Part 2 – 2800 sqft High Rise Apartment, Texas

2800 sqft High Rise Apartment, Texas (PDF)
2800 sqft High Rise Apartment, Texas (JPEG)

  • Meg

    I just love the way John was chuckling his way through this one. Definitely one for the hall of fame or infamy.

    My top 3.
    1. Bathroom overload
    2. Closed in Kitchen
    3. Too much glass facing west

  • highway6

    I think the West facing window comes off the list as far as a design flaw of the unit is concerned.

    Any residential tower built is going to have favorable sides and unfavorable sides as far as heat gain is concerned. Those can be mitigated by the overall bldg design, but this bldg has been designed and has been built. It’s in Houston. What are they supposed to do now.. only sell the units on the north side ?? ( Which if this is downtown, means zero view whatsoever )

    It’s all glass. We live with that. This goes down as a bldg flaw though.. not a apartment flaw.

  • highway6

    Furthermore, being from Houston, there has only been 1 new residential bldg built downtown in the past decade.. and it it most certainly not glass curtainwall. Pretty much all the new residential towers have gone up in Uptown, 5 miles away. However, I can only think of one that is this level of glass curtainwall, but I am positive this unit is not from that bldg. I would love to know what bldg this is in.

    Wasted space –
    Worst offender – the middle – entrance/kitchen/mega closet combo.
    2nd offender – the ends – restroom/hallway/closet overload.

  • John Brown

    Highway 6,
    I am not sure exactly where the building is located. We are continuously collecting a lot of floor plans from around North America and we do not keep detailed records for each. I understand that Houston is a very decentralized city and my offhand comment about it being “downtown” may be misleading.

    In any event, our intent at the design school is not to criticize a particular building but to use the floor plans to illustrate the general principles of design with which one can evaluate any given house.

  • highway6


    I understand that you probably didn’t specifically mean downtown.
    You have been linked to from Swamplot, a houston real estate blog, where we are currently having a guessing game trying to figure out where this building is.

    Irrelevant to the exercises we do here, but fun nonetheless.

    Regardless.. i still think criticizing a unit in a highrise for orientation isn’t fair. This could just as easily be the unit mirrored on the east side of the bldg. The bldg orientation / amount of unprotected glazing can be marks against the building design…. but once you’re down to the given unit, you take it or leave it.

  • John Brown


    It may not be fair but I think it is important for people to be aware that orientation does matter and that it can affect overall livability (and also operating cost). Despite what the marketing brochure may say, identical units on different sides of a multi-family project are not the same. It is very unfortunate if the designer or developer did not account for this difference but it is smart for any potential buyer to do so.

  • Terri

    I agree with Highway 6 on the orientation issue. Obviously there will be units facing South as well, so one would hope that the curtainwall is glazed in such a way to reflect some sunlight. As far as the unit goes, most of the living spaces do take advantage of the light–only the kitchen does not–which adheres to a Slow Home criteria.

    My pick for the very worst design element is the overabundance and overly large bathrooms while the storage spaces are chopped-up and inefficient; there is an inherent imbalance in the way these two main components are incorporated into the plan.

  • highway6


    Fair enough. But given that we have been given this specific unit and have determined that the entire open side will have less than optimal lighting conditions, I’d love to see this go from “Whats wrong with” to “Design Exercise” at some point to see how everyone would go about mitigating this issue.

  • Terri

    I just discovered the late entries to Part One and want to add to the “lifestyle” discussion that arose from this plan. So this home is aimed at the wealthy with live-in help, okay. I see now that the smallest bedroom with the smallest bathroom and closet is right across from the laundry and closest to the kitchen (aside from the “Master” suite), so it fits the intended lifestyle.

    Obviously I can’t condemn the wealthy for choosing to live in the city instead of driving everywhere, as that’s less costly to the planet. But on another human level, I can condemn the plan for forcing the servant to lug laundry across the dining room and living room and down a long hallway to perform her duties in a narrow back hall. (Let’s face it–it will be a she doing the grunt work here.) At least she can look out her window at a view while she waits for the machines, I guess. But I wonder about the message of superiority this space provides the homeowners. All that extra space for their side of the unit isn’t only wasteful, it’s got no soul.

