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Design Notes to Self

2 years ago
last modified: 2 years ago

I’m a big fan of lists and a few years ago I posted a list of design musings and I thought, with Cpartist posting her list of design parameters from time to time, I’d repost it with a slight updating. I tried to keep it as short as possible because I didn’t want it to get too top heavy but did expand it slightly, up to 95 from the original 80.

While the majority of these are mine garnered from my own experiences and observations, some others are from a variety of sources….colleagues, books, other posters on this forum, even Steve Jobs. If I thought, heard or read something I liked or concluded was thought provoking, I’d throw it into a file and review it from time to time for personal inspiration and focus.

And finally, to be honest, I had a little trepidation posting this (it was “off again, on again” for a few months) as these are not absolutes. After all, little in design is…..hmmm…maybe I should add THAT to the list….lol…The first time I posted it I think some folks possibly missed that spirit so I hope the comments (if any) don’t degenerate into a debate on validity/merit of specific items as the list is to be absorbed as a whole posted solely for fun, thought and last but maybe most important, enjoyment.

And with that, I hope everyone does…….

1. Balance lot coverage and open space.

2. The more specific a design idea is, the greater its appeal is likely to be.

3. Work with the natural site contours, not against them.

4. Our perception of a house is strongly influenced by how we arrive at it.

5. The best projects are fun, and fun projects always start with fun owners.

6. Orient buildings/additions to follow the sun if possible.

7. Doors should relate to the ground; windows should relate to the sky.

8. Preserve historic character where possible.

9. Don't stop designing at the exterior walls. Think of the house and lot as one.

10.Designing a house is a great responsibility. Envision your client coming to you with several large bags filled with $100 bills, putting them all on the table and saying, "Here. We’re trusting you to tell us the best way to spend this".

11. Design circulation through rooms, rather than halls, where possible.

12. Manage homeowners’ expectations.

13. Don’t underestimate the task of creating a good house. Designing a well thought out 1700SF home may be harder than designing a skyscraper where there’s a lobby floor and fifty identical floors above it.

14. Listen to the stories homeowners are telling in relating their wish list.

15. Create outdoor rooms via strategic placement of building wings, breezeways, and/or outbuildings.

16. Respect gravity.

17. Respect building/neighborhood context.

18. Ground the building with first-floor porches, wings, and/or pergolas.

19. Pocket doors are either loved or hated.

20. Never show a plan without the accompanying elevations (or vice versa). Architecture is, after all, three dimensional.

21. Encourage homeowners to be decisive; don’t overwhelm them with options.

22. A good house reveals different things about it when viewed from different distances.

23. Welcome design and budget limitations. Creativity thrives amid constraints.

24. Frame a view; don’t over-expose it.

25. Shade, light and shadow are design tools.

26. Color does not add a pleasant quality to design - it reinforces it

27. During a design meeting have all decision makers participate.

28. During a design meeting never hesitate to hand the pen to the client.

29. After a design meeting always hesitate to hand a roll of tracing paper to the client.

30. Design stairs to serve a use beyond vertical circulation. Great stairs connect a house. Poor stairs dissect it.

31. A good designer isn't afraid to throw away what once seemed like a great idea.

32. A good designer is fast on their feet.

33. A good designer isn’t afraid to tell a client what they may not want to hear.

34. Be wary of the client who wants a big house. Always take quality over quantity.

35. Maximize daylight.

36. Design in both plan and section simultaneously.

37. Design the big ideas and use the small ones to reinforce them.

38. Know when a phone call, rather than an email, is warranted.

39. Never send a new complete design to the client "cold". Always explain the underlying reasons how that design came to be. Gauging initial client reaction to a new idea is critical to your process

40. Roll up all large drawings with the drawing side out.

41. Involve everyone in the design process. Some of the best design ideas come from clients and their builders.

42. Travel often to other cities and countries. It will not only enrich your soul it will influence your work.

43. Where possible, provide natural light on two sides of every room.

44. The frightening thought that what you draw will one day become a building makes for reasoned lines.

45. Be careful with two story spaces. Most have all the warmth and intimacy of the lobby of a Hyatt Hotel.

46. Design big windows for small houses.

47. The budget can be your friend; respect it.

48. Design software will not provide you with imagination. Creativity will only come from your own mind.

49. Always design an element by considering it in its next larger context. A window in a wall, a wall in a house, a house on a street, etc.

