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.



"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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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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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.



"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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"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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"I wanted to take this post and introduce you to some absolutely gorgeous sections that have influenced me since my early childhood. They enhanced bedtime reading and invoked imagination. These drawings are found in The Brambley Hedge series of children's books, by Jill Barklem. It took me ages to hunt down a copy of all the books in the series. They are epic, in my opinion.

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It’s amazing what you can achieve in half a decade.

I started at Lawrence McPherson Associates when I was just 19 years old. I’d stayed on at the University of Paisley until the summer in order to finish my year and obtain some type of qualification, in case I needed it to fall back on. Forensic Science. That was a laugh.

I started on the 11th June, just a week after moving home and back in with the parents. A small symbol of defeat for many, but not for me, I had this fantastic new opportunity to work in a creative industry, learning practical skills and earning some money. I was extremely pleased and excited. Always one step ahead of my friends and peers, I now held a full-time position in a ‘real job’ and absolutely loved it.

The Practice back then was in full swing. There were three partners, two town planners, four senior technicians, five technicians, a secretary/receptionist, finance administrator and myself – a trainee architect. Over the following two years the Practice grew further taking on another trainee architect, an associate, two more architects, three technicians and opened an east coast office hiring four additional technicians.

The opportunities for me to get involved with every aspect of architecture was available. Surveys, planning drawings, detailed drawings, on-site visits, site meetings, building regs and CAD standards. It was all there for me to get involved with and soak up like a sponge. I had responsibilities, I contributed to the office, both with my own daily and weekly tasks and socially - arranging team building events and encouraging the monthly ‘guys games nights’. Yes. I was one of the guys!

Early on Steve got me to learn how to use Google Sketchup, it was something they’d just started to utilise as a design and presentation tool when I started. I very quickly picked it up and in no time at all became the resident SketchUp expert. It was a fantastic feeling to have a skill that not many could do and that I could pass on and teach to other members of staff. SketchUp Queen.

In the first three to four years I was given small design tasks but nothing too strenuous  I wasn’t that confident about my design abilities and preferred to use the Art School to test these skills while learning more practical skills within the office. I have since discovered that I love picking out colour schemes when the technicians hate it = win win!

Something in the summer of 2009 suddenly clicked (see my blog ‘From Space Planner to Architect’ for further explanation) my confidence in designing grew and I was given the opportunity to design a Premier Inn at Newton Mearns. I think I did a grand job if I do say so myself and the clients were extremely pleased with the outcome. As has been a general trend throughout the UK over the last few years, LMA had to downsize on several occasions losing staff and eventually closing the east coast office. A ‘core’ team of staff members still remained and I was lucky enough to be a part of that. Never underestimate SketchUp skills!

Having grasped a lot of the creative and practical skills undertaken in an architects practice when everything is running smoothly, I was then thrown in to the world of procurement, advertising and trying to win jobs and clients to bring in work. Steve and I attended workshops on PQQ writing and for most of 2010 and 2011 I filled in a lot of these forms, getting to grips with the business side of the Practice.

We joined Twitter and quickly formed a group of contacts and acquaintances online. We started a weekly newsletter and wrote the occasional blog as well. All this was fundamental in bringing the Practice up to speed with Social Media and created contacts from all over the world. It inspired me to get involved with other members of the industry and share experiences.

In my time at LMA I’ve done a bit of everything; I’ve learned the fundamental ‘how to’s’ - how to draw, how to do a survey, how to use linetypes, how to use different computer packages, how to number drawings; I’ve had on-site experience – that first time when my hard hat flew off my head and over the side of a three storey building ! – no one was hurt; I’ve gained design inspiration, and been exposed to styles and different opinions; I’ve learned unique skills and how to use computer aided packages to a high standard, pushing myself and the Practice’s presentations to a higher level; I’ve learned how a Practice is run and what is required from everyone to keep it working; and I’ve learned about procurement, fees and the costs of running a business.

Considering the alternative was three years full-time at university and a year making tea, drawing door schedules and folding drawings, if I even managed to secure a Part I placement at all, then I think I’ve achieved an incredible amount of irreplaceable experience, knowledge, skills and support in my time at Lawrence McPherson Associates.

