Not in terms of self esteem (well, sort of) but the act of building your own home. Have we become too disconnected from the act of building, and is it time that it was taken back?


Jan 20, 13 10:32 pm
boots cats

Do you mean "we" as in architects, or "we" as in society?

Jan 21, 13 1:31 am

Both, but specifically, the latter.

Jan 21, 13 3:40 am

Tomorrow the plumbers arrive to redo our gutted shower.  it's depressed into the floor slab two steps and makes for a tricky waterproofing situation in our wood stud-walled house.  We gutted it ourselves years ago and it's finally time to rebuild.  So for this go-round, our fourth bathroom remodel in a house we have owned, we're finally hiring real plumbing contractors to do the heavy work of the shower pan and tile as well as reinstallation of a 1960 wall hung toilet.  But we'll do all the other work ourselves. 

But! The DIY culture has led to many people doing this kind of work on their own, which is great except that the quality of that work tends to be horrid.  I shudder to think how many bathrooms in our country 9US) have enormous colonies of mold growing behind the pre-fab shower stalls and linoleum floors that homeowners feel qualified to install.

In my mind, anything designed needs to start from the question of how to build it well.  Doing work on my own home, I've learned how hard it is to build things well, and how important it is to work with craftsmen on the parts that require more knowledge than putting together an Ikea cabinet.

Jan 21, 13 6:57 am

There is no substitute for construction experience. An architect without it is crippled at best. While I've spent a good deal of time in the field actually building, I always try to utilize the knowledge, experience and capability of the subs when detailing. No sense in trying to get someone to do something they can't or don't want to, and it is a terrific way to expand your knowledge.

Jan 21, 13 12:38 pm


I was more interested in building new. There are jobs on existing houses that I would never attempt to get involved in - particularly DIY things that should involve experienced people.

There are numerous constraints against one building your own house - architect or otherwise - including legal constraints, licensing, contractual, etc. etc.

Lets just say if we collectively designed (a house) with our main constraint that anyone could build it, what would it be like?

Jan 21, 13 4:49 pm

I recently talked someone out of a DIY construction project. The party in question wanted to lay down their own sidewalk, make an outdoor patio and do some other outdoorsy type construction.

I called a few pavement contractors for prices and got a figure around $1.75 a square foot for plain old concrete to $3.75 for brick inlays, curbing and colored concrete with labor included. I estimated the cost of the paver method to be between $4.50 a square foot to $6.00 a square foot (pavers, gravel, leveling sand and other tidbits— it's all incredibly expensive).

The area in question is also a drainage area for gutter— it would have to be run under all the brick or concrete work and out to someplace. The soil we have in our area isn't stable at all— most of Florida has a soil type called spodosol. It has no clay, very little humus, no natural stones, no grit and erodes very rapidly.

So, any pavement job utilizing pavers would have to be frequently redone unless you dig a few inches down, mix the soil with dried cement, rented a compactor and constructed a rammed-earth foundation on which to lay your pavers onto. That would literally be counter intuitive for the entire reason of using pavers in the first place.

The county also has a major issue with more formidable construction techniques— they'll let you install all of the wooden landscape timbers you want for retaining walls and other nefarious yard improvements. However, cantilevered concrete retaining walls are out of the question. You even have to get a permit for concrete flowerbed curbing. And concrete sidewalks built on property have to be to DOT standards.

At least for this area, brick pavers are mostly a code-skirting scam that frankly don't work and are more expensive than having an actual licensed contractor do the work for you. The extra added benefit is the contractors ability to buy materials at not-retail-prices meaning you're paying the same amount whether you DIY or pay someone.

Jan 23, 13 1:00 pm

Specialization of labor is what has allowed the creation of a globalized economy, modern technologies, and keeps all of us employed. 

Jan 23, 13 3:28 pm

dia, would it look like this?

SunRay an Ungated Community

Jan 23, 13 5:34 pm

or more like this?

self-build can be magic, and innovation is always great to see, but let's not over-romanticize.

as for only building what our builders want to build? why? without any disrespect to the builders who build what we design, there are a lot of lazy details in the real world that may cost less and are perfectly serviceable, but look horrible.  hm, perhaps that is what the OP was referring to?

Jan 23, 13 8:51 pm

Specialization of labor is what has allowed the creation of a globalized economy, modern technologies, and keeps all of us employed. 

Well, yes, but only for a limited time.

