Articles from our Writers

Architecture Unplugged, by Steve Boyall

Book Review: Leading the Team, by Emma Sinha

Report on the RIBA Tough Times Student forum, by Luke Butcher

A Tale of Two Parishes, by Gordon O'Connor-Read

The Diversity of Adaptations, by Steven David Jones

Architecture Unplugged!

Steve Boyall

Article 25 Steve Boyall

By the time I reached the second year of my
degree, architecture was being presented to us as intimidating – Corbusier, Foster, Gaudi and Lloyd-Wright, historical and contemporary architectural luminaries who set seemingly impossible standards
to reach. Good architecture, we were told, was a combination of physical poetry and sublime beauty that spoke to the innermost sense of aesthetic society. However, the gulf between those ideals and the educational reality left me feeling detached and disenfranchised.

During this time I had also become interested in
humanitarian issues, and in particular how the built environment was linked with the process of Disaster Risk Reduction. An internet search revealed a number of companies and charities that employ architecture as means to managing and responding to the issues arising from disaster, but it was Article 25 that caught my attention. Their Student Chapter programme aims to raise awareness about the role of design in international development at a grass roots level.

August Article 25

Article 25 is an architectural aid relief charity

I contacted them, we discussed a few issues, and subsequently a new Student Chapter was born and a lecture was booked. The lecture was enlightening and moving, but the pivotal point for me was a slide that showed an image of a small wooden house where a father figure was seated, children played happily around him and some women sat at a sewing machine. This was an epiphany moment. In the context of disaster relief, this basic structure represented security, community, family, local industry and human spirit in the face of extreme adversity.

It was clear that this was not a long-term solution - at best it was a temporary structure that was one step up from a tent. Nevertheless, for me a light was turned on in my architectural understanding. There was no grandeur or deep meaningful concept; instead it was architecture stripped bare. At the same time, it was architecture at its best: responding to human need, providing a starting point from which to develop, but most importantly, this was architecture as a social process that recognises that the built environment is inherently part of human culture and development.

In a nutshell, this image caused me to change direction. I don’t know if I’ll go on to complete my Part 2, but I am working in the offices of Article 25 and in September I’m starting a Masters in Development and Emergency Practice at Oxford Brookes University. Companies like Article 25 are proving how important the role of design plays in development and disaster relief. And I fully intend to be a part of that process. 

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Leading the Team - An Architect’s Guide to Design Management, by Dale Sinclair

Emma SinhaEmma Sinha

Birmingham School of Architecture Part II

As the title suggests, this is a book dedicated to the management of the architectural design process. It is written by the architect Dale Sinclair, director of Dyer and chairman of the RIBA large practice group. His first-hand knowledge and experience in practice is apparent throughout the content of the book.

Sinclair states in the introduction that ‘this book analyses the issues architects have to deal with and then considers the most appropriate tools and techniques to manage the design process.’ The subject matter is important to architects in practice seeking to improve their design management skills as well as Part 3 students hoping to one day set up their own practice. Some architects may disregard this book as they may feel they already have the skills to manage the design process. But Sinclair raises the interesting point that the intuitive way used by designers to make their decisions does not reveal the complexity of the process.

August_Sinha

Leading the Team by Dale Sinclair 

The author’s aim is to establish at the outset the basis on which decisions are made, enabling the design process to become more transparent. This would allow assisting the client to understand the amount of work required in order to match their brief to a given site. Part 3 students will relate to the issue Sinclair raises about the intuitive method of working which has derived from the long formal education process. He talks about how this approach is not suited to the commercial environment as architects must articulate the status of their design. Management of risks need to be expressed at the early stages of the design process. This guide does exactly that in so far as it provides the tools and techniques to monitor the development of a project and deal with any issues that may arise.

Like the subject matter, the layout of the book is concise and very well organised. The book has become almost a management bible with a clear simple layout. Sinclair has broken the information down into easy-to-read chapters, each one concluding with a short summary of memorable information. The design programme aims to work simultaneously with the RIBA plan of work assisting projects to be on time, in budget and of a high quality standard.

