I'm always fascinated when an incremental change to an existing technology creates a new application. For example, you can browse the Internet with your phone, but its usefulness is limited to times when a regular computer isn't handy. Eventually, when your phone's browser speed approaches the speed of your regular computer, you won't bother getting off the couch to check something online. That's like a new application.

I was reminded of this while trying to make choices for the home we're building. As you might imagine, there is a huge amount of home-related information online. But if you want to Google up some ideas for decorating a tall wall, you're out of luck. If you want to see a bunch of cabinet types that fit with our look, you have to go on a scavenger hunt online. The Internet is surprisingly unhelpful for house design. But over time it will evolve into that application.

I predict that by the year 2030 or so you will be able to design an entire home online without much help from architects, designers, engineers, or landscapers. That expertise will all be handled with software, the same way TurboTax took over for the expertise of tax preparers.

As I work through the home design process, I'm struck by the fact there are so many clear rules. The process begs for programming more than art. For example, you want your kitchen near the interior door from the garage, and you want your washing machine relatively near the bedrooms, and so on. I should be able to tell my software my requirements for number of bedrooms, budget, and features, and have it spit out all the designs that meet my criteria. The software would optimize the house shape and orientation for my lot size and even make sure the plumbing distances were minimized. The program could make sure the design met all the local codes and restrictions. And it would be the greenest home that is practical.

The user would still make the final aesthetic decisions, but choosing only from a menu of homes that met his criteria. And he could walk through a 3D model before making any decisions. If he decided to add a bathroom, the entire floor plan would reconfigure to accommodate the change without breaking any rules.

So if your kid wants to become an architect, consider talking him out of it.
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May 2, 2009
I tried a Google search for

"high wall" decoration

and got several interesting ideas. Try it yourself.

In 1980, Jerry Pournelle predicted that by the year 2000 anyone in Western Civilization would be able to get the answer to any question that can be answered. We're not quite there yet-- a lot of facts are still trapped in people's heads-- but opinions on just about any popular topic are easy to find online if you're good at looking.

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Apr 29, 2009
"So if your kid wants to become an architect, consider talking him out of it."

Nah. Just make sure he also takes computer programming, so that he can be the one making oodles of bucks for writing this program.
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Apr 28, 2009
Agree completely Scott! My wife and I have just moved into a new home that we have spent the last 10 years designing and dreaming about.

I've used all of the home design apps that I can find and none of them come close to what I know is possible. The one with the most promise, www.plan3d.com, had it's own quirks and flaws like all the rest but it also has the potential of evolving into the application that you describe.

Imagine an online home design application that can help you design a house by allowing you to choose the things that are important to you: bedroom size, laundry room placement, style of house and location of lot for instance in addition to the usual number of bedrooms and desired square footage.

Choose your budget and overall design preferences and let the app find existing designs for you to rate. Then select a design to use as a starting point or draw one completely from scratch.

It then guides you through the decision making process of picking the right furniture, fixtures, cabinet, etc and also includes scaled 3d drawings that you can add to your home design. All provided by the manufacturers making the products.

This could be a huge money making opportunity and an extremely useful tool for people designing a new house or renovating an old house.
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Apr 27, 2009
Agreed - Architects have been running their scam for way too long, like anybody with a set of Leggos doesn't know how to build a house for cryin' out loud! Welcome to the "Replaced by the Internet" party Achitects - take your seat over there in between the Travel Agents and the One Hour Photo processing clerks you talentless hacks! The Diagnostic Physicians will be joining you soon, so if you have any strange rashes you'd like them to take a look at, feel free to grab a backless robe - but watch your ass, you don't want the newspaper journalist in the back to snap a photo for their non-existent publications!
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Apr 27, 2009
Apr 27, 2009
Today I discovered that I rely too much on Google.

I was heating a frozen dinner from a packet. Preheated the oven as per the instructions, took out the pies and put the remainder back in the freezer. I forgot to check how long to leave them in the oven, so rather than getting the packet back out of the freezer to check, I Googled it.

In order to Google it, I had to reconnect my phone to the wireless network and surf the net on a phone which is still rather a challenge, the process took 1o minutes yet I saw this as the easier option.

