Childhood Special Interests: “I want to be an architect”

Growing up, my family moved around a lot. Within a few months of coming home from the hospital, my family moved. During my first year of school, my family moved…and moved…and moved. By the time I had reached high school, we had moved eight times, sometimes across town, sometimes across the country, and sometimes overseas. Most of these moves also meant changing schools and trying to make new friends, something that is extremely difficult for someone on the spectrum, and this sometimes happened as often as once every year.

With all these moves we made, my family did a lot of house-hunting and we dreamed of the day we would have a permanent house. This meant many visits to real-estate agent offices, touring different houses, and determining whether a particular house would fit my family’s needs. Having plenty of bedrooms was essential, and lots of yard space was also desirable. A room with hardwood floors was good for spreading out LEGO and a good set of bushes in the back yard made the ideal framework for constructing a fort impenetrable to enemy forces, whether it be aliens, zombies, or older siblings

E-3000 floor plan in Expert Software's Home Design, a 1990s house design software package
One of the floor plans included with Expert Software Home Design that I had determined would be well-suited for my family. It just needs a pool and perhaps to be within walking distance to a train station.

I often came along on these “house hunts” and something that captivated me at this age was floor plans – every house had a different plan and the floor plan told everything we needed to know about the house. When my family was living in Melbourne in the early 1990s, we put down an offer on what was to be our dream house – it had everything – a large pool, plenty of bedrooms, a game room, and was a short distance away from the famed Puffing Billy Railway. I spent many hours gazing at the floor plan for this particular house and really wanted to live there, even if I had yet to see the house in person. Unfortunately the offer fell through and the hunt continued. We considered an alternative option – just buy some land and build a house, possibly to our own design.

I figured that I could be the one to design the house. Sure, I was ten years old, but I knew what I was doing, at least in my eyes – when I was five I drew a picture of our house on the computer, and that drawing became my family’s letterhead – even if it did not look much like the house – so with twice as many years of experience, I could do something amazing. Initially I would draw floorplans on paper, but later on I took advantage of what the computer had to offer. My CAD tool of choice? Microsoft Paintbrush. Some of you may be too young to know what Paintbrush was, but this was the Windows 3.x predecessor to MS Paint, which first came with Windows 95.

Later on I moved to dedicated architecture software, such as Designware’s myHouse and Expert Software’s Home Design, and for a school project, I used my family’s new Packard Bell 486 to design a house that we would build if we were to win the lottery. It was to have all the features my family wanted, such as individual bedroom for each of my brothers to have our own, a fenced in area for the dogs to run loose, and a large swimming pool for those sunny summer days. As expected, my family did not win the lottery, and in hindsight, that might have been for the better, the design of the house was very impractical – it was a very boxy design spread out over five different floors without any provision for an elevator, and it took several hours for the computer to render a single exterior view. I sometimes wonder whether it was my house renderings or Dad’s football game that caused that machine to die a year later (though it was a Packard Bell, so it may have been neither).

Screenshot of one of my house designs in classic Doom from when I was in middle school
A different kind of “house hunting”. If you don’t mind the cacodemons raiding the kitchen, the imps hiding in the closet, and the bathroom looking (and smelling) like something died in there, it’s actually quite a spacious design.

After several more moves, and finally settling down in a condo of all places, like other special interests I had in childhood, this interest in architecture waned, but it still stuck around to some extent. I later designed levels for Doom – including a few houses, though the map quality was to be expected for a 12-year old who perhaps should not have been playing Doom. I also bought the original The Sims when it came out, and that allowed for designing a house for virtual people to live in (however unlike many players, I usually made sure to build the swimming pools with ladders). It was also a good learning tool, as it can teach the consequences of putting the bathrooms too far away from where people are likely to gather.

I went on to pursue a degree in engineering rather than architecture, and this special interest has long since faded. I do now have a place of my own now, but digging up and running the old design software gives a healthy hit of nostalgia, and from time to time, I still surf Zillow looking at future houses I could be living in if I were to move again.

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