Page 1

Where to next? My own baby of a project

Number of good things happening at the moment. I am working on a project for a property at number 3 Grange Grove. Been preparing the options and meeting with the clients. Was particularly interesting to meet with the clients and discuss the proposal in situ. There have been 3 client meetings so far. The first was more or less an introduction. At the second I had prepared 4 principal options for the ground and first floor plan. This was one of the first times I had had complete reign of the design pretty much. In this second meeting I prepared a sketch up model as well as the plan drawings. Something I take for granted is the ability to understand architectural drawings, but incredibly half our clients have quite a lot of difficulty in this respect. That said seeing something imagined in 3 dimensions is often much more telling than the plans/ sections. What is also very prominent in client meetings is the way they use us not exclusively for our design skills, but more as an agent to deal with the powers that be. Anyone who wants to undertake a building project is immediately confronted with an alien world of planners, conservation officers, building control, party wall certificates and so on and so forth, let alone the task of designing the optimum building for their needs within the parameters of what is always a ‘tight’ budget. Much of the conversation with the clients at Grange Grove is about how how we want to deal with the planning application for a dormer on the rear pitch of their roof, and related issues. This is especially tricky in the conservation area, and so we are going to do something we don’t normally do and give the task of submitting the application to a third party expert in these matters. At the end of last week I emailed the clients for Grange Grove with the latest scheme. I had prepared the drawings with a very short bit of discussion with Jonny. I’d taken the time one day to prepare a sketch of an interior view which I believe stopped the dismissal of one of the options I was proposing. Felt good because apparently it was ‘persuasive’. We’ll see what the clients come back to us with.

Richard, one of the main people I normally help out, has taken some annual leave. In his absence I have been talking to the party wall and the structural engineer. The position of the party wall was determined by the party wall surveyor on site. We had a CPD on party wall awards the other day which was actually really interesting! There are a lot more possibilities than you might expect. I find it surprising that we don’t get the deeds for the house to look at when we start a project, as this seems to be the only surefire crystal clear way of determining where the boundary lies, and what is a party wall, and what’s not. The surveyor told us some horror stories about architects who’d built foundations a couple of 100mm over a boundary line and then had to take the whole lot down and so on, so it’s important to get it right. 95% of the time of course the boundary goes smack bang down the middle of the wall. At Kelross road however there was a bit of toing and froing over a few centimeters because the chimney stacks aren’t central to the dividing wall, and when on site , you can see that there is a fence post also off centre from the dividing brick pier. Therefore I have annotated up some plans and elevations with some completely unambiguous annotations and dimensions, and these have been sent to the party wall surveyor. I am surprised that we are not negotiating with the neighbour to make a new part wall for the infill extension. Richard thinks they are so unhappy about the scheme there is no way they’ll agree to anything. Ultimately though, they’d be cutting off their nose to spite their face. Even though they aren’t happy about the work we’re doing, they have more future control over any future extensions they might want to make if it’s a party wall. And we both get 150mm more width!


Options for Grange Grove

CHILDREN'S STORE

CHILDREN'S STORE

WALL MOUNTED TV

CHILDREN'S STORE

CHILDREN'S STORE

INFORMAL LIVING ROOM

DINING FORMAL LIVING ROOM

4675

4675

2755

INFORMAL LIVING ROOM

OPEN PLAN LIVING

CLOAK / STORE DRESSER

STORE

STACKED WASH/DRY

W/C UTILITY

OPEN PLAN LIVING

B

W/C

B

STORE

B

B

GROUND FLOOR PLAN OPTION 1

GROUND FLOOR PLAN OPTION 2

SHOWER

DRESSING ROOM BEDROOM MASTER

MASTER EN SUITE

BEDROOM MASTER

MASTER EN SUITE

STUDY

830

830

SHOWER

STUDY rev. B

B

date

description

revised by

rev. B

revisions

B

PLANNING

date

description

revisions

drawing title

stage

drawing title

stage

PLANNING

PROPOSED GROUND AND FIRST FLOOR PLAN

PROPOSED GROU

Do not scale from this drawing. This drawing is copyright

FIRST FLOOR PLAN OPTION 1

Do not sc

FIRST FLOOR PLAN OPTION 2

Islington Green Studios 81-83 Essex Road T +44 (0)20 7288 1333 E mail@lparchitects.co.uk Islington F +44 (0)20 7288 0333 W www.lparchitects.co.uk London N1 2SF client

