After photo of the front elevation of an enlarged home which used to be a bunglow now has two storeys.

UK vs European Architecture

Have you ever had visitors from another country who got lost on the way to your home because “everything looks the same”? Someone who has been in the UK for a while is probably used to seeing estates all built to a certain style. Milton Keynes is known very well for estates contrasting from one another yet, the buildings within each of these look almost identical; this could be due to strict planning rules. Planners sometimes prefer homes to stand out depending on the location, however, often your highest chances for approval are with extensions and alterations which fit in with the surrounding buildings in your area.

Architecture in Europe, for example in Germany, tends to be more relaxed when it comes to residential properties. Crossing the streets on the outskirts of Frankfurt and travelling through small towns of south-western Germany, it’s clear that planning isn’t an issue over there. Each home is different; brick or render, they come in all sorts of colours. White, yellow, cream, even pink or green for the more adventurous. The country known for its pre-fabricated passive houses doesn’t have a specific style and each home is different despite being on the same street.
Other European countries are similar and the only time the design is limited is when the property is located in either a conservation or central area.

Even though it may be difficult in some cases to obtain planning approval, and it is easy to get lost; we should embrace the architecture we have here because it tells the history of how the country has developed and progressed in architecture. Big cities like London or Liverpool consist of an eclectic combination of architectural styles, a complete contrast to towns, take The Shard and Buckingham Palace as an example; two different eras in one place, it’s abstract but surprisingly fitting.

Project Managers

There was a time when architects, builders and the clients were the only people involved in completing small projects, and that was known as the triumvirate of building. On the larger projects, quantity surveyors and mechanical engineering consultants were brought in to compliment the team. As far as I remember, sometime during the 1970’s, the term “project manager” was coined as a new rank of professional acting as an information filter between the client and the architect; on some varied, fast-tracked projects they also helped the client with issues which wouldn’t be within the architects brief like liasing with the buildings end user.

So what’s happened?! Now bricklayers and carpenters are calling themselves builders, but because they’re ill-equipped to deal with managing the other trades or controlling building costs etc so the “project managers” are stepping in. They’re taking on responsibility for the project being built on time, and to an agreed cost as well as organising the various trades. It seems to me that they have become what we used to call “The Builder”, I think we need this new breed, given that builders who properly manage a project are difficult to come by, and architects have lost their traditional role of contacts management; that’s often because the clients aren’t willing to pay the extra costs that this service brings. It’s interesting because sometimes the client is willing to pay for a project manager instead. Don’t get me wrong, there are many builders who are competent at carrying out the traditional role, we work with many; but with a traditionally competent builder there wouldn’t be any need for a project manager.

I understand the concern that comes with these projects which leads to taking on a project manager, there are now people from all kinds of backgrounds describing themselves as project managers; as long as they operate within their own fields such as IT or the petrochemical industry they’ll be fine but I do wonder how they’d manage the process of building.
My advice to all of you taking on a project manager is make sure they have a proven, and relevant track record
Written by Tony Keller. Building Tectonics.

Mixing the Bricks

You may have noticed tall brick walls can have bands of different shades of colour; this can be deliberate, a feature of the design specified by the architect, but it’s often a product of poor management. It’s becoming more common to see this “banding” in most new brick houses, it’s very rare to see this in old brickwork.One of the attractions of an old brick wall is the variation in the shades of brick as opposed to the somewhat clumsy but inadvertent banding in new buildings.

How can this be avoided? Care and attention of the bricklaying is the answer; not so long ago a bricklayer would have a labourer (or hod carrier) who would unpack and mix the different batches of bricks before carrying them up the scaffold on his hod. You seldom see a hod these days, because builders tend to use hoists to lift the bricks to the ‘upper lifts’ of the scaffolding. We’re all for the safety and efficiency when dispensing the hod carrier, but the loss of the old practice is very sad because it results in an unattractive banding, and patches of brickwork.

Brick banding happens because each batch of brickwork is different, this is because the clay coming out of the ground varies as they excavate down through the layers of clay. The firing process can also vary, causing the bricks to have a slightly different hue. If builders organise themselves and know how many bricks they need prior to brick delivery brick suppliers can mix them for you before delivering; if they don’t know the amount needed before ordering the bricks they could mix them themselves by taking some bricks from one batch and some from another.