Sinclair ends the book with a chapter on ‘soft skills’ such as communication and delegation. All of which seem like obvious points but it is not until you read this book that you can pick flaws in your own method of working and see how project management could be greatly improved. This book is certainly not a book for the library shelf; it is one for the desk to be used in day-to-day practice.

Leading the Team is available from the RIBA Bookshops.

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‘Tough Times’ Student Forum

LukeButcherLuke Butcher

Part 2 Manchester School of Architecture

The RIBA's 'Tough Times' student forum, held at its Portland Place Headquarters in London on 21 June 2011, was an attempt to
gather the opinion of students about the issues they are currently facing. 26 students attended the event, representing architecture schools from across the country, and although not every school
was represented 6 main themes (highlighted by the post-event report prepared by Laura Broderick, Special Projects
Co-ordinator, RIBA) were common concerns: finding a job, the
cost of course related materials, relationship between practice
and academia, low salaries, high tuition fees, and employability
skills. Also present were 6 external speakers: the RIBA President Ruth Reed, President Elect Angela Brady, RIBA student reps, the chair of Archaos and journalists from both The Architect’s Journal and Building Design.

Niall McLaughlin, Principal of Niall McLaughlin Architects and a visiting professor at UCL, chaired the forum and began with his own personal story – his father, a chartered accountant, discouraged him from a career in architecture as he believed that as a profession it was low-paid, 'weak' and struggled to define what it does and the value it adds. Now running his own successful practice, Niall sees architects as 'synthesisers' and that this is their unique selling point. He also drew on his experience in academia, referring to the acronym 'PTT' ('Portfolio That Thick!') with students under pressure to produce copious amounts of work and that there was a gap in expectations between graduates – who want experience on site – and practices – who want 'CAD monkeys' or ready-made technicians.

Following the introduction, Laura Broderick and Joanna Parry, RIBA Professional Education Manager, gave a presentation on recent RIBA initiatives designed to further understand and improve students professional experience: RIBA Student Destinations Survey, 'Part of the Picture' case study project, and changes to practical experience rules. Of particular interest is the new RIBA Appointments project called 'Part of the Picture' that attempts to demonstrate graduate value. The case studies show a sample of architectural assistants working in practice today. They highlight the contribution that young professionals make to the successful delivery of architectural projects, small and large.

A panel discussion about the culture of architectural practice brought together Dale Sinclair, Dr Rachel Smart and Chris Hildrey. After an opportunity for each panellist to share his/her perspective on the culture of architectural practice discussions moved onto the importance of BIM. Sinclair, an architect with the global architectural firm Dyer and chair of RIBA Large Practice Group, told students that 'We know you can design but how are you going to deliver?' He said that students need to understand processes more and that BIM begins to question the status of the architect. Dr Rachel Smart, a management consultant educated as a designer, said that students 'need to show initiative' and to 'open [their] minds to what it means to be a professional architect'. Agreeing with Dale Sinclair, she stressed the importance of understanding the architectural process and that students shouldn't 'wait until Part 3' to start doing this. She added that 'Architects are problem solvers' and students should 'use [their] design skills to tackle business and processes'. Students should also show an awareness of contract administration and management because architecture is a 'synergy' of design and excellence in business. Chris Hildrey, a post Part 2 Architectural Assistant at Jestico + Whiles who is currently undertaking a piece of post-grad research at the Bartlett tracing the causes of unpaid overtime within architecture, spoke about the deficit of the cost of producing architecture and its value to/on the market. He said that as technology and systems advance different services are split apart, shrinking the remit of architects. In the past, fees covered these 'other things' (an architect would 'make back' lost fee from the value-added process at the beginning of projects through drawing production information), but now architects are 'just left with design'. In Chris's opinion we now have 'architects of systems', with a focus on the construction side of the process and how can we design these systems. He closed by saying that the education system currently allows you to leave and become a 'designer' or become an 'architect'.