Miles and Sarah McCarthy

Islington G 81-83 Ess Islington London N client

project

3 Grange Grove London

Miles a McCar

N1 2NP scale

date issued

drawn by

1:50 @ A1 2012.03.19 BC 1:100 @ A3

drawing no

279.(2).1.001

revision

SHELVING / WINE STORE

CHILDREN'S STORE

WALL MOUNTED TV

drawn by

drawing n

1:50 @ A1 2012.03.19 BC 1:100 @ A3

CHILDREN'S STORE BENCH WITH STORGE BELOW

date issued

scale

--

279.(2

CHILDREN'S STORE

WALL MOUNTED TV

CHILDREN'S STORE

INFORMAL LIVING ROOM

OPEN PLAN LIVING

INFORMAL LIVING ROOM

FORMAL LIVING ROOM

FORMAL LIVING ROOM

4675

4675

OPEN PLAN KITCHEN / DINING

BOILER

CLOAK / STORE

CLOAK / STORE

STORE

WASHER

DRYER

260 STEP

UTILITY / STORE W/C

W/C B

BOILER

STACKED WASH/DRY

B

PRAM FOLDED 380 X 490 X 1080

B

CLOTHES AIR DRYING RACK

B

GROUND FLOOR PLAN OPTION 4

GROUND FLOOR PLAN OPTION 3

SHOWER

MASTER EN SUITE

STUDY

BEDROOM MASTER

830

BATHROOM

830

BEDROOM MASTER

STUDY rev.

B

B

date

description

rev.

revised by

date

description

revisions

revisions

B

B

drawing title

stage

PLANNING

drawing title

stage

PLANNING

PROPOSED GROUND AND FIRST FLOOR PLAN

PROPOSE

Do not scale from this drawing. This drawing is copyright

FIRST FLOOR PLAN OPTION 3

Islington Green Studios 81-83 Essex Road T +44 (0)20 7288 1333 E mail@lparchitects.co.uk Islington F +44 (0)20 7288 0333 W www.lparchitects.co.uk London N1 2SF client

Miles and Sarah McCarthy

FIRST FLOOR PLAN OPTION 2

project

3 Grange Grove London N1 2NP

scale

date issued

drawn by

1:50 @ A1 2012.03.19 BC 1:100 @ A3

drawing no

279.(2).1.001

revision

--

An example of a few of the options I prepared for the clients, for the small project of my own almost.

scale

date issued

drawn by

1:50 @ A1 2012.03.19 BC 1:100 @ A3


Tumult and torment

There has been a bit of tumult in the office recently. Rhodri has decided to leave. I asked him why he was leaving and he said it was because he didn’t enjoy working with the type of clients we have. Due to the type of work we do, all the architects have about 5 projects on site, all at different stages, which is actually in a way much more difficult than working on just one big projects. We had a seminar about CDM management, and the comment was made that in fact, it’s only the small projects where things actually go wrong. If you are a practice that works on just one big project, then everything is planned down to a tee. However in my experience there are a thousand small things which constantly hold up the small projects and go wrong. For example the other day I was dealing with a call from site where the neighbour had complained that the rear extension had been built too high. I had to look at our planning drawings, and our construction drawings, compare what had been built with what we had permission for, and sent the contractor a setting out dimension. In this case what had been constructed was accurate, but this is by no means the first problem of this type we have had. A similar thing happened on a different project on “Aberdeen road”, and this did result in major difficulties. Another example of the type of hold up which just doesn’t occur on large scale projects was on the project I was working on at Kelross Road. We needed to get the trial pits done so that the engineer could come in and inspect them. However one of these needed to be done in the place of the existing kitchen units. These kitchen units however were new and were going to be re-sold, and there was a long delay while we waited for a third party to come in and sort out the kitchen units. These are the kind of problems which only happen at this scale, and which are also particular to work within existing buildings.

