The waiting game…

Dear friends

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!

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Palmyra lost

Dear friends

I’m sorry to read today – BBC news article – about the destruction of the temple at Palmyra, Syria. It seems insane, to me, that historical buildings and art work should become targets. But I suppose that is part of any ideological war.

I’m working on qualifying as a conservation architect and I love the care that can be found in older artefacts. This summer we visited a Gothic church (or two!) in France – those vaulted ceilings are an inspiration. 

Why did they build like that?

One of our dear children asked me.  To glorify God, I explained – they were building the best for God. 

Those buildings, constructed following a simple belief system of worshiping Deity, are marvels in whatever culture, because of the belief of those that caused them to be built.  I’m sure there were some unrighteous happenings during their construction – slave labour, exploitation, corruption – and there was death and injury.  For those reasons too we should never forget – that construction may be their only legacy.  I find when visiting such historical places that my mind reflects on the people of that time.  My spirit is touched by their lives.

So I’m grateful for those that work hard to record buildings, edifices, so we can visit, reflect and grow. 

work – an American and engineers…

Dear friends

We’re on project manager number 5 on a new school project in about 3 months and we’re only at feasibility stage!! Don’t ask!  I feel the project is already doomed  – it doesn’t help that the client has not confirmed adequate funding. This PM is new to the business and is American – his Mum is British. I asked what brought him to the UK – I think it’s not impolite enough to ask when someone says they’re from Manhattan!!  His accent is slight, in a Davy Jones of The Monkees sort of way, so I didn’t ask straight away.  And he’s had some architectural training and seemed familiar with a traditional building procurement process 🙂 that’s refreshing because he may have some appreciation for our discipline rather than tip toeing around us like we’re going to get upset and all passionate about our designs!! Like that ever happens…

I was getting exasperated with the structural engineers.  When I arrived into work yesterday (after outnumbered day 10), I found 4 or 5 drawings for a reinforced concrete foundation and a steel frame for me with a note from the technician – for coordination and comment.  Today, they (their team leader) were already (email) chasing me because the contract administrator was chasing them – the drawings were due to be issued 2 days ago.  So, I red penned their drawings, signed and dated, and emailed their leader back stating – the columns clash with manholes.  Fortunately the technician still speaks with me and came over to discuss the red pen notes, finally saying, oh [leader] said it was much worse!!  Red pen, gets them every time!!! 😉

Give me building services engineers any time 🙂 – that’s the mechanical, drainage and electrical engineers – always so accommodating – of course, Mrs Architect, you can have a large, circular hole in the middle of that floor if you want it, simply give me a decent sized plant room!!  I know structures are keeping the building standing up but they’re always so inflexible – Mrs Architect, allow for 205mm columns on a 4m perpendicular grid with a structural roof zone of 500mm and you should be OK. You mean, you should be OK! And then, they have notes on drawings – like waterproofing to architect’s details – without telling you! So, I guess on the positive side, it’s good that I’ve been given the chance to review their drawings before they’re issued to the contractor.

As for our new PM, I simply hope he lasts longer than the other PMs and he’s met the client now, so if he departs questions will be asked.

corporate v creative

Dear friends, it’s a sunny afternoon as I look out over the Square with a lone skateboarder, me munching a beautiful, crunchy apple. A rest break, is the word for this in the staff survey! There’s some glitch with my email (I can see them stacking up in the outbox)… and there goes a mobile phone not on silent.

We are in an open plan office, everyone, from the operations director to the apprentice.  This is about the work station that I’ve sat in.  I am a senior architect, which means I have a small team to manage, 2 assistants & 1 architect; we are part of a larger team consisting of 16 (with landscape, interiors and health & safety); and then we are all part of one bigger international multi disciplinary practice with about 100 staff in our office.  So, when I say we had a ‘staff strategic brief’ this morning, maybe you can imagine the way it goes and the words used.  Corporate v Creative – that’s how it often feels.  But I have worked on some great projects and one of the reasons I wanted to be an architect was to improve the built environment, particularly for those most vulnerable who rely on public sector commissions for homes & education.  Since the practice is in partnership with the local authority, for the most part, I am living my dream job.  I know many people don’t have that chance, and I didn’t for 15years or so. So I am very grateful to our Father in Heaven for this job, that it’s close to home and gives the flexibility I need with our family.  🙂