SIERRA LEONE - Remembering

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I came across this photo while searching on my hard drive the other day. It made me smile to remember such lovely vibrant positive people. If you didn’t read about it at the time, I’ve linked the blog articles below for you to have a wee nosy at how we went about building a new school for girls in Kenema, Sierra Leone with Orkidstudio for the Swawou School for Girls back in 2014. Time flies.

The Great British Brick Off

An Erasmus+ funded ARCH production of The Great British Brick Off hosted by the Kato Drys Community of Cyprus. Participants were selected for a week long course in traditional crafts and skills learning. With footage from the Cyprus Aerial Activities, and music from Tom Howe (Silva Screen Records)

CYPRUS - Mosaics

Cyprus - the land of the mosaics! Some of these mosaic tiled floors were done almost 2000 years ago. They are tiny, and so detailed, and beautifully symmetrical. It’s a real sight. Large rooms more than 6m in length and the entire floor is done with mosaic. I mean now you just buy some cheap laminate or vinyl or buy tiles in larger sheets that have been pre-stuck to mesh fixing strips. There’s nowhere near that amount of time and care put into a hand tiled floor any longer.

We had our own shot at mosaic-ing a square foot of tiling, and it took us all day to design, create and then grout. But the results were gorgeous. Totally different designs in each persons mosaic. You can probably tell which one was mine…the architect…

CYPRUS - Jewellery Inspiration

I had the pleasure of attending a week long course in Cyprus this Summer, created by ARCH, funded by the Erasmus+ programme, and hosted by the Kato Drys Municipality in North East Cyprus. The purpose of this course was to learn more about the traditional skills and crafts in Cyprus and their sustainability and longevity. Midweek we visited the capital Nicosia, and crossed the Green Line into the Turkish side of Cyprus. We had lunch in the old fort Büyük Han, before venturing upstairs to wander around the individual shops.

In one of those shops I met Münüse Agãgil, an inspiring young woman who was working and running her Grandmother’s shop selling both old fashioned embroidered pictures, and a sample of her own contemporary jewellery. See below.

Münüse has studied fashion in London and upon graduation came back to Cyprus. Her grandmother produces very intricate and beautiful pieces which are somewhat dated and traditional, but still sought after in Cyprus. She uses the silkworm cocoon to embroider with, a traditional technique that has been passed down for generations. Typically these pieces of art would be used to house photographs of a special occasion such as a wedding, and would be given as gifts or passed down. Münüse also creates beautiful stunning headdresses for weddings with the silk cocoons - worth checking out her Instagram page.

In addition to running her Grandmothers shop full-time, and creating wedding and occasion dresses and headdresses, Münüse has been working on her own line of silk cocoon jewellery, with a contemporary twist. She uses the silk cocoons in their entirety and even dyes them to create spectacular and striking statement pieces. Her influence has even inspired her grandmother to start using colours in her traditional work.

One thing that struck me about my conversation with Münüse and my time in Cyprus is that there aren’t that many younger people taking up traditional skills and crafts, preferring to learn white collar jobs instead. Münüse feels pretty isolated, in her part of the world, and to make matters worse there is this physical divide in her country between the North and the South. It’s disheartening to hear that there isn’t a wealth of inspirational, creative and pioneering artists for Münüse to interact with on a daily basis in her home town. Nevertheless she has a lot of energy, and enthusiasm and passion for the job she does, and the work she creates, and it was lovely to witness that. Her work is a shining example of how a new generation can take a traditional skill and technique and re-imagine it’s application into a tangible, twenty first century product that people may want to purchase.

I’m an avid fan of using technology to enhance your life not control it, and I usually encourage people to share their products via the internet, particularly if you have an online store, or etsy shop etc. Unfortunately in Münüse’s case, the postal service in Northern Cyprus is not very efficient and would cost a lot to send to other countries as Turkey is not part of the European Union. She could cross the border and post from the South but it’s a lot of additional time, effort and money to do so. It would be great if someone in the UK (or another country) could stock some of her jewellery!

