The ‘Fun Guard Beach House’ – Winner’s Profile

Today is the second day where we are featuring the individuals who entered the 2015 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition and had their playhouse submissions selected from hundreds of spectacular entires submitted for consideration.

This week we will take an up close and personal look at each of the three winning playhouse entries and the designer behind them. Today we are looking at “Fun Guard Beach House” Playhouse Designer Susann Stein, who currently lives in Houston, Texas, USA, but has apparently lived just about everywhere.

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse

Bio: This is my second shot for the playhouse competition. When I first read about it in 2013 I thought: what a great idea! This competition combines so many things I love: design, kids, doing something for a good cause…  I am an architect from Germany, who also worked in Singapore, Australia and Malaysia. Right now I am living with my family in Houston and can’t wait to design more playhouses, for this competition and for our own backyard. This year I may even be able to see the results in person.

Surprise me with something: Every time I am designing a playhouse for this competition I am expecting a baby. Or is it that every time I am expecting a baby I design a playhouse?

Susann Stein 2015 LoaA Playhouse Design Competition Winner

How old are you?

Where did you go to school?
I studied Architecture in Germany, in Dresden and Leipzig.

Are you currently working and if so, what type of work do you focus on?
I am an Architect by training, especially interested in space planning and interior design. I just started a new job at an interior company in Houston. My portfolio is pretty diverse including healthcare projects in Germany, subway stations in Singapore, a train station upgrading in Australia and a hotel interior design in Malaysia.


What lead you to enter the Life of an Architect Playhouse Competition?
I found your competition while living in Malaysia. I was looking for exceptional playground designs online, because me, and especially my daughter, were bored by the public playgrounds in Kuala Lumpur. When I saw the call for entries for your 2nd Playhouse Competition I immediately started designing my first entry, only days before submission deadline in 2013.

How long did you work on your design?
The first concept for the beach house I already had last year, but I couldn’t find the time to draw it up because of our relocation to the US. This year it took 2 weeks for refining the idea and getting it on paper.

What software did you use to create your submission board?
SketchUp for the model and iWorks Pages for the layout.

Susann Stein concept sketches

Was there one aspect of the design requirements that you felt was particularly challenging?
The size. First it felt like designing a miniature house, so you have to downscale everything to kid’s size. But once I had a concrete idea it turned into the opposite: in the end it is ‘just a 8’ tall chair’. A kind of ‘Alice in Wonderland experience’.

Was this design problem more challenging that you anticipated?
Not really. You just have to stay focused on the scale all the time and keep a measuring tape by your side. It also helped adding my kids to the perspectives and see how it would be if they climb up the chair.

Have you ever designed a playhouse or similar small project like this before?
For this competition in 2013.

How do you feel about having your playhouse be built for charity?
It feels amazing! It is always great to see your design come to life. And knowing that this is not just for an exhibition to raise money for CASA but it will also be given to the kids afterwards feels very rewarding. I am grateful to all people involved in this competition, Bob Borson, the judges, the Mall and the builders.

How did you come up with your idea?
I think my very first idea was that I would like to combine a hide-out and a look-out. Then I saw some pictures of beach towers and life guard chairs, and the beach topic caught my very interest.

Will you be coming to town to see it while on display?
Yes, I plan to.

Do you enter competitions with regularity?
Not as much as I’d like to. Usually the scale of competitions requires more than just me and my laptop. I like that this one is open, very creative and once you got an idea, quickly done.

Susann Stein Fun Guard Beach House

This is Susann’s original design submission that was evaluated during the judging rounds. This was another entry where the judges appreciated the “out of the box” thinking. A great many of the entries are literally boxes and to develop an evocative shape that still meets the judging criteria (creativity, appeal, originality, build-ability, and construction costs) is far more challenging that casual observers might appreciate. There was a lot of conversation centered around how this playhouse (which isn’t really a playhouse at all) might be perceived when put on display with all the others. Since it was selected as one of the winners, I think it is safe to say that the judges felt the design would be of great interest to the “target” demographic.

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse Construction drawings

This was a fairly straightforward design and the construction drawings represented it as such. The construction company who volunteered to build this playhouse were not particularly close to me (about a 2 hour round trip drive) so I relied on them to provide me with today’s construction photos.

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse - built by Redlee SCS Inc

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse - built by Redlee SCS Inc

Clearly it was a family affair on the “job site”!

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse - built by Redlee SCS Inc

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse - built by Redlee SCS Inc

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse - built by Redlee SCS Inc

Fun Guard Beach House from NorthPark Instagram feed

I was pleasantly surprised to learn the mall where these playhouses are being displayed (the fantastic NorthPark Mall in Dallas) decided to use Susann’s Fun Guard Beach House as one of the images in their Instagram feed. It would appear that the judges this year – ALL 18 OF THEM – knew what they were doing.

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse Final

The handful of times I have been in the mall since the Susann’s Playhouse has arrived I’ve noticed that there were a lot of Dad’s hanging around … I’m sure that being across from Victoria’s Secret has nothing to do with that.

Susann Stein Fun Guard Playhouse Final

I would like to sincerely thank the ‘Fun Guard Beach House’ designer Susann Stein for bringing her wit and whimsy to the 2015 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition, and for giving us a design that I am 100% positive will have an impact on future playhouse design submitted for this event. I would also like to thank REDLEE/SCS Inc. for stepping up and volunteering to build one of this year’s winning playhouse designs. (They didn’t even have to be asked!!)

Redlee SCS Inc.

Susann Stein and SCS REDLEE Inc

Here is a picture of Susann with some of the contractors who worked on building her playhouse. I think it is terrific that they had a chance to meet one another – Susann told me that she found them very humorous – I find them to be terrific people for donating their time, skills and resources to make SUsann’s entry a reality.

Susann Stein and family at the Opening Reception

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the opening reception this year, which was disappointing on many levels; not least of which was that I didn’t get to meet Susann in person (I feel like I know her well considering the number of emails we have written to one another!). However, for only the second time ever, one of the winning playhouse designers was able to attend – which made everyone very happy. Susann drove up from Houston and was able to represent herself and her playhouse during the opening reception and sent me the previous two pictures. She was even able to bring along her children (which I’m sure gave her terrific insight into what kids would like in a playhouse).

In case you are new to Life of an Architect – here is a little information on Dallas CASA, and the volunteers that donate their time to abused and neglected children)

Information on Dallas CASA:


2011 Parade of Playhouses benfitting Dallas CASA

Dallas CASA (which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a nonprofit organization of community volunteers trained and supervised to serve as voices in court for abused and neglected children. On any day in Dallas County, there are nearly 2,000 children waiting for a safe place to live. Many times the CASA volunteer is the only constant in the child’s life during this very difficult process. Parade of Playhouses raises funds for Dallas CASA to continue serving more children who need safe, permanent homes where they can thrive.

There were three playhouse winners in this years design competition and tomorrow, we will feature our final playhouse and designer from this year’s Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition. After that, it will be time to start thinking about the playhouse design that you will be submitting in the 2016 Life of an Architect Playhouse Design Competition! (I need a shorter title for this event!!)


Bob-AIA scale figure