August 2021 updates

Monthly updates

August 2021

PROJECTS:
– Site works proceeding for Wapping conversion
– Submitted competition concept design for a community centre in Sierra Leone

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Summer news – Newsletter #13

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Welcome to the first post linked to the newsletter!

August is about to end and the latest news have been just too much to be popped with a light heart into our readers’ mailboxes so we preferred to dedicate an article to them and see how it goes.

 

Timber shortage

Over the last weeks there has been much ado about shortage of building materials.

We have all heard that timber is scarce, construction sites are slowing down, builders are busy (more than usual diring this season) and delays are piling up in many cases.

The BBC published an article about shortage of timber due to “unprecedent post-lockdown demand”, reminding us that the UK imports about 80% of this material.

Speaking with some of our joiners to understand what is actually going on, besides what the media say, we heard that the supply is more difficult and we have also been told that it is mostly for logistic delays: confirming orders, loading lorries, checking warehouses…

Potentially a side effect of the track-&-trace Ping-demic which has recently brought many people to self isolate across all the industries, effecting the distribution chain.

For sure the demand of timber has grown, and it looks like some supply problems started at the source.

What to do?

Timber remains a basic and precious construction material and trees take many years before being ready to be processed.

Also, extensive mono-colture of trees impacts the biodiversity of the area so it is absolutely important, in this age, to ensure the balance is respected.

We know there are possible alternatives to timber, all it takes is a change of how we look at the construction process, so we can leave more trees fulfilling their carbon-sequestering duty.

One short term solution is to upcycle timber for non-structural use, reducing the amount of new materials to be purchased.

Also, instead of timber, some works can be done using derivates or by-products.

A mid and long term solution could be the implementation of bamboo cross laminates for structural and non structural uses.

With bonus points such as a fast growth rate, retention of soil, reduction of landslides, additional absorption of rainwater, bamboo is a great candidate to become the next (or re-discovered) building material.

The specs of bamboo composites are consistent and they can be certified for construction.

Hot heat

This brings us to the second topic, literally hot.

Data associated to wheather phenomena such as heat waves, floods and fires, have been recorded around the world this summer and gathered in a model which confirms these extraordinary events can happen the way they happened because the climate change is here, now.

In case any one had any doubt.

This means more frequent and hotter heatwaves, more frequent floods, less and less “good seasons”.

If you want to read the report post from the IPCC click here.
For a more journalistic reading, the Guardian has published their take here.

What is this having to do with Architecture, I hear you asking?

The construction industry plays a role in how the climate is changing and it’s up to each one of us to take wise decisions.

A politician, a developer, a school teacher, a farmer, a postman, your neighbour, yourself, me…
What we do today we do it to our kids.

And over the last 5 years much has been said about people re-thinking parenthood for reasons related to what the world will be like in the short future.

(Guardian 2017, BBC 2019, CNBC 2021)

We renew our commitment to deliver sustainble design for a brighter future, and ask you to commit too, understanding the importance of every single choice.

 

Beauty, after the beast.

After the umpteenth rant about the beast subject of climate and future, let’s downscale to something more “mundane”.

Back in August 2020 the government outlined the “Planning for the Future” document, followed by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick creating the “Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission” (link).

The purpose of this is, in a nutshell, to regenerate places, create better communities and basically say no to ugliness, for every scale of development.

This would also require to help Planning Authorities decide providing guidelines and assistance where required.

But…..

A recent study, published last month by the Place Alliance in response of a recent relaunch of the Government’s “beauty agenda”, found that 75% of planning authorities have no access to architectural advice and it could take 50 years before this is fixed having at least one urban design officer for each LPA  (read more here).

So trust your favourite Architects’ advice to be ahead in the beautification game.

Open Studios (again)

In case you happen to be in London and didn’t get the news…
 
The third weekend of September, Saturday 18 & Sunday 19, the doors of our studio will be open to visitors and in the afternoon we will host talks and a mini networking event.
 
 
Due to limited space, it is much better if you grab a (free) ticket on Eventbrite here.
 
 
And, oh, there will be another hundred artists around us opening their doors.
See you there!
 
 

In the meantime, if you have a project to talk about (or any other question),
you can contact us and book a free consultation.

It’s as simple as clicking on this link and book your call back at your convenience.

See you at the open studios!

July 2021 updates

Monthly updates

July 2021

PROJECTS:
– Site works proceeding for Wapping conversion
– Finalising tender process for New Cross’s retrofit and extension
– Submitted extension and loft for a locally Listed Building for planning consideration

WEBSITE:
– Open Studios Programme drafted

OFFICE:
– New team pictures shooting

June 2021 updates

Monthly updates

June 2021

PROJECTS:
– Site works proceeding for Wapping conversion
– Received approval for a 5 flats development in Bromley
– Received approval for Bromley Common’s double storey extension
– Submitted 2 driveway applications, in Richmond and in Lambeth
– Submitted loft conversion for an edwardian house in conservation area in Brent

WEBSITE:
– Updated Services and Team page, introduced Careers page (work in progress).