Maybe we can create a Scottish/Cyprus connection that transcends borders and invites creativity.

This statement embodies the ethos of ARCH and Grampus who took us out there, they are constantly promoting the traditional skills and crafts in not only Cyprus, but Romania, Slovakia, Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Slovenia, Latvia and Bulgaria to name but a few. Their funding will continue until 2020, but who knows what the future holds for Scottish participants once Great Britain leaves the European Union. Perhaps we will find ourselves in a similar position to Münüse in the not too distant future. We need to hold on to our traditions, skills and heritage and ensure they are promoted, interpreted and integrated into our society to ensure their longevity.

If you get a chance, go follow Münüse and her colourful creations. You won’t be disappointed!

CYPRUS - Silversmithing

 this excursion was funded by erasmus+ organised by arch and hosted by the kato drys municipality as part of a week long course on traditional skills and crafts in cyprus.

this excursion was funded by erasmus+ organised by arch and hosted by the kato drys municipality as part of a week long course on traditional skills and crafts in cyprus.

I had such a wonderful experience at a local silversmiths in the town of Lefkara in Cyprus. These two brothers, George and Panagiotes run this workshop and have done so for the last fifty years!

Unfortunately, their sons and daughters don’t want to take over the craft, preferring to train to be accountants or Lawyers… I said I’d swap them for the life of an Architect!

It’s an amazing place, they produce many interesting designs, and were even kind enough to shine up my pieces that I’ve been working on that I had taken with me.

We witnessed the silver casting process - video below - where they take their wax pieces, cast them, then blast with water, boil in hydrochloric acid before breaking off the individual pieces to be polished and finished.

It was a fantastic experience, and great to see how traditional silversmithing techniques can be used to create such an array of designs. I hope to be able to take some of the techniques I learned and apply them to my own jewellery design.

If they need an apprentice then I’ll make sure and book my flights!


A short video of a typical silver casting at the workshop of George and Panagiotes in Lefkara, Cyprus. Thanks to Erasmus+ & ARCH network for the opportunity. Music by bensounds.com.

STORIES OF SHELTER - Final Models

Shona and I are running a series of workshops with a group of women in Glasgow, in conjunction with the Village Story Telling Centre and Clydebank Womens Aid funded by Women’s Fund for Scotland. The workshop series explores Stories of Shelter and in the last two weeks of workshops we made our final models:

‘The final two sessions focused on participants using all they have learned in the previous sessions to build their final models. As we worked we talked about the traditional story Rapunzel and together we told the versions we knew and discussed the themes in it, particularly, how imprisonment can sometimes be mistaken as shelter, or shelter can be corrupted and manipulated into something else.’

Huge thank you to Iona, who stepped in on the penultimate week when I was out of the country. They spent the first half of the session finishing designs and even creating some quick new ones. And spent the second have admiring the work they had made and discussing the future.

Final session, we created a celebratory atmosphere with party food, music and  good vibes. In an exhibition format, we laid out our visual plans and all of the work we had moved through from the first session. It was an impressive collaborative body of work. Great session, very moving and a huge highlight of the whole project came when one lady, who had been unable to contribute to the making in the penultimate week due to arthritis in her hands, came with a highly detailed shelter, evoking a woodland tower. 

Participants children came to see the work we had made, it was very sweet and they were extremely complimentary. We sent the children off with packs of materials to make their own models which they accepted enthusiastically.

This has been a really successful series of workshops. We explored Shelter and the different meanings and connotations it can have to each individual, and the importance of Shelter, particularly for women. We hope to be able to continue our work with the Womens Fund for Scotland in realising a build structure that allows us to teach women basic constructions skills and collaborate design.

For more information on the work that the Women’s Refuge do, please visit their website.

STORIES OF SHELTER - Sketch Models

Shona and I are running a series of workshops with a group of women in Glasgow, in conjunction with the Village Story Telling Centre and Clydebank Womens Aid funded by Women’s Fund for Scotland. The workshop series explores Stories of Shelter and in this weeks workshop we made some sketch models:

“This week The ladies were asked to make five sketch models in 25 minutes, with whatever materials they felt like using. They were encouraged to make, to not over think, and to combine the last three workshops into producing shapes, and shelters, and sculptures that were subconsciously reflecting all that they had learnt in the first three workshops, about scale and massing, light and shadow, and spatial planning and architectural sections.”

