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Why We Build Case Study Houses

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified May 06, 2015 01:03 AM
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by Build LLC last modified May 05, 2015

BUILD reveals the ideas and execution behind their Case Study House Series.



[All photos by BUILD LLC]

BUILD recently completed the Case Study House 2014 and we hosted a fun, well-attended open house party a couple weeks ago. Family, friends, colleagues, clients, and project participants came out to sneak the first peek at our latest project and celebrate the accomplishment. The turnout was a huge compliment and a reminder of the tremendous support we have from our community. Thank you to everyone that joined us!


Talking with guests and touring the house gave us the opportunity to take a step back and look at the project with fresh eyes. The pause in our busy schedules to acknowledge the completion reminded us why we started this type of project in the first place. The Case Study Houses are an important part of our work at BUILD. They tackle a set of parameters relevant to our current urban circumstances and they produce sensible, realistic solutions.

We started the CSH series in 2011 to address the growing need for modern, single-family housing in the city that could be financially accessible to more people. Seattle is becoming a very affluent place, and with that comes affordability challenges. We continue to base our work on the principle that urban dwellers should have access to good design at an achievable price.


The restrictive municipal codes and complicated building codes, along with the shrinking availability of urban land and rising costs became the catalyst for launching the Case Study House series. In our day-to-day work, we were developing design systems to deal with these factors consistently between one project and the next. We were finding that these systems translated nicely into an architecture that allows for generous daylight, natural ventilation, flexible interiors, and an effective envelope — all with materials and methods of the current time (i.e., modernism). Using a similar set of design systems keeps the design time-effective, while applying this method to a variety of different sites allows the end result to be architecturally distinct. The Case Study House series developed from this set of common denominators.


Through design, construction and even after completion, the Case Study Houses are tools that we’re constantly learning from and using in a multitude of ways. We rely on these built laboratories for a number of important aspects:

They allow us to experiment with design concepts, materials, and methods.
On most projects, there are areas where we choose to experiment, but we tend to limit this experimentation to a manageable handful of variables. Creating finished projects that meet expectations, create known qualities, and hit established budgets require limiting the variables. Because we are the end user, there is more latitude to experiment in the design phase. The CSH2014 was the testing ground for the reverse floor plan, green roofs, new siding details, limestone countertops, and several other items that we’ll be covering in future blog posts. Not everything is always a success, but we have the chance to experiment and judge the results for ourselves over time, before putting the risk of an untested approach onto a client’s plate.


They offer real world experience with current pricing.
You never quite fully appreciate the money a client spends on a project until your own financial well-being is on the line. The Case Study Houses allow us to sharpen our pencils and look for more aggressive methods to bring costs down while still achieving a well-designed and well-built result. We can honestly say we have skin in the game and we put our money where our mouth is.


They provide a 1:1 scale model to tour with clients.
While we make full use of scale models, digital renderings, and drawings, there is absolutely no substitute for walking through a built project of similar size and character to the one you’re designing. Features can be directly experienced, like the scale of rooms, the quality of light, and the feel of materials. Items such as plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, and appliances can be tested, evaluated, and compared. A Case Study House tends to offer more access than the residences we complete for clients. After all, we want them enjoying their homes, not constantly giving tours. (That said, we tremendously appreciate our clients’ ongoing generosity in opening their homes after move-in.)


They bolster a client’s trust in their architect.
As architects, we’ve learned to trust our own design instincts and thought process. When these ideas extend beyond the capabilities of drawings and models, however, it can be a big leap of faith for a client. The Case Study House becomes a critical link between our design thinking and the architectural result. It reinforces the premise that our design method reaches a foreseeable outcome, in a manner clear enough for clients to understand. This confident comprehension of what doesn’t always translate on paper leads to a greater trust in the design process.


They allow us to hone our photography, marketing, and promotional program.
Most clients are extremely gracious when it comes to us photographing and publishing their home. That said, we’re very sensitive to an owner’s lifestyle and privacy. We like to get out of the way so they can get back to their lives in their new home. The Case Study Houses have fewer time limitations, allowing us to photograph in varying light conditions and capture all the details of a project. Similarly, we have more flexibility to play with the furnishings and staging. While nothing comes close to physically experiencing architecture, the Case Study Houses provide us with ongoing opportunities to document them in a manner that will help convey the architectural experience through photography.


The BUILD Case Study House series continues to be an important tool of how we design and we’re eager to start on the next one. Until then, stay tuned for a few upcoming posts on the Case Study House 2014.

Cheers from Team BUILD




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