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Bill Gates’ House Designed on Macintosh?

Was the famous billionaire’s home on Lake Washington designed on a Mac?


This was the rumor that may have started from a UPS driver. Is it true? Well … actually, the answer is more complicated than one might think, but we’ll give you it. First off, Architosh received this email from a reader back in the early part of this year. It reads:

” I heard a curious rumor, allegedly from a UPS driver who delivered things to a Redmond, WA, architect: Bill Gates’ palatial new house was designed on Macintosh computers, not Wintel boxes, because that’s what the architects prefer to use. I’m not sure what CAD application they used.”

Gates’ Architects

Many people know that the architects who designed Bill Gates’ famous residential compound in Washington were James Cutler Architects and the architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ). This is public knowledge and there are many news and online news sources who can tell you this. What most do not know however is that Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) is a longtime Macintosh-based office.

However, that doesn’t mean Gates’ residential complex was designed on the Macintosh. In fact, this work — which began in the early 90’s or late 80’s — was done (we are told) largely by hand. This makes sense for a number of reasons, especially when you consider not only the date in time (and yes, in the early 90’s many firms were well underway with computerized design) but the two firms and the type and quality of the work they do.

MORE: Famed architect Peter Bohlin talks about Steve Jobs and the Architecture of Apple

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) is an outstanding award-winning architecture firm with offices in Seattle as well as other cities. The firm was honored with the American Institute of Architects prestigious Architecture Firm Award in 1994. BCJ is our newest star firm member of our Architosh Architects List. When they wrote in we learned some more facts about their use of Macintosh computers in practice and the Gates project.

BCJ’s computerization was established by architect Robert S. Pfaffmann, AIA, when he was a senior associate of BCJ in Pittsburgh. Their Macintosh CAD systems were established back in the 80’s and is one of the largest Microstation Mac users when all BCJ offices are added together. Robert Pfaffmann now has his own Pittsburgh Macintosh-based firm called Pfaffmann + Associates.

One of the things Robert told us of the Macintosh advantage is:

” The MAC allowed an incremental adoption of CAD without requiring specialized staff. We believed and still do that you hire the talent not an operator. Only in the last three years did they hire a full time IT administrator.”

BCJ’s work on the Medina, Washington residential complex was done as a joint venture with James Cutler Architects, another outstanding award-winning design firm with an environmentally conscientious design process. We know nothing about this firm’s computerization and if you saw their beautiful — mostly — residential work, you would likely think that computers may not factor in their design process at all; for here is a firm who’s craftsman-like aesthetic recalls the qualities of Frank Lloyd Wright and Greene & Greene. Most likely they use computers but we don’t know what type. Hopefully, working so close with BCJ on the Medina, Washington, project inspired them to use Macs.

The Mac and Gates’ House

As it turns out the Mac was used on the Bill Gates residential complex in Medina, Washington, but not extensively. The project, we are told, was drawn entirely by hand — and anyone who has seen this amazingly beautiful project can understand why. The garage part, however, was apparently modeled in ModelShop by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson staff architects working on the project.

Pictures of the Gates’ complex are both private and copyrighted, so in order to see what this place really looks like you need to go to BCJ’s website (click here and a new window will open.) Following the “residential menu” click on the forward arrow key at the bottom of the pictures to advance to the house entitled, “Guest House and Garage, Medina, Washington”. This is it. The Gates residence is a truly amazing work of architecture and technology.

If you want to see more of the house you can click on this link to go to an interactive Java tour of the entire complex on US News Online. Or visit Microsoft’s own Seattle Sidewalk site and look at this birds-eye view of the project under construction. The best pictures, of course, are in the two monographs listed above. The Bohlin Cywinski Jackson monograph is out of print but you can have track it down for you. [Editor’s Note: as this book is out of print, we are informed that it may NOT contain any pictures of the Medina, WA, project because it was published prior to the completion of the project. For tracking down this book, we believe this is may be a Rizzoli monograph.]


It seems that despite his challenges to the Macintosh way of life, Bill’s life — inasmuch as it concerns his private home life — is deeply indebted to the Macintosh. Of course, we are not at all surprised.;-)

Editor’s Note:

For those who are not architects or designers who are reading this, it is common practice for architects to shield the identity of their residential clients (and thus, when you read in Cutler’s firm monograph, in the “List of Works and Credits” the client is listed as “private”).

Architects have an ethical obligation to protect their client’s rights and the Internet poses a threat to this professional obligation. As architects we understand this. This article constitutes an argument and we stand by our claim that the references above do logically suggest the Bill Gates Residence; however, certain online publications withstanding, the identity of the residential project along Lake Washington in these firms’ publications is ONLY listed as “Guest House, Garage, etc. at Medina, Washington”; they do NOT identify the client as Bill Gates.

For further comments and questions please email us directly at [email protected] . Please, under no circumstances, contact the above referenced architecture firms concerning the Bill Gates house in connection to this article. This article is for entertainment and trivia purposes only and is not to serve as a leaping board for making intrusions into the private practices and lives of the firms and individuals noted above. Thank you.

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