Brick banding by design, this is an example of banding that was planned.

It would be a big improvement if more brickies would take further care over this aspect of building, and if clients are aware of this then they should insist on it as well. One word of warning; if you unpack and mix the bricks by hand, you’d need some protective eyewear because the brick dust is sharp and would therefore scratch the soft tissue of your eyeball very easily which would be incredibly painful.

Receiving the Best of Houzz Service award

We’re proud to announce that we have received the Best of Houzz award for Customer Service for three years running. For anyone who hasn’t used the platform before, Houzz is like Pinterest, but more focused on aspects of house design. Anyone within the building industry such as architects, interior designers, builders etc can really use this as a tool to their advantage. It’s recently opened up the platform further by offering a space for homeowners to find decor to buy for their space; including the ability for artists to showcase their work here.

The Houzz awards are presented on a yearly basis for three categories; these are Service, Design and Photography. Winning the Service award is usually attained through receiving quality reviews from others within the Houzz platform. By receiving this, we’d like to think that it shows our dedication to providing a good service to our clients; and we’d also like to say a big thank you to those of you who gave us reviews on there and made winning the award possible! We’ll continue to provide the best level of service that we can, and help you with your architectural projects to the best of our ability.


My experience with the Apprenticeship scheme as an employer

As mentioned in our previous blog, it’s National Apprenticeship Week and as an employer, I’m very happy to give my thoughts on the subject of apprenticeships. We were very fortunate when choosing our apprentice as she has been a real credit to the apprenticeship system and to Building Tectonics. Personally speaking, education and educational establishments exist in a parallel universe to the one that working people inhabit, but nonetheless, education is important and if anything could bridge the gap between the two worlds then the apprenticeship scheme can be heralded as an advance towards that goal.

Our Apprentice did an IT apprenticeship and even though as a company we do have IT skills, they don’t cover the range of knowledge that is studied in an IT course. So we now have a member of the team who went through the apprenticeship scheme with an overall knowledge of what we do and how we do it using IT, and also has a smattering of knowledge that has seen us through the worst calamities that IT has thrown at us to date. May long it be the case.

Having now seen how useful the apprenticeship system can be, what saddens me is that there is no apprenticeship that is really geared up for our industry yet. I find it extraordinary that this is the case, given the fact that so many people are engaged in the areas of building and architectural technology, and that skills are so woefully lacking. I’ve been talking to my professional body, CIAT, about pushing such an apprenticeship up our agenda; it seems that there is the Construction Design and Build Technician Apprenticeship but few apprenticeship providers offer this particular course because they don’t think there is enough demand to warrant it.

I believe that if the government is serious about building new houses (minus the faults recently reported in the press) on the scale that is nationally needed, we’d better start thinking about building technology and treating this subject with the importance it deserves.

Written by Tony Keller, Building Tectonics.


My experience with the Apprenticeship scheme as an ex apprentice

It’s National Apprenticeship Week, so as someone who has been through the apprenticeship process I thought I’d share some aspects of my experiences during that time.

It all started when I decided that I didn’t want to find an art related job anymore, it was too difficult to earn a living out of it and I didn’t want my love for it to diminish; so I kept it as a hobby. That decision left me in a bit of a sticky situation in that I needed to find a subject I liked enough to form a new career path from. I’ve always had an interest in IT; how computers work, how to fix problems with technology, how to protect yourself online and all that technical stuff. At the time I had an evening job, but it wasn’t nearly fulfilling enough for me. I applied for jobs for weeks and went to interviews but to no avail – although I had good grades at school, I had little to no experience in the field I was applying for; prospects didn’t look great.

Within two months of starting the apprenticeship, I got an interview with Building Tectonics and I have to admit, I was nervous. Turns out there was no need to be so nervous because I got the job and started work here the following week. When I started my work placement, for the duration of the apprenticeship I had to collect evidence of certain tasks being completed to meet criteria set out by the course; Building Tectonics were very facilitating when it came to letting me get this done. We’re an architectural technology company so when I was trying to collect evidence for an IT-based course it could be quite difficult at times, but with their help, I got everything I needed to complete the course.

