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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.Read More
I struggled for years to understand architecture. I've had a few 'A-Ha' moments that have helped me to understand what it's all about but when I read about famous architects from the past and their 'utopian' city ideals I just don't feel a connection. In fact if anything most things I've learned thus far in architecture I haven't agreed with or haven't believed in. Many times I've felt like I'm swimming upstream, occasionally finding a slip stream in the current but generally just plodding along. I took a year out from architecture, from the education and office side of things and instead I explored the process of building and making, designing and playing, spiritual and healing and farming and food production, I've almost reached the end of my year out and it's extremely liberating to say that I have indeed changed; I've grown and developed, I've found myself and most importantly I've redeveloped a sincere connection with architecture.
I no longer feel like I'm misunderstanding or doing things the wrong way because I don't believe in many things the building industry does. I don't worry that I don't understand a word of what architects are pontificating and elaborating about. Ok, so I don't talk the talk or walk the walk. But times have changed, the world requires change and I feel strongly that a new attitude towards architecture needs to happen.
That opinion right there actually means I have more in common with the stereotypical architect than I ever realised. Architects want to change society for the better through the built environment, to express their political views through the creation of space and manipulation of the public realm. They want to enhance the lives of humans through space and environment. So actually as I've discovered I'm actually an architect through and through. I can't think of a better purpose in my life. I had just never realised that I'm just as opinionated and radical as the great and famous architects of the past - it's just that I have my own strong opinions!
What a wonderful relationship to have with architecture for me to get stuck back in to the profession and education once more. I start the Diploma for Architecture course at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales this September and I'm really looking forward to it!
So over the course of the last few years, the recession has proved difficult for architectural practices to take on architectural students. They have difficulty keeping on their qualified staff, never mind having to pay students for their time, and to be fair having to teach the students while they're in employment. Especially if the architectural students are RIBA part 1 students as this will most likely be their first experience of a practice and how things are run in the real world. As a result of this, many many companies, (and this isn't just directed at architectural companies) have been offering unpaid internships. Students need experience before returning to higher education and the companies cannot afford to pay them, so offer an unpaid internship with - if they're lucky - some basic expenses such as travel and lunches covered. The idea behind this makes a lot of sense; as a student if you're struggling to find somewhere for experience and you are told by the governing body RIBA that it is a requirement before you can further your education, then many people may just think this is acceptable and part of the many debt inducing consequences of choosing to study architecture.
However, you would never ask a graduate in any other field of study who holds a Bachelors degree to accept no pay for their first job. Perhaps if the job was a summer position and between years of study, it would be acceptable; gaining hands on experience in the field before graduating and finding a paying job. It is actually legal to offer unpaid internships for a period of three months, and I'm certain this is what it was aimed at - summer internships.
Architecture requires an entire year of work experience, between Bachelors and Diploma/Masters, although RIBA has conveniently altered the requirements down to a minimum of three months recorded experience. Again, to be fair to RIBA this is to ensure the students aren't missing out and can still gain the agreed credits and head back to further education. But, it has instead helped to contribute to architecture practices getting away with only offering three month unpaid internships.
You are either studying or have studied architecture, so you know as well as anyone that it is an expensive course. It has to be one of the longest courses and it requires a lot of financial input. There are course fees, materials, accommodation costs and general cost of living. For at least seven years. SEVEN. If you're on the fast track. You don't even have time to pick up a decent part time job to keep you going, and during the summer months you'll probably require a good job to save up and help towards the next year. I cannot imagine the amount of debt full time architecture students rack up in their seven years. Especially if they live in England or Wales where they are paying course fees as well.
So with this in mind, I really can't understand practices that have the audacity to offer unpaid internships. Do you think these students are made of money? That they have rich parents or an inherited trust fund? If these are the interns you are taking on, then you've condemned the regular middle or working class student and hindered their educational progression and put the privileged one step ahead.
Another argument in favour of offering unpaid internships is that the practice puts time and effort into teaching the students, but my counter argument would be that if any person in your office is contributing to your practice making money then they should be paid for their time. They make you money, you pay them money. Simple.
I know it's a hot topic of late, and times are hard. Students need the necessary experience and those who don't gain it begin to question their continued studies. Practices are all struggling to keep going and I think it's admirable that they wish to take on students and give them experience. I just don't think it should be at the expense of the student. While they are working for your practice they require money for accommodation, food and living expenses...if you are not paying them, where do you expect them to get this money? There really is no debate. A graduate can voluntarily provide their skills if they wish but practices should not be offering unpaid internships.
