks. The project I’ve selected to focus on is one that we’ve begun in earnest since I started and I have been on the ground floor since the initial design process started. This design and construction document process will be different for me than the ones I’ve done in the past for a few notable reasons:

Architectural Model for the next modern residence project

We will be using Revit (3D Building Information Modeling)
My office is 100% on Revit and this project is going to go through the process of design development and construction documentation in this particular software platform. We still practice things a bit old school over here so the project was “designed” using sketches and building study models. You might remember the following sketch from the post I wrote a few months ago titled “Architectural Sketching” … where almost all the sketches in that post are actually from the project I will be focusing on in this post – and I will tag all the posts featuring this project as the KHouse Modern.

Architect Michael Malone design sketch

This post talked about the value of sketching and how I believe how it shapes the problem solving process. I featured some of the sketches from my partner Michael Malone in that post, and all of his study sketches shown there were from this new modern residential project I am taking on. The initial concepts are worked through using sketches, some hand drafting and some physical study models.

Leed for Homes logo

L.E.E.D. for Homes Certification
We are also looking to pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification for this project. LEED for Homes is a voluntary rating system that promotes the design and construction of high performance green homes. Despite the fact that I’ve been a LEED Accredited Professional since 2006, this might end up being the first house that I’ve ever done using this certification process. I say “might” because I’ve designed loads of houses where the owner wanted to pursue certification only to abandon the paperwork portion of the certification once the pricing comes through. The design and green performance goals in these homes didn’t change, the owners just didn’t process the paperwork to actually receive the certification. I am looking forward to the experience, I think it will be interesting to see how the process flows – most of the contractors I’ve spoken with have never gone through this process before – looks like we’ll all be in it together!

3D Model versus 3D Modeling
One of the major differences in my new office is that we build a lot of physical models and don’t rely as heavily on 3D computer modeling. Since we are 100% Revit (a Building Information Modeling software) the 3D computer modeling comes as we develop the project but the typical process for us is to build a physical model very early on.

Architectural Model - South East Elevation

Architectural Model - North West Elevation

Architectural Model - South West Elevation

This house will have several green design features to it, one that might be most interesting to me is the vegetative roof that covers the entire living space – everything except the building’s overhangs.

Architectural Model - Aerial View

I have to admit that despite my fondness for 3D computer modeling programs like SketchUp, there is a certain atmosphere that is created when there are architectural models being built and laying around the office. We really like to try and create a design culture in the office and since we literally have models all over the place, they seem to reinforce the idea that design is something that has a prominent position of importance in the office.

Bob Borson Sketching Details for the KHouse

Last, but not least, is the process in which we will go about creating the documents for this project. Since we are 100% Revit in our office – and I don’t know Revit – I will not be the one entering it into the computer. Eventually I will learn enough to work in the program but the truth of the matter is that regardless of how skilled I may or may not be, my time (and billing rate) isn’t best utilized sitting in front of the computer. They way we work through the process is reflected by the sketch above. Last week I sat down with one of the associates in the office and we spent several hours working through the logic of the construction methods, dimensional controls, and graphic standards for the project. In two hours time, I generated about 20 of these sorts of sketches and now we can make some serious headway into developing the project in Revit. Soon, as a result of developing the project in Revit, I’ll be able to show all sorts of the 3Dimensional images – I think that will be something to look forward to seeing.

I really enjoy the process of walking people through the creative process as well as the construction process on the projects I take on – I don’t think this one will be any different … I hope you will enjoy it as much as I will.


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  • bruce

    Don’t forget to include the tornado shelter.

  • Paul Scharnett

    Good luck on learning to love Revit, Bob!

    I find that I love and hate Revit, and I use it every day. It’s incredibly versatile, useful, and a gigantic pain in the butt sometimes. You have to think like a programmer, I suppose. The great news, though, is that once you make something, you can parametric-ize the crap out of it and never do it again (it just takes a while to get there!).

