The practice of architecture is a long and honored one. The buildings that we see, use, and admire from antiquity have one thing in common-they were built using architectural principles. When we look at Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Gothic building, we see beauty, grace, utility, and aesthetics. These are the things that an architect can bring to the table. According to the dictionaries and encyclopedias I used, one of the primary goals of an architect is to build considering human requirements, construction materials, practical use, aesthetics, as well as utility. Being a novice, I built for utility.
When I decided to build myself, which I have done twice without the aid of an architect, I thought that I had to all of the design myself. The final results were barely adequate. Not that the homes, the first in Montana and the second in Missouri, were not sound, but the problems that showed up were a result of poor design.
Montana Dream Home
My first effort, in Montana, which I designed and built by myself, turned out well enough but had some design flaws that an architect would have seen immediately. First, since I was a single cowboy whose entire wardrobe fit on an assembly of branches and pegs screwed into the wall, my dream home had no closets. Now, to be frank, it really wouldn’t have taken an architect to realize that, but he would have helped in that and some other problems. My stairs were cut as an after thought. I wanted to have a rope to climb when I went upstairs and a pole, like the ones in a firehouse, to slide down. My friends talked me out of that, and a friend of mine who built apartments in Houston, TX, cut the stairs. They ended up having an 8″ run and a 10″ rise. That is almost a ladder. Again, even an architectural student would have caught that. As to material, I over-built the floor. There was no part of the floor that had more than an 8′ unsupported space. I put a pier every 8′ and all of my floor headers and joists were 2 x 8’s. This was overkill for a 768 square foot house. Also, when I was building the upstairs, I had no idea of how to join the back and side walls. The back wall fell over one day. Again, an architectural plan would have given me the help I needed
Second Time’s a Charm-NOT!
Being a slow learner, when I moved to Missouri I bought 20 acres and decided to build again. This time, however, I hired a contractor-that is an entirely different set of problems-and gave him a design that I had drawn on a piece of paper. It was a nice design, and made a nice house but, again, had some problems that an architect would have seen and fixed beforehand.
Some Basic Design Flaws
First, when I built the driveway, well, at 300 feet it might be called a road, I built it straight downhill. This, of course, gave it a tendency to wash out regularly. It should have been curved to stop that. Also, I wanted a concreted front porch that I could enclose. The contractor failed to settle the dirt in front and we had to settle for a wooden one. A major point of contention and collision was that the kitchen was too narrow. My wife, whom I should have listened to, wanted it wider. Another great problem was bathrooms. I put one right off of the dining room. That was very uncomfortable to both those using it, during a meal, and those who were eating. It should have been around a corner or wall. No architect in his right mind would have let me get away with that. The master bathroom was long and narrow and very hard to navigate.
When the basement stairs were ready to go in, the builder had to cut one of the main beams because we didn’t allow for headroom. This called for building some bearing walls in the basement that would have been unnecessary if I had had a better plan.
Aesthetics vs. Utility
When I designed the window placement, I put in a lot of windows, since I like natural light, and spaced them out evenly around the house. This resulted in very little usable wall space. We experienced difficulty in placing furniture, especially in the bedrooms.
The final blow to my poor planning actually happened outside. The banker told me that a flower bed or two would really help the appraisal. So, I built an 8′ x 50′ flower bed across the front of the house. Do you have any idea how many plants that will hold? I think an architect can tell you!
According to The American Institute of Architects, “Whether you are building your own home or designing a commercial complex, choosing the right architect is vital to a successful project.” I agree with them. My experiences have shown me the light. The next time I build I will use an architect!
Here are some other tips from the The American Institute of Architects :
1) What you want from the house?
2) How much are you willing to spend?
3) When do you want it finished?
4) Who will make the decisions?
5) Get the architect involved early.
6) Don’t be shy about interviewing several firms.
7) Finally, be specific in your desires, the architect can do many things, but not read minds!
I hope that your home building experience will be a pleasure. Remember, although you are the boss and should get what you want, listen to the architect-he is the professional in the process.