When my wife and I designed our home we got one of the rooms exactly right. The living room area has an L-shaped couch that opens to a fireplace on one wall and the TV on the other. It's far better than the common practice of an ugly rectangular TV over a rectangular fireplace. Our windows are on both sides of the fireplace so there is no glare on the TV. And there are walkways on all sides of the couch so the living room eliminates the need for a hallway to connect rooms downstairs. Best of all, when we are facing the TV, Shelly can be nearer the fireplace, and that works for both of us.

That's just an example of a perfect room setup. Obviously your ideal room setup would be different if you don't have a fireplace or a TV. But it made me wonder if there is such a thing as an ideal room design for every given set of functionality and budget. Is there, for example, a perfect kitchen layout that has everything figured out? A perfect bedroom?

You often see rooms that can't be furnished properly because furniture placement was an afterthought. The design of a room should start with the perfect arrangement of furniture and fixtures. I would think that for every budget and set of preferences there are a few furniture arrangements that stand out as the best. How hard would it be to catalog those best arrangements?

I imagine a time when a user can design a home simple by checking boxes on a long digital form. Questions for a living room might include:

1.      Do you want a TV in this room?
2.      Do you want a cozy reading chair?
3.      Do you want a fireplace?
4.      Etc.

Once the user selects all of his preferences for each room, he clicks a "shuffle" button and it spits out a house layout complete with external windows, doors, hallways, stairs, and engineering support structures. All of that stuff is fairly rules-based. If you don't like the first design, click the shuffle button again. In every case, the rooms will have exactly the features you specified but arranged differently. And of course you can walk through your model in 3D mode.

You would also have to answer some questions about the orientation of the home on the lot, such as the location of neighbors, the street, and the sun. Just check the boxes that apply and hit the shuffle button.

I can imagine that each time you select or deselect a feature it automatically adjusts the total cost of building and maintaining the home. When you have the design you like, at the price you can afford, you click a button to send the whole thing out to bid for contractors. I can also imagine that clicking the "build" button sends the materials and cutting instructions to manufacturers and lumberyards that prepare all the building materials and deliver them to the site, appropriately labeled for the builder.

I would think the cost of the house would fall dramatically with this model, in part because you could shuffle rooms until you got the lowest cost that meets your needs. When an architect designs your home, you get perhaps two or three different looks from which to choose, and no idea which one is more expensive. Room placement makes a big difference in costs for several reasons:

1.      Rooms that need plumbing should be near each other to reduce costs.
2.      Orientation to the sun makes a huge difference in heating/cooling/insulation.
3.      Some designs require fewer hallways, which saves space.
4.      Some designs require more support structures, doors, windows, etc.
5.      Some designs have ductwork issues.

Those are just some obvious examples of potential savings. You'd also cut your architect expense by 80%. And you'd save on labor and materials because the building materials would be measured and cut at the factory, including everything from lumber to floor tiles to carpet.

My observation is that the building industry is slow to innovate and fairly disorganized. Builders, architects, and materials companies are all their own little silos. So my guess is that the "shuffle design" program will originate in some sort of online game environment before it gets ported to the real world.

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Apr 3, 2013
I realized building design was insane years ago when I noticed hallways that continue past the last open door on the hallway and end against a wall with no window. No excuse for that dead space.
Mar 28, 2013
Why not take your idea one step further, and use 3D printers to construct the house as these guys are doing http://www.gizmag.com/kamermaker-3d-printed-house/26752/

By the way, your L-Shaped couch is a dead give-away that you are in the house of an engineer who values function over style. (I have one too).
Mar 28, 2013
"Theres this thing called a garage with a remote controlled door you may want to look into."

Good idea. When you have guests come to your house, do you mail them the remote control ahead of time so they can get into your garage?
Mar 28, 2013
The closest I've seen done to this idea is the Sims game which lets you build a house. Unfortunately, it tends to be simple and I don't think the newer versions added things like water and electric bills yet.