The next session was focused on policy, pay and conditions, with Ruth Reed giving a presentation that aimed to provide attendees with a better understanding of the national policy context; hear what is happening at a government level with internships and student fees, and what the RIBA is saying to decision-makers. Ruth Reed explained that it now costs more to become an architect than any other profession and that the profession needs to try and remove the 'self-imposed' costs of the education system (models, presentation, 'free work', etc). This would require change within the profession, especially with regards to internships. She felt that for the profession and designers 'creative thinking is our big export' but that 'architects [in the UK] have consistently undersold themselves'. She also spoke about a need to 'rethink our obsession with vocational education'. Advocating BIM, she said that it 'leads to an integrated team working together much earlier on in the design process' and that this is a 'complete game-changer' for projects/architectural practice. It was during this presentation that she also voiced that apparently there is an opinion in the UK government (through conversations with civil servants) that ‘there are too many architects’. Ruth Reed explained that this was a very short sighted view as whilst there may be a surplus at present, as the economy recovers demand for their services increases. These comments were reported the following day in The Architect’s Journal by Merlin Fulcher, at the expense of other discussions that had been taking place at the forum.

Led by Joanna Scott, RIBA Education Projects Co-ordinator, and Zohra Chiheb and Pol Gallagher from ZAP Architecture, students then took part in table discussions about ways to reduce costs in architecture education. Topics included: model-making, printing, study trips, part-time work, portfolios and presentations. Students fed back ideas to the rest of the forum. ZAP, architectural design partnership led by Chiheb and Pol, are currently working on the ‘Pavilion of Protest’ project to uncover and share how architecture students feel about the cost of their studies.

Professor David Gloster, Director of Education at the RIBA, gave the last presentation, emphasising the importance and benefits of an architectural education, speaking about initiatives, such as Polyark, that are designed to bring various schools of architecture together to work collaboratively. He also spoke about how design isn't just spatial and formal but it is everything needed to go from a hole in the ground to a building (doors, specifications, contracts, etc). Students, in his opinion, need to be 'thinking politically and acting architecturally' and there is a need for a forum for 'a call to ideas to empower ideas'. At this point the discussion was opened up to the floor and there was some debate amongst the audience about possible ways forward to 'empower students'. Caine Crawford, Chair of Archaos, spoke of Archaos’ successes but also the difficulties it had faced in recent years. The two RIBA student reps felt that they were in the best position to directly interact with the RIBA although there was concern about why this wasn’t happening at present and whether just two students could be representative of such a large student body. The Architecture Students Assembly that had taken place in Manchester the day before (20 June) was also raised.

The forum was closed with a brief statement from the chair and some closing comments from others who had attended the event. There was a sense that the architectural community needs to work more closely together to support students during these ‘tough times’ but also, as James Benedict Brown put it in his piece in Building Design about the forum, 'that students want a national student body with a wider membership; perhaps somewhere between the alluring summer school of the EASA in Europe and the well-funded political campaigning of the AIAS in America'. The RIBA Education team, following the event, has said that they will support any future initiatives and will look into the scope for the RIBA to establish an e-platform for students to communicate/debate issues with each other and the institute. Following the event in Manchester and the RIBA-instigated forum, we could be witnessing the beginning of a new framework that will provide students with a platform to raise concerns, voice their opinions and take action.

You can follow Luke at www.luke-butcher.com and http://blog.luke-butcher.com 

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A Tale of Two Parishes

GordonOConnor-ReadGordon O'Connor-Read

Part II student, Bartlett School of Architecture

The advent of summer invariably ushers in a fortnight of Mediterranean bliss, with many Londoners seizing the opportunity
to maraud about town in tourist-like fashion. However, if they
were to forego the usual trappings, they might stumble across
the former residence to Casanova's own mistress.