I have everyone at Lawrence McPherson Associates to thank and wish to sincerely thank them for everything they have done for me.



This Monday marked the launch of a new UK wide student body - The Architecture Students Network (ASN)whichlooks to replace Archaos founded in 1999.

The ASN will be an independent network of student representatives from the schools of architecture within the United Kingdom. They will focus on supporting and promoting architecture student events, harnessing student opinion, and engaging with both national and international relevant educational organisations.

It has taken over from and will continue the positive work that Archaos had been doing over the last decade. A statement from The ASN explained, ‘Building upon the positive work that Archaos has been doing over the last decade, the ASN would like to thank all of the students from Archaos, for their efforts in instigating fairer student working conditions and making a perceivable impact in clarifying information regarding the architectural education system in the UK.’

The ASN will be hosting a series of events this summer in partnership with various schools, and will be running the second Architecture Students Assembly, an opportunity for students of architecture to meet on an annual basis.

The next meeting of the ASN will be held at the University of Greenwich School of Architecture, Design and Construction on Friday 9th March 2012 and they would like to encourage students to represent the opinion of their respective schools at this meeting to contribute in the formation of an exciting new organisation.

The network is part of the easa010 (European Architecture Students Assembly) legacy and has grown from a generally shared desire for the establishment of a viable network that promotes communication between students in UK schools.

Visit The ASN website here.

Click here for more information on the EASA.



My thoughts in response to Arch Daily’s blog posted on the 30th January 2012 ‘Practice 2.0 : Championing the young architect’s career, a lesson from technology startups’ by CASE (written by David Fano and Steve Sanderson)

Firstly, as true as most of this is in both the US and the UK, I’d say on the whole it’s a rather negative view of a young architect’s career path.

I have been finding more and more blogs that are either individually expressed views of people partaking in this venture themselves, or by a collective number of late thirty somethings who have passed that stage but can still remember and care to comment on the painful uphill struggle of getting to that point of ‘making it’.

It is probably easier to write negative views on a flawed system than look for the good in it, so I’m not knocking anyone’s blogs. In fact I enjoy reading them and I appreciate everything everyone has to say.

While I don’t disagree with the points made on the Arch Daily blog, and I know this is how the majority feels, I just thought I’d take the time to reply to this, as I have had such a great experience in the industry (so far) with the way I have approached my studies.

I want to give my positive spin on it, especially for those still in the process, or for the architecture students of the following generations, or perhaps even to let the more experienced architects out there feel a bit hopeful that it could still change!

Looking at CASE’s blog and their opinions on the intern experience in the US, I’m not sure whether the UK education system has any particular advantage over other countries?

After the first three years, a compulsory year-out in Practice is required. You cannot achieve your RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Part 1 qualification if you haven’t proven sufficient evidence of working within the industry. Granted in the last few years, what with the economic turn-down, they have relaxed the rules slightly, but that is only to ensure that they do not hinder students in their educational progression. Once you complete this year out, you are then expected to go back to university and do either a Diploma or a Masters (it all really confuses me, to what kind of qualification and where) but something that is RIBA acreddited and will get you to pass the RIBA Part 2 exam.

This is when you are required to go into Practice and work on a full project from inception to completion, so that you understand the process and when you sit your final RIBA Part 3 exam and interview you are quizzed on the various problems that came up during the project and how you dealt with them.

I’m not sure how this compares with the American System? Does anybody want to comment and let me know?

Secondly, my solution to how it could work; may be obvious to me, and to those who know me, but has anyone considered an internship/apprenticeship approach?

This means that you don’t leave school without many of the practical skills necessary to work on aspects required by the Intern Development Program but rather pick them up as you go along. Yes, you do get assigned to one particular phase and yes you do have to tolerate it, but it teaches you a lot and it doesn’t waste a further three years as you’re combining studying with working at the same time so it becomes a part of your education.