    This looks like a really exciting project for you!

  • Steve B.


    Are all of these models hand or machine generated? Is there any talk in your office in investing in a 3D printer to create quick, simple models from your computer models?

    Thanks and love your insights!

    • All hand built. I had some conversations with a landscape architect here in town who has a 3D printer – the costs associated with using one was astronomical! We are able to aim an intern at one of these models and within a few days get a terrific looking product and since the interns are paid a nice – but not spectacular – wage, the model is actually reasonably priced.

      But don’t ask me how much this one was, I already told the homeowner that I would keep financial information from this specific project confidential.

    • Mark Mc Swain

      Having been “toe deep” in RP (Rapid Prototyping) for a bit more than a decade, I may be able to help answer this.
      Entry-level MakerBot is still about two thousand, and that’s before raw materials. Precision at that level is about 0.5mm X-Y, but only about 1mm in Z, due to how the lamination process works.
      Working surface for that accuracy is a shade tight, too, say 400 x 600mm.

      All of which is very dependant upon the stl model you build from the CAD/BIM model in place.
      Also, the easiest modeling material to use is the sintered polymer. But, once cast, it still needs to be sprayed with a fixative or it is rather fragile.

      The finest detail still requires “tank” printing, which can get you detail down to 0.1-0.05mm, and you can use a clear resin, which would be handy for projects with curtain walls. But, those systems have only gotten as “cheap” as $30-45K, down from 60 a decade ago. And you need a dedicated room for the printer and the feedstock storage.

      But, this technology is coming. Moore’s Law is starting to be visible in this process. If you “blink” do not look away for very too long.

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  • bldgworkshop

    Hey Bob,
    Seems like everyone is extremely interested in all of the details and facets integral to this work, as am I. Let me also congratulate you (and your team) on the bigger picture. It really is a beautiful overall design, I look forward to seeing it take shape!

  • Mark

    I look forward to seeing how you produce your documents with Revit. I have been using it in some form since Version 1 and love it. Much more fun than just drawing lines in CAD.

  • blcsquared

    I *heart* models (making them and looking at them).
    Studies made out of chipboard or final presentation…I don’t discriminate.
    Seriously….little works of art.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Jonnel M.

    Welcome to the world of BIM!

    It’d be interesting how you develop your skills in Revit. I personally use SketchUp and ArchiCAD for my designs at school and they prove to be very productive in working out design intents.

    Will be watching this space for sure.

  • R. Giutti

    I am so glad your new firm uses Revit… I love Revit!! Can’t wait to see the progress of this project.

  • Robert R. Machado

    OK, just didn’t read the detail that way..I don’t see decking beyond the end of the beam, so assumed that the framing member and the fascia board were the only materials beyond the beam end. 41 3/4″ is not divisable by 5 1/2″.. I’m a 74 year old Architect that scrutinizes my staff’s drawings all the time and do ask dumb questions from time to time!

    • no such thing as a dumb question – in fact, I wish we had a 74 year old architect in our office scrutinizing our drawings, that sounds awesome! (seriously, it does sound pretty good)

  • Robert R. Machado

    What’s with the fractional dimension Bob?

    • c’mon … like it was an accident

      3/4″ fascia board and a 5 1/2″ T&G soffit board (= 6 1/4″) This will allow me to have a single untrimmed board in place before the cantilevered beam starts and interrupts the run of T&G boards.

  • Mikheil

    Welcome to Revit Bob, even though you are right about different billing rates for you and Intermediate Designers / Drafters it always helps to learn and use software like Revit. In one of my previous office we had a partner who had the best design talent, excellent detailing skills and was very knowledgeable in all design software. He was the guy the most trusted and appreciated, from three partners, among the employees.

    • sounds about right to me. I learned a long time ago that I shouldn’t ask anyone to do something that I myself wasn’t prepared to take on myself. This would include drafting up project details (among other, far more unsavory items)

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Color me as very interested in this process.
    I believe that your experience in learning Revit by extension will be very similar to what I will face. Of knowing what is wanted for out put, but having to learn what is “put in” to achieve that.

