Mock-Ups are Essential


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“Built-in Seats” (202) includes this pattern in regards to seating, but it is more universal than just that. The Introduction section to section to Construction patterns (205-253) also brings up the topic, but does not make it a pattern in its own right. “Gradual Stiffening” (208) and “Columns at the Corners” (212) also touch upon this topic. “Natural Doors and Windows” (221) states it quite elegantly, but in a limited context.

Nobody knows in advance the perfect height of a particular windowsill or the best location for the door. Every building and room is different, and there are no magic formulas to calculate such things.


Our challenge is to find the very best locations, proportions, and sizes for the things we are building. The way we find these answers is by search and discovery. We build mock-ups, or temporary facsimiles of the objects we intend to build. Then by trial and error you make adjustments until you have found your answer.


MockUps-1Left MockUps-1Right


Mock–ups need only be crude approximations, just enough to help us judge. You might mock-up a future window location with scrap lumber, or cabinetry with cardboard boxes. But this rule goes way beyond just doors and windows. Before you commit to anything, first check to see if it really is the best size or location.

If you have the luxury of time, leave the mock-up in place for as many hours or days as possible. Periodically, tweak the design a bit by moving things or changing sizes. Once you have given enough observation and thought to an issue you become acutely sensitive to subtle changes. It is surprising how much difference even a few inches can make in a door or window. In the end you will know when you have it right because you can see it with your own eyes.

At each iteration take a step back and view the mock-up from other angles or directions. It might look good from one vantage point but have problems from another. Sometimes we are hunting for the best compromise between two competing interests.


Always consider the original building plans to be “tentative at best”. Most of it should allow for adjustments as you go along. Try to defer final design decisions until you are in a position to build mock-ups of your proposed solutions. Many decisions that once seemed arbitrary or without certainty will finally become obvious once you can see and touch it.



Gary Zuker is a Senior Systems Administrator at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1989 he built a house outside of Austin. Inspired and guided by "A Pattern Language", he developed 12 new patterns during the process of building his house.
Gary Zuker

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