Another argument that the CASE blog puts forward is that the process doesn’t give young architects the tools and experience needed to run their own practices. I would argue my case for internships/apprenticeships as you are able to learn everything you need to know about how to run a Practice without actually handling any of the reponsibility or stress. I pick up on everything that goes on around me, and over the years (in conjunction with my studies) I have built up an excellent view of what to do and what maybe not to do and the problems you face and how difficult it can be to run a Practice.

As an apprentice from the very begining, I’ve not been exposed to the full creativity of university, where you can let your imagination run wild, and then the consequent let-down when you start your working life as an architect and experience the everyday mundane tasks, stressful time constraints, limited budgets and unimaginitive clients. It seems it has been a let-down for many of you.

My career has been quite the opposite in fact. I’ve known since day one that the real world and university are different. I’ve listened to the Architects around me moan about the job. I’ve witnessed every work experience school child we’ve had with us being told ‘don’t do architecture’. Even if it was said with humour, they’ve been fair warned!

Perhaps that’s why I take such a positive view on it. Such negative views from the very beginning has only meant I find things better than they were first envisaged, rather than the other way about : When I grow up I want to be an architect - and then it’s all downhill from graduation, dreams of drawing all day and creating masterpieces dampened by reality, budgets and experience.

It’s a tough world this architecture. And if we’re going to encourage further generations with Mattels new Architect Barbie and Lego’s famous architecture buildings, then maybe the key is to let them know what they’re in for from the very begining. Guidance Counsellors - we’re looking at you!!

My blog requires I end with a question in order to allow replies, so without further ado - any questions?



With no idea what to expect I pulled up to Newton Primary School with a homemade consulting board game and a powerpoint prepared to give a short presentation to an unknown number of primary school children about Architects and what we do. Of the small class, only a few turned up for the presentation but the computing suite With no idea what to expect I pulled up to Newton Primary School with a homemade consulting board game and a powerpoint prepared to give a short presentation to an unknown number of primary school children about Architects and what we do.

Of the small class, only a few turned up for the presentation but the computing suite was full of other children who were very interested in the buildings too.

Far more informal than I expected I sat down on my child sized chair with my lime green tumbler of water, asked the boys their names, chatted to them for a few minutes and then began to flick through the presentation. They asked a lot of questions and I got a lot of feedback and interaction.

They wished they could attend the colourful schools and were surprised at the scale models and how detailed they were. The boy’s latest project was to build a bedroom in a shoebox so we discussed the importance of scale and measurement and how they had designed theirs. There was also a section on structure and how that too was important for keeping things up.

The architecture that absolutely killed though was the futuristic buildings of Dubai. I showed a video of the proposed rotating towers in Dubai and Moscow and images of the floating cities. The sleek, futuristic, shiny buildings held their interest the longest and they were extremely enthusiastic asking a lot of questions before going off on a tangent about guns, cars and base jumping off the top of the Burj Khalifa…

It was only a short presentation followed by a little video I came across on YouTube called The Three Little Architects :

It’s based on the well known story The Three Little Pigs. They really seemed to enjoy it, and I was thanked several times from the boys for coming before they ran out the door to play football…well, at least they have their priorities in order!

Big thanks to @innovusdecors @architectming @benjaminmurdoch and @colorcoat for project suggestions and @55n for loan of the consulting board game.




Building Analogies

ARCHITECTURE is like the Human Body, there is a structure, internal services and an external skin.

INTERIOR DESIGN is like clothes, dressing up and creating personalities.

LIGHTING is like a pair of glasses or contacts, helping to see.

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE is like the hairstyle, needs to be kept trimmed but can enhance the external appearance.

Building Personalities

Brutalist concrete buildings are like Body Builders, solid and heavy but not particularly pleasing on the eye to the majority of people unless you appreciate the effort.

Renaissance architecture are like Shakespearian Actors, replicating an ancient language while using modern techniques.

Housing Estates are like Festival Goers, trying to fit as many as you can into one field with services such as water supply, sewage treatment and amenities required.

Modernistic minimalistic buildings are like Catwalk Models, not much to them but serve as a blank canvas for dressing with art.

