Listen to the site
After gaining an understanding of the site through Site Analysis and forming a Site Planning strategy (talked about in earlier posts) it was time to think about designing the building itself. To design effectively you need to address the brief (define the problem) before setting out to resolve it. The site of 60k House informs the design – orientation (long elevation facing north to make the most of the sun), outdoor spaces to the east (sheltered from the prevailing winds), and deck to the north (utilising the fall of the land).
When I first started drawing ideas for 60k House a few years ago I didn’t have a defined brief or budget – just an inclination of where on the block I might sight something more permanent. At that stage there had only been a couple of overnight camping parties and I was looking to provide some creature comforts that would allow for longer stays. Some of these early sketches explored the idea of something small, about the size of a shipping container, which could be opened up and closed down as required – to provide basic shelter for time spent onsite and somewhere to store stuff while away traveling.
Each of these sketches were all drawn around the same time while I was overseas in 2013 (a long way from the site). All of the drawings are freehand and each explores a different idea:
Pen and paper
The act of drawing can lead to some unexpected results. Have you ever ‘doodled’ – started scribbling, not knowing what the finished product will be? I find this intuitive.
Drawing with freedom and (not many) constraints helped me to understand elements that were important. Sometimes it’s also useful to confirm when a particular idea won’t work – this might inform your thinking and help you realise what will work. Design, and drawing, is an iterative process. Each drawing is (hopefully) one step closer to the design solution. I often overlay tracing paper or draw over an existing drawing – this can lead to faster drawing, testing more ideas (and save you drawing the same thing multiple times).
CHEAP TIP: Homebrand greaseproof paper makes for good tracing paper: the more expensive brands have extra non-stick coating on the paper – good for baking, bad for drawing.
Drawing is an international language and often the easiest way to communicate ideas. Once you have transferred your ideas from a thought to something physical (a drawing or a model) you can then test those ideas – and you are able to show your ideas to other people. The important thing with drawing is that it communicates an idea. Here are a few basic points to consider when drawing:
- Try to draw to scale – it doesn’t need to be a set scale such as 1:100, just relative to other components on the same drawing
- I tend to draw with north facing up the page – if the site, and the page, allows it
- Walls have thickness
- Draw people and activity, or furniture to indicate the function of a space
- Try to think in 3D – even if you can’t show it. Consider drawing sections or elevations at the same time – they show different things than plans
A big carrot
The giant design step for 60k House took place with the increase of the First Home Builders Boost to $30,000 (and then the subsequent announcement that it would be wound back). This enticed me to seriously consider designing and building a shack that would be comfortable all year round. Up until then I was dealing in little sketches of little structures – simple, basic, semi-permanent camping arrangements. Now with some considerable funding identified I took the leap and began considering a more permanent and complete building. For the first time I considered actually living there: this was a requirement for receiving the FHBB – you have to live in the house you build for 6 of the first 12 months.
When you get stuck
Albert Einstein once said: we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Here are a few tips to overcome any design obstacle:
- Turn the drawing upside down
- Rotate it
- Flip the page over
- Drink a glass (or a bottle) of wine
- Look at things differently
- Don’t look at it – leave it for a while
- Get someone else to look at it
- Draw only one element at a time – look at things in isolation (circulation, open space, views, privacy, noise, etc.)
- Overlay all of the elements – look at the intersections/points of activity
Some other things to consider when designing:
- Endeavour to make the concept smaller during design development (tighten up the design to reduce the size and the cost)
- Develop a balanced program between levels
- Forsake some possible built space for carefully positioned open space – [Owen & Vokes]
- Look critically at view
- Value the ground plane and what it offers
As you can see there is plenty of development and refinement throughout the design process. There are loads more sketches in the folder – I have chosen these particular ones to illustrate the various stages and thinking along the way. Having a tight budget has forced me to keep the scale modest and economical. This sketch is very close to what is being built…
On the job
“A construction site is an incredibly instructive place for an architect” – Jorn Utzon
Building is a noun, but also a verb – the finished article and the creation process. Part of the experience of building 60k House is the need to make decisions and resolve details as we build. The documentation (plans) was kept purposely to a minimum, providing the essential details but still allowing the builder involvement in the decision making process. Issues invariably pop up during construction and it has been beneficial being onsite to work things out. 60k House is about working together as a team.
During building 60k House we have resolved the fascia detail, arranged the colours of the roof, removed the bottom reveal of the windows that sit on the floor and considered the cladding details. There will be many more design decisions to be made as we continue building.
The next post about the design of 60k House will talk about the other consultants and also the approvals process required for the project.
Disclaimer: Any advice contained within this blog is of a general nature only and cannot be relied upon. Details provided are in good faith and relate specifically to this project. Any author will not be held responsible for advice or information presented.