The Life of an Architect playhouse competition for 2014 is coming to a close – all the entries for this year are required to me in my email inbox by midnight tonight (May 12th). As I have done on all previous years is show everyone what my playhouse will look like … seems only fair to me.
This is the 7th playhouse I have designed and built – and the evolution of this process on my thinking and design process is pretty apparent to anyone interested enough in studying my previous designs. I’ll go ahead and pull the curtain back and tell the rest of you who might be new to this, although I don’t think I’ve kept it a secret. The two requirements I put on ALL of my playhouses are:
1. They should have some purpose to them beyond the first few weeks when they show up in the winners backyard. This is a big deal for me simply because I am the father of a 9-year-old and I know my daughter’s interests evolve. What she loves today will be replaced with what she loves tomorrow … and that’s okay with me. Unfortunately, it makes designing these playhouses that much more difficult. Designing playhouses around a theme is advice I give to everyone who asks but I rarely follow that advice myself. Then again, I’m not trying to win a playhouse design competition.
2. They need to be designed with consideration on how they are to be built so that these playhouses are affordable. I think that I owe it to the contractors that I convince to donate their time and their money to support this cause to design a playhouse that doesn’t become a financial burden to them. I think I must be a doing a good job because the same contractor has built my playhouse every year for the last 5 years. Additional evidence to support this is that several of my playhouses have been built by weekend DIY warriors from around the globe (here) and since I make my construction drawings available for free, why not build one yourself?
So here is a look at my playhouse for 2014 – I’m calling it ‘The Lantern House’
Original concept sketch – going back to the iconic shape of a playhouse. I always start with how I will frame the playhouse, and the materials that I would like to use. In this case, I’ve pushed the framing to the outside and I’m planning on using medium density overlay (MDO) sheathing on the inside. Don’t know what MDO is? Read this post
The family that wins this playhouse will live in my area of the world – which means it gets hot during the summer. Both ends of my Lantern Playhouse are completely open because it is important to me that air circulate through these playhouses in an effort to keep the inside cool and allow the kids to use them during the day. It will also make for some interesting viewing at night when I light up the interior (hence the name “Lantern House”). This will allow the playhouse to take on the role of folly in the landscape of someone’s backyard.
As I started developing my idea, I sketched out how the materials would come together. I always design my playhouses on a wood deck so that it makes it easier to move. Another benefit of adding a deck is that it allows the homeowner to trim the grass that grows up around the playhouse without causing any damage. It’s a pretty practical consideration but since I’ve been doing my own yard work since I was 7 years old, it’s something I think about.
There will only be 5 materials on this playhouse, and four of them will come from the lumberyard. Most people don’t realize that it’s a lot harder to design something simply than it is to make it complicated. I think about how the actual sizes of the materials will fit together, how the spacing will work, where my material joints will come together, etc. If you are going to try to execute a simple design, these are the sorts of things that really make the difference between “okay” and “amazing”. I am aiming for amazing. Look at my Birdhouse design from last year (here) simple, but I knew where every joint on every board was going to land.
This section would be almost impossible for most people to figure out, so I’ll tell you that it is a section at the front corner of the playhouse through the entry. This is an area of material transition and I wanted to make sure that all my part came together in a way that made sense, allowed for some construction tolerance, and diagrammatically expressed different areas of the playhouse – interior vs. exterior, front vs. back, solid versus open, and structural versus non-structural. That’s a lot going on and for most people, nobody but me knows it … but that’s okay with me.
One of the other things that I do, is that I lay out the deck framing that the playhouse will be sitting upon. I know that I probably don’t need to do this but I do it anyways. This lets me know just how many framing members I’ll be using, if they’ll be where I need them to be, and will the structure for this playhouse work in an aesthetic way, not just a structural way.
Once I worked through all my concept and design sketches, I normally take the time to model the playhouse in SketchUp. This step really helped me out in the early days, now I mostly use it to help create the graphics for posts like this one. I don’t think I would eliminate this step completely because it does force me to double-check my math and allows me to make sure that the proportions of my playhouse are correct visually …which I consider to be a worthwhile step in the design process.
Once I have my model completed – and it looks like I think it should – I normally move straight to construction drawings. In the case of this years model, I thought I should do some light studies (it is called ‘The Lantern House’ after all).
I don’t know how to use any real rendering software – so I asked Ryan in my office to lend me a hand. I exported the images and Ryan ran a quick render of the model using 3D Studio Max (I think) just so that I could make sure that the spacing I was using on my slats at the front and rear would achieve the balance of open vs. closed that I was looking for … which it did. These renders also told me that I’m not quite done with my design.
I know that these playhouses seem incredibly simple to most people but the truth of the matter is that they are a lot more complicated that you might think – at least I hope they are. There are size restrictions to these playhouses and trying to develop something new and unique year after year is its own challenge … one that I hope I am up for completing.
Today is the day that entries from all over the world are being sent to my inbox for the 3rd Annual Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition, and while I am not one of the judges, my role is to make sure that the people who are judging the entries understand all the little nuances that go into designing these little buildings. Next Monday I will announce the top 20 finalists to this years competition and the Monday after that I will announce the winners. I hope everyone will come back and support the participants and the winners.
Here’s to a successful playhouse competition –