Within the tightly clustered surroundings of Soho Square, now stands the small Roman Catholic parish of St. Patrick, whose
origins were preceded by Carlisle House. Segments of that music hall were morphed into the design of St.Patrick's by Kelly &
Birchall in 1893, but the transformation from a place of
decadence to worship could only occur in such a transient city as
London. Its modest red brick exterior is complimented by a Romanesque porch, which only serves to mask the stunning Italianate interior that has been painstakingly restored over a 14-month period by Castanon Architects.

courtesy St Patricks Church

St Patrick's Church, Soho

Situated in the heart of the Soho quarter, an area once depicted infamously by Hogarth for its depravity and squalor, projects such as this begin to re-address the often-turbulent relationship between the city and religious devotion. What’s more, the completion of St.Patrick’s has coincided with a much lengthier restoration scheme at St. Paul's Cathedral, whose scaffolds have finally been removed after 15 years and an investment of £40 million.

The gruelling task of removing 300 years of pollution and soot from the Portland stone along the famous two-tier west elevation is now fully complete. Other significant conservation works included the grand organ, as well as a redesign of the south churchyard gardens, but it was the discipline required to bring back to life the vast array of mosaics, capital carvings, and the assortment of figure sculptures that is truly daunting.

These projects kindly remind us of an inexplicable imprint of ecclesiastical sites that can be found across large sways of London. More importantly, it begs the question as to whether these feats of architectural craft have become subservient to a largely secular British society.

These parishes do take on an active role within their own catchment area, with many outreach programmes such as alcohol and drugs counselling. Yet, the very physicality of their church and cathedral can often be overlooked due to the contested morality of the doctrine they preach.

In the case of St.Patrick's, a series of symbolic gestures have been inscribed into the building's fabric, both internally to the congregation and externally to those who pass by, such as their SOS telephone service that is housed within the bell-tower, in order to bridge the divide between prayer and practice. These sites of consecration may differ both in their physical scale and doctrine, but within a growing secular society the preservation of listed churches and cathedrals take on a more poignant role.

Looking beyond the confines of ecclesiastical worship, it’s necessary to register that these buildings are an extension of the charitable contribution made and that such craftsmanship is able to inspire and remain relevant, whether it is part of your vocation or not. 

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The Diversity of Adaptations

Steven David Jones
Oxford Brookes, Part II

StevenDavidJonesI relived my past by taking the walk home through the houses of my home town. It was quiet, very peaceful, no birds tweeted, and no cars honked. The hubbub of the working day was filled with the silence of the night.

I must have taken this journey numerous times without being fully appreciative of the buildings that lined the streets. It amazed me to see the vast array of adaptations of one shell type. Along the road there are several types of houses, from individual detached houses to the few that were built at the same time. As people’s needs change through their lives, the need to change the environment to enhance this development coincides.

Each of the houses now had its own character. Over the years, the owners extended and altered to suit their needs, giving these homes a varied presence: garages became dining rooms, attics welcomed bedrooms, porches and dormers have been added, and of course the en-suite bathroom became a compulsory luxury.

Kevin McCloudsTrinagle courtesy of Glenn Howells Architects

The Diversity of Adaptations, Kevin McCloud’s Triangle, courtesy of Glenn Howells Architects

These adaptations add a certain charm to the individual buildings, making them unique adding to the vibrancy and character of the street. As I walked along the road I started to think about the current examples of housing. Would current projects such as Kevin McCloud’s housing schemes allow for the same sort of vibrancy in the urban realm through its life time?

The houses do come from different economic eras, and technology and needs for housing have changed. However, the ‘mise-en-scene’ and the character of my journey home is created from the years of adaptation. The rigidity of projects such as McCloud’s and other social and domestic schemes for me don’t have the same ability for people to stamp or alter the appearance of their homes, other than paint and curtains.

Has the time for the adaptable and extendable home gone, making way for the 'standard kit' homes that serve its residents for a period of time, before they upgrade to the bigger model?

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Any views or opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the RIBA.