Grenfell

Dear friends

Did you know that the history of current building regulations begins as a result of the Great Fire of London in 1665, Pudding Lane, etc.?

This week has seen the awful fire at Grenfell Tower in West London.  

I awoke to read the BBC news with a picture of the 24 storey residential tower looking like a burning candle and of residents not escaping.  It was horrific and clearly there was going to be significant loss of life.  I noticed in the article that the​block was recently re-clad.  I thought of the buildings where I’ve used rain screen cladding (all educational).

My thoughts very quickly turned to why the fire had spread this way as I thought of recent fire incidents in our area. 

Fires were contained within the flats​.  (Look carefully in the photo and you’ll see the boarded up window on the left side and very little external scarring, that fire was a couple months ago, no-one seriously injured).  And I know the policy is for other residents to stay within their own flats, they should be safe.  However, I am also aware that re-cladding works have recently begun on several tower blocks in town, procured some time ago, with little involvement from our team of property consultants.  

I haven’t read too many more articles since the day.  The words of the witnesses fills me with tears each time.  Last night my dear husband said l was upset, angry and flailing my arms in the night during my sleep.  I’m fairly certain it’s as a result of this weeks events.

There was no official comment from the new head of assets at work.  Finally yesterday, the head of our architectural team spoke vehemently on the incident with myself and a colleague expressing his concern that no-one in the authority is stating anything and acting as if it’s business as usual.  We discussed the technical issues and the principles of rain screen cladding and what fires need to thrive – fuel, oxygen, heat.  He had already downloaded photos and identified the type of cladding.  He noted that consultants involved had already taking down their websites.

We spoke of Ronan Point.  A tower block which collapsed in the 1960s following a relatively small gas explosion.  We all know that changed the building regulations, introducing regulations to guard against disproportionate collapse.  And this incident may lead to a similar change in regulations.  

The most vulnerable members of our community were living in those high rise dwellings, eideriy, migrants, young families, single persons.  As a designer of the built environment this incident is troubling.  And it has made me think on how often we are asked to compromise as designers, for time or money.  

Health and safety legislation in the UK (CDM 2015) now recognises the role of principal designer, and it seems that this is a responsibility which may soon come to me, as a named individual within the council.  This incident is troubling but I feel that we ought to stand up to pressures from non – designers in our project teams to do what is right, thinking of those people for whom​ we are designing.

For me personally, I am grateful for the Holy Ghost who will direct and guide all aspects of our lives, including design, if we trust Him. 

me…  master builder

Dear friends

Did you know, and you probably do because you are into words :), that the origin of the word architect is Greek from 

arkhi – chief + tekton – builder

Literally meaning chief or master builder.

In the last month I’ve had several experiences which have reinforced my confidence as a master builder.  I’ll share one of the experiences.  Warning: if you are not into construction you may want to look up some of the technical terminology… but I promise to limit archi-speak. 

The builders were questioning my detail for the main external, upper wall, which is timber clad.  In particular, the position of the breather membrane, which as the name suggests, allows the building to breath.  This is typically positioned on the external side of insulation.  So we’re standing on the roof and the site manager states that the builders are saying they usually put it behind the insulation, otherwise you have to make good around all the brackets (which penetrate the insulation to help pick up the battens for the cladding).  Are you still with me?   How?  Why? He was questioning.  Knowing I had researched the detail and discussed with my own manager (who has 25+ years experience) I was reasonably confident and said words to the effect of, use double sided and single sided tape which are the accessories for the membrane.  I finally told them to contact the manufacturer, which a couple days later on the Friday afternoon, when no further progress had been made and the quantity surveyor was now getting concerned that they were going to have to re-do the insulation because they weren’t sure of the detail, was exactly what I did.  (I think builders, or is it men, lack humility)!  I explained the wall build up from inside to outside, the product on site and the query to the technical department of the breather membrane manufacturer.  Yeah, builders often want to put it behind the insulation but it should be in front, helps protect the insulation; they probably have concerns about workmanship; you could use a different product and staple to the battens but not with the one you have on site. Your detail is correct and they fix it with the double sided tape and make good around the brackets with the single sided tape.  What pleasure I had writing the email to confirm all that!!! Me – master builder! 🙂

