I knew nothing about architecture. Here’s how I designed a house.

The house I designed viewed at dawn

Ok, I didn’t really make, like, a full architectural project. Lots of things were missing; insulation, piping, electrical, etc. But what I did do was go through each step of the process, from conceptualizing to drafting to ultimately designing. I also talked to a lot of architects about my project in the process. And I made a house that I could actually experience being in and you can, too!

The Purpose

First things first. Why did I do this? I’d been interested in architecture for a while. But as a rising college freshman, I wasn’t ready to commit to architecture school entirely. Besides, there are other paths towards becoming an architect in the future (granted, they just add the number of years you spend in school).

I’ve also had this dream to live in a house that I either design or work with an architect to design. There’s something about being in a space that was well thought out and reflects your aspirations that makes you enjoy the things you do more. In short, this proved to be a great exercise in gaining a deeper understanding of myself.

My high school offers seniors a month right before summer to do an internship. 2021 was different, so we got to do whatever we wanted. I considered this the perfect opportunity to do a deep dive into architecture. Going in, I knew nothing. Yeah, I could draw and sketch, but that wasn’t gonna help me much in actually designing a house where measurements had to fit exactly. I was excited and a bit apprehensive.

The skylight above the study area

But I was ready. I had to be; there was no time with only a month. Ok, to start off, the most important thing you need is a BIM (building information modeling) program. Think of it like your Microsoft Word processor. You can do anything and everything in this one program and save it as a single file. Boom, your building is in that one file. 3D models, floor plans, elevation maps, everything can be accessed via the BIM. Pretty convenient, right? Guess what, that convenience will cost you $2.5k a year. I got lucky because students get access to all of these programs for free. Outside of a learning institution, however, it’s a serious investment, but it’s pretty much mandatory.

There are plenty of BIMs that exist. I chose Autodesk Revit just because I could find more tutorials for it online. Paired with the BIM is usually an external rendering engine. If you really want to convey the design of your building to others, rendering it in photorealistic quality definitely helps. I used Enscape for this; an added bonus was that Enscape supports virtual reality, something that I was able to use during my design process to get a better understanding of the space.

The Process

The first week and a half of the project were occupied by struggling to place things like walls, floors, roofs, and windows. The learning curve was, summed up as one word, steep.

But after a certain point, I could look at some of the houses on my inspiration board and rationalize how I would do that in Revit. Things were looking up.

Some vegetation on the exterior wood paneling

By the way, I lied a little earlier. The BIM isn’t the most important thing (although it is certainly important). Having a good idea is. This project was for me to learn, so I wanted to come up with an idea that I would be excited to pursue. So while I was learning Revit, I was also brainstorming.

What would my house look like? How would I envision myself living in the future? What lifestyle would my house reflect?

Looking back, I primarily focused on four keywords: modern, minimalist, neutral, and natural. I made rough sketches for general shapes and experimented with differing compositions.

The initial drafts of the house

The design on the right, modified a bit, was what I ended up going with. It offered simplicity in its shape yet natural imperfections with the slanted walls and roofline. Half of it was also cantilevering over the forest floor, and there was a 3-piece window in the study area that continued from the ceiling to the floor that I just had to make. I sketched the house with color to see what materials would work best.

A colored pencil sketch

Now we’re in business. I needed to translate this from sharpie lines to 3D objects but that was essentially it.

Of course, easier said than done. The rest of the two and a half weeks were done doing exactly that. Long, and at times tedious, but nonetheless engaging, I was always excited to complete just one more room or one more element of the exterior.

The revolving glass entrance door

I even went and made the surrounding forest environment since it was so integral to my design philosophy. The house needed to situate itself well within the landscape, leaving a minimal footprint.

The house in morning fog

During this process, I kept a running blog. It was required but also provided me with a great way to reflect on what I was making and what new things I was learning. You can view all four weeks of the process right here. Overall, once I overcame the first couple of hurdles, I got into a flow.

One important thing to note is the furniture. Most of it is provided by Enscape to place within and around the house (this includes the vegetation). For more custom pieces of furniture, such as the kitchen and the shower, I made them myself in Revit.

By the end of the fourth week, I actually had a house. It was small, to be sure, but having a smaller house (800 square feet) was a guiding factor from the very beginning and I was happy with how I was able to utilize the space.

The final house in wireframe view
The floor plan (there’s only one level)

The Architects

During the month-long project, I got to speak to three amazing architects local to the city of Portland, OR. Darren Schroeder is an independent architect who owns a design company that specializes in residential construction. Clive Knights is a teacher at the PSU School of Architecture. And Nathan Hamilton is a principal architect at the world-renowned firm Allied Works.

Darren Schroeder (left), Clive Knights (middle), and Nathan Hamilton (right)

With each interview, I learned more and more about how architecture operates as a field, as a creative medium, and as a business. Being able to gain insight into the differences between working independently and in a firm was very valuable. I actually got to tour the Allied Works space, which I was very thankful for especially during the pandemic.

The study and living space at three different times of day

The Finale

And with that, my project was over. I had honestly done more than I thought I would in a month considering my lack of experience. If this enterprise taught me anything, it was that just giving yourself the time and ability to pursue something out of your comfort zone can be incredibly informative; whether you do end up completing everything you wanted doesn’t really matter, because you’re guaranteed to learn plenty along the way.

If you would like to view the house in more detail, you can do so via these QR codes. You can either click on them or scan them with your phone to view a 360-degree photo on your browser. If you have a Google Cardboard, simply press the VR headset button and turn your phone horizontally to view the house in VR.

Bedroom (left), kitchen (middle), and study area (right)
Bathroom (left), forest floor (middle), and patio (right)

You can also watch this short showcase video I made.

Thanks for reading! Again, more information concerning the process behind this project can be found on my blog. Have a great day!

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Josh Negreanu

Josh Negreanu

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