This is the result - a wonderful collection of sketch models, that will be drawn on to produce a more refined shelter design in next weeks workshop.

STORIES OF SHELTER - Scale & Massing

Shona and I are running a series of workshops with a group of women in Glasgow, in conjunction with the Village Story Telling Centre and Clydebank Womens Aid funded by Women’s Fund for Scotland. The workshop series explores Stories of Shelter and in this weeks workshop we explored Scale & Massing:

‘In this session we explored space and scale. We started by doing some physical exercises exploring our bodies in relation to the space. We did den building and told a story inside the structure we made. We then moved on to learning about architectural ‘Sections’ and designed a fictional ideal shelter space. ”I sit awake at night planning this stuff, my dream house.” - one participant commented on her dream shelter’

This workshop explored how we affect space with our bodies, how to make your space your own, and what different levels of space mean to different people. The ladies were shown how to create architectural sections, and asked to draw a place where they felt safe and secure, and sheltered. The spaces ranged in size, complexity and in general arrangement. It was fantastic to see such a variation of what a home/shelter means to an individual.


Take a look at the sketch sections the ladies produced. They only had half an hour to sketch. No pencils, no practice, just straight in with the pens and ideas. They were building on their previous session of looking at how light and shadow would affect the space as well, and they learned how to relay information through an architectural section. We will build on these later in the sessions.

 
 

STORIES OF SHELTER - Light & Shadow

Shona and I are running a series of workshops with a group of women in Glasgow, in conjunction with the Village Story Telling Centre and Womens Aid. The workshop series explores Stories of Shelter and in this weeks workshop we explored Light & Shadow: 

'In the first session the participants were introduced to and independently experimented with light and shade. They did this first from a structural design perspective by creating model boxes and practically experimenting with the effects of light and shade. Then we considered light and shade in emotional and metaphorical contexts by adapting their box’s to be the symbolic setting of a story with a central female protagonist positioned within. At the end of the session a participant remarked, "We started making boxes, it ended up being about life."'

We made simple boxes, cutting out apertures, shapes, adding texture and colour to explore what effect light and shadow had on the space. This led to discussions about how the space made us feel, was it secure, relaxing, open, shrine like, calming? How does light and shadow affect your Shelter, what does it mean to have four walls and a roof? 

Take a look at the end results. An absolutely gorgeous set of models, all with completely different qualities. How would you feel in these spaces? Feel free to comment below.

STORIES OF SHELTER

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This Autumn I'm very much looking forward to working with Shona Cowie from The Village Story Telling Centre to run a series of architectural model making workshops for Womens Aid surrounding the topic of SHELTER.

We'll be working with a select group of around 10 women from a local Women's Aid collective which provides information, support and refuge, if needed, for women, children & young people who are experiencing or have experienced domestic abuse.

We'll be exploring themes of Scale & Massing; Light & Shadow; Spatial Awareness; and Sound to discover the stories of SHELTER resulting in a series of architectural models that deliver a range of alternative spaces which incorporate powerful stories and promote awareness of the topic within the local community.

Our intention is to advance this project a stage further with another group in building a structure that can be displayed publicly to highlight and promote the Stories of Shelter.

ARCHITECTURAL APPRENTICESHIPS

 Photo credit - Architects Journal

Photo credit - Architects Journal

This article was written in response to this Architects Journal piece about the introduction of 'new' architectural apprenticeships in London.

Architectural Apprenticeships are not a new concept. This is exactly how I achieved Part I and Part II and I couldn't encourage it more. Learning on the job has given me such an advantage in the world of architecture.

If you imagine the regular route, of one year Part I experience before back to study Part II, I had five years office experience followed by two years travel, construction and life experience before back into part-time Part II studies, again combining another two years in the office while studying Part II.