I’d like to talk about another incident which typifies our relationship with the planners. and the kind of problems we seem to encounter that adding to existing buildings brings. The project is number 1 Wallace Road which I have been producing some of the detailed information for. There was a dispute with the planner about the amount of distance we are allowed to extend out to under permitted development. As a detached house you are allowed to come out by 4 metres, and only 3 metres as a semi detached. Now you’d have thought that the issue of whether a house is detached or semi detached is relatively clear cut. Not so. The house at Wallace Road is seemingly detached. It shares no party wall with its neighbour. There is airspace between the two properties. At the front however there is a single skin brick wall which connects the two properties. The project architect at the time came had an informal conversation with the planner about whether it still qualified as a detached and the conclusion they reached at that time was that indeed it did. The project carried on over a few months and we tendered for this 4 metre extension, and lo and behold the planner came back saying that we couldn’t do that under permitted development because it was in fact being considered a semi detached house. We are now at a stage where the entire project is being delayed until this gets resolved, and it looks like we will have to resort to professional specialised legal help.

A plan of what you would think was most definitely a detchaed house!


“Run of the mill” ?

Naturally I am on our side of this argument but it seems to me to be that the planners are being unreasonable, and also that this is indicative of the role they play in a planning system which is fundamentally reactive as opposed to proactive. The project architect for this scheme is about ready to strangle the planner responsible for this. He has gone against the original informal advice. He let us know about this weeks and weeks too late. When we got back to him with points about the fact that they share no common party wall and so on it took him two weeks to respond again and he ignored the points we made. Surely the purpose of the planning dept isn’t to make life as difficult for architects as humanly possible? In a good system they would provide positive direction at a strategic level, whereas when we deal with Islington they seem incapable of moving beyond bureaucracy. We are talking about 1 metre on this extension, and for them the qualitative aspect of how we are aiming to improve the dwelling is of absolutely no importance compared with the rules, the enforcement of which appears to have become an end in itself. Rhodri’s comments about our clients has also brought to the fore some extremely pertinent issues which very much are ignored in architecture school. Namely that you can’t have good buildings, without good clients. The buildings we design are completely determined by the clients we have. At Lipton Plant, they fall largely into two categories. There is the private residential homeowner client, and the landlord/ developer client. The bigger schemes which we have done as a practice, such as Embassy Lodge, a block of flats in Islington, have been for a landlord client. By their very nature this produces a certain level of spec within the dwellings. The considerations become about unit sizes and how rentable they become. The considerations for the private clients are considerably more bespoke. We definitely have a sort of formulaic house style.

One of the directors even came out with the phrase “run of the mill Lipton Plant project” when describing the scheme he was about to assign to someone. It seems that a lot of our private clients know what they want and we all know what that is. They do design themselves to an extent.

Images of Ufton Road. Is this our “run of the mill” Lipton Plant project?


