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.

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.

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.

Read More

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 AND ME

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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!

FALLEN OUT WITH SUSTAINABILITY

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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.