Architectural Sketches 003 – Japanese Playhouse

Architectural sketches typically fall into two distinctive camps (other than “Great!” or “terrible”) and the relative purpose of those sketches seem to reflect the time period with when the sketch was actually created … during design or during construction. I would also feel safe going out on a limb and say that most people typically fall solidly in one camp or the other.

I’d like to think I am one of those rare unicorns that sketches during both design and construction … maybe it’s more of a small-firm type thing where I am required to work on my projects from beginning to end. That’s part of the reason I am using the particular sketches I am for today’s post – my involvement in a project that I might not normally have made time for.

We have two high school seniors that come to our office for several hours, every Monday through Thursday, as part of a work program in their school. These two seniors (Bethany and Lauren)are both going to college in the Fall to continue their architectural educations but until that time comes, we get them for a few months. During this time, we give them tasks to do that we think would benefit them this coming fall – this means that they work in Revit, SketchUp, they get drawing assignments (they had to sketch a bell pepper – elevations, sections, etc.), and we have them build some models for us. Since this is a work program for educational purposes, they do not get paid for their time in our office, and we do not have them take on billable work. Pretty straightforward introduction to architecture 101 type stuff.

Most recently, we have had them going through an exercise where they have to read technical drawings and then build a model from those drawings. Rather than give them something giant that would require an exorbitant amount of time and knowledge, we thought that one of my playhouses would be just about the perfect size.

Japanese House - Life of an Architect Playhouse 2010

This is a Japanese themed playhouse that I designed back in 2010. This was actually the 2nd playhouse I ever designed, still one of my favorites, and this was the project that we decided to have Bethany and Lauren build. I did all the construction drawings myself over the course of one weekend and I know that they are thorough and detailed.

Japanese Playhouse Construction Drawings Front Elevation

Since this was the second playhouse I ever designed (and documented) it was important to me to figure out all the moving parts before sending this along to the contractor. Now that this particular contractor and I have done loads of playhouses together, I don’t worry about the documentation as much – knowing that I’ll cover most of the clever bits and the rest can be worked out in the field.

Japanese Playhouse Construction Drawings Rear Elevation

I thought I would go ahead and include almost all of the drawings I created because of all the playhouses I have designed, I get asked to send along the drawings to this particular one the most often. (and now I can just send them a link to this post).

Japanese Playhouse Construction Drawings Section Elevation A

Japanese Playhouse Construction Drawings Section Elevation B

Japanese Playhouse Construction Drawings Side Elevation

Japanese Playhouse Construction Drawings Floor Plan

Japanese Playhouse Construction Drawings Roof Rafter Plan

Despite the fact that there is thorough documentation, this process is still a first for our high schoolers. I will confess that I have been planning on building a basswood model of this playhouse for the last 7 years – even had a bag of the wood with the construction drawings sitting in a bag on the top shelf of my closet. For better or worse, when we decided to Lauren and Bethany build this particular model as part of their education, I was a little sad that it wouldn’t be me that finally built it (with all the spare time I have on my hands). As a result, I have been paying a bit more attention to their progress than I might normally and whenever I see them trying to work through something, I am quick to sit down at the table and explain what’s happening.

This was the case last week when it was time to work on the roof assembly.

Playhouse Model Sketch - laying out panels for the roof

For the most part, this playhouse is fairly simple. The only part that is somewhat complicated is the roof assembly – multiple rafters, the roof pitch changes, there is a texture to the underside … The other thing I wanted to go over was the order in which these pieces were put together – something that might be obvious once you’ve built a few models but not if this was your first time. The sketches I put together are far more storybook than I would normally prepare, but that’s exactly what I was doing – telling a story. I wanted to talk through the process and sequence, how to cut out the pieces, and how to put everything together.

The sketch above was talking about the roof sheathing and how to make sure that a) it was the right size (based on the model they had already built up to this point) and b) talk about how the rafters lined up with the wall studs.

Playhouse Model Sketch - Rafter diagram

The next sketch in the conversation was focused on the “craft” of model building – in this case, how to make sure that the rafter would be straight and how you could assemble the roof “on the ground” rather than in place on the model. It’s a lot easier to cut out the pieces as components, assemble and glue them together as free-floating pieces, and then put them onto the body of the model. In the sketch above we talked about drawing straight lines on the sheathing, gluing guideline pieces of wood along those guidelines, thereby creating a controlled and well-crafted roof structure.

For the record, they decided to skip this step.

Playhouse Model Sketch - laying out shingles

The final conversation we ended up having was regarding the undulating shingle pattern that was on the roof – originally intended to simulate a thatched roof. It is not unreasonable to think that Bethany and Lauren were not familiar with the process of how shingles would be installed (starting at the bottom and working your way up) so it made sense to start there

Japanese Playhouse Model - the shell

The image above indicates the start of the project and shows the progress that was made prior to any involvement from me. I can’t stress enough just how impressive it is to watch these young women read construction drawings and build this model.  Part of their responsibility is to track down the model materials to match the actual thickness and size of the members that were used for construction – which would not be an easy task.

Japanese Playhouse Model - roof rafters

This is a look at the underside of the roof rafters – which I know will be the most difficult part of the model to construct. When the actual playhouse was being built, the assembly of these rafters required the use of a biscuit joiner so that the outmost rafters could appear to “cross over” one another while actually remaining in the same plane.

Japanese Playhouse Model - the shingle pattern

A closer look at how the shingle panels are coming together …

Japanese Playhouse Model - coming together

Here is a look at all of the parts and pieces held in place prior to gluing together the final assembly. I took these pictures over the weekend and I know that there are a few things here that still need to be figured out. I have no doubt that the “bird’s mouth” that will need to be cut into the lower roof rafters (and that is currently missing) will be the next big step Lauren and Bethany will need to address … but I know they’ll get there. Once the model is finished I’ll come back on here and add the final product to the end of this post.

The time that our interns will spend with us is coming to an end and I will undoubtedly talk with them to get a better feeling as to how they felt there time with us was spent. I’ll admit that I was a bit hesitant about the idea of allowing high school students spend 10 hours a week in our office – I wasn’t sure what they would be doing. Maybe we just got lucky and the two women we had were extraordinarily well-suited for the tasked they were given – but I can’t imagine not continuing the practice of allowing young people into our office and letting them get an up-close look at what it means to be a practicing architect.  I hope they leave with the same positive feeling that their time and efforts were well spent.


Bob signature FAIAP.S. – If you want to see the actual Japanese playhouse that was built 8 years ago, you can check it here: The Japanese Playhouse – Complete

Source: Life of an Architect