In this last week I visited site and the carpenters called me to see them. Up two ladders and onto the flat roof and I stood as they explained a real size mock up of the detail with smaller brackets (another issue).  It’s still too far out I commented as they tried to rationalise but my detail asked for 10mm and this was 25mm.  I’d been doing more research on the brackets detail following an early morning text message from my colleague who is the contract administrator for the project asking me to visit site to see the brackets.  So I was prepared.  As I contemplated losing the counter battens and how to tell them I wanted the brackets closer (a bit exposed), the carpenters explained that wouldn’t work around the window jambs, and then it hit me. Smaller battens and closer brackets.  The carpenters found two battens same size, mocked it up, yes, 10mm space.  And they could deal with the jambs. A little discussion about the membrane well, we’re not paying more to change the membrane so you can staple; I was told the membrane is on site; you’ll have to discuss with the main contractor.  And that was that – I reported to the main contractor, who seemed relieved to not have to get another batch of brackets, and the carpenters could get on with it.  

I absolutely love being an architect, master builder 🙂

returnee…

Dear friends 

I’ve returned to my blog – it’s been a while, I know.  After the surgery I was signed off work until Christmas Eve and then I already had annual leave booked for the last week in 2016.  Then a wait for the biopsy results – all OK for which I am grateful to Father 🙂  So, unexpectedly, I was not at work for the whole of December 2016.

I returned to work on 3 January 2017, as many people.  And due to the transfer of the property business, I returned to my former and first ever employer, the city council.

I returned to my desk, with various trade literature and unopened post – after two days it’s still in my in box, unopened.

I returned to my projects – a little model completed for the feasibility study and several outstanding technical queries on the construction project (with a contractor stating the delay is due to ‘us’).

I returned to discover that such was the concern for me that they had approached a local company for costs to deliver the feasibility study!  I’ve had several colleagues welcome me back.  Since they are all predominantly male colleagues my stock answer is I’m fine – no point getting into a conversation about recovery after laparascopic surgery of a gynaecological nature! – and I swiftly move the conversation on to QS resources, retaining walls or the return to local government.

Back in the home, we’ve also been looking into returnees to Africa.  There’s lots on YouTube.  As the house in Africa is becomes bigger and our mortgage here becomes smaller (can something grow smaller?…) the prospect of going to Africa long term becomes more real.  It will be an adventure for me; it will be returning home for my dear husband. Some would say for me too, clearly, as my ancestry will include slaves taken from Africa to the plantations of the Caribbean islands.  I have many deeper thoughts on this.  I am grateful to Father to know that somewhere in my family, ancestors survived the ridiculous barbaric cruelty of slavery to have offspring and become free.  Free to grow and return. 

poised…

Dear friends

Autumn leaves poised, waiting to fall

Sometimes in life it feels that things are poised, waiting to happen.  Like the leaves on this small tree that I saw this morning.  They’re changing, virtually imperceptibly, from green to yellow to red, poised, waiting for a wind to blow and take them to another stage in their life, away from the tree.  I really must develop more patience, from Mosiah 24 v15, and be peaceful like these leaves!

the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

I feel that things are poised for me a little.  The pre-assessment – before any type of surgery – went very routinely  MRSA swabs, blood test, blood pressure – but when the nurse checked my admission appointment it wasn’t there!  It’s been rescheduled for next week.  Same consultant – a gynaecological oncologist. So I’m back to waiting. I’ve tried to not use too many pain killers, especially at night.  This means I’m in a cycle of a few rough nights followed by a long night when I’m literally so exhausted I have to sleep.  The appointment time has changed – once – from afternoon to morning admission.  Not sure if that has any significance.  And I’ve already decided to not consent to anything other than the hysteroscopy and laparoscopy – we’ve already booked flights to Manchester eight days later!!