OFFICE:
– Tholos Architects have acquired the prestigious status of RIBA Chartered Practice,
in addition to the founders being Chartered members of the RIBA and ARB.
– We welcome Eliza to our team.

Working on houses with history

Something happened earlier this month that inspired the writing of this blog post.

Tholos Architects have been appointed to work on a XIX century house, with quite a unique layout and the status of locally listed, given the very early use of a specific facade technique.

Once our team went to survey the house, the owner told us the story of how it was designed by a famous Architect in the early stage of his career, back in 1870’s.

The house over time has been altered and manipulated, but with respect for its character and exquisite attention to details.

So we found ourselves dealing with a very characterful property designed by a respectable colleague and we immediately understood that the right approach for the project was a respectful conservation of the existing, recalling the design principles in the new parts we are to propose (work in progress!).

We immediately decided to investigate the history and the works of the original designer to find inspiration and ideas to pay him the right tribute.

The findings have not been very encouraging since his most famous work seems to have been destroyed and other information was scattered and mostly biographical. But it prepared the ground for a wider question.

What is the history of my house?

Many homeowners may ask themselves this question, given the high number of heritage properties around the UK.

 
There are several ways to find information on a property, when it was built, who has occupied it before.
 
You can find archive material, old pictures, antique maps or consult the census, to understand the years the house was built, who lived in it and what they were doing for a living.
 
But the hardest thing to understand is how the building changed over time.

Is my house original?

A house carries the signs of the change of times.

Today it is weird to imagine that before the 19th century the bedroom was anything but private, and often multiple strangers shared beds in inns, or lodging. (read more on the social history of beds here)

Nowadays it would be considered inappropriate what before was normal.

The culture changed and so did the houses.

While the bed is only one of the possible drastic examples of how differently we live from our ancestors, houses have been gradually transformed from owner to owner to meet the new occupier’s needs. This is reflected in extensions, alterations and changes of layouts, conversion of spaces, additions and subdivisions.

This is where our job gets a twist.

In planning terms, a lot of what you can do to alter your house often refers to the conditions of the “original house”, which is defined in the Town and Country Planning General Permitted Development Order (aka GPDO) as the house as it was originally built OR as it stood on 1 July 1948.

According to this perspective, this date marks a deep furrow and all the alterations to the houses built before 1948 become part of the “original” house.

We know that all the readers who own a house with some history may not like this.
To cheer you up, remember there are different ways of protecting the heritage value of a property.

House detectives

Practicing the profession, we happen to work with houses way older than 1940’s but it is not always clear when the alterations have been made, and often it is important to understand the timeline of such alterations to a property.

As a practical example, we had a client who wanted to renovate a flat, being part of a detached house with some very dysfunctional layout:

– the main bedroom was taking the light from an internal glass panel, not a window, opening into a corridor,

– the corridor was running along the side wall of the house and having all the actual windows opening on it, limiting the natural light delivered to the rest of the house.

– The kitchen room was raised from the entrance level and had a very tall cill, deeper than 1 m, before the short and wide window placed in a very high position.

– The original basement cellar was altered to be used as main bathroom of the flat.

– The main bedroom had a small en-suite, consisting of a resulting space built under the stairs which, sited out of the flat, are leading to the first floor; it hosted barely a loo and a micro sink and the internal height was very limited.

– To make things more exciting the house was extended to the rear 2 times and once to the front, causing several discontinuities.

What the client knew was only that the previous owner was a builder and made the alterations by himself.

So we had to dig into the history of the house to understand why it was such a maze, with 4 levels of flooring, 11 changes of ceiling and an undefined number of hidden beams, in order to propose a reasonable scheme to meet all the project requirements.

Long story short, while the plot was occupied already in 1896, the original house was likely to have been re-built or intensively renovated in the 1940’s, following some extension attempts (front, rear, porch, terraces, roof) in the early 80’s which eventually happened, culminating in the conversion in flats in the late 1980’s, after almost a century, which gifted us with the glorious intricated condition we have found it in.

After this research and an accurate site survey, we finally had the clear picture to understand what-happened-where and what to expect during the construction stages.

Can my house be more functional?

A house is an organism, with systems and functions.
Some are obvious and some are concealed.

Many houses (and buildings in general) can be dysfunctional if they have not been designed accurately with the “user experience” in mind (yes, architects used these words before the internet).

This makes pretty much the difference between good, average and bad design.

To say it with Steve Jobs, design is not how it looks, is how it works.

But the needs of the users and the experience they deserve, they evolve with the times and so do the technologies that are integrated in a building as an organism.

Hence here we are, a bit detectives, a bit physicians, considering all the aspects of a building to make sure it is healed from ageing and revamped to give the best for the years to come.

Your house can be more functional, but there is one caveat: working on an old house can be delicate and have limitations. Sometimes we must let go and acknowledge if what we want is beyond reach.