On my travels through Costa Rica, on the south coast between Manuel Antonio and Quepos lies this magnificent restaurant perched on the top of a cliff, something straight out of LOST...but with more tourists...El Avion, the restaurant built around a C-123 Cargo plane. I'd like to think it crash landed here in the 1920's and they built around it. But alas, according to their website it was shipped here by ocean ferry because it was 10 inches too wide for the antiquated Chiquita Banana railroad bridges, then seven sections were hauled up the Manuel Antonio hill and put together in this prestigious lookout spot.
Too cool not to share, I hope you like it.
While on a roadtrip around the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, myself and friends stopped at Playa Guiones to take in the splendour of the white sand, blue skies and makeshift palm tree shelters. From where we entered the beach, halfway along I noticed an unusual building popping up from the trees at the other end.
I hadn't a clue what it was, perhaps a lighthouse? It was pretty colourful and an unusual shape. I was very intrigued. It didn't look like we could get to it from the beach we were on, but as we were heading north along the beaches I figured that perhaps we could see it from the other side at the next stop.
When we reached the next beach, it was beautiful, lovely fishing boats and rocky areas, and there poking out from the tops of the trees was the building. Someone suggested it might be an observatory judging by the circular balcony we could make out.
I decided to climb up to get a better picture, there was a 45 degree incline from the beach up to the building and the remnants of a pathway. Scratching my knees and ankles I made it up, but there was no fence. The more I explored the more obvious it became that this building was abandoned and no longer in use.
As I made my way up the estate to a ginormous swimming pool and outhouse, I started to get excited about the prospect of this building being abandoned. I could see things hanging upstairs and a couple of items that suggested someone was living there, but it was definitely no longer in use as a hotel or whatever it was.
I cautiously made my way up the open steps of what appeared to be a restaurant, when my heart did a little flutter - there was a German Shepard dog, asleep under a fusball table. I backed up, amazed it hadn't woken up as I was so close and made my way back to the swimming pool and up the other side of the swimming pool area. I figured this was safe enough as I was far away from the house and any potential inhabitants.
At the other side I found myself at the end of a well maintained lawn, with a view of the whole building tower. It was unfinished in places but still absolutely stunning. Behind me were rows of cabinãs presumably rented out back in the day, with access to the restaurant and pool within the bigger building. I cautiously peeked out to take photos in case there were people inside and then turned and made my way down the steps heading back to the pool and the way I'd came.
This is when my heart jumped. I heard dogs barking. Dogs plural, not just one. They were coming from the house so I prayed with luck that one of the others had come up looking for me, and the dogs were barking at them from the front. But no. Within thirty seconds before I even had time to think, four dogs came shooting along the maintained lawn, whizzed passed me and started down the line of cabinãs. Even at this point as my heart jumped I thought maybe, just maybe they'll run right past me and continue looking for some other imposter. But alas. They stopped right next to me on the parallel path, turned and growled. In the split seconds between them jumping over to me, I wondered whether I should run. Fight or flight right? My heart was pounding. All I thought was, "Don't snap at me, don't snap, please don't snap...but at least I have my rabies shot!!"
So it turns out I'm a fight, not flight. Running? Are you kidding me, that would have been far more terrifying, with them snapping at my heels, and a 45 degree angle slope down to the beach. No. Logic prevailed and with a series of "ssh"-ing and rotating so that none of them would snap, I proceeded with caution towards the lawn, hoping beyond hope that there were in fact people within the building.
Fortunately there were two men, up in the building and looking out over the lawn, they shouted at the dogs and I stumbled up the lawn, hand on my heart and managing to repeat the word sorry in Spanish over and over. I explained that I was an architectural student and the man didn't seem too fazed. He motioned for me to come in, or that it was ok, and I headed back down to where I'd come up. However instead of climbing down to the beach I decided I'd walk along the driveway to the road and back to the car park before getting the others. I was shaking and my heart was still going nineteen to the dozen. The sounds of the dogs barking kept me alert and eventually I found a path to the beach just as the others came up looking for me.
They said they'd heard dogs barking and one of them had actually made the joke of "that'll be Kirsty being eaten by the guard dogs then!" I told them what had happened and I headed straight for the car for some water and a chocolate snack. I was in shock.
After twenty minutes or so of talking to a local guy, (and me getting my heart rate back to normal) we left the beach, and I drove up the exit. As we reached the entrance to the hotel, we drove up and someone got out to go ask the men if we could come in and see the building and take pictures. They had better Spanish than the rest of us!
There was a brief moment where we heard the dogs barking and saw our friend running towards the car, which was quite entertaining, but the guys called out to her and we drove up to the front of the house. They locked the dogs in a room, there were seven or eight in total, and allowed us to look around.
The local guy we'd been talking to on the beach told us that it was designed by John Fraser eighty something years ago, as a hotel and restaurant but that his (the local) family who own the beach front location got the area turned into a national reserve beach and that halted construction so John Fraser was no longer allowed to do anything with it. I think the current owner can live in it as a residence but can't renovate or build or use it as a hotel. The recent earthquake caused damage to the tower so I'm not sure if they are allowed to even fix that.