  • Volker


    good point about the curtainwall issue. I guess you are right about pointing out that this might be a problem because as far as I know most developers will tend to try to sell this place as expensive as possible and construct is as cheap as possible without taking the operation cost seriously into account – neither do new home owners. If they would be serious about this they could use the high-end technology for glass/windows – rather expensive but working, enough light but no too much heat. The thing is you have to calculate more or less every single window in the whole facade – although at the end the North window will look the same as the South window – both will be totally different. This is about high-end technology in architecture and I am afraid non of those cookie-cutter guys take this really seriously into account!

  • highway6

    Since when is “cookie-cutter” applied to multi-million dollar residential mid-rises ?
    Mid-rises are designed by architects. We’re not talking a home-builder cranking out houses by the dozen here.

    We don’t know what high-end technology went into this specific project. We don’t know if this is low-e glazing. We know nothing about this glazing except that there is a lot of it…. We know nothing about the site. We don’t know what factors dictated this building orientation.

    We’re assuming alot here, mostly negative.
    What’s your solution ?
    Let’s only design high-rises without curtain-walls.
    Let’s make developers only lease out the sides of the building with minimal heat gain, irregardless of views?

    I understand orientation is key and its good to educate people as such… but this should remain at the micro level – single family homes.
    Doing so of a condo unit, without any knowledge of the site, what went into the orientation, without any knowledge of the higher end glazing that goes into a curtain-wall system, is pointless. Heck, this could be a LEED accredited project for all we know.
    Criticizing a developer for trying to make a profit is surely not based in reality.
    Labeling a high-rise project “cookie-cutter” is laughable.

    I somewhat see the value in John bringing up lighting briefly for a high-rise unit as far as general solar orientation education goes… but for that to result in bring out the same old tired rants against developers and “cookie cutter” catch phrase… I mean come on !!

  • James Scott

    Excess can only be borne on the back of the poor.

    If those who are fortunate waste resources this action can only drive up the cost therefore making these resources unavailable to those who are unfortunate.

    Five bathrooms, abundance of west facing glazing, pretentious design.

  • John Brown

    I appreciate your opinion.

    In the context of this site, a cookie cutter house is designed as something that has been designed to be sold at the expense of livability. Design decisions are made to make the unit more attractive for the short term goal of the initial sale rather than long term functionality, comfort, appropriateness, etc. Cookie cutter houses come in all shapes and sizes and all price ranges. They are designed by architects as well as “cowboy contractors”.

    I take your point about the direction of this particular discussion and agree that it is important to not make too many generalized assumptions. At the same time we need to remember the context in which the discussion is happening.

    This is an educational website directed at non-professionals who want to learn more about design. This means that we are necessarily dealing with a fairly broad stroke of discussion. However, I am also very happy to have the commentary get more detailed as an illustration of the larger discipline within which this is working.

  • Brad W

    I might not have worded it that way but, in general, I agree with Highway6. The same tiresome complaints and personal biases threaten to diminsh this segment. This should be focused on a rational critique of a design.

  • highway6

    Our definitions are slightly mismatched in that its hard for me to imagine a high-rise being mass produced with the level of thought only equating to a suburban tract home going into it… but thank you for clarifying.

    Sorry for causing trouble. Love the site, keep up the good work.

  • John Brown

    I appreciate the concern and will give some thought as to what we might do to minimize the repetition without leaving our ever expanding audience of new visitors in the so called dust.

  • ClickChick

    Besides the obvious wasted space that John pointed out… The master bedroom is just off the dining area? Ugh.
    So the ‘kids’ have a private, secluded path to their rooms but mom and dad have their door open to dinner? That’s messed up.

    They could have shared the water closet in the master suite with jack and jill doors – moved the mechanical to where the second master ‘can’ is… and opened up the kitchen.

