Neo-Prairie-Style House in Pattaya

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Neo-Prairie-Style House in Pattaya

Postby atlas_shrugged » Mon Feb 19, 2007 4:39 pm

Well, I guess it's time for me to start a thread about my dream house that's well under way. I call it Neo Prairie Style, as it's an updated version of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style, the style he originated before his later flat-roofed designs. It's inspired by Wright's Robie House of 1908:

Chief design goals:

1. Coolness, as in low temperatures
2. Beauty. A feeling of repose
3. Take full advantage of the unusual land
4. A deck as high as possible without the house looking tall
5. Criminal-proof
6. Environmentally responsible
7. Use cheap Thai labor to best advantage

I designed every last piece of it, down to the smallest rebar stirrup.

Plans are online here: ... e%20Plans/

Renderings are online here: ... enderings/

Construction photos are online here: ... struction/

More later on how the design goals were accomplished.


Rendered with Maxwell Render software
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Design Software I Used

Postby atlas_shrugged » Wed Feb 21, 2007 1:52 am

My primary tool has been GRAPHISOFT'S ARCHICAD 9.0. This is an amazing package, far easier to use than Autocad and far more powerful than any other software I tried. It's natively 3-D, unlike Autocad, so you can't even draw a wall or floor without specifying the third dimension. This turns out to be a huge advantage. Highly recommended!

The drawings here: ... %20-%2020/

for example, were done with ArchiCAD and published with PlotMaker, their powerful drawing management software. PlotMaker is not so easy to use, in fact the first 3 times I tried to learn it I gave up, but by this point in the project I've used just about every feature and understand why it's so fancy.

ArchiCAD includes pretty good rendering software, but for the ultimate renderings you have to use NEXTLIMIT'S MAXWELL RENDER. ArchiCAD supposedly exports directly to Maxwell, but I couldn't get this to work. Instead I saved a DXF file from the 3-D window, imported that into 3-D Studio Max, got 3-D Studio Max to output a .MXS file, and opened that in Maxwell Studio. Whew! Byzantine, but it works, eventually.

Stuctural design was done mainly with COMPUTERS & STRUCTURES' ETABS, the same software used to design the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, until recently the tallest buildings in the world. Let's say it's up to the task of designing a house. I commissioned a Thai structural engineer to do the design, but what I got back was not useful, with columns everywhere, in the middle of all the rooms and such, so I had to do it myself. Being a mechanical and aerospace engineer by training helped (;-). ETABS is *hard* to use, with a long learning curve, and the output is not exactly a set of beam designs. In fact, the output is a massive list of the cross-sectional area of rebar needed every half meter in every beam and column. Translating this into an actual set of beam and column designs that I could give a builder was a major task. For this I used EXCEL, and ended up with a spreadsheet with about 8-10 pages with about 7000 lines on each page. Good clean fun!

Now I can use ETABS well enough that I often use it to whip up a little sub-model of something I want to check, like the section and spacing of roof rafters or the size of steel beam needed to support the stairs.

For the structural design of a single beam, like those under each cantilevered stair tread, I used PROKON CALCPAD 2.1. The stair beams are custom fabricated vertically tapered I-beams, for which the Plate Girder module of Prokon is perfect. It gives you a neat plot of deflections at every point along a beam.

These tapered I-beams were mechanically designed with SOLIDWORKS 2007, a 3-D mechanical engineering design package. I used to use Solidworks back in the real world, but hadn't picked it up in over five years. Coming back up to speed only took a couple of days. This is a very powerful, easy-to-use package once you get a couple of important concepts into your head, and these important concepts allow you to reuse and modify drawings phenomenally easily. Everything is "parametric", which means to change a design you just have to go in and modify the appropriate dimension, and the part is completely redesigned automatically, in 3-D.

I'm also using Solidworks to design all the windows and doors for the house, which will all be custom fabricated from steel tubing so that they look like normal windows and doors, but are extremely difficult for criminals to enter. Here Solidworks really comes into its own, as I can produce a new window just by changing the dimensions. I haven't figured out how to make the mullions distribute themselves automatically, though, so there's some manual cleanup work required.

Slabs, Footings, water tanks, and the septic tank structural design was done with NISA CIVIL. I almost gave up on using NISA because I couldn't find the documentation, but once I found that it was extremely easy to use. You have to fire up NISA CIVIL > NISA Shell, whose only purpose is to let you click the NISA CIVIL button. This gets you the NISA CIVIL Structure Studio window, where you click Design Mode > Interactive Design. This finally gets you the the software you're going to use, which is awesome!

Documentation is found by clicking Help > Contents > Structural Designs > (the thing you're interested in, like Slab Panels) > (thing) Examples. Buried here you'll find everything you need. Everything else in the "Help" is useless at best.