Incomplete conclusions

So in all this I am left to conclude that despite what we may believe in architecture school, it takes a hell of a lot more than an obsession with design to actually realise a decent project. Why is the world so ugly and the quality of the built environment in general so poor since the advent of modernity? Is it because there is a shortage of designers willing to stay up all night sweating about the aesthetic and artistic value of their projects? Absolutely not. There are too many architects, and they are being laid off in their droves at the moment in the bigger practices. There is a shortage of people who can actually pay for design. Design is an add on which can be sort of quantified depending on the budget. There doesn’t seem to be anything intrinsic about it in the way buildings are procured currently. Buildings just get built, and there seems to be a certain amount of “design” that either gets value engineered out, or (rarely ) doesn’t. To back up this quantitative aspect to design point I will talk about what regularly happens within our private projects, which is that we design what we would ideally like to happen with the project. This inevitably involves a fair amount of bespoke joinery all over the place. The bathroom spec is normally very high. We always put expensive hardwood flooring down at this stage. We also seem to put in more glass internally. Then we get the cost plan back from the quantity surveyor and we inevitably omit loads of these aspects when the cost plan comes back too high. This raises a number of questions for me... I do seem to constantly struggle with the reason that other people do increasingly specialised jobs that we might as well get paid to do. A raft of these jobs. The guys who do the survey drawings and take (bad) photos of the properties, the quantity surveyors, the developers, the kitchen designers, lighting people, and so on. How have these specialised roles come in to take up our territory!?

The double whammy here is that our role has become inside a slight vacuum. When I am drawing, I do feel like those lines are drawn in isolation, and are not properly considered in the context of cost or time. This also means that we have to contend with information and deadlines from various parties that are involved with the project, and not just the regular people who need information from us such as client’s, planners and contractors.

A sketch for the project I am woring on most independantly - Grange Grove. To what extent can this project be realised with the ambition portrayed in initial sketched? I am not sure amongst the contingency of practice, what level of continuity the end result will have with this.


Final part of the blog

Another thing that makes me surprised constantly is the pace of change within a functioning practice. People lives are undeniably happening at a frightening rate all around me. One of the directors has just had another child, and has been on paternity leave for a while. Another guy has got married. People are handing in their notice, and others are just turning up. I myself fit into a relatively temporary time scale within that of the practice. I am coming to the end of the scope of my stay which will be covered by this blog. I hope that in my remaining few months I will get a bit more of a grip on site work, and more of an understanding of contractual aspects to a project. For now though, the conclusions I have reached about the way the world of practice works... The word contingency is hugely important. The design and construction of a building is dependant on so many different and contradictory external factors, it is actually remarkable anything ever gets built at all frankly, but quite apart from that, I have developed a much clearer idea of architecture in the “real world” as more a series of processes and resolution of different interests, than the concrete artefacts that buildings seem to be considered as in the academic world, starting with this canonical tradition we are introduced to in first year, through to the highly individualistic final year project.

Another key idea that I have come acoss: Money! Buildings need to be paid for in one way or another. This gets somewhat skimmed over at unviersity up until this stage. I’m not trying to say here that in practice, architecture becomes a cynical money making exercise, and that the various parties are only interested in profit. Far from it. What I am trying to say is that the construction of our built environment is tied to the economic sphere at an incredibly intimate level. Of course it is. To the extent I’d possibly argue that the study of architecture divorced from its economic context (and political one) is largely meaningless. This is one of the reasons I thought that the project initiation module was an especially interesting exercise in fact. My understanding of how architecture is produced has become much more about the relationship of the design process to this economic sphere. The contractual nature of agreements between the parties involved is key. Liability is a massive issue and we always want to know the guarantees on various products we specify. Who is going to be liable for what if a certain part of the project gets delayed is a crucial consideration. And so I’m facing my final few months with quite a different perspective on architectural practice to the one I had when I went in. The creation of buildings is a complicated economic, social and political act, and one which takes much much more than the guiding hand of the single architect. The days of the utopian post war schemes where the world looked to architects for a level of idealism are long long gone. We are now going through a recession which as always is hitting the building industry very hard. To an extent the role of the architect almost seems dispensable. It is from within this context that I am approaching the future. Starting with the difficulty I found this position in the first place, and now continuing with the daily workings of keeping the practice afloat, I am getting used to this completely different understanding of the way the world works.

ben_clark_blog_entry_5  

ben_clark_blog_entry_5

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you