The fact is that technological change will enable many people to start to build utilising new technologies - perhaps more importantly, accessing previously ring-fenced knowledge and processes to build. I am not talking crazy 3D printed concrete mobius houses, but simple engineered-timber kits and prefabs that will create 'normal' houses that people can actually build themselves - and not necessarily a mud brick or teepee in site...

One key factor missing from the affordability argument is that we as a society have effectively outsourced building to others, whereas in the past this was much more a community or family-based efforts. The effect of this outsourcing has seen further segregation of the knowledge and practice of building, protected by modern-day guilds, laws and insurance.

This discussion is about new builds, rather than small DIY projects.

@Donna - perhaps yes - I am not in favour of ramshackle hovels, but I do believe that the constraint of 'proper' buildings only being the domain of building professionals will diminish with technological change...

Jan 23, 13 9:04 pm

My contractors were making fun of me today for driving nails with a hammer.

Jan 23, 13 11:57 pm


I wouldn't hurt for architects and those aspiring to be to get their hands dirty. I think that more schools that teach architecture should implement construction and engineering(civil and structural, especially)in their curriculum. Who knows, this may broaden our knowledge of design, from a construction perspective. I'm just throwing this out there, but maybe institute a program where students can design AND build structures(not table size models, but the real thing)and have that be the ARE,together with the IDP, instead of taking multiple tests. I don't know how viable that would be. I just thought that I throw the idea out there(if it wasn't thought of already).

Jan 24, 13 12:29 am

In the second to last sentence from my last post I meant to say feasible, not viable. Oops.

Jan 24, 13 9:49 am

Specialization of labor is what has allowed the creation of a globalized economy, modern technologies, and keeps all of us employed.

As if globalization was a good thing ...

I think that more schools that teach architecture should implement construction and engineering(civil and structural, especially)in their curriculum.

Exactly. Would you go to a doctor who had eight years of theory and no practical training?

Jan 24, 13 10:16 am

layers don't need to write laws to know how to manage them. 

the practical training of an architect is what architects do.  building is not necessary. nothing against just that its a bit silly to think we should all be hauling 2x4s in our trucks.  ridiculous on the face of it if you think what kind of materials most architects deal with in their proper duties (contracts, laws, management, and oh yeah design and oversite of steel and concrete buidlings more often than not...)

Jan 25, 13 3:14 am

Lawyers don't "manage" laws, that's done by judges. Lawyers manipulate laws, it is important to understand the difference.

Please answer the previous question: would you go to a doctor who had no practical experience?

Jan 25, 13 11:01 am

I haul 2x4s in my station wagon. Planning to switch to steel channel when I save up for a welding rig...

Jan 25, 13 11:36 am

When I attended architecture school, 60 years ago, we were required to work in the construction field during summer recess.  Too many architects who have not actually built anything draw unworkable details.  

Jan 28, 13 11:04 pm


There's nothing silly about carrying 2 x 4's in your truck if you are the designer. I look at it this way. The best way to understand your design is to actually build it. You will definately gain a deeper appreciation for your design and for those who are involved in the construction process.

Jan 29, 13 12:55 am

@ miles, i can't understand the point you are making about lawyers, but the idea that an architect with 20 years experience has no "practical" experience is on the face of it rather odd.  I would not hire the handyman to do seagram tower...doesn't matter if he's gott better abs than mies, although i can see how it might be a tossup. everyone loves a flat stomach.

don't get me wrong i absolutely understand the sentiment.  i grew up in farming community in canadian prairie.  most everyone there can build something on their own and certainly can work out which end of a hammer works best as a screwdriver. 

it's been nearly 15 years since my first proper architecture job, and thinking back i  probably thought i knew something about construction because of my background as a farm kid with his very own tape measure.  But when i was asked as my first job out of the gates to design a temple out of SRC it didn't help much.  My background was, frankly, fkucing useless as experience goes, and boy did i get yelled at for my ignorance.  luckily i did learn a bit about design at university so it worked out in the end. 

the office taught me a crazy amount about building with steel and concrete (and wood too, come think of it, just not 2x4s).  Site visits and being forced to do the engineering calculations and then the structural drawings (architects here are licensed engineers too) as well as the architectural CDs was an enormous amount of time-compressed practical experience.  We also did a lot of cost-estimating and site surveying so i got good at that too, which is useful.  Not sure how to count any of the above except as practical training as an architect...