50. There are no stupid questions.

51. Work with general contractors who have worked with architects and respect them.

52. Keeping your concept simple is not easy. Anyone can design complexity.

53. Finding the right position for a window or door is a subtle matter. It's a critical part of design often overlooked.

54. Remember that you’re an architect, not a walking, button pushing, mouse clicking, AutoCad technician. Remind your clients and their builders of this when necessary.

55. Use natural materials where possible.

56. Anticipate structural layout/issues from the roof down, not the other way around.

57. Let circulation define the floor plan.

58. Outdoor spaces which are "left over" will rarely be used.

59. Express building structure to enhance building legibility.

60. An awkward house will never be charming, even if the exterior is.

61. Design for function, aesthetics and construction simultaneously.

62. Have all stairs to second floor open on at least one side if possible.

63. Don't design "objects". Create relationships and let the object (like a house) be born out of that, not the other way around.

64. Where appropriate, arrange rooms on an axis toward a vista.

65. Don't make promises to owners or their builders you can't keep. You'll only disappoint the owner and make the builder look bad.

66. When designing a house, be as proud as what you reject as to what you accept.

67. Welcome whimsy; express it in the details.

68. Change ceiling heights only where you want to define different parts of the floor plan.

69. Try not to have the first view of the house be the garage door. If that's not possible try not to have the door on the closest wall to the street. If that's not possible, plan on spending a lot of money for a really nice garage door.

70. When designing, don’t be afraid to take risks or break the rules.

71. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your favorite part for the whole.

72. Explain your ideas in terms your grandmother could understand. If you can't, you don't know your subject well enough.

73. Pay attention to scale; right-size it.

74. Hand sketch often and when a "straight" line is needed, just use the edge of your scale.

75. In a design meeting, have the client sit across from the table from you so your hands will not obscure their view.

76. Design legible massing.

77. Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.

78. Limit different elements, forms, roofs, windows, etc. especially in a small house. It's best to do one or two things very well then of a bunch of things mediocre.

79. Architecture is not a trade, it’s a craft … and to become any good at it, you are going to have to get it wrong for a while.

80. Allow a minimum of 42" between any countertop and a kitchen island.

81. Bring the indoors out and the outdoors in.

82. “Think in situation. Think in alternatives” Words from one of my first year design professors that I really didn’t understand until 20 years later.

83. If there is one design principle you should cherish, it’s hierarchy.

84. If there’s a hill on the site, don’t place the house directly atop like the main ornament on a Christmas tree. Place it just slightly off center and down to one side.

85. Good buildings come from good clients.

86. No one accomplishes anything amazing alone. Value forward thinking owners and builders and never hesitate to credit them when the result IS amazing.

87. Designing a great house has more to do with eliminating the nonessential then with accommodating the necessities. Just be sure you know which is which.

88. Client trust is perhaps the most important ingredient in a successful project. Good houses always come from trusting clients.

89. Provide pockets of privacy off more public spaces.

90. Soft ideas, soft lines. Hard ideas, hard lines.

91. Cut at least one building section through a stair. If there’s one place where a drawing or construction error will occur, it will likely involve a stair.

92. Great residential design is not so much about how a house looks as about how a house feels.

93. Even in conceptual design, draw in the furniture.

94. Make your client aware of the 90/90 rule of project schedules: The first 90% of their project will take 90% of the time. And the last 10% of their project will take the other 90% of the time.

And finally.........

95. Have fun.

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