Good Architects Selling Good Plans Is a Good Thing

houseplans for sale flexahouse image
Migrated Image

Nick Noyes, Flexahouse, photo by Cesar Rubio

After the New York Times wrote about the renewed interest in stock plans, Archinect called it a War on Architects. Michael Cannell picked up the story at Fast Company and asked "Do we need architects? I think they both got it wrong, we need architects more than ever, and this isn't war on architects, it is a great opportunity. It isn't a new idea, either.

houseplans for sale frank lloyd wright image

Frank Lloyd Wright was a big supporter of the idea, and was the first architect to work with Life Magazine on their dream house, where the house would actually get built, covered in the magazine and the plans sold to the public.

houseplans for sale robert stern image

They kept this program going for the life of Life, hiring many of the best. In 1998 the New York Times interviewed a few of the architects involved.

''It's long, long overdue,'' said John Rattenbury at Taliesin, the firm Frank Lloyd Wright founded. In the tradition of the master, whose floor plans appeared in Life magazine in the 1930's, Taliesin sold several hundred plans last year through Life. ''It's one of the saddest things that people of moderate means are subject to a glaring lack of good design.''
Whether they choose them partly for cocktail-party bragging rights or for their aesthetic appeal, the people who have built the houses agree on one thing: they could never have afforded to hire these architects to build them a custom house.
''These baby boomers are starting to react against 'bigger is better,' '' Mr. Gilbane said. ''People want houses with mahogany and trim -- they don't want a box Colonial.'' House plans by known architects, he said, ''are a great opportunity to get excellent design without paying them the $30,000 and $50,000 they'd charge as a fee.''
houseplans for sale hugh newell jacobson image

Hugh Newell Jacobson 1968

Life Magazine is no longer with us, but is, with a selection of architects' designs edited by Dan Gregory of Sunset Magazine. Nick Noyes' Flexahouse is particularly interesting.

The problem with so many of the plans in plan books is their incredible banality. The Flexahouse, on the other hand, is designed around the idea of people putting together the house that meets their needs, budgets and sites, from a conventional suburban form with snout garage to more more unconventional designs.

houseplans for sale flexahouse front image
The opportunity with FLEXAHOUSE was to create a design that was flexible enough — with three different arrangements of the basic elements — to conform to varying site conditions such as local solar orientation, views, and other particularities. By adding more bedrooms, changing the orientation of the garage, or choosing siding and roofing options you can create still more variations." It's also an eco-friendly house: Nick designed it on a 16-inch grid for maximum construction efficiency and minimum construction waste.
houseplans for sale flexahouse siding image

They think about the details, too.

houseplans for sale lamidesign image

It isn't just for the big names, either; Greg Lavardera built his career selling plans online, exposing his work to a far larger audience than the traditional young architect's website that might have a house addition or mom's cottage on it.

houseplans for sale tumbleweed image

Jay Shafer has built a career of it, selling plans and building his cute tiny houses through his Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

houseplans for sale freegreen image

At Freegreen, David Wax and his team are taking the idea one step further and giving the plans away. We wrote earlier:

The business model: "we offer free, downloadable, buildable energy efficient and healthy home plans to everyone. Our revenue comes from the green product vendors that we specify into the plans (via an advertising and lead generation model)."
Architects can't make money doing one-off houses and most people aren't willing to pay for it, or don't even value it. The traditional model is broken, so why not market architecture like software or blogs and give it away, making money from the ads?
houseplans for sale turnbull image

William Turnbull at

In some cases, the architect may not even be alive; the revenue from Bill Turnbull's designs supports the Environmental Design Archives at U. C. Berkeley.

The traditional model of the profession is broken. Now, in the current housing crisis, the traditional development model is broken as well. Instead of sitting on their hands waiting for the phone to ring, why don't all of the underemployed architects flood the internet with plans for small, green, efficient, and lovely architect-designed plans?