← Back to workshop series indexPublished: 2016 July 31Last updated: 2016 August 4

When I purchased my property in 2015 September, I knew nothing about architecture and construction.

Now I know a lil’ bit thanks to the following:

I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity five times in Portland. This gave me some practical experience on construction sites with various tasks: cutting lumber with circular and sliding compound miter saws, removing nails with a cat’s paw, setting up air compressors and using a palm nailer for confined-spacing nailing, using electric shears to cut fiber cement siding, swinging a framing hammer to install blocking and sheathing, raising walls, and installing tongue-and-groove subfloor.

Frank Howarth’s workshop build video explains his workshop design and construction; it also happens to have architectural features I like (shed roof, open plan, roof trusses, 2’ O.C. framing) and be in the same climate zone (4c, Portland, OR). The rest of Howarth’s YouTube channel is filled with other extremely well produced videos on woodworking and light construction.

Matt Risinger’s YouTube channel has well produced, 5 minute videos on building details and assemblies in the context of his Austin, TX construction firm. If he were here, I’d hire him for my project based on these videos alone.

Green Building Advisor has countless articles about both design and construction details. I’ve gotten tons of helpful advice in their forum (my questions).

The Building Science Corporation is the best resource for understanding buildings from a scientific perspective. They actually do research and run experiments (a welcome relief from forums of overly-opinionated contractors and homeowners), but their articles are still super-readable and fun. I recommend starting with:

Mario Salvadori’s Why Buildings Stand Up and Why Buildings Fall Down are the best introduction I’ve found to structural engineering fundamentals: tension/compression forces, beams and columns, lateral stability, etc.

Christopher Alexander and company’s Pattern Language is an awesome collection of architectural patterns that can be used on any building intended for humans. The emphasis is on individuals designing and building for themselves — it’s the refreshingly UX / industrial design side of architecture rather than grandiose, high art talkitecture BS.

The first book in the series, A Timeless Way of Building, is a bit woo-woo for my taste, but I think the general method (design a building in your mind by applying patterns recursively to work from site plan to building layout to small details) is reasonable.

I also enjoyed Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn and its perspective on architecture — in particular the observation that buildings can be factored into layers that evolve on different time scales: site > structure > skin > services > space plan > stuff. There’s an OK video series on YouTube, but I’d recommend just reading the book.

The Graphic Guide to Frame Construction provides detailed drawings for stick-built construction from foundation to roof. The book gives a high-level overview of each stage of construction (e.g., “This is why you need structural sheathing and how it works”) and includes span tables and fastener schedules (“Use 8d nails every 6 inches on the edges, 12 inches in the field”). The book doesn’t offer any “hand-on” information (e.g., “This is how you carry a 4x8 sheet of plywood”). For that, check out How to Build a House, which doesn’t provide many drawing details but offers a ton of advice on each stage of construction (recommended tools, how to setup a saw station, how to raise a wall).

The Complete Guide to Contracting Your Home is for the designer. It doesn’t have any information on how to do the work itself, but covers the high-level options for all facets of home construction (foundation types, siding materials, ways to economize designs and details). Each section includes long checklists that’d be a good starting point for your own research.