I'm not sure I'm a fan of the shuffle only arrangement. I mean if you don't know what you want, that's great but for people who have some ideas of a design they want, they might want a little more control. I'm a little surprised houses don't come as empty shells with a few set outlets and maybe pre-located bathrooms and kitchens (for location of water and drains). Then you could just add and remove walls to your liking.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 28, 2013
The concept of pattern languages (which is seems like you are describing) has existed in several different areas since the late 1970's and early 1980's (architecture and software are the two I'm most familiar with). The key issue is it is usually much easier to recognize a design that really works well after-the-fact when they are in use and much harder to get it right at the design stage.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 28, 2013
When I make a gazillion dollars off my artwork this might be a worthy thing to fire a few synapse over. Until then, I'll take what I can afford. Though I've gotta say... for me it's more location than the actual house. I want acreage on Kauai, no neighbors and a cool beverage with an umbrella in it. If there is one feature I would love in a house would be a perpetual waterfall where the baseboards are... and about the height of a cat's ass. If you know what I mean, you'll know what I mean.
Mar 28, 2013

Hell no! There is no such thing as not needing more Dilbert cartoons and most of Scotts ideas are dubious so we dont need him picking one more or less at random and giving up Dilbert to implement it.
Mar 28, 2013
Does anyone else agree that Scott would do better quitting the Dilbert cartoon time-sink and just implementing his ideas full time? We don't need more Dilbert cartoons, but we could definitely use more ideas like this.

[I'm working with partners on a start-up now, and I think that idea is the best I've ever had in terms of solving a nearly universal problem. You'll hear more about that when we release the beta in a few weeks. -- Scott]
Mar 27, 2013
I love this idea, and would use this product if available, The only issue I see are building codes. It is amazing how much building codes not only vary from state to state, but from city to city.

[The system would have to allow each city planning department to input their own building codes, also from a checklist. The city would save money on plan inspectors because anything the system spits out will be conforming.]
Mar 27, 2013

[What bugs me is that almost all houses are designed so one has to walk through the rain to get from the car to the front door. Some even have the roof sloped so as to funnel rain onto a person trying to unlock the front door. ]

Theres this thing called a garage with a remote controlled door you may want to look into.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 27, 2013
Of all the ideas I've seen Scott come up with, this one has the most immediate impact in terms of an idea ready for market. However, you may be facing hordes of Ivy League architects angry at being put out of business by this seemingly innocent idea. Nonetheless, its about time that the architecture worlds gets shaken up. In the aftermath, only the truly standout architects with orginal and unique ideas will be able to survive.
Mar 27, 2013
"their own little silos"

Seems like an unusual metaphor unless you (and we) read Wool recently!
Mar 27, 2013
As a computer programmer, this idea intrigues me. Your comment about this originating in a video game environment is dead on. Many games already have randomizers to generate a video game world - rogue-like games such as Nethack and Diablo have been doing this basic thing for years (and there are rough equivalents to furniture placement).

One thing that stands out to me is the lists of questions to ask and requirements to minimize costs while still maintaining a aesthetically pleasing living environment. Based on many of the experiences you talked about while designing your house, it makes me suspect no one really knows what are good designs, and that tradition, guesswork, and personal preference/bias largely drive house design. This random-generation idea potentially possesses a way to improve house design. If this were made a web application (something now possible thanks to WebGL), the application can note which houses were ultimately selected by individuals for production, and use those designs to generate better questions and requirements over time.

I've been looking for a good personal project to do that dealt with randomly-generated environments, and this one is better than the things I had been coming up with. I hope you don't mind, Scott, but I am going to spend some spare time trying to develop this into a real thing. Thanks for the great idea!

[There might not be one universal best furniture arrangement for every set of preferences but there can be a top five that you can choose from. And there will certainly be designs that are unambiguously superior for livability and function. Good luck with your exploration of the concept! -- Scott]
Mar 27, 2013
What bugs me is that almost all houses are designed so one has to walk through the rain to get from the car to the front door. Some even have the roof sloped so as to funnel rain onto a person trying to unlock the front door.

And it's not as if this problem wasn't solved long ago. See for example Wright's Pope-Leighey house:

Mar 27, 2013
We're not to the point of gamification yet but as a company that supplies solutions to the architecture/engineering/construction industry, we do have Autodesk Homestyler where consumers can lay out their rooms using just a web browser.
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