With NISA, you can just enter a few parameters and out pops a complete AutoCAD drawing of the finished item. The water tank design module is particularly impressive. Highly recommended!

Other minor packages I used include ACDSee for managing photos and renderings, Adobe Photoshop for tweaking same, and the PractiCalc calculator. You'd be amazed how useful it is to be able to instantly convert things like megapascals to kilograms/square millimeter at the click of a button. Don't try to do this without PractiCalc... Also, PTgui has been great for stitching photographic panoramas of the construction.

Did I leave anything out? Hmmmm....

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Postby jazzman » Wed Feb 21, 2007 10:25 pm

This is fascinating Atlas,

You can use this brand new site feature to document your project:
How to build a $20,000 / £14,000 house and a $???? MOTEL Updated 21 March 09 - with BOQ and costs
Don't let this happen in YOUR house.
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Location: Thailand

New photos uploaded

Postby atlas_shrugged » Mon Apr 09, 2007 11:25 pm

Lots of new photos have been uploaded here: ... ?start=all

and here: ... onth%2004/

We're finishing the columns on the third floor at the moment.

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Postby SVielha » Tue May 08, 2007 5:05 pm

You only show, what you want and what you have at the moment, but you don`t write, how big it is, how much you want to spend and so on.
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Postby jazzman » Wed May 09, 2007 9:29 pm

Yes, a truly fascinating project, and there WILL be lots of questions from board members about the budgeting and sourcing of materials and labour.

THIS forum's own photo gallery has more options than Photobucket and is far, far, quicker to load and upload... :D

see it here
How to build a $20,000 / £14,000 house and a $???? MOTEL Updated 21 March 09 - with BOQ and costs
Don't let this happen in YOUR house.
Posts: 2196
Joined: Wed Dec 06, 2006 9:11 pm
Location: Thailand

More information

Postby Ron in Vancouver » Fri Jun 01, 2007 10:20 pm


You are to be commended on a fabulous and intruguing project!

What will be your cost estimates for this home? Can you give the readers more detail?


Ron and Ben
Vamcouver BC
Ron in Vancouver
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Postby Nawty » Sat Jun 02, 2007 5:51 pm

Yes a great looking house, would be nice to see what the surrounding area is like.....going to view the pics now to see if any there.

The beam and columns are huge, even the steel in the carport roof is big.

The software you used, had you used other software such as autocad before and therefore already had some experience in how to use it ??

And what bothered you about the worker standing on the beam when the crane was lifting....the fact of where he was standing ? or that he was wearing thongs/flip flops ?

The steps, are they floating ? or supported on the opposite side of the beam somehow. What are they covered in ?

I ask this as i am building floating stairs at the moment and have found that the twisting and contorting of the beam is cracking the render on the walls, this is happening even though when walking on the stairs you cannot see any movement with your naked eye that you notice anyway. So we are putting in a supporting vertical beam under the beam that supports the steps. Luckily this was spotted prior to completion.
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Postby grant » Tue Aug 28, 2007 8:03 am


I noticed that you are planning to use colored concrete. Have you chosen a color and do you plan to use it selectively or overall?
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Postby atlas_shrugged » Mon Oct 22, 2007 10:31 pm

To Ron in Vancouver:

The structure, including foundation, beams, columns, floors, walls and roof structure was under 6 million Baht. This didn't include electrical, plumbing, roofing, doors, windows, built-ins, or floor finishes. The project is being built by a Taiwanese general contractor using Thai labor at a fixed price for materials and labor combined. I worked with the contractor while I was designing the house, and he gave me a lot of useful feedback about what was and was not possible or typical to build. Then when I was finished with the design, the quote he gave me was under the lowest price anyone else said was possible, so he got the contract. Another architect/builder who's a friend of mine still expects my builder to come back and ask for more money, but that's not going to happen at this point.

Each time we add a major subsystem, like plumbing, my builder gives me a "variation" quote, and so far I've accepted his prices except for the electrical, alarm and video surveillance, on which I'm being the general contractor, so to speak.

The most amazing price has been the custom-fabricated steel exterior doors and windows. As you can see from the drawings and renderings, there are 102 steel doors & windows, total, and the price came in at 200,000 Baht, primer coated and not including glass or screens. I shudder to think what this would have cost if I went the standard way of PVC, and for that price I got to design and control _everything_. With my design, when the house is locked a criminal would need power tools to get in. By the way, I will only have glass on the air-conditioned master bedroom, guest bedroom, and machine shop.