I burned the pies.

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Apr 26, 2009
There is C.A.D. software for decorating, floorplans and gardens but what the internet really lacks is honest brokers. Everybody is selling something. Yyou can't comparison shop easily. Honest brokers make their money giving you impartial information and good customer-proven choices. That's what you really need.
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Apr 26, 2009
When I was a kid I spent hours designing dream houses. I usually forgot to put in minor details like bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc. This is where professionals come in handy. They know all about the stuff in the walls, under the floor, etc.
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Apr 26, 2009
Really, I'm an engineer and the two times I built a house for myself I made sure to select a talented architect. I doubt a fancy software can replace a knowledgeable and talented architect, no matter how sophisticate computers get.

My architects came to see the location, study the wind and the position of the sun, etc. etc. You can't simply take the same house project and make it work in different places. The money I spent with architects was paid many fold - I had more than one neighbor decide to buy new land to build another house after seeing how much more efficient, comfortable and beautiful mine were.

Readers thinking of becoming architects, please don't listen to Scott - the world need creativity and human intelligence to create buildings that combine logical thinking with artistic talent.
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Apr 26, 2009
Holy marmosets! You have a telephone that can surf the Internet?
I am humbled by your technological superiority.
Apr 25, 2009
scott, it's called "creativity." it's disappointing to see a logically-oriented, art-focused type be so reserved towards what the status quo has to suggest.
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Apr 25, 2009
1. Curse you Scott Adams! I may be your only reader who has a child who just got accepted into a prestigious architectural design program at an (expensive) college...but I pray you are wrong!

2. As the co-owner of a construction company and someone who helps clients tweak design, I disagree. The "rules" you speak of are not--personal preference varies greatly, as do trends. Today, bigger bathrooms, bigger kitchens, smaller bedrooms, and open floorplans are the norm. Within that norm, I have had clients who put the washer/dryer closest to the kitchen for ease of DOING laundry while doing other things, a client who put a laundry closet in her bedroom, and clients who want it far away to minimize the noise factor. Minimizing plumbing runs is one of those 'rules' most non-experts hold in high esteem. But, really, it's a minor issue today.

3. An app would have a limited number of ways to solve common problems which is what would make it easy to use. An architect can marry limitless possible solutions to tasteful, appropriate, cost effective options and come up with a unique subset of options.

4. While many of you have noted that YOU may not design your own homes, SOMEONE does. When we build spec homes, we try to find fairly universally pleasing solutions to all the issues. At the same time, if we didn't also add unique features, all spec homes of any similar era would look remarkably alike. UGH!

5. Having listed all of my objections, I think such an app would be a GREAT starting point. I use 3D Home Architect for just such a purpose. Most people need to SEE something to realize what their taste truly is.

6. California now requires that all new homes be engineered. I would still recommend that most people start with an architect to get the flow and feel they want. And yes, not all architects are on top of the newest, best building materials or cost efficient and practical ways to accomplish any given design task. The good ones are, however.

7. If you're building in 5 years, please contact me and hire my daughter. She'll need to pay off those student loans! :)
Apr 24, 2009
One of the differences between engineering and architecture is that for most engineering problems there exists a clear algorithm, a limited number of variables, and a generally accepted optimum goal. If you give a class of 20 engineers a bridge design, once you have determined the span, loads, support conditions and material costs, they will probably produce designs that fall into 3 or 4 groups of very similar designs. Give even a fairly simple design problem, like a house, to 20 architects, and they will produce at least 30 or 40 designs, of profoundly different character.

Architecture involves a huge number of variables, many of which are only vaguely defined or not quantified at all. Most successful architectural designs have one or more dominant organizing element that is not implicit in the building program (program in architecture is the list of spaces and their relationship to each other.) Dilbert glibly assumes that an optimal arrangement of spaces can be determined by some algorithm, but so far as I know, no one has discovered such an algorithm, and there is no evidence that the result would be a satisfying design. Architectural design usually involves integrating many different, often conflicting spatial systems, the program spaces, circulation, structure, mechanical systems, the building envelope, the relationship between inside and outside, the sun, views, privacy etc. Oh, and it has to be constructible.

