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Engineers Designing their own houses.

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Sunday, Aug 5

Subject: Structural Engineers designing their own
houses.

I wish to thank Dennis  Wish  for his  detailed post
giving his  views on the subject of Engineers
designing their own houses and the information he has 
shared regarding his  personal experiences.

I beg the indulgence of the list members. I would like
to continue this thread and invite some more views
though it is not a purely technical matter. 

I would like to opine that we are perhaps both  right
in our  own ways.

I have a  background in design of steel structures for
Industrial Buildings (and absolutely nothing else).
This is different from that of  Dennis.  I feel I was
being realistic and practical in not wanting to design
my own house (RCC framed construction, not wood or
steel) . I wasn?t being diffident or defeatist.  Many
of my colleagues with a similar background did
venture, unlike me, and had varying degrees of
success.  I did not want to subject my family and
myself to a lifetime?s experience of living in a badly
designed and constructed house merely to pander to my
?Engineers Ego? . Expectations of my family members
were high because they believed that I was
automatically an expert in house building and
designing because I designed bigger and costlier
factory buildings in the office.

Dennis is different. He has had an exposure to 
Architecture. Besides he actually wanted to do it and
went about it with relish and bore with patience the
pains associated with the process of constructing
one?s  own house. I am glad he has had  the
satisfaction of having put down a dream and an idea on
paper and  further converting them  into reality. I
congratulate him and feel proud of his achievement in
this regard and also in the fact that  a home designed
by him was featured in California Homes during the
Winter of 2000.

However in my case, while commissioning a professional
, I certainly did not keep aloof. I did participate in
the design process by giving my ideas , preferences
and sometimes decisions when my consultant and I
disagreed on some matters. The differences were never
technical. It was always on the issue of doing
something or including something or making a provision
now, to save future inconvenience and higher cost
later. Each time he  made me stretch my budget a
little,  he would comfort me with the remark that
?years later I would thank him for taking this
difficult decision to invest a little more now
itself?. I initially went along with him while he
stretched me, until I found that this stretching in
installments totaled up to an unacceptable budget
over-run that would ruin me.  At one stage  I had to
put a full stop to this budget stretching . ?Temporary
belt tightening? , ?steeling yourself ?  ?gritting
your teeth ? ?it?s all part of the experience of house
construction ? were other  terms he used while he
indulged in his favourite ideas at my cost. He even
sweet - talked my wife into accepting some of his
suggestions when he felt I was being difficult. I was
of course mad at him for this smart move but later saw
it differently. He was a friend of the family and the
enthusiasm with which he was working on my housing
project was touching. I never felt even once like
questioning his motives .

Every consultant finds his client?s budget a nuisance.
 We had no other differences. Being engineers , we
understood each other perfectly. He declared me his
favourite client and wished every client of his to be
like me. His design was not free from mistakes. Like
any human he too erred here and there  and we are
living with  some of his mistakes made while using me
as his guinea pig for experimenting with some new
products or ideas. I have philosophically reconciled
to them. These experiments have enriched him and he
will not make these mistakes in houses he designs for
others. After all have I not benefited from his
earlier experiments on others ?

Of course, my wife occasionally cribbed  about these
mistakes. I sought to escape her ire by passing the
buck and  my consultant was a convenient scapegoat but
she would demolish my argument  with cold feminine
logic (How come you too missed it ? Are you not an
engineer too ? )

At the risk of sounding personal, let me expound on
the subject of wives when one is building one?s house.
Wives are both a blessing and a nuisance when one is
building one?s own house. They can?t be kept out of
this. We can only build a house. The wife is needed to
convert it into a livable home. 

Having an external consultant often helps in putting
up with unwarranted interference from the wife when
the house  is being constructed. While my wife did
come out with several common-sense ideas during
construction which we accepted, sometimes her
suggestions were unacceptable from technical or cost 
considerations. After living for years in rented
houses and tolerating a variety of inconveniences,
every house-wife has a  check list when the spouse is
busy building a house for her. She will not tolerate
any of these inconveniences in her own house.  

Their ideas regarding functional design are often
sound. But some times friction is unavoidable . After
the honeymoon is over, and after years of living with
one another, and with a couple of kids  to boot, ?no
man is a hero to his wife? (I wonder who said that 
first ) . Not even my post gradate degree in the
subject and impeccable academic credentials could have
convinced her when she suggested something wrong and I
tried to talk her out of it..  Here is where an
external impartial consultant can be rather useful. I
must admit , I  have used him liberally to veto some
of my wife?s impractical or costly ideas. She 
wouldn?t have accepted those refusals from me !

So that is that. To each his own. I am happy that
Dennis has designed not just his home but those of a
few more friends and that too without any
consideration. In my brief association with this list,
I  have observed how unselfish and free he is when
sharing information. I am hardly surprised that this
generous streak in his personality  extends far beyond
sharing information. The world becomes a  better place
when such individuals populate it. .  I envy his
friends  and hope he will design my next house for me
! 

Best wishes to Dennis and all list members.

G Vishwanath
Bangalore, India


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