I came across this photo while searching on my hard drive the other day. It made me smile to remember such lovely vibrant positive people. If you didn’t read about it at the time, I’ve linked the blog articles below for you to have a wee nosy at how we went about building a new school for girls in Kenema, Sierra Leone with Orkidstudio for the Swawou School for Girls back in 2014. Time flies.
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!
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 enjoyed following around brightly coloured gymnasts and contemporary dancers as they squeezed themselves into some truly impressive spaces within the town of Bangor. It was an interesting exercise in showing spaces within the urban environmentRead 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!
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.