Designing involves many simultaneous decisions and trade-offs, and as mentioned before, successful designs often are organized around some element or schema that could not be inferred from the program. This is what the architect brings to the process, and how it happens is somewhat mysterious even to those of us who practice it. Architecture and music are completely different, in spite of some tortured attempts to find parallels, but I haven’t heard any computer-generated music that appealed to me, and I suspect architecture will be similarly intractable.
Apr 24, 2009
Scott your blog is so interesting. It is littered with fantastic ideas and well-reasoned thoughts. You are the man and you are awesome. I mean this blog is like mind candy in the sense that it tastes so good minus of course the unhealthy side affects. i just really enjoy reading everything you write
Apr 24, 2009
Good architectural design programs will evolve. But a family’s needs change quickly and new technology make house design a tricky process. Four years ago, we built a new home installing Category 5 network cabling throughout to every possible place a desktop computer might be used. Then inexpensive home wireless systems became available making this wiring unnecessary because of less expensive WiFi capable laptops. Unanticipated family changes always come up: Mother-in-law moving in, wife learns she is having triplets, a daughter moves back home with a little surprise package requiring diapers and so on. Sure, you have to do the best you can and retrofit and remodeling are options but it will never be perfect. We are human.
Apr 24, 2009
Just a thought: how many people actually get to design their own homes? Most people buy the house that is already built, and which they feel is most likely to meet their needs. Then they go through a renovation process, like re-doing the kitchen or bathroom.

How many people actually have to decide where the laundry room is, relative to the bedrooms? I my house, the laundry room is in the basement, and the bedrooms are on the 2nd floor. Moving the washer/dryer upstairs to make it more convenient would require a major change to plumbing, at huge expense.

BTW, to meet local building codes, its better to hire an engineer than an architect. I'm surprised by the number of architects who simply have no comprehension of building codes. They draw pretty pictures. Then its up to the builder (and their engineer/contractor) to figure out how to build what the architect drew. If you're designing your own house, hire an engineer, tell him what you want and he'll tell you if it's impossible or just incredibly expensive.
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Apr 24, 2009
The flaw (as also pointed out by Dal Tiger) is that any building, residence, etc. in the U.S. has to be designed by an actual Professional Engineer/Architect. This is due to the simple reasoning that the local jurisdiction, county, and or state does not accept responsibility of any design they review for building permits. There assumption is that if something is incorrect in the design, there has to be somebody to blame (read sue) as the jurisdiction will not be responsible for the design for the end user. That is why the definition of Professional Engineer or Professional Architect in most states includes the language in some way of "professional liability". Part of the liability clause in the laws relates to the design being overseen by the registered professional. Assuming your program became the norm, there would still be an architect/engineer at the end of the program having to sign off on the design that is registered in the state of the home's location, not counting the language changes to the existing laws to allow this to occur (and don''t think for a second that the Architect lobbyists would allow that to happen)
Apr 24, 2009
There are programs out there that do this already. However, the online tutorials don't work on my computer, and there are no manuals so I have no idea how to use it.

It's still better than the video editing software I have that garbles the video output so that it looks like it was transmitted from Alpha Centauri. It's also better than iTunes, which requires that I wait thirty minutes to download and install a new upgrade for both iTunes Store and Flash Player every month, and which now informs me every time I run it that the installation wasn't completed even though it was, and which frequently hangs in the middle of a video even when viewing off line.

I rate my home design software a B, which is the grade I give any program which doesn't immediately destroy my computer.
Apr 24, 2009
Interesting idea Mr. Adams. I disagree however on the simple grounds that most houses would look the same. For instance, most houses in my neighborhood are 3 bedroom 2 1/2 bath, but in another neighborhood they could be 5 and 3 1/2. All the houses would look alike in these neighborhoods.

I believe that your application would function, but architects would still be used to vary the houses
Apr 24, 2009
@Mr. Wampus: My last house had the laundry room on the second floor near the bedrooms and it was great!

Ah, well, I suppose going down two floors to the machine is bordering on annoying... but, on the other hand, being two floors above your very noisy washer/dryer cannot be bad...
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