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Postby atlas_shrugged » Mon Oct 22, 2007 11:58 pm

To Nawty:

There are a few photos on my Photobucket site that show the surrounding area. This one's the best: ... 010932.jpg

It's a pretty amazing location, sitting on top of a veeeery gentle hill with 360-degree views to the horizon, including the ocean. I looked for months to find the land. Got to know every back road in Pattaya. I would drive around looking for the highest land, taking every road that seemed to head up. One day I said "this seems to be the highest spot", and parked the car to walk around and see if there was any land for sale nearby. I hadn't walked 50 meters before I found about 6 lots all neatly subdivided by bouganvillea hedges. I got the owner's business card from the gardener, and that ended up being the land I bought.

The foundation beams are huge, but I would classify most of the other beams as medium, and the columns as standard. The beams in the carport, for example, are 20x20 cm with 2 16mm deformed bar (of 40 KG/mm^2 strength!!!!) at the top and 2 at the bottom. These span 7.8 meters (not a typo!), which is possible because the Colorbond roof puts almost no load on the structure.

I have tried to learn Autocad several time, but each time gave up in disgust. It's like using a timesharing terminal on a VAX compared to modern software like Archicad. I had never used Archicad before starting this project, but I had used Solidworks in my previous life as an engineer. And I did use computers on my job back in the real world, every day for 17 years or more. In fact I used computers to design computers, so they don't intimidate me. Irritate, yes, but not intimidate...

Regarding the guy standing on the beam directing the crane, it's just that they're so far from complying with US safety standards (where I come from) that I find it hilarious.

I have two kinds of stairs. One is constructed of precast steel-reinforced concrete treads that are supported at each end by building them into the lightweight (AAC) concrete walls. The other stairway is the one up the middle of the house, which consists of tapered hand-fabricated steel I-beam tread supports welded to a 3" x 7" x 1/4" steel pipe that goes up diagonally between two concrete columns. The I-beams will be covered with wood treads, which I'm trying to find now.

Yes, it's easy to make the tread supporting structure too weak. The key is to use a closed-section pipe and not a c-channel. This makes a huge difference in the torsional rigidity, which is what we're concerned with here. Also, it helps if you do an actual computerized finite-element structural analysis, as I did (:-).

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Colored Concrete Recipes

Postby atlas_shrugged » Tue Oct 23, 2007 12:12 am

To Grant:

I came up with about several different concrete colors that I use in various places:

Here are my recipes (in original form I hope you can decipher):


1/4 Tsp = 1.23 ml
1/2 Tsp = 2.46 ml
3/4 Tsp = 3.70 ml
1 Tsp = 4.93 ml
1 TBSP = 14.8 ml
2 TBSP = 29.6 ml
4 TBSP = 59.1 ml
12 TBSP = 177 ml
1/2 cup = 118 ml
1 cup = 237 ml
10 kg = 22 cups = 1 bucket



Ceiling, Garage

White cement 20 kg 10400 ml
Mortar 20 kg 10400 ml
Sand 20 kg
Red 4 TBSP 59.1 ml
Yellow 12 TBSP 177 ml
Plastocrete 4 TBSP 59.1 ml



Beams, Garage

Grey cement 1 cup 237 ml 10 kg \-- 4 buckets ready-mix mortar
Sand 3 cups 474 ml 30 kg /
Red 1 TBSP 14.8 ml 326 ml = 1 1/4 cup + 2 TBSP
Yellow 2 TBSP 29.6 ml 651 ml = 2 1/2 cup + 4 TBSP
Plastocrete 4 TBSP



Exterior Walls

White cement 1 bucket
Colored sand 2 buckets
Yellow 1/2 cup



Living room, Library, Kitchen, Family Room Walls

White cement 1 cup 237 ml 1 bucket
Colored Sand 2 cups 474 ml 2 buckets
Red 1 tsp 4.93 ml 1/2 cup
Green 1 tsp 4.93 ml 1/2 cup
Yellow 1 Tbsp 14.8 ml 1 1/2 cups



3rd floor interior walls
Stairwell interior

White cement 1 bucket
Colored sand 2 buckets



Precast moldings

White cement 1 cup 237 ml 1 bucket
Plain sand 3 cups 711 ml 3 buckets
Pea gravel 1 1/2 cups 356 ml 1 1/2 buckets
Red 1/4 tsp 1.23 ml 2 TBSP
Green 1/4 tsp 1.23 ml 2 TBSP


Slate Colored Concrete REV 3
20 Oct 2007

Grey cement 1 bucket
Small gravel 3 buckets
Colored sand 2 buckets
Blue color 3/4 cup
Black color 3 1/2 cup
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Postby atlas_shrugged » Tue Oct 23, 2007 12:34 am

More construction photos are online:

Month 5: 3rd floor beams, 4th floor floor, brickwork, roof structure, steel window frames ... onth%2005/

Month 6: Glass block windows, brick deck half-walls, roofing, interior door frames, stonework, steel doors ... onth%2006/

Month 7: Windows, stucco, hardened floor, roof flashing, ceilings ... onth%2007/

Month 9: Stonework finished, doors finished, wood ceiling, ceilings, precast moldings, concrete stairs, first cast concrete counter ... onth%2009/

Month 10: Septic leach field, interior railings, concrete "floor tiles", precast concrete desks, deck railing ... onth%2010/


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Huge project!