    My personal experience with Revit is cursory at best–and has been more focused upon the model, rather than the use of it. This is significantly at odds with my ACAD experience which started as merely documentation, and grerw to include modeling, particularly modeling with intent to create documentation. Which can be a poweful tool set.

    Revit is supposed to embrace this, particularly through the use of families and familial relationships. What I do not have, is expereince in where the families intersect; or when you ‘go off the page’, particularly when it is against project deadlines, rather than product demonstrations.

    Tucked into that, would be the experience of others bringing the content for review, and knowing the best way to instruct how to modify that content to achieve the what-we-are-being-paid-for end. In example, in AutoCAD, I know, reflexively, to redline some things by knowing when to simply use a “wipeout” rather than modify a base model XREFed into an entire drawing stack. And, when substantive model changes _are_ a necessity. For Revit, I do not–yet–have that skillset built up.

    • practice makes perfect (or something like it)

  • Michael Sullivan

    Are you doing trays for the green roof? My current project used them – ours are “liveroof” ( and I was pretty impressed with them – it’s almost easier than installing carpet, and just as instantaneous.

    I’m much quicker at CAD then sketching, so I tend to workout the details (conceptually) in CAD and hand them over to someone to “draft” into Revit. (Though I know Revit very well, and am constantly in it, I find this process more efficient).

    The detail where a beam penetrates a glazed wall is always a tricky one to pull off, both aesthetically and technically. That’s a pretty massive thermal bridge to try and overcome.

    • I am currently looking into the system that we will be using for the vegetative roof – Liferoof was one of the systems recommended to me by some folks I trust. As far as the the detail where the beam penetrates the window system – that is a tricky condition … solution in progress.

      • Mark Mc Swain

        Liferoof is very Intriguing, I’v not had a chance to actually specify/use that, though.
        We may need a separate thread to dicusss the nuts-and-bolts of various residential “green” practices, too.

      • Jim McDonald

        I was planning to recommend LiveRoof as well. I have done a couple of projects with their system and have had excellent results. I recommend, along with the LiveRoof folks, the use of an irrigation system to prevent the plants from going dormant when it gets hot with no rain. This can be done quite simply and the rep should be able to make recommendations. If not, contact me ( and I will help you out.
        I have done research on several “vegetative roof” systems and a tray system seems to work the best. Make sure to specify that the trays are “pre-vegetated”, meaning the plants are fully established prior to coming to the site. They have a much better chance of survival.
        GreenGrid has a tray system as well but I believe LiveRoof’s is a better design.
        I look forward to reading your series on this project.

  • Vinny Vee

    The butterfly in the sketch really completes the design.

  • Chad Conrad

    Bob –

    Good to see that you are making the jump to BIM as it really is the best way to work. i have been BIM centric for over ten years and could not believe in it more. It is always best to build the project TWICE….once virtually and then in reality. I personally use ArchiCAD.

    LEED is an interesting beast all it’s own. I too have been LEED AP since 2004 and have become luke warm to it. I am 100% about sustainability but the paperwork and fees are extremely onerous and you can still get the performance out of the project without the cute bronze award. Why not put that money back into the project to make it even better?


    • I have mixed feelings about BIM – while I am extremely proficient in AutoCAD, I wonder if I will ever be as good in BIM because it is unlikely that I will ever be drafting as much as I used to – we’ll just have to wait and see how this one turns out.

      I am lukewarm on LEED as well, I like the goals and the clear delineation of the individual sections as a road map on some solid ideas, it’s the process of proving that you did the work that things gets a little dodgy to me. It’s become a 3rd party cottage industry and the fees are stacking up quickly, that money has to come from somewhere…


      • Mark Mc Swain

        Ah, LEED, there’s a subject that needs its own thread, and much tip-toeing to maintain the positive tone that makes LoaA so unique.