Things at work are equally at a poised state.  Our business is being transferred (back) to the local authority, so we are going through the TUPE process.  However the local authority is also having a restructure and the draft structure shows architecture under development (we’ve already heard our new director refer to the architects as the ones delivering concepts), and not within construction management, which we do via our contract administration role.  We are all keen not to be pushed into a discrete role of design and illustration alone.  That is how some practices work, but our small team has built on the fact that we’re all quite rounded as architects. In our favour is that the lead for construction management is old school and believes in the lead consultant delivery of a construction contract.  From January we will be working for our new employer and it feels like everything has been in a state of transition for far too long!  We are poised!! 

small things…

Dear friends

Sometimes the smallest of things can make the biggest difference in our lives.  This last week has been full of that for me and our family.

Before that, after one of the big winter storms in the last few years, we noticed a leak on our bedroom ceiling, right in the corner above the bay window.  It really didn’t disrupt our daily lives and it was several months before we got a roofer out.  However the following winter, another big storm, same leaking, another small damp patch appears closer in, remote from the first leak.  After several attempts with the insurance company, they finally agreed to mend and repair, but not replace the valley flashing gutter (above bay window). 

Then several weeks back a roofer came out – did something from a ladder and despite rain we’ve had no further leaks. Yeah! – you may think.  So then the company turn to our bedroom interior.  The artex ceiling is tested for asbestos. It’s a positive result so they arrange for a specialist contractor to remove the ceiling.  This was scheduled for Monday morning.

Before that, a couple of weeks back, a friend spotted a piano being offered for free.  Dear husband and Daur2 looked it over – needs tuning and a couple of hammers fixing but would be good for practice – and we paid a man with a van to help bring it to our house.  It’s been left in the dining room, having come in through the garden, until we clear the front room (another one of those ongoing tasks!)

So, last Monday morning I wake early to start my usual routine of preparing packed lunches for the family – six of us.  As I start with mini baguettes in the oven I see a mouse come out and head back behind the fridge/freezer.  I shriek fairly quietly and gingerly continue, my feet shuffling on the kitchen floor – my theory was to make enough noise so it didn’t come out again.  That didn’t work and so when I saw it again I let out a mighty shriek.  Son1 was the first to reach me and as I stammer there’s a mouse behind the fridge, he says I thought you were being attacked by someone! And promptly turns and heads back to bed.  Daur1 reaches me and stays with me while we finish the lunches but then time has gone and she’s in danger of missing her train.  She begs me to drop her at the station.  

However, before that, over the weekend, my car had been very rumbly.  I knew my dear husband had put oil in (I had moaned to him the Sunday evening since the oil was in his car, rather than in the porch so I couldn’t add some earlier), so despite the strange burning rubber smell, I thought maybe I could make it to the station and back.  

As we sat in the car – me in my pyjamas and fleece – I mentioned maybe I should give you bus fare to get the fast bus to the station and not risk it.  But Daur1 gave her pleading eyes, I gave in and we headed out.  We reached station safely and Daur1 skipped to platforms!  I headed out the station and immediately the clutch pedal stuck – I was crossing the carriageway so was waiting.  I managed to kick it up, back in gear when I saw the traffic clear then as it stuck again at my gear change, I pulled the car over onto the pavement, so as not to block traffic, and stopped.  With the hazard lights on, I call the RAC (car recovery) – we’ll try and get someone out to you in the hour.  An hour! It’s 0730h, I’m in my pyjamas and fleece.  I call my dear husband but no answer… he’s clearly having to pick things up where I left things off… 

Two hours later, somewhat chilled on my part, my dear husband and I arrive back home, children all at school & college and I think, great, I’ll quickly shower, dress and get bus to work.  Don’t forget the asbestos guys are here, they arrived at 8h, when you were out; they’ve started taping things up.  Eeeeekk…. I head to our room to find our wardrobes fully taped up and plastic sheeting across the bedroom door.  All that was missing were the guys in white suits – I knew that was coming, they were in their van on break.  So, all I could do was work from home; take calls, write emails, give a truncated version of the morning’s events explaining my absence – clutch, pyjamas and asbestos.  I did feel quite ridiculous and humbled – if I had listened to the small voice and not taken our daughter to the station, the day would have been largely uneventful, except the mouse and the asbestos removal team.