This is why often homebuyers contact us for an opinion on what they would like to get from the house they are about to buy.

 

Do you have a dysfunctional house? Is your family changing habits? Are you buying a house with potential but you are not sure what it could be?

You can contact us and book a free consultation to talk about it.

It’s as simple as clicking on this link and book your call back at your convenience.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

May 2021 updates

Monthly updates

May 2021

PROJECTS:
– Site works started for Wapping conversion
– Technical design completed for New Cross Gate’s project
– Submitted planning application for Shooters Hill and Bromley Common projects
– Started designing home improvements for a listed cottage in west Bromley

April 2021 updates

Monthly updates

April 2021

PROJECTS:
– West Acton project completed
– Tendering completed for Wapping conversion
– Technical design started for New Cross Gate and Kidbrook projects
– Started planning negotiation for the terrace in Westminster
– Started to design a major renovation in Shooters’ Hill and in Bromley Common

OFFICE:
– New display / bookcase

COVID-19:
– Resumed normal operations

Do architects respect construction budget?

A renovation, or home improvements project, is an investment that you should plan carefully and budget for realistically, with due consideration about what you really want to achieve and in which way this investment will pay you back.

Hint: it is not always money.

Why are residential projects always overbudget?

The renovation, improvement or new construction of a private residence is renowned to be the most difficult project category for an Architect.
 
What gives this category such a reputation is the emotional involvement of the client, who is contemporarily owner, stakeholder, project manager, final user.
And often unexperienced about construction.
 
When the lack of experience meets the keeping of spreadsheets, most homeowners find themselves trapped in a dilemma:
“we spent this much of the budget so far, there is this little left, how can I use the remaining budget in a smart way?
Should we get nice finishes and go over budget OR stick to the budget and settle for lesser quality materials?”
 
Truth is, finishing materials are there to stay.
It is more convenient to stretch the budget a bit and get good finishes, rather than save now and regret it later, adding other costs in the future.
 
In most of the cases, extra project expenditures are generated by last minute project variations during the construction and choices of more expensive finishes or furnishings.
These are the result of emotional decisions of the client.
 
In some unfortunate but not-so-rare cases, old houses just reveal some surprise: rotten joists, sudden leaks, unexpected sewers.
These can cause costly extra work and delays, hardly foreseeable.
 
For these reasons it is very easy for an un-supervised project to go over budget.

What do Architects have to do with construction budget?

On appointing an Architect, the client must specify the reasons for doing the project and the constraints in a briefing, which will be the Architect’s duty to satisfy.

The availability of funds is also a constraint, so it is important to specify what is the target budget for the project, while keeping a contingency available in case of surprises.

The Architect has the role to collect this information and develop a design in line with the briefing and considering the budget available.

Can a design be more expensive than my budget?

Some Architects are used to work on multi-million projects and are masters in adding the wow factor. When working on simpler projects, they may be carried away a bit.

If their design is way beyond the budget, it will require to be downsized or simplified, until reaching the point where you can stretch you budget to.

But good architecture doesn’t have to cost the earth.

When we develop a design, we keep your budget in mind.
During the process we can advice where the money should go to have the best result and get the best value for your money.

How do the Architect know if the project is actually going to be within the budget?

Common residential projects have similar costs per square metre.

Besides few variables which could bring extra costs in, we can generally assess if a budget is reasonable and healthy for a scope since the early stages.

After developing a special concept design, we engage with contractors for initial estimates that would confirm the ballpark costing.

If it doesn’t work, we get back to the drawing board and review the options with the client.

But only once a project is fully specified and contractors are invited to bid, we can know the starting point for the construction cost.

Once construction starts, it is important to avoid variations and hope there will be no surprises hidden in the house.

During the entire process we work with our clients to help them make informed decisions on how to use their budget wisely for the finishing materials and decorations.

 Overall we do our best to stay on top of the expenses, so that you could  use your money where it really matters to you.
 
If you are planning your project, it’s important to have an experienced professional at your side to advice on all the aspects of the process.
 
You can contact us for an initial free consultation to talk about your plans.

It’s as simple as clicking on this link and book your call back at your convenience.

February 2021 updates

Monthly updates

February 2021

PROJECTS:
– Received approval for the rear extension in Hackney
– Received approval for the wrap around extension in New Cross Gate
– Site works ongoing at the West Acton project and Bickley Villa
– Prepared concept design to convert a roof into a terrace in Westminster

OFFICE:
– Expanded suppliers’ database and received new samples

COVID-19:
– National lockdown

January 2021 updates

Monthly updates

January 2021

PROJECTS:
– Received approval for two projects in Greenwich
– Started site works of West Acton project
– Construction ongoing at the villa in Bickley
– Started to design a conversion in Plumstead
– Started technical design for Wapping’s project

OFFICE:
– Expanded suppliers’ database and received new samples

COVID-19:
– National lockdown