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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Apr 24, 2009
I've said it before (years ago, posting under a different name) and I'll say it again: Scott simply doesn't know how to use his money properly. He doesn't need a laundry room at all. He simply needs hampers placed strategically close to the servants' entrance.

to jakesdad: It's true. I haven't seen the Blue Duck sequence. My paper only recently picked up Dilbert and I had gotten out of the habit of chasing it down online. All the books eventually pass through my home, however, so I'm sure I'll get to experience it in due time.
Apr 24, 2009
The idea will likely take off when the software is written by pre-fab suppliers. That will help box in the rules to what can be done, and the resulting house can be shipped to your location.

Let's just hope that IKEA doesn't beat Toll Bros. to market..
Apr 24, 2009
I hate to put a downer on your idea, but there will still need to be arhitects to design the homes that you have to choose from. Also, with each State and each city having it's own set of regulations an bylaws, the program would have to be huge, especially if you want to do 3D walkthroughs. And a home that you build in California, probably would not be suitable in Alaska, or Louisiana, mostly due to climate and extreme weather. The only reason tax software isn't huge is that it is mostly text, no house pictures or blueprints, just line after line of tax code. Plus, like the tax laws, house styles need to be updated on a regular basis. Most new sub-divisions will give you a few houses to choose from that meet their criteria and you have to pick from them. If you are living outside of the city, most likely on a larger building lot, you will probably want a custom home, and you will want a architect. Don't get me wrong, the idea itself is great, put in your parameters (single dwelling for a 3 person family with a large lot , must have lots of windows and not be a split entry) and it spits out some house ideas for you . Just like the tax software, a house design software won't be for everyone, and it will have it's share of problems, so architects of the world won't need to panic yet.
Apr 24, 2009
The problem with the home design program is the basic assumptions. You would have to define a language to describe the rules, which could then be applied to specific situations to produce homes.

For example, you say that the washing machine needs to be near the bedrooms, presumably because that makes transporting clothing to-and-from more efficient. Personally, I would say that the washing machine needs to be as far away from the bedroom as possible, because of the noise. The transport problem you can solve other ways (my house, for instance, has a chute in the master bedroom leading to the washing machine, two floors away). We can argue about who's right, but the point is, it isn't set in stone.

So what you really need is a program that has a predefined set of criteria that you can pick and choose from, and maybe allows you to change details like orientations, etc. Then you add in specfiic measurements for your situation. It would be fun in to play with, to try to create the most screwed up house possible.
Apr 24, 2009
Dingbat wrote: "I suppose we have clip art, but we don't yet have a way to get the computer to create art for us. "

you obviously never saw the "Blue Duck" episode of the (Dilbert) series...
Apr 24, 2009
Is this really a problem that needs to be solved? If everybody had a house built maybe, but I think the vast majority of us people with more modest incomes tend to buy houses that are already built. Maybe that is why it is a pain to find the stuff you were searching for; lack of demand.

So your TurboTax analogy rings false to me. Everybody has to pay taxes. Relatively few people design their own homes.
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Apr 24, 2009
Nice idea! When do you suppose GPS visual recognition software will each have enough incremental improvements that we can finally mass produce a car that will drive itself? Should be sooner than your iArchitect proposal since there are no aesthetic considerations.
Apr 24, 2009
I recall speaking with a support technician for the computer drawing program Aldus Freehand years ago (today it is Macromedia Freehand, I believe). Anyway, he told me the most requested feature they've never quite managed to implement is: "draw pretty picture". I suppose we have clip art, but we don't yet have a way to get the computer to create art for us.

Architecture isn't necessarily art (at least not in my neighborhood) but it can be.

I think about the amount of engineering that has gone into making color available onscreen. It's not as easy as you might think. (Who gets to decide what cherry red looks like, for example - and how to you match the screen view on a monitor with a fabric dye, printed sheet, paint color -etc?). That effort pays dividends across millions of applications, however.

There has to be enough of a market in order to justify a massive level of effort for any given application. No doubt an application like the one you describe could be created today, but would it pay? If we get to the point that the engineering piece is push-button simple and you simply need to feed in the technical expertise - we might start seeing more of this type of application, but we have a ways to go.

Even so - anything (including certain principles of architecture) that can be reduced to mathematical formulae is going to go digital eventually. What will shock us, I believe, is encountering aspects of our lives we never thought could be represented mathematically - but that will be.
Apr 24, 2009
Why on earth would I want my washing machine relatively near the bedrooms??

A washing machine goes in the kitchen... I've never seen a house without the washing machine in the kitchen... or in a utility room attached to the kitchen...
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Apr 24, 2009
Since banks no longer loan money to small businesses or individuals (generalizing here), when will this vacuum be filled with an "application" that gathers financial information on companies or people and match them with other people that have cash looking for a fair return? This process would eliminate banks/bankers all together rendering them to the same classification as Scott's architect. Connecting this banking "application" to some type of social networking (ie Facebook), a secondary market of loans could be created thereby eliminating the blood !$%*!$% stockbrokers of the world! Just a thought...
Apr 24, 2009
I agree with the principle of your point, but disagree that TurboTax has yet to become, by definition, an application.

Case in point: my accountant related his plans to purchase a copy of TurboTax for every one of his clients who have children over 17 years old. This tax season alone, many of his clients decided to do-it-themselves and used TurboTax (or any of the competitors) for their taxes. A subset of these clients have children at home over the age of 17.

Quite a number of these clients-with-grown-children-at-home ran into difficulty filing their own returns (15 of them, as my accountant claims). When they came in to file with the accountant, their returns (the parents) were kicked-out by the e-file because of discrepancies with the number of dependents.

It turned out the children filed their own 1040Ez with TurboTax, and declared themselves as a dependent, without telling dear-old-dad. Dad then filed, naming the kids as dependents, and the e-file balked.

Dad, naturally, really wanted those dependents. Since the kid's returns were already e-filed, he was able to charge $100 per kid to amend their returns . My accountant said he made more than $2000 in extra filing fees.

So while my accountant may enjoy the benefit of TurboTax, I doubt it yet meets the correct definition of 'application'.

Apr 24, 2009
Has it occurred to you that there will be architects sitting in software companies who will design the applications like this? Only they will not interact directly with you anymore - they will only provide designs to the corporations that employ them.

So no need to talk your children out of it. They may even earn more than the architects are doing now.
Apr 24, 2009
I recall some sort of software that you described in this blog existing back in 1997 -- in fact our family had a copy of it. It did a basic 3D rendering of a housing blueprint. It wasn't as sophisticated as what you might suggest but it was pretty close. Not sure if the company that made that specific is still around though, but just searching for "3D home builder" on Google gives me a result that seems to be almost exactly what you describe: http://www.punchsoftware.com/index.htm
Apr 24, 2009
Well, I don't know scott, I have a family member who is still a very successful tax accountant, despite turbotax, and did you really research the market for professional-quality house-design programs before you blogged? 8-}
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Apr 24, 2009
Great idea Scott! But as you've acknowledged many times before, this idea has been done. This time over 100 years ago by Sears:

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