Postby xerostar » Tue Oct 23, 2007 8:08 pm

I've just finished going through your photo album atlas_shrugged.
It took me quite a few hours .. You must be very meticulous indeed.
A very good photo record too.
By my reckoning your house should last about 10 thousand years or more.
Those footings are incredible!
A few questions:
I liked the idea of using colourbond sheets for the roof. We use a lot of it in Oz.
White was the best choice for reflecting heat. It cools down quickly too as opposed to tiles or fibro which can
radiate heat for hours after sun-down.
What worries me is the low pitch you have used. I can see this is very aesthetic and makes the
building very modern as opposed to the old fashioned "top-heavy" look of houses with high pitched roofs.
In my experience low pitched roofs can be inclined to leak when you get a very heavy downpour
of rain, combined with strong wind-gusts.
I imagine you have taken care of that in your calculations?
I was not impressed with the way the ridge cappings were cut to fit in with the colourbond profile.
I hope you have some sort of secondary water barrier under there.
What have you used under the colourbond for insulation? Or is that taken care of by the concrete
roof on each floor? The roof extensions are good - they provide shade to the exterior walls during the
hottest parts of the day.
The use of super blocks is on my list too - good insulating properties.
You have designed the house to take advantage of convection cooling air currents - but won't
it be a bit too draughty? OK on a very hot day it must be cool, but not very cosy on a windy, rainy, overcast day?
Along with the airflow I would imagine dust could penetrate into the living
areas and they could need extra cleaning?
I'd like to see some shutters that you could close up if the weather gets nasty ..
Not often in Pattaya I guess .. :)
I'm not knocking the design or your work, it's just a few things that have crossed my mind.
You have addressed the security aspect very well. I'll be looking at steel frame windows too.
Most of the "windows" we call "security screens" in Oz.
What will you have in the way of insect screens? thing I can't stand is a big blowfly landing on my dinner! :x
or mosquitos keeping me awake at night ..
Your machine room .. - what will you have in there?
Is that your hobby room?
Please keep us all up-to-date with more photos!
Thanks for your feedback too!
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Postby atlas_shrugged » Tue Oct 23, 2007 9:58 pm

Funny you should mention the house lasting 10,000 years. I kept telling my builder that concrete should last over 1000 years ( If anyone ever tries to build on my site in the future, they should probably re-use the foundation(:-).

Regarding the low pitch, the roof sheets are turned up under the ridge cap, and as you saw the ridge cap is cut and turned down between the ribs. This allows hot air to escape, giving the effect of a continuous ridge vent. I think it would be nearly impossible for water to be driven past those barriers and into the house. The ridge cap flashing shown here: ... 020525.jpg

wasn't yet finished. Unfortunately, I don't have a good photo of what it looks like finished. I think this is the way it's done, even in Australia: ... stage9.pdf

Under the Colorbond roofing I've used a reflective barrier for the areas outside the walls of the house, and the roof over the inside of the house gets 6" of insulation and a radiant barrier above that. You may have guessed I don't like hot houses! In fact, the primary goal of this whole design is to make a cool house that doesn't need air conditioning. There is no concrete deck over some areas of the house, including most of the third floor: just ceiling, insulation, radiant barrier, air, and Colorbond.

In a storm, we'll almost certainly get too much air through the house. I'm planning on installing a fabric sheet rolled around a wooden dowel such that it can be rolled up completely, or unrolled and tied down at the bottom, on each door that needs it. Voila! no need for glass. If extra dust gets in, well that's just the price of having such a refreshing breeze all the time. I certainly wouldn't choose a more closed house just to keep dust or dirt out. I'm renting one of those "European-style" Thai houses right now, and it's miserably hot on the second floor during the day. It needs air conditioning any time we're upstairs.

Insect screens will be hand built from 1/8" x 1/2" steel screwed down to the door frames to trap the screen material, probably with the help of some rubber or foam strips. Labor is almost free, materials relatively expensive compared to labor, at least.

The machine shop will be fully equipped with a lathe, bandsaw, drill press and milling machine, all operating off 380-Volt 3-phase (insert gorilla sounds here). I want to be able to design and build anything up to and including street and race cars. But maybe I'll get sidetracked into designing and building another house for fun and profit, who knows? I've certainly got a huge investment in the knowledge I had to acquire to design this house. It would make a lot of sense to leverage it-- for instance yesterday I had to design a couple of new doors, and it literally took me less than a minute because I use parameterized MCAD software (Solidworks). Just change the dimension, and it does everything else like repositioning and scaling the mullions. Really amazing!

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