So two years after Part II where most students would have three years total office experience - I have over ten years office experience and more than a few years of physical construction experience and project management.

This was my path. I chose it. But it was NOT widely advertised or discussed as viable options within the architectural communities in the U.K. There was only one school of architecture in Scotland that I could apply part-time, the Glasgow School of Art which wouldn't have been my university of choice, and I studied my Part II at The Centre for Alternative Technology, The Graduate School of the Environment, which wasn't a RIBA approved course at that time.

Financially you can support yourself. There are no huge debts incurred, or students exclusively from well off backgrounds as the norm. And let's remember that the original architects learned from their Master Builder. An Architect would have an apprentice and they would teach them everything they know, the architects assistant, was how information and knowledge used to be passed down. 

If there are more apprenticeship options now being offered I'd say the industry might finally be changing for the better!! I'm delighted to read this and encourage everyone to go for it. If you have any questions regarding my experiences, I'd be more than happy to answer them.

I also made a short video - back in the day - about working full-time and studying part-time you can watch it here. Please note that the Architects Map did not take off, and that blog is extremely out-of-date. But I do cover the finer points of why it is good to study part-time.

CASSELS & FATHER

Thinking I should rebrand to: CASSELS & FATHER... really stick it to the patriarchy! 😂

But seriously, I really enjoy working with this man, he's meticulous and tidy and respectful "And if you want something done properly he will do it. Perfectionist ain’t the word."... said a client yesterday!

Pretty high praise! Get in touch if you want some building work done in Ayrshire! 

LAUNCHING A JEWELLERY COLLECTION

Sometimes in the world of architecture, designing and building, there is a certain amount of exasperation at how long the whole process takes. One has to be incredibly patient to design and build buildings, not only with the process, and the clients; the builders and the authorities; but in the overall realisation of a product that can sometimes be years in the making.

Many Architects, Designers and Builders have their own side projects to feed their creativity, and for me I've always wanted to have a go at 'proper' jewellery design and making. I've dabbled in making and creating small creations for myself over the years, but I've never sat down and learned techniques and bought tools and materials that allow me to start getting to grips with the world of jewellery design and creation.

So this is the first collection - of what I hope can grow into several - of simple wire wrapped pendants and earrings, using sea glass and stones from the beach. A simple technique with a rugged finish, exactly the thing I've been making for myself, and can now share.

I've been experimenting with silver precious metal clay, and am a little way off creating a more established silver jewellery collection, but enjoying the process. Stay tuned for more of that - and a little Harris Tweed thrown in for good measure! In the meantime I hope you like this collection - and feel free to buy something for yourself or friend or family member. All proceeds go towards me expanding my craft!

PALATABLE PASSIVHAUS

I've been asked a handful of times lately - 'So... what do you think about Passivhaus?' and I reckon it's a good excuse to get back on the old blog writing and summarise my most recent thoughts. I hope you enjoying reading, and please do get involved by commenting and sharing.

Previous to the last six months I've been a bit of an 'eco purist' about the whole Passivhaus concept, focusing only on it's flaws and unwilling to compromise and let the pros shine through. In a nut shell, for those less familiar, Passivhaus is the quality assurance and energy performance standard - 'the worlds leading fabric first approach to low energy buildings' which originates from Germany and focuses on a buildings fabric as a way to lower energy usage.

Passivhaus places importance on high levels of insulation and an airtight external envelope, with the assistance of mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems. They seek to remove thermal bridges from the construction, use high performance windows and doors with insulated frames, and to reduce the heating demand and dependance of fossil fuels.

I'll start with the issues I have with Passivhaus:

High Levels of Insulation - there are no restrictions to the type of insulation you can use or limitations to the distance in which it requires to travel. Passivhaus certification can be achieved with fossil fuel derived expanded phenolic foam (kingspan, celotex etc) and shipped from across the globe. Buildings could be made with far more natural breathable materials and sourced as locally as possible, reducing carbon emissions in the construction process and increasing the overall air quality of the finished building.