I'm a big fan of Mies.  Funny enough he was fired as a bricklayer after a term of unpaid apprenticeship in his youth, where he learned how to carry bricks and make hot water - but he did learn how to draft quite well before that, designing carvings for tombstones at his fathers shop, and went from there to become the steel guy.  Knowledge is not always gained in obvious ways, and i can't help but think it is more important to have an inquiring mind than a bucket full of tools.

which is to say, sure it's cool if you can build some stuff on your own.  also cool if you can build it ALL on your own.  Absolutely amazing in that case.  Well done.  Let's just not get all holier than thou about it.

Jan 29, 13 4:42 pm

Will, you didn't answer the question.

The question is not how you gain construction experience but whether you would trust a commission to someone who doesn't have any. By extension this is about education in that most architecture schools do little or nothing to provide aspiring / prospective architects with that kind of experience.

mespellrong "My contractors were making fun of me today for driving nails with a hammer."

Ever seen a line of nails in sheathing that entirely missed the framing behind? How about row after row of them? When you nail by hand air nails are obvious (though not as embarrassing as air balls).

Jan 29, 13 6:26 pm

If a person has drawn enough building details, worked enough CA (say 20% of their billings), checked enough shop drawings, selected enough materials, gone to enough pre-con and construction meetings, and kept abreast of the literature and emerging trends, then I don't see why one doesn't just hire a contractor.  If anything, architects know the questions to ask (maybe TOO many) and can oversee their work.  They won't necessarily LIKE it, but it is what it is.  Besides, if doing a roof and it has more than a 4:12 pitch, one needs to tie off.  Who wants to put themselves in a precarious situation if they don't have to?  That's why Construction Safety is a free-standing course in CM curricula. It's the same thing with a mechanic.  I don't want to strip a spark plug accidentally while pulling one out .... nor do I want to get my TIE (imagine that) caught in the radiator fan while it's twirling.

Jan 29, 13 6:26 pm

if i was a client i would expect an architect to have experience as an architect.  i wouldn't worry about his background outside of that.

Which gets us back to the OP.  I don't think architects do well when they try to build and design both.  It is a lot to take on.  Working as GC however, with some value-added tech in the form of BIM and cetera seems more workable.  My own experience is that except at the small scale architects are co-opted by builders rather than the other way around, which is a bit depressing.  We have very little leverage as professionals in that situation, mostly I would say because of financial reasons.  Studio Mumbai seems to do OK, but then again they work in a different way than either builder or architect in globalized context so maybe not a great example.

There are other exceptions of course.  I ran a symposium last December where we invited a Vietnamese architect to speak named Vo Trang Nghia, and he talked about needing to start his own construction company in order to undertake the designs he wanted to realize.  He also had to do the engineering since no one around him was trained to do the work.  He himself was trained in Japan and is pretty remarkable guy.  In those fluid circumstances, where change is built into the economic condition, there seems to be a way to build a new model, but otherwise it take some real drive.  SHoP in NY seem to have made pretty big steps that way.  Guess there are others.  Doesn't seem to be a game-changing shift in the future though.

As far as education goes, that is an exhausted trope.  I just don't think we are failing our students that way.  It is perhaps the right time for students to show us what it takes to succeed and not expect to be taken by the hand to the golden ticket.  That sort of process no longer works, if it ever did.

Jan 29, 13 8:29 pm

I wouldn't harm for designers and those ambitious to be to get their arms unclean. I think that more educational institutions that educate structure should apply development and engineering(civil and architectural, especially)in their system. Who knows, this may extend our information of style, from a development viewpoint. I'm just tossing this out there, but maybe institution a system where learners can style AND develop structures(not desk dimension designs, but the actual thing)and have that be the ARE,together with the IDP, instead of getting several assessments. I don't know how practical that would be. I just believed that I toss the concept out there(if it wasn't believed of already).

Jan 30, 13 1:48 am

"if i was a client i would expect an architect to have experience as an architect."

Will, exactly what does that experience include? You keep dancing around the point without addressing it. An architect can get a license without ever setting foot on a construction site. As for what the client knows, that is more often than not bubkis. Which should be but is often not the reason for hiring an architect to begin with.

