Mayflower 400

Dear friends

Growing up in Southampton means that you know about at least two famous historical ships – the Titanic and the Mayflower. And this year is 400 years since the Mayflower sailed from this port town.

The thing that impressed me most about hearing the story of the Mayflower is that it’s about a group of people that fled religious persecution. It’s essentially the story of a group of people who wanted to live and worship differently than the dominant religion at the time and were being persecuted for that. They gathered together, got a ship (the Speedwell), and sailed from Holland to Southampton where they met the Mayflower ship, which had set out from Rotherhithe, London. The Mayflower was carrying 102 passengers who wanted to build a new life, in peace, across the Atlantic Sea. Half of those passengers died within the first year in their new home (mainly from disease having arrived in November 1620). But essentially they were colonisers, settling where other people already lived. That always seems to end in pain for those who lose their land for no other reason than someone else wants to live there! This website gives a great in sight into the full story of the event and it’s position in terms of native Americans and the colonisers: https://www.mayflower400uk.org/education/the-mayflower-story/.

So, these past several months one of my work projects has been conservation work to the Pilgrim Father’s Memorial (aka Mayflower Memorial) here in my hometown, originally constructed 1913. As it is literally a 5 minute walk from my former primary school, I can’t tell you how many times, over 40 years ago, I saw the memorial and heard the story of the Pilgrim Fathers.

The commemoration weekend here is in 2 weeks – 15 August 2020. Despite knowing about the commemoration date for the last, well, hundreds of years, the Culture team were a little slow to get going on the conservation work and had to be rescued (financially) by the Property team. An exemption request submitted to Procurement was eventually approved and a specialist main contractor was appointed in February. However with stone to be sourced and carved, completion of the works for the commemoration weekend was always ambitious. And then, the pandemic was declared!

The first half of the contract took place in the stonemasons yard with lots of photographs being sent showing the stonework progression. I really wanted to go to the mason’s yard so was rather disappointed that the pandemic meant this was too high a risk to take, especially with 5 of us at home, since the yard was in another town.

However, with site works commencing in May, I was finally able to visit site and hold external site meetings, rather than conference calls. And this past week, with copper Mayflower ship back atop facing West, the upper layer of scaffolding came down to reveal the refreshed mosaic dome, renewed stone work and, at night, a beacon light shining out from it’s quirky Art Nouveau/ Arts & Crafts style fire basket metalwork. The memorial isn’t the tallest of columns, about 15 metres or 50 foot. And it’s location means that most people in town probably will never see it, unless they make an effort.

But it is a story, an event that happened, 400 years ago and, like with any real event, it shouldn’t be forgotten.

I am descended from people who, not wilfully, were transported across the Atlantic Sea from the African continent to work and effectively colonise islands of the sea. Many of them died within months of arrival, from disease, from hard labour, from abuse, from broken hearts. Though there is no specific monument with their specific name that I can definitely say they are my descendants, I still feel proud that somewhere in my family history, I am descended from survivors.

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!

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.  🙂