It's an absolutely gorgeous building, almost made better as it's abandoned. The downstairs area that I saw coming up from the beach apparently hosts a whole building underneath the swimming pool according to the local.
It was an absolute gem of a building, and it's a shame we couldn't get up to the tower, but what we saw was definitely worth being chased by a pack of dogs!
It's just one of the things that I do for architecture.
Seriously. Sustainability is not a real word. It is common sense re-packaged as a buzzword and sold off as the latest earth changing idea.
That just about sums up the over consuming attitude of human beings in the twenty first century. Here, have a bottle of water for £1.50!
Sustainable design is a phrase invented by a generation of guilt ridden people, digging themselves out of their previous gullible adoration of a bunch of crazy egotistical ‘modernists’ who selfishly indulged in creating bigger than life artworks, loosely disguised as buildings, urban sprawl, and townscapes that didn’t make any natural sense.
I was born in Britain in the late 80’s. This means that I grew up in this ‘sustainability’ retrofitting, oh-the-high-rises-were-awful, lets all learn from our mistakes era. Sustainability has become this key word that is supposed to explain how the world can change for the better and how we can right all the wrongs. And yet, my generation quite simply just accepts that this is common sense. No need to feel guilty, no need to invent phrases and re-package the obvious into a grand scheme to end all problems. Sustainability is just common sense.
If people want to live more effectively, healthily and joyfully - grow your own vegetables, or get them from nearby; be near a source of water, have greenery all around you; build buildings with lots of light but enough shelter, that keep you warm or cold depending on what country you’re in, but passively; provide outdoor spaces, parks, places for people to enjoy and relax; provide a systematic transit system or walkable distances, and well thought out infrastructure.
There’s a reason why there are several ‘zero carbon city’ schemes cropping up. It’s because it’s easy, simple, we have the technology and it makes common sense. Not because it’s ‘sustainable’.
Do you want to live/work/socialise in a building that is overshadowed, has no views, faces north or requires an obscene amount of electrically run technology just to heat, light and ventilate it? No, didn’t think so. Stop calling it sustainable design then. Just call it common sense and human nature.
With the recent success of the Architects’ Journal Women in Architecture Awards last month, the outrage over the 21 all male speakers at the RIAS Convention this month and stumbling upon Parlour archiparlour.org – it made me remember and revisit it. Hope you enjoy my insight into how I’ve found femininity in the architecture profession.
The more I learn about architecture the more I realise and accept that my designs are actually quite feminine.
In my five years of studying and working I have been pretty cautious and somewhat scared of designing what I like - organic shapes, curves, ornamentation, soft colours, delicate designs, subtle and elegant details. I’ve tried to train my brain to think and design along the lines of my co-workers and fellow students. Tutors always claiming the concept isn’t bold enough. It’s taken time, and trust in my self and my own opinion to understand that what I like and naturally aspire to design isn’t wrong, it’s just different.
Near the beginning of this term in a lecture about Adolf Loos I realised that being a modernist (of which we are all victim to, given our time) is to degrade ornamentation and reject nature. He was responsible for training generations of budding designers into thinking that clean and simple was the answer. Nature represents femininity. Nature is delicate, pretty, organic and subtle. It could be argued that abolishing ornamentation is to get rid of the feminine.
Without ornamentation, buildings wouldn’t have personalities, would they? Even Adolf Loos created a fairly ornamental bedroom for his wife despite being the man that proclaimed that ‘ornamentation = crime’. Is this because ornamentation is a feminine attribute or is it because architecture should be free from ornamentation, in order that personality can be injected into it by each of the individual occupiers?
My analogy is this : I have never dressed prettily, flowery, girly or frilly. I like my staple clean cut items, my mono block colours, my simple pallet. But I always always brighten this up, funk it up, or punk it up for whatever the occasion requires or my mood takes me with jewellery and accessories. I inject my personality and ornamentation into the outfit.
As a society, generally speaking we no longer express our wealth and status through our fashion. Sure, clothes can still be more expensive and of a higher quality, but there are no longer detailed, delicate folk dresses. Men no longer wear inner coats, outer coats, jackets, belts, suspenders, waistcoats and a pocket watch. We have modernised our fashion, throwing out the ornamentation to some extent.
This is a similar situation within architecture. We no longer spend extortionate amounts of money on a gold leaf and intricately carved marble lobby. It’s simply constructed and then interior furnishings are purchased to ‘jazz the place up’.
So do I have a right to criticise modernism, blame it for the lack of feminine ornamentation and suggest that the industry is more masculine when I myself walk around wearing examples of modernist design and the effect of de-ornamentation?