Air Tightness - By making the buildings airtight, ventilation is required, passively or mechanically to ensure there is adequate airflow and no build up of condensation which leads to mildew, damp and mould. If a Passivhaus were to be left standing with no mechanical ventilation running and no inhabitants for a period of time, it would result in a stuffy, unhealthy internal environment and potential moisture problems. Buildings could be designed and made with breathable heat retaining materials for thermal mass, and for passive ventilation to keep the spaces fresh and still warm allowing the building to work even when not inhabited or 'plugged in'.

High Performance Windows & Doors - This probably covers thermal bridge free construction as well. I don't have an issue with these principles, but again it's down to the materials used and freedom to specify fossil fuel derived products made in the arse end of nowhere and shipped across the world. Buildings could be made from natural and low embodied energy materials resourced as locally as possible. Low energy buildings, that are high energy in construction are sort of counter productive in the overall energy demands of the planet, are they not?

Mechanical Ventilation & Heat Recovery - Ooo this one I had such a beef with for a long long long time. This is my most recent to get over and possibly the main point that's tipped me back to balancing point. Why design an energy efficient house that RELIES on energy to function correctly. The entire philosophy is to reduce energy usage, and the backbone of this entire concept relies on the one thing it tries to reduce. It's an oxymoronic system. There, that's all I'm going to say.

I've not engaged in arguments - sorry 'discussions' - about Passivhaus since Part II at C.A.T where I found it very difficult to explain to logical, Passivhaus minded students, lecturers and sustainable M&E engineers why I felt so strongly against it. It seemed nigh on impossible to explain my thoughts despite many scribbles and rants, and trying to figure it out in my own head. There always seemed a promoter just poised ready to fight against my 'purist' ideals. It seemed like it was logic versus gut instinct. I was on the side of gut instinct, and you can't academically argue gut instinct. There are no examples and fluffy feely airy fairy answer to - it just feels better to be in a passively designed, naturally made, breathable warm house.

Six months ago I realised my perspective had changed somewhat. While I've been working and living in West of Scotland, and being part of the Scottish Ecological Design Association hosting events and talking to individuals, designers, studios and governing bodies, it's extremely obvious to me that there is a growing mass of normal, every day, members of the community that are interested in and are growing their awareness of wider sustainability issues, and the effect of the built environment.

Students are arriving at university with these ecological values; awareness is spreading of harmful toxins and plastics and cancers and genetically modified food; parents are concerned over the effect of technology on their children and what they feed them; hospitals and schools, affordable housing - they want better for their inhabitants; energy consumption reduced, renewable technologies invested in, local support of crafts and skills...these things are all on the rise and so I realise that it doesn't do much harm to have a minimum standard - a household name - an identifiable, explainable set of criteria on which to start increasing the standard of the built environment.

As Kirsty Maguire puts it, it's 'Passivhaus by stealth.' If you can convince people that what they want and need is healthy, comfortable, enjoyable buildings, with reduced bills and at a decent price, then there's the starting point. I can't tear Passivhaus down for not being as green, or natural, or sustainable, as it could be, as much as I could be praising it for increasing the minimum standards that we already adhere to. If Building Standards adopted Passivhaus then it would significantly increase the quality of the built environment and drastically reduce the energy consumption of the country as a whole.

The most recent and relevant scenario to convince me of Passivhaus MVHR systems, was the weather we've been experiencing this winter. In temperatures below zero, with howling wind, to live in a house that is not airtight, where you can't open the windows because the bitter cold wind will cool the whole house, and the windows and doors are not high performing - Passivhaus makes a lot of sense. There, I said it. I 100% understand why mechanical ventilation while recovering the heat is a genius idea. I've been either freezing or oxygen deprived with my 'natural ventilation' system.

It's taken me quite a while to balance out, but I think there's a place for both Passivhaus promotion while still pursuing greener, healthier, simpler, 'purer' buildings. I can still strive to make things as excellent as they can be, while appreciating the effort of the real world applicable increase in standards that Passivhaus has to offer.

IS ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION REALISTIC?

IS ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION REALISTIC?

