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Houses Designed by Kids

Jun 30, 2015 10:25PM ● Published by Matthew Schlueb

Summer is well underway: school is a distant memory for kids spending their days at camps, on playdates and participating in team sports. However, for parents, workloads increase as summer projects are squeezed between vacation travels and weekend barbecues. As an architect, this time of year is peak season with homeowners looking to complete construction on their houses before snow starts falling later in the year.

When designing a home, most architects will ask homeowners for a wish list, categorized into wants, needs, and 'maybe someday.' Frequently, homeowners have compiled several years of hand sketches, home magazine clippings and maybe few photos from a recent vacation house with a particular kitchen they like or a luxurious bathroom shower. All of these things are helpful, but I have learned to tap a far more useful resource that is often overlooked by other architects—kids. 

Kids have the best insights into their families and the way they use their homes. They are keen observers, at an age where they are still soaking up everything going on around them and noticing daily routines and patterns that adults simply dismiss. Children clue me into the defining characteristics that make each family unique. Those nuances, when attended to, make a house a home.

In addition to their refreshing perspectives, children also speak bluntly and to the point. Parents, on the other hand, are conditioned to speak in a coded 'grown-up' language, with proper etiquette and veiled innuendos. Yet the most successful projects, the ones with the fewest regrets, always result from direct and honest dialog between homeowners and architect, which is why I seek out the children to lead the way.

Children also have one other thing in abundance—creativity. Endless silly talk, singing, laughing; children are experts at play, something that many of us adults have forgotten how to do. This change starts to set in at about the same age that kids stop drawing, in fifth or sixth grade. As an adult who makes a living drawing, I never stopped speaking their language.

With younger children, I typically begin by asking them to draw me a picture of their home. Then, I ask for a second picture of their home, if they could change anything they wanted. I ask them to point out their favorite parts, the funniest parts, the coolest parts.

Older kids who have lost their passion to draw may be into making things, like with Legos. This is the perfect toy, with possibilities as limitless as a child's imagination, and kids love these colorful plastic blocks which they can use to build their dream homes.

For kids old enough to use computers, I often recommend Lego Digital Designer. It is a free software download that can be used to create a house virtually from all of the Lego pieces with which they are familiar. I have found it to be a great tool for introducing kids to the power of computing, while developing a sense of spatial relationships, manipulating geometric volumes, and strengthening abstract visualization. The program is very intuitive and kids pick it up immediately, designing away in a matter of minutes.

For older kids wanting to move away from Legos (although I can't imagine why), I tell them about a program I use with my own architectural practice called SketchUp. This is also a free download (from Google), which can create three-dimensional structures, using lines, planes and geometric solids. It too is very intuitive, with most kids figuring it out in less than an hour. But unlike Legos, where you build from predetermined parts, SketchUp is a true CAD program where you make everything from scratch, extracting images straight from inside kids’ heads. 

So if you have been thinking about making changes to your home lately, consider checking with your kids. Get out the box of crayons and draw a few pictures with them. Or if you want a more educational experience that feels like fun, show them a design program or two. You might find that they have ideas that you never considered—playful ideas. And what house couldn't use a little more fun?

Matthew Schlueb is a registered architect and owner of SCHLUEBarchitecture. For questions or comments, contact Matthew at nhm@finalmove.com. This article is part of an ongoing series addressing architectural issues for homeowners.

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