Bridges and Starter Homes

Architect for all Reasons

Donald MacDonald is a renaissance man: architect, illustrator, bridge design consultant, and writer. He designed the tollbooths for the Golden Gate Bridge and is consulting architect for the new Eastern Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. His most recent book, written with Ira Nadel, Golden Gate Bridge: History and Design of an Icon, (Chronicle) is full of fascinating drawings like this one

showing color schemes for the towers proposed by the US Air Force and the US Navy (apparently the Air Force wanted orange and white stripes to make the towers more visible to aircraft — looks to me like the bridge in pajamas), and this one comparing

tower heights. The book is a fun read, especially in the section on toll collecting: “Collectors have been handed everything from dead fish to live kittens, pizzas, fruit, and even loaded guns. Drivers have been proffered money in their teeth, behind their ears, and between their toes.” All this bridge banter is simply to demonstrate how multi-talented is the architect of our most recent exclusive house plans.  Donald MacDonald is especially interested in the small home for the first time builder/buyer and has evolved a range of inventive stock plans over the years. Here’s his  Starter Home Plan 511-1.

It’s a tiny gabled box — a deftly designed micro cottage of 238 square feet.


The view below shows a small table at the center of the space;  a sofa faces the fireplace. It’s basically a kitchen/living studio with bathroom and closet along one side. A sleeping loft is above. Donald told me he wanted to make it straightforward enough that a do-it-yourselfer could build it. Innovation is in the unit’s expansion potential. By adding similar units, like this,

with one unit sliding by another to make a series of small courtyards, you can create a house for a variety of site conditions. This plan is also illustrated in another book by MacDonald: Democratic Architecture: Practical Solutions to Today’s Housing Crisis (Whitney Library of Design).

MacDonald’s Cottage Plan 511-2 is somewhat larger — at 400 square feet — and  two stories.

Various facade treatments are possible. This one shows a wood grid — a modern twist on the half-timbered look. There are two cottage variations;

one with garage, living area/ kitchen on the ground floor and two bedrooms above; the other with two bedrooms on the ground floor and living area/kitchen above.

The high ceiling makes the upstairs living room feel light and airy.

Plan 511-3 is a very slender row house.

With these designs Donald works with variations on very simple forms — I would call them his Monopoly row house series  — and shows how each plan can provide comfort and character on a very small lot. No suspension spans here — instead, bridges to better living. Welcome, Donald MacDonald!

One Response to Bridges and Starter Homes

  1. Sally B. Woodbridge

    Donald MacDonald has built small houses in San Francisco since the early 1990s, and they continue to exemplify the needs of the times. The tiny houses shown here have admirable eye-catching graphics and flexibility, and I wish someone would create a cluster of them like the one shown as the “expansion scheme.” It would be a great updated version of the once popular bungalow court.

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