My examiner would come out and see me every other week to see how I was progressing, both in the understanding of various aspects of IT and in terms of how far along I was in meeting all of the criteria I needed to complete the units given to me. Sadly, my examiner suddenly passed away partway through my course and so I was assigned another examiner, who I then needed to bring up to speed as to what I had completed and what was left for me to complete. I really felt for him because he’d lost a friend, and also had to pick up the remaining work for about 30 students – that couldn’t have been an easy transition!

Whilst I was progressing through the course, the company I work for decided to help other small companies understand what it’s like to have an apprentice within the team. A colleague at Building Tectonics and I spoke at an event hosted by the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) along with Penny Power back in 2014. At the time I remember feeling quite nervous before giving my speech, but then once I got into it everything fell into place and it turned out quite well in my opinion. I’d like to think that we helped a few other small companies gain some clarity about the apprenticeship scheme.

Even with the obstacles mentioned above, I still finished my apprenticeship and earned the qualifications with the help of Building Tectonics. Although I’ve brought a lot of knowledge from the apprenticeship forward and put it to use within the workplace, there were certain aspects I believe could have been improved about the course; for example, the practical tasks given at college were sparse, and they would have helped in conjunction with the theoretical assignments. Other than that I can’t really complain; 5 years after taking the offer for a work placement here I’m sat in the office writing this blog, and I have the apprenticeship scheme to thank for that.

Written by Jade Turney, Building Tectonics.

“Redesign” your home

The nature of the work that architectural companies like Building Tectonics are asked to do has changed.
Once upon a time, we would be asked to design an extension, prepare drawings for a loft conversion, alter the facade of a house, or more occasionally, change the interior layout. Sometimes there would be a joint focus on changing the layout of the property at the same time as extending, but this was only a small portion of our work.

The type of work we’re being asked to do has fundamentally changed, and most of of it is now not only thinking about how to enlarge a clients house, but also re-organising the space in a major way. We don’t think that any of the phrases popularly used to describe what we do are adequate in getting across this process; and so we like to describe it as “redesigning”.

In my opinion, words such as modernising, renovating, refurbishing and even extending don’t quite cut it, an extension may be a part of the project but I don’t think it’s descriptive enough for even simplest of projects. It’s not a good idea to add another room, or enlarge an existing room without considering the effect this work will have on the space you already have. Quite often, we find that this will leave the existing room as a dark unused corridor into the new space; this is why some thought should always be given to the changed dynamics of the existing house as a whole. We think about these aspects every time potential clients come to us with an idea for their “new extension”, that’s why we prefer the all-encompassing term “redesign”.

Written by Tony Keller, Building Tectonics.

Considering the future…

Here in the UK it’s been snowing this week, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up anytime soon! It’s worth noting that generally, houses here don’t really give you much space for the hanging of coats and placing of snow-covered boots anywhere that’s out of the way and won’t cause a nuisance. It’s a given that in a few days this will probably all be over, spring will truly arrive and these winter-themed pieces of apparel will return to the darkest depths of the wardrobe. That being said, entrance halls can be nice to have, if space will allow they can function as more than just a vestibule for storage and keeping the cold draughts out.

When you invite friends into your home it’s more practical to have a designated space for hanging and storing outerwear. This often takes up a significant amount of storage space; but most UK homes lack this and so when visitors come we end up stepping back into the main house to allow space for people to walk in. As the host you often find yourself taking the guests outerwear and placing it over the bannister or onto a chair, of course, of all the things that we have to consider and the spatial challenges we face due to our undersized houses the entrance hall is quite low down on the list of priorities for most. However, even where the opportunity is available it’s often not considered.

It’s good to always consider the future, potential buyers who come to view your house will judge based on their first impressions.

One of the first and most important steps

At Building Tectonics we pride ourselves on producing detailed plans for the builder to use on site. The first and most crucial stage of any of our projects is getting an accurate set of plans depicting the existing building to take back to our office and work from. It’s impossible to get it 100% exact but we believe it’s so important to get it as correct as possible and so we can take between 2-3 hours on average measuring up a house, making sure we are as accurate as possible. Many other architectural companies employ an external surveyor to do this for them, but we believe that by doing it ourselves, it gives us more of an understanding of the building.

