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.

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.

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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AN ARCHITECT'S INFLUENCE

AN ARCHITECT'S INFLUENCE

"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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WHAT'S A PART TWO TO DO?

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Having worked full time for five years in conjunction with studying part time towards my undergraduate BArch Part 1 at Glasgow School of Art, After graduation I took a year out with well earned savings to travel a little, explore the world and most importantly volunteer and join in design and construction projects so that I could gain some valuable experience working with materials and doing the job of builders on site. The year out led me to some excellent people, projects and ideas of what I want to do with my life and career. Sustainable living became a large part of the volunteer way of life, and vegetarianism, community meals and permaculture food production became more and more important to me. It got me thinking, is there some way I can combine permaculture, food production and sustainable living with sustainable, off grid, well built and efficient buildings? Why live in an energy efficient building but still shop at Asda? Why shop and grow your own food, but your living situation drains you of gas and electricity?

I stumbled across the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mid Wales, where I was delighted to find they had a course for prospective Part 2 architecture students; a postgraduate Diploma in Architecture in Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies. Fantastic!! I applied straight away, the only Part 2 course I intended on applying to, and was invited for an interview. On my interview day I was blown away by the place, definitely for me. I couldn't stop telling everyone about it, and now that I've started it's by far the best place for me to be. A chance to explore my ideas through 18 months of full time education, attending one week every month. I can apply for a Part 2 at the end of the process and this is one step further towards my goal of becoming a fully qualified architect.

So what's the problem I hear you cry? Well there are 12,750 of them. That's £12,750 tuition fees that I cannot seem to obtain from any source!

As I am a Scottish student I cannot apply for a student loan through SAAS (Student Awards Agency for Scotland) because I funded my undergraduate part time by myself so don't qualify as a 'continuing student' which is the usual method of part 2 architectural graduates getting funding for their postgraduate degree.

As I have travelled for a year, and not worked, and now have a job which is a ten week placement and not considered full time, my credit rating is poor and the bank won't grant me a Career Development Loan.

As this is not a RIBA certified course, I do not qualify for any funding from RIBAs many sources.

I have already enrolled on my course. I have thrown myself in head over heels, love everything that it stands for, started a new volunteer side project within the CAT community and have the resources there that I need to explore my future endeavours. I want to create healthier, sustainable efficient lifestyles for people.

I am working full time in the three weeks in between the week long intense attendance required at CAT and am being funding for ten weeks on this work placement by a GoWales campaign.

So dear lovely people out there, do you or your company fancy sponsoring an enthusiastic architecture student in a predicament? Small or large, any donations are going to help me on my way!

You can tweet or email me if you are interested in helping, or have any further information that could help my situation. All suggestions welcome!

EDIT : I reapplied for SAAS funding and moved back to Scotland. I was awarded the tuition fees in loan from the Student Loans Company. Still not ideal and I have to pay it all back - but it provided me with enough loan to actually do the course!

ARCHITECTURE & FEMININITY

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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?