- - -

After inspiration from Miss Arielle Schechter (@acsarchitect) and a couple of tweets on Building Analogies, my brain started twirling as I thought of some more.

Can you think of any others?

Tweet them to me at @koistycassels



Our world is constantly increasing at such a fast pace, everything is expected at the touch of a button. People expect more and more reading material, photographs, fashion, movies, TV programmes, youtube videos, podcasts, music, and they expect them almost immediately after they’ve savoured the last piece. It has occurred to me that Architecture has got to be the most patient of all the creative disciplines. Everything else, photography, fashion, art, music, interior design, graphic design, product design, can all be produced in a relatively short amount of time. You get the end product and proof of your work so quickly. From a matter of seconds to maybe a year or two, at most?

It can be slightly frustrating designing as an architect, anybody else agree? It takes such a long time for our creations to come to life (if at all!!) and in that amount of time designing under another creative discipline could have produced masses of work. Architects are always telling me they would have done something differently, or they’ll do it differently next time. It requires a lot of patience to stick to a design, when the creative side of your brain is constantly churning out new ideas.

Perhaps this explains why most architects have a passion for something outwith architecture. We all need to express ourselves, and need an additional outlet for our creativity?

We’ve been taught a lot at Art School these past few years about ‘slow architecture.’ I mean to me the statement at first seemed silly. Of course architecture is slow; it can take years to see your end product! But I think their point is a backlash against, pre-fabricated, mass produced buildings that do not exude any architectural qualities but rather provide shelter in the most basic, quick and cost-effective way.

No matter how mass-produced and technology-driven architecture can get, I think the slow design process should continue to be retained and savoured, however frustrating. I mean all the best architecture was built over a long period of time. Some architects weren’t even around to see their works completed.

I think learning and practising architecture has actually helped to slow me down as a person, making me more patient. I appreciate things more. I always wished my life away when I was younger, but since studying and practising architecture I think it has taught me to carefully calculate decisions, plan ahead and appreciate life and its influences.

I can still get frustrated at my own designs and how slowly they form, but I feel like I will learn to appreciate the slow process over time.

Here’s to anyone working in the Patient Creative Discipline! Stick in.




I purchased a fantastic new book while in NY this summer, from Urban Outfitters of all places. It’s called ‘101 Things I learned in Architecture School’ by Matthew Frederick. #13 states ”space planner creates functional square footage for the office workers; an architect considers the nature of the work performed in the office environment, its meaning to the workers, and its value to society. A space planner provides spaces for playing basketball, performing laboratory experiments, manufacturing widgets or staging theatrical productions; an architect imbues the experience of these places with poignancy, richness, fun, beauty and irony.”

This has been a turning point in my education. We are all told at the beginning of each academic year, that we will all ‘get it’ at different times. From first year at university, right through to Part 3 exams or even once practicing as an Architect. There is a point at which it all comes together. You love architecture and no longer do it because you have to make it through the course, or because you’re working on a project in the office. You actually love it. It all makes sense. You love learning new things. And you are eternally enthusiastic.

This summer was a turning point in my education. Having being told for three years ‘Kirsty go mad, you’re at the Art School’ and ‘Part-timers are always thinking about the reality of what can be built, and not just letting go’ I feel like I finally understand, and I’m ready to be bold, make decisions, justify things, create ridiculous explanations, and above all have fun!

To be fair, you may not actually notice the difference in my work…but the important point is that I feel I get it now. Ha.

I’ve missed out on the ‘studio’ atmosphere by being part-time at the art school; the influences, the chats, peer discussions, being pushed out of your comfort zone and the community feeling surrounding the studio. In a way, I feel like that is what Twitter and the ArchitectMap community has provided me with this past 6 months. It’s a wealth of information, inspiration and above all like-minded peers ready to discuss, suggest and share.

Is it a leap forward from ‘ye olden days’ when your architect peers were your competition? Is the world moving forward to create more collaboration and team efforts? I bloody hope so. It’s much more fun!

So there we go, I think there is an informal qualification that we should all be issued with when the penny drops : From Space Planner to Architect.