Ohhhh, and the mouse.  In the 12 years we’ve lived here, we’ve never seen any mice – ants, mosquitoes and slugs but no mice (apart from a small family discovered in the lawn mower box in the garage one spring a long time ago).  So we were a little concerned – are there more?  Son1 admitted to seeing a ball of fluff scurry behind the piano late one night after it’s arrival but failed to mention it to anyone.  Dear husband bought fast action mouse killer traps – one went by the fridge and one in the kitchen.  We put a more traditional trap behind the piano, with peanut butter on cheese for bait!  We had no idea where mouse was.  We were on lockdown – all doors to be closed behind us on entering or exiting a room.  A few days later there was still no sign of mouse.  By now the family began teasing that maybe I imagined the whole thing!  But today, I entered the kitchen and there it was, lying, dead, between the washing machine and a cupboard.  All observed it – except Son1 who was out – before dear husband and Daur1 disposed of it.  Daur2 (& Daur1) seemed rather sad about the whole affair commenting it’s so small… It’s in heaven now… And similar as if I was being completely irrational about wanting to get rid of it!

Ohhhh and the leak. Once the ceiling came down, we spied up into the loft and the underside of the rafters and the water damage was apparent.  And above the valley rafter, in the flashing we could spy a pinpoint of daylight in the lead valley flashing gutter.  The insurance company weren’t interested – it looked to me as if a slate had punctured the lead.  So we’ll have to get some flexible roof sealant and apply from within the loft to make sure we don’t get a random drip onto the new ceiling, which is now in place.  

And the moral of this tale… deal immediately with a problem and listen to the small voice… or squeak…. or leak!

piano, mouse killer, my sock
Part stripped ceiling
Rafters in our loft, above the ceiling
The pinpoint of light!!

professional trials…

Dear friends

Fairly dramatic skies this morning which goes with my mood this morning.   A site meeting looms in a few hours, which I could really do without.  Attending with a structural engineer I’ve never worked with and a contractor who has missed their fabrication slot because our structural engineers didn’t give a response to the fabrication drawings sent last week, owing to lack of action from a possibly alcoholic structural technician 😦 

Situations like this exist in the real world and it’s oddly humbling to draw on all those Christ-like attributes (Galatians 5) to be professional and deliver a successful project.  Have a great day 🙂

a thought on work

Dear friends

The scaffolding has been coming down on one of my projects, we’ve been on site about 18 months, with another 3 months or so left, and finally we can appreciate what legacy we will leave for the city. It’s quite exciting – I’ll post photos in a different post.

Leaving site last week I felt a renewed excitement, for my current job. And for projects I’m currently working on, at design stage.  I also began thinking on why I initially wanted to work on public sector projects, like schools.  Because with public projects, I feel a responsibility to design and deliver the best for the whole community. The challenge is its funded by the community, by government funding, from our taxes.

Meanwhile, I submitted the planning application for a new school building on the east side of town.  This is a little controversial with locals since it’s proposed on a disused playing field used, by some locals, as a dog toilet and bus shortcut through the broken fence.  I feel we’ve given some valid reasons why it should be developed for the school, which is expanding.  We’ll see if the planning authority agrees in a few months. 

We’re having an architectural team management meeting in Starbucks or Costa, or similar!  Three of us 🙂  it’ll be a welcome respite with my two senior colleagues that I’ve been with for over 8 years…  (Later…) we had our meeting (Costa) and I felt decidedly guilty as our team leader said he saw the team moving forward with us three… that was not the time to reveal I’d updated my CV and am looking for a new job…