We’re always looking for ways to improve the way in which we work; to be more efficient and try to keep up with the latest trends. However, the way in which we survey has remained the same with good old pen and paper proving to be the most reliable option. Recently, we’ve been putting in the research looking into different CAD apps which could be used on a mobile device such as an iPad or Android tablet, some of these might help us to significantly reduce the time taken to measure up a property.

This research has resulted in considering apps such as Roomscan Pro which gives you a variety of choices of how to draw out your floor plans. The first of which would be using the device as if it were a piece of paper, and your finger/stylus as if it were a pencil and drawing directly on the device. The second choice is using the camera, placing markers where each point of the room is and allowing the app to create the floor plans automatically from those. The final option is using GPS built into the device by holding it against a wall, taking that point and then moving it to another wall and letting it measure the distance between them. Of course, there are some cons to these methods of surveying; when using the camera method, if you move the camera the markers move out of place, making the plan inaccurate. Using the GPS based method relies on the mobile devices system being accurate to within a couple of centimetres, and I don’t quite think we’re at that point in the technology yet.

The second app we shortlisted was called Orthograph, this uses your freehand drawings to create tidied up plans which can then be edited for accuracy. You draw a rough version of the room, and the app will recognise this and change your rough sketch into a CAD drawing. You can then change individual wall thicknesses and lengths using measurements you’ve taken with a laser measuring tool; or you can use a bluetooth laser measuring tool and link it directly into the app to get each measurement as you go. This could save us both time whilst measuring, and some human error in putting the wrong numbers on the survey. The cons with this app occur when trying to link rooms and staircases. It allows you to create one room at a time, which can then make it difficult to relate them to others when drawing up the plans.

If we could find ways around these cons, the likes of these apps could be incredibly useful to us in saving time, and making us more environmentally friendly by drawing digitally, and then emailing the drawings to the team in office, therefore, saving paper. Until then, we’ll stick to pen and paper.

Kitchens and triangular thinking.

The ’work triangle’ is something that clients can often come across when thinking of designing their new kitchen. It seeks to describe the perfect relationship between the sink, cooker, and refrigerator.  It has always been said that this triangle should be quite compact to allow the cook to access all crucial parts of the kitchen without the need to walk far when preparing meals. Even though the basic idea still applies, it needs a few updates since our kitchens have become more complex, involving much more equipment; microwave, multiple ovens, and separate hob. Some even include a built-in coffee machine. Despite the dishwasher not having a part in food preparation, many of you will surely admit that often you find yourself looking for the one knife you need, and find it in the dishwasher, used to prepare a meal earlier that day. The conclusion we can often come to when thinking about these aspects is “I need a bigger kitchen”, but that could make it an impractical one in terms of how far you’d have to walk to get a meal prepared. Kitchen preparation space is often sacrificed for the sake of fitting everything into a smaller space, but when you’re cooking fresh meals enough space to prepare it in is paramount.

The layout of a kitchen can be described with one of the following terms; island, galley, bay or L shaped.
Galley kitchens are usually only on one side, sometimes two but this makes it much more compact as well as shorter.
Islands are very popular in many modern kitchens which is, in my opinion, due to the aesthetics of them rather than their practicality. They can work quite well, but only if you accept that one side will be for guests to look at; for presentation only as if you tried to store things on all sides, you’d get your daily cardio in by constantly running around it for the different utensils etc.
L shaped kitchen layouts can work out okay but can sometimes be too spread out.
Bay kitchens are, in my view, the best in terms of practicality, they’re also sometimes referred to as peninsula kitchens.

Here at Building Tectonics, when we design a kitchen we always show a kitchen layout, but by no means is that the permanent design; this is just to show that at least one suitable layout can be accommodated. The layout is often adopted by the client, even if it’s not accepted as the final kitchen design, at least we know a sensible kitchen configuration fit into the available space. I’ve been to a few houses where the architect hasn’t paid as much attention to detail and as a result, the cooker has ended up miles away from the rest of the kitchen. If you’re designing a kitchen space please don’t accept a space that doesn’t achieve the basic function of cooking. If the space isn’t working then call in a company like Building Tectonics to advise you on how you could alter or extend the space to get a more functional kitchen.