5 things I wish I knew before I built my house. (Or, The Quality Without a Name)

February, 2017


I’ve learned that there are many different ways to design a house, and that each architect may have certain elements he or she keeps in mind when going through the design process. For one perspective, I recently had a chance to sit down with Harry Seidel, of Alae Residential Designs, to ask him about how he approaches the home design process.

Mr. Seidel is a skilled designer and draftsman who takes pride in using the latest and best building techniques to elegantly create a beautiful structure. In my discussion with Mr. Seidel I discovered that he has several important elements that he weaves into each home design; for example, energy efficiency and healthy air quality. However, Mr. Seidel’s design philosophy goes much deeper than just the practical/technical attributes. Artistic quality is another dimension, and I believe that these aesthetics are unique to each designer. For a deeper view into Mr. Seidel’s artistic design philosophy continue reading here. It is interesting and worth considering.

When I asked Mr. Seidel to elaborate on his design philosophy he described the following:  “There is an underlying theme that goes into my design process that I don’t really talk about, but subconsciously it is included in everything I do. This is “the quality without a name”, a term eloquently described by Christopher Alexander in his epic book “The Timeless Way of Building”. Anyone looking for the essential truth of this idea should read Alexander’s book. For convenience I will give my version. There is a “root criterion” that is central to our spirit, our lives, our buildings, our towns etc. and this associates with our feeling alive. To the extent that our world is alive depends on specific aspects of our world that either help or hurt our inner force. “The more living patterns there are in a place, a room, a building, or a town- the more it comes to life….the more it glows……when a building has this fire then it becomes a part of nature. This is “the quality without a name” and it’s something you learn by experience and by observing the way certain spaces and the elements in those spaces make you feel.

 The people who can shape buildings that have this “quality without a name” can truly make magic happen in a room, a garden, a town or even a wilderness. Unfortunately this knowledge is a rarity these days, even though it’s not something you need to go to school for. It used to be passed down from generation to generation amongst those who built, but in the last 100 years the fabric of that connection has eroded.”



For his original designs Mr. Seidel incorporates state-of-the-art techniques to create an energy efficient and healthy home. These are the practical/technical attributes, and when designing a new home Mr. Seidel strongly believes that you should include the attributes described here.

  1. The experts say building better (not necessarily bigger) has the best value. Buying better windows, building a tighter thermal envelope, paying greater attention to air sealing and installing balanced ventilation cost more but delivers a far greater overall value in comfort, health and economy.
  2. Building codes in the US have been horribly low from a thermal perspective. They are improving, but the experts rate them a D-. You might say that they are the worst buildings the government will allow you to build, so claiming that this is “built to code” should not give you any confidence whatsoever in the idea that you are building a home of great quality.
  3. The big health issue lurking just under the radar is respiratory disease in the young and old. One contributing factor is moisture migration (warm moist air trying to equalize with cold outside air pressure). The molds and bacterial allergens that grow in our leaky wall assemblies are the cause. Controlling moisture solves the problem and it’s not hard to do.
  4. If you build better you can achieve, more comfort, better economy, a more durable building that is resistant to moisture build up, and the increase of the interior air quality will deliver better health.
  5. Solar technology is real and here to stay. If you are building a new home you should consider including it in your plans. It’s easier to design with solar in mind, and add it now, than it is to add it later.

All of Mr. Seidel’s finished designs are hand drawn with loving care. They are truly works of art in themselves, and indeed you can even retain him to draw beautiful plans of your existing home space. He will measure your home and then return to his studio to meticulously, hand-draw your set of plans that are unique to your home.