    I also don’t like the tunnel effect to get to the other two bedrooms. Better move out before the kids are teenagers or Eddie Haskell will be Judy’s bedroom in no time flat!
    That, and there are absolutely no windows to reach the tunnel/cave area.
    Maybe they didn’t build this for a family home, but for a retired couple who wants to get their visiting family out of their hair – while under their roof.
    What if you have a baby? you have to navigate through all this nonsensical tunnels to check on your kid!

    Now that I’ve spouted off – Top three flaws:
    1 Wasted space
    2 Locked in kitchen (though I’m not a fan of the one-room living room/kitchen plan to begin with)
    3 Waaaaayy too many bathrooms!

  • Terri

    Brad, Perhaps some of our complaints are the “same tired” ones because we keep finding the same tired design flaws. I appreciate that perhaps we sometimes get a little carried away by what you call “personal biases,” but when discussing a plan, we are bound to focus on living styles and the day-to-day choices all of us make in our homes. Through our sharing of our likes and dislikes, we might consider elements we might not have previously when designing or choosing a home. Can design really be separate from such detailed thought? As John has said, how we choose our domiciles reflects on how we choose to live, from the micro to the macro.

    That said, I’m sorry that I keep harping about traffic patterns regarding the laundry. In this particular case, it seemed to me that a back access across the entry from the present access to the extra bedrooms could have been created to enter the master suite (symmetrical doorways, if you will). A more direct traffic flow between the two ends of the suite is created, also negating the need for a door to the master suite beside the dining area. It’s not ideal, and only one possible solution.

  • Grace

    I’d like to know how big that living room is. I find smaller squarish rooms proportionally quite nice to be in, but this room seems to lack any articulation.

  • Elva

    The part that I am having difficulty with is the allocation of the space. When you combine the space used for bathrooms, closets and hallways it exceeds that of the bedrooms. In fact the space for the cubicalized ensuite off the master bedroom excceds that of the bedroom.

    I agree with Terri about the traffic pattern problems; to the laundry, from the front entry to the kitchen and to access the bedrooms.

    The kitchen would also make my top three list because it is “closed in” and small (for a home of this size).

    As someone about to embark on a condo search, I appreciate the reminder wrt orientation.

  • Brad W

    Terri – You can comment on traffic flow and laundry rooms and anything else for that matter. I think I just need a break from this segment. But I do want to clarify my personal bias comment by way of a story – As you may know the Dwell magazine website is referenced in the Ultimate Library (good idea John). I had not been there in awhile so I thought I would take a look. One of the featured homes was an off the grid vacation home on an island off the coast of Tasmania. It embodies many of the Slow Home principles and was comissioned by the Tait family who live in Rochester NY. The commute to their vacation home takes 30 hours by all manner of transport and they plan to do it two times a year. I decided to check out the comments associated with this project and, sure enough, someone ripped the Taits over the environment impact of their commute – “That’s obscene. Flying 30 hours (and one presumes business class from the context), repeatedly, to reach a SECOND home on the other side of the world is the epitome of unsustainability. And that home itself is hardly small, and no doubt involves a lot of driving for logistical support. The amount of embedded energy and ecological damage in that house is huge, and they built it for occasional use. Who gives a fig whether they have solar panels on that home? Or whether they use rainwater? The whole thing is freakin’ planet-killing lifestyle, morally bankrupt and completely without justification. Dwell should be doing better than this by now.” In my world, that comment is off-side.

  • Constructability


    What a great discussion! Everyone’s opinion is valuable, and it is great to hear so many perspectives on this design and lifestyle.

    While this particular design examination has slightly turned into a socio-economic exercise, I believe it raises an important ideology that we battle as a society: how best to live and design in the spaces that we can afford? Just because we can afford to live in a multi-million dollar pied-à-terre, that does not mean we should toss good design and livability out the door.

    We all agree that this design can be improved. I may argue that we take the target market into this argument as well. The target market is most likely not a young family clipping coupons; but is very affluent, educated, and hopefully socially and environmentally conscience. And someone that probably eats out for 30 plus meals a week, but I digress….

  • ClickChick

    Also, I’d hate to be in either the 2nd or 3rd bedrooms when the apartment is on fire.