"In the real world, you have other jobs, time to spend with clients, extra projects, family and friends, hobbies, healthy eating. To spend that much time devoted to one project, sweat, blood and tears, the stress, the unbalanced lifestyle is unhealthy, and most importantly unrealistic."

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VW VAN INTERIORS

VW VAN INTERIORS

Custom made and bespoke working desk for the inside of a VW converted van. Even has it's own light box! Every architecture student's dream! All the hinges and sliding mechanisms were custom designed and made by Geoffrey Finnimore.

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THE ROLE OF THE ARCHITECT

THE ROLE OF THE ARCHITECT

My thoughts on the past, present and future roles of the Architect in design and construction of the built environment. "It might seem as though the role of an Architect is pretty straightforward, but the role of the Architect is actually more complex than it might first appear..."

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DESIGN, BUILD, ARCHITECTURE

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I thought I'd update the blog to reflect where I am now and what I'm doing with design, building and architecture. For those of you who read the 'What's a Part Two to do?' blog, where I questioned how I was expected to reach Part II without any financial help, you'll be pleased to hear that my appeal was successful, and I was granted half the money by SAAS towards the Part II Professional Diploma in Architecture course at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. I am halfway through the course now and enjoying it tremendously. I've had several opportunities to build things, enjoyed a couple of group design projects and have learnt an awful amount of information about the wider context of sustainability and adaptation in the built environment. Learning about the various political, environmental and societal subjects in conjunction with the design and architecture is and will continue to be vital to my understanding of architecture within the built environment. I can use the course to test ideas, not necessarily strictly to do with structure, design and construction of buildings but across a wide variety of related subjects. The implementation of all of this knowledge starts in June with our final major project that gives us a chance to produce our own brief and architectural solution to explore our ideas in finer detail.

Some of my models and sketches :

The course itself is one residential week every month for eighteen months - September through to the following January. We share with our fellow students, two to a room and we have our own bar, studio areas, outdoor classrooms, sauna and wealth of nature on our doorsteps. With our familiar routines and intensely packed weeks, there is definitely a fine line on where to call home, CAT or our 'real lives'. There is a real community and love for all who attend the course, our tutors and the staff and volunteers at CAT and the wider community. We've found our little tribe and it feels wonderful.

In addition to being able to attend CAT, the 'What's a Part Two to do?' blog also led to an opportunity to work for Orkidstudio, an architectural charity with projects across Africa, to Project Manage the build of a new school for girls in Sierra Leone. I spent four months there in 2014 from February to June and unfortunately had to return to the UK due to Ebola. Happy to report that the crisis is stabilising and would love to get back out there to finish the building, you can read about our progress on the Orkidstudio website here : Swawou Project

I also had the chance to get involved with Tog Studio summer of 2014, and took part in their summer build, which was an extension of the boathouse in Tiree. Happy to be heading back to Tiree for the month of August this summer to work with the directors of Tog Studio on various other projects and on site construction with a local contractor.

During my time away from CAT I have been working for DENHAM / BENN as a consultant, really enjoying designing on a daily basis, and being part of a growing architectural practice. Lots of opportunities to push the boundaries of design and collaborate with interesting clients and consultants.

So, lots on my plate with grand plans for the year, culminating in my final architectural student project and hopefully a Part II and Professional Diploma in Architecture. The connections I'm making and the experiences I'm gathering are shaping me to be the kind of architect that I could only dream of, and I love being a part of making my dreams come true.

HEMPCRETE Vs STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION

HEMPCRETE Vs STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION

"The two materials I intend to compare and contrast are hempcrete and straw bale construction; two easy to use building materials that could be sourced locally and built with volunteer labour, reducing both material and labour costs. I will compare them on their affordability, buildability, thermal and structural qualities and carbon sequestration ability.

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INFOGRAPHIC

INFOGRAPHIC

"A lot of statistical information and percentages which provided me with the opportunity to design an infographic. I've always wanted to try one and this presented the perfect opportunity; a way of clearly and effectively communicating a wealth of information in a presentable and visually stimulating graphic.

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