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Verwers + Petersen Villa: An Architect's Home (Part 3 - Public Permitting)


modern house in green landscape
rendering of villa from the south within the site context

I am amazed by so many incredible modern homes from the midcentury period, and the simple hand-drawn construction documents used to build them at the time. Architectural plans for custom homes until the last few decades usually were comprised of a handful of drawing sheets - a site plan, floor plans, elevations, and perhaps a few key sections and details. Many decisions were made during the construction process.


In contrast, my drawing set for this project is currently comprised of 100+ 24" x 36" sheets of detailed plans, sections, schedules, details and public agency form, and I probably have another ten more sheets of details to develop. There are more than 50 structural drawing sheets alone!


Building codes and regulations, public agency bureaucracies, and the litigious nature of modern American culture have all contributed to this trend. Codes have become more complex over the years, and here in California, permit application requirements now include very detailed structural calculations for both vertical and lateral (seismic) loading of the structure, as well as detailed documentation of energy performance and sustainable building measures.


There is no doubt that the process of designing and building a custom home in general, and especially in California, has become very complex and lengthly, not to mention expensive. The County of San Diego is the responsible public agency for this project, and permitting for a typical single family home with the county involves separate applications and fees for planning approvals, building plan check, fire approvals, environmental approval, site grading, percolation and septic system approvals, etc. Additional project coordination and approvals from the water district, electrical and gas utility, etc. further exacerbate the tedious process of developing vacant land.


With such a complex permitting system in place, communication between the various departments can be less than optimal, and is further complicated by the frequent inability to actually speak or correspond directly with a responsible technician.


ultra-modern white home
view across parking court to cantilevered living room and upper level dining terrace

Building an ultra-modern house in a semi-rural area such as Elfin Forest, where the general architectural vernacular is agrarian, and there are very few contemporary homes, entails some additional challenges, which I can illuminate in a future post...


Fortunately, I am finally reaching the end of this onerous, and sometimes maddening public permitting process with this project, my own home, and have secured grading approvals to begin on-site activities. Water service was established to the parcel last week. Eye on the prize!


The illustrations of the digital model in this post were created at TVA using Vectorworks, our workhorse CAD application, followed by rendering in Twinmotion from Epic Games, and finally editing in Adobe Photoshop. Earlier in my career, I was a competent perspective illustrator in pencil and ink, and while I still consider myself a beginner with 3D digital rendering, the skills and aesthetic "eye" I learned from hand drawing are still very useful.


view over green roof above ADU toward dining and pool terrace

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