Jan 30, 13 9:54 am

one of the really valuable services an architect provides is thinking through the construction before they start building.  it seems typical to me that a contractor will jump into building whatever it is they need to be building at a given time with only a little thought to how that may effect other trades or processes down the line.  having practical experience in building something as an architect helps in that when you're detailing something you might be more likely to think about how a screwdriver has to fit in front of a screw, even if that screwdriver is only there temporarily and not part of the final design.

means and methods are still on the contractor of course.

Jan 30, 13 11:28 am

It is all a function of scale. Going back to Will's statement, if you carry 2x4s around for small residential remodels it is probably worth it, not so much for a multi-storeyed complex.

We need to get to terms with the fact that the architect-as-master-builder age is gone, and has been gone for a long time now, for most of us. If you are lucky enough to have the type of clients that Studio Mumbai has, and make it work for you by doing couple of projects a year, go for it.

As for "Experience as an Architect", I think it is vastly different for different typologies of work and clients. My residential remodel client would probably expect me to know the A-Z of flashing details, but the client in China who wants an office building done probably does not care.

As for globalization, as someone else pointed out earlier, that is what is keeping a lot of us alive. There are not enough residential remodel job around anymore!

Jan 30, 13 2:02 pm

means and methods are still on the contractor

They are, but a design which lends itself to poor/difficult constructability is often turned into an embarrassment for the architect.

Jan 31, 13 3:13 am

I guess in the future, everyone will be able to design his own house, and program robots for its construction. Now everyone can use prefabricated as shipping containers or other modules.

Jan 31, 13 7:32 am

that is definitely not a diy project ;-)


@miles, when it comes to experience, if it was a kitchen remodel then a portfolio of kitchen remodels is a good start.

if it was a tower then a portfolio of towers and a few decades experience would be cool.  Once you get to anything large enough to be serious it isn't be about a single person anymore anyway.  the team of specialists is bigger deal, just in terms of experience a client looks at, or is that not normal anymore?

i rather like the story from phylis lambert about picking the seagram tower architect, something like they narrowed the field down to those who should but couldn't (incl louis kahn), those who could but shouldn't (incl SOM) and those who could and should (Mies and Le Corb).  She picked Mies after trip to Chicago to see his lakeshore drive towers.

pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

Jan 31, 13 9:59 am

You seem to agree that some construction experience - implied by both a portfolio of kitchen remodels and "a few decades experience" is essential. Whether that experience is swinging a hammer or carefully monitoring the process is not the point.

observant nailed it. An embarrassment that some architects try to avoid avoid by using the builder as a scapegoat for his own mistakes.

Jan 31, 13 11:23 am

>that is definitely not a diy project ;-)

yes, this container house was built in China. (link) But nothing is impossible in the diy construction of this house, since the walls and roof are already in place.

Feb 1, 13 2:24 pm

wow, advanced DIY then.  containers are notoriously tricky though def coolio. looks pro to me, not DIY


@ miles, i would honestly prefer an architect with experience as an architect than one with experience as a builder. It is seriously no question at all.  i don't care if you can pierce your own ears with a hammer and a needle cuz you're that good, but if you have no design skills and project management ability, i really am not interested except perhaps as an intern.  It isn't a bad thing to know how to build but if we are talking about a tradeoff i want the architect not the builder on my staff.

by chance we are doing a project in a code difficult part of tokyo that is taking a fair amount of effort to resolve with the client's wishes.  I think we finally sorted it, but it took a combination of code-based judo, a subtle change in the structure, and a bit of planning work - along with a painfully tedious number of calculations so we can prove to the ward that we are meeting the code.  it was highly creative process and really none of it came of a first-hand knowledge of hammers and nails. Not to put down builders because i have a tremendous respect for all of the trades, and for GC's too, but it would not have been possible without an architect with years of experience to pull off.

I suppose I would just like to point out that the kind of work we do is highly specialized and challenging in its own right.  The construction that results from our efforts will not be any more complicated, because we are not incompetent, but the project is definitely better for that process.  I am not sure why so many here feel the need to trivialize how hard it is just to be an architect and the value we are bringing to the table (even without any personal construction experience).

Feb 1, 13 11:41 pm

Have a look at this article, and then translate the possibilities of similar processes and applications in architecture:

Feb 2, 13 4:37 pm

in the second picture there is a girl sticking her hand in something that looks like machinery.  she's wearing goggles and gloves just like anyone else who loves osha.  but she's also wearing a watch and earrings.  i could maybe see the earings, but that watch just doesn't look safe.  where's the union?

Feb 2, 13 7:18 pm

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: