Waiting for a building to complete is like waiting for spontaneous labour to start.
I can say this because I’ve seen a few building projects complete and because I’ve waited for labour to start, four times.
My latest project is a small new block for a local school consisting of a kitchen, hall and a classroom. In fact, it has been under construction for about 38 weeks. The school will start moving in some furniture over the next few days as they need to decant out of half of their existing Victorian school into the new building for the rest of term so we can remain on programme and continue the major refurbishment of the Victorian building. It’s a great project but difficult for the school as they’ve had to deal with changes to the routine.
I thought you’d be interested in seeing some of my earliest sketches for this project from my personal sketchbook. I’m really pleased with the outcome for the new building visually and functionally. It’s a compact layout, minimising circulation space, optimising orientation (it’s long elevations face east & west so it’s not prone to overheating) and traditional materials complement the adjacent Victorian architecture. This sounds a bit like an architectural journal but that’s part of the architectural language which one develops to sell proposals, to clients, to planners.
I’ve surely stated this before but I do love being an architect 🙂 it is a very rewarding though humbling profession. Humbling because we are constantly learning from specialists around us – architects are the generalists of the construction industry. Rewarding because it is the images of our imaginations that can become reality and we have to share that, through drawings and words, with the specialists.
The phrase at the beginning I used today in an email to the headteacher to try and show empathy for how they are feeling, desperate to move in before end of half term this week, but it is my responsibility to confirm that if it’s safe and ready to handover to the school, that it’s complete. Right now, it’s not so I’ve told the contractor, as we agreed for the last 38 weeks that the school will begin to move in furniture. I had to tell the school that the furniture will have to stay in the middle of rooms until the contractor had finished some small aspects, like fitting skirting to a store room. Nothing too big but enough for the project manager to step in to the email conversation and suggest that plans were changing. I explained nothing was changing, the school can still set up their rooms by theend of the week. I’m sure all well be fine and I’ll visit tomorrow but as architect, I’m administering the building contract and I also have the role of principal designer (under UK health and safety legislation) so I’m going to deliver this baby when all are safe and ready!
30 years ago I was towards the end of my first year studying architecture. I may have mentioned before, I studied at University of Edinburgh – it had been my long time desire to study there and I was blessed to make it. I absolutely love my Edinburgh days; I made great friends and had great experiences. I loved studying architecture, that had been my long time desire since the age of about 14 years. However it was not a pleasant experience as generally I recall struggling with the large egos of tutors and fellow students, not all, but enough!
30 years later and I am traveling to a local university where I have been tutoring first year architecture students these past six months. How enlightening it has been for me to discuss architecture with these young people. And how difficult!!! And how sad as I see them not working and continually falling short of what I see so clearly in them. We recently did a hand drawing quiz, prepared by one of the full time lecturers, i.e. 1 minute to draw an internal wall with a door at scale 1 to 50. (This may sound technical but remember these students have been drawing and studying the topic since last September so it should not have been a difficult task). Only a few managed to correctly draw this in the minute given to them 😦
I’m now on my way to see the annual school exhibition. In my first year, my hand drawn sketch of a half onion was exhibited 🙂 I’m interested to see what the third years produce at the end of their degree since some of my first years will be there in two years. Hopefully this will also help me to understand the ethos of this school of architecture and current architectural education.
Much can happen in two years… not to mention thirty years…
I’ve been much more reflective about time in recent months as I approach the age of Kylie Minogue! I recently heard a radio journalist who invited two friends to live by a motto for a month, such as, live every day as if it’s yourlast. I was impressed by the attitude of the individual as they made the effort to contact extended relatives and even organise a simple family gathering.
The recent words of living prophets and apostles – #LDSconf – have also touched my heart. I keenly feel that we are living in the time of the parables specifically concerning the last days, like the parable of the ten virgins. These are wonderful but perilous times – we must prepare and that doesn’t happen overnight… two years?… thirty years?… a lifetime?…
I feel the last several weeks have been fairly unbalancing for me… as if my life is ever balanced but things were OK and we were coping. Things have tipped and I know that any balance regained will be different. This is on account of family fractions, fractures, whatever you want to call it. It’s difficult and painful.
I admit, one of these is my doing… I couldn’t keep my mouth shut when listening to my children being compared (negatively) to other grandchildren in the family. The other, I am right in the middle, between two close family members.
Outwardly, I’ve tried to keep going. Praying, fasting, reading scriptures, listening to uplifting talks, trying to get some calm in myself. I’ve delved into work – which isn’t difficult since we are currently at technical design stage so lots to do – but I’ve had some ridiculously scary dreams… car going over a cliff with my dear husband and I inside, me on a motorcycle being rammed by a car but left unharmed, the car was written off, and then alien raptors attacking the city as we hid out in an edge of town estate. Trust me, these were very scary, very vivid dreams.
There’s been other things happening too – some members at church have passed away, the husband of a friend, the youngest sister of some friends of our children and the son of some other family friends who has children.
Physically our home is not settled as my dear husband arranged to have the kitchen replastered, before we’d ordered a new kitchen… the result, we’ve been camping out in the garden for washing up and cooking in the dining room – since end of December. (The end is near – new kitchen is installed next week).
During this winter of discontent, shall we say, there have been moments of enlightenment which have helped me regain my perspective.
Daur2 (who wants to study architecture) was discussing with me, on the way to school, how she’d got 17/30 in yet another maths test whereas the rest of the class got 20+. As I reassured her that it would be OK, she exclaimed, but you can say that, your successful!! I was quite surprised by this and asked her if she ever remembered me not being an architect. Daur2 doesn’t remember and I explained that it was 14 years between me finishing university and successfully getting a job where I could finish training, and the week after I was offered the job, we discovered Son2 was on his way, and all this after failing my final project submission at university and having to resubmit in the autumn.
We all have our moments – some last 14 years but that doesn’t mean we give up on our dreams.
Son2 and I had a discussion recently about 3D vision, and how if you close one eye, you see things in 2D, with no sense of depth. Our brain uses the information from two slightly different angles to give us that depth that we see. Our students at university have also been exploring this as they’ve been to draw sections – some make the mistake of drawing the section as a perspective, showing depth.
I realised that in my life, I can choose to view it in 2D, in a very linear manner, dictated by time. This can be quite limiting and discouraging as it gives a sense of running out of time or not having enough time.
Or I can choose to see events in 3D, things past, present and future, wide-screen, full surround sound. A bit like Ebenezer Scrooge’s experience of Christmas Eve night in A Christmas Carol. Essentially that helped gain perspective in his life.
So I’m training myself to approach my life and trials with perspective, seeing events and people more holistically. This is the correct view – anything else is like having one eye closed!
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known
It’s been more than 10 weeks since my last post and much has happened, in your lives as well as mine. Change is necessary for progress is my personal motto, it has been for a very long time. In modern speak, I suppose that would show I have a growth mindset. Anyhow here’s a synopsis of what I’ve been experiencing these past weeks 🙂
1. Children grow – when our eldest was about 9 months old, a friend gave me some advice which I believe she had received from another friend who is a mother of 10 children. That advice was, remember it’s a phase. Whatever seemingly difficult stage you or your child is at, view it as a phase. This advice has served me well and has certainly helped me to remain sane! I strive to apply it to other aspects of my life, other relationships. I think one day we will realise how brief mortality is and we’ll see all things clearly (see 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 12) For now, when I had to buy yet another pair of school shoes for our youngest, Son2 (approaching 10 years old) and discovered he’s now in the smaller men’s shoe size, I thought, it’s a phase… what size feet will he reach as a grown man!?
2. I’ve decided to look up more, seize the moment, capture now, be a little more impulsive and take more photos of life as it happens – like this photo (no filter) of our yellow sky, pink sun, as a result of Saharan sands a few weeks ago. Related to this, I’m going to post more photos, probably of trees and skies as this reminds me to see the beauty all around. We live on a beautiful planet which serves life well. We, humans, need to serve life well too.
3. The long awaited restructure began at work and some of my older colleagues have been taking stock of what their pensions look like and is it worth retiring a few years early. I’m in the generation that’ll work till 67 years so it’s not something I’ve paid too much attention to (I probably should but I’ve not…) So I was traveling to a meeting with two older colleagues, both male, and one mentioned his wife retired several years ago, she earned quite highly so they were OK. The other chuckled, commenting his wife never earned much and “my wife retired at 23!” I impulsively stood up for his wife and said, “I don’t think she would call it retirement, I’m sure she did a great job raising your sons!” He did accept this but I realised how many people out there devalue their own family, because they are making a different contribution. I’m so glad that as a working mum I could still stand up for my sisters.
4. Glass an hour – this is a little mantra I’ve been telling myself in relation to drinking water. It’s like the fruit & veg, 5 a day, here in the UK. I’m blessed to live where I can turn on a tap at home and work and drink safe water. I know many in the world can’t do that and I, sadly, remember a time when living at my dear mother’s home and she’d been unable to pay the water bill and it was cut off (I don’t think they are allowed to do that now). I walked a couple of miles each day to public toilets to fill bottles of water to bring back home. So I appreciate water and what it means for our health. I don’t think we can ever drink too much but we can certainly have too little, so, as I’ve noticed myself feeling thirsty more often, I’ve tried to drink a glass of water each hour. I always feel much better and less tummy aches when I do this.
5. I mentioned the long awaited restructure at work began. I’m one of the few whose salary will increase, quite significantly, as a result of this due to the grading of my job. Our jobs have now been aligned to public sector gradings and although people many are grumbling that it’s less than private sector pay, I say, well, go and work in the private sector if you want to earn that kind of money; don’t expect public taxes to pay ridiculous amounts for you not to deliver! And around the time the restructuring consultation began, I was approached by the local school of architecture to see if I’d be interested in studio tutoring 🙂 Of course!!!
6. The world wide General Conference #LDSconf was, in my humble opinion, absolutely sublime. I am steadily working my way through all the talks, starting with those given by the apostles. I can only suggest you listen to it – check it out on LDS.org or on YouTube. I don’t have a favourite but memorable messages for me are: am I Sad, Mad or Glad?; women in these last days; the need for humility.
7. Finally, the changing world. The past 10-12 weeks have seen human tragedies on an increasing scale of horrific-ness (i.e shootings, terrorism acts) plus natural incidents, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes. And then political incidents across the globe affecting whole countries and regions. For comfort in these difficult times, I gain comfort from the words of prophets reminding us Who wins in the end and I am striving to be on that team. Elder Dallin H Oaks reminded us of these words from 20 years ago in his talk at conference:
I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. If we will cling to our values, if we will build on our inheritance, if we will walk in obedience before the Lord, if we will simply live the gospel, we will be blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way. We will be looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness.
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 theblock 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 aredesigning.
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.
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 masterbuilder. 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 🙂
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.
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!!
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!
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 🙂