Townhouse Extension in Broughton, Milton Keynes

With Milton Keynes being a relatively new city; it includes amongst its housing stock a large number of townhouses. They are a popular choice for many housing developers due to them still offering 3-4 bedrooms to potential customers but on a considerably smaller footprint, so therefore, more houses can be packed into housing developments.

Whilst they are popular with the younger generation who find the living space works for them sufficiently, further down the line it can became more difficult when growing families struggle to make the space work for them.

Many clients are now contacting us because they either already owned one of these townhouses or have recently purchased one and want to know what their options are. They are desperate for more downstairs living space to accommodate the children’s toys and other belongings that they have built up over the years.

Back in 2014 we were asked by a kitchen design company, that we worked with to make contact with the owners of a house in Broughton. The townhouse was built in 2009 and like so many houses built now, suffered from not enough family space on the ground floor. With it being a 3 storey; it benefitted from plenty of bedroom space, and featured a reasonable sized garden but on the downside the kitchen/dining space was relativity cramped for everyday family life.

The obvious solution was to extend the kitchen area and create a family open plan area that could be used all year round with plenty of light coming in. Whilst we knew what needed to be done to improve the house; it is always the extra care and attention to the design that can really make the end result special for the client.

Given the window configuration to the upstairs, which the clients did not wish to alter, we had to choose a roof shape that would be compatible with their existing design. This in turn facilitated a double aspect skylight configuration, which really does make this room space special.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our clients have dressed the room beautifully and the kitchen designers have really made the most of the new space giving a stunning open plan eating/living area they can enjoy spending time in.

As an architectural practice; it gives us a real thrill to know that we have been instrumental in achieving such a lovely space and knowing that without any exaggeration, how this can transform people’s lives.

If you have a townhouse and would like to know more how you can benefit from extra downstairs living space; please do give Building Tectonics a call on 01908 366000 to see how we can help.

Green Design, Green Upkeep: Building and Maintaining Your Environmentally-Friendly Home

Residing in an energy efficient building not only lowers your utility bills, but can add an average of 14% to your home’s value, meaning it is not only good for the environment, but also beneficial for you as the homeowner. When setting out to build a green home, there are several factors to take into account, but the most important one to keep in mind is that a green home needs to be treated as such, from inception and throughout its lifetime.

The first, and perhaps most important, step in building a green home is a design conducive to environmentally favourable construction. A green home is much more than simply designing the living spaces, but must also account for the mechanical systems and materials used to qualify as a green construction. Once you have your design in place, you can move on to choosing which green materials will make your home as efficient as possible.

Sustainability is Key
Choosing sustainable products is one of the most important aspects of constructing a green home. You’ll want to make sure you select building materials that are certified as such by a specialist organisation and to research those materials in terms of eco-friendliness and stability in the long term. For the larger portion of the construction, you’ll need to procure sustainably forested timber, and perhaps to look into a roofing material that can be recycled or repurposed at the end of its life cycle.

For the interior of the home, there are many green products that are aesthetically as lovely as anything else on the market. From flooring and skirting boards to countertops and backsplash tiles, there are a multitude of sustainably produced, recycled or recyclable, and re-purposed materials to select from that will fit any style. With green building being so popular now, manufacturers are quick to disclose such properties and advertise themselves as appropriate for ecological construction.

Pay More Upfront
Energy efficiency is one of the main components to green building and you’ll want to take this into account in all aspects of the home, from windows to mechanical systems. High efficiency systems may cost more upfront, but will save you energy and money in the long term, eventually paying for themselves. Many of these systems will come with a guarantee, and the manufacturers will have already done the maths on your projected savings over the life of the home, so you’ll quickly be able to see how much you’ll save.

A Finished House Isn’t the End
Once you’ve completed a sustainable, green home, you have to keep in mind that environmentally-friendly maintenance must be part of the plan. Some of this maintenance should factor into the home design, especially in terms of landscaping. You’ll want to select plants and grasses that are native to the area, therefore, requiring less water and fertilisation. Additionally, you’ll want to explore some eco-friendly cleaning solutions, as many cleaners use harsh toxic chemicals that can be damaging to the environment.

Committing to a home that is environmentally responsible is one that will last a lifetime. The process may be challenging, but keeping your goals and reasons for undertaking such a project is key. The financial commitment upfront may save you some money in the long run, but it will take more effort and money to bring your green home dreams to life, and to maintain it thereafter.

Zero-Energy
Designing and maintaining a zero-energy home takes a lot of thought and consideration as well as a know-how on the best way to get the most out of the technology involved. Technology is rapidly changing which means that the trends of today are often out of favour a few years later. Government subsidies and schemes can play a big part of how well companies market their preferred product in terms of benefits, efficiency and cost so it is important to do your research.

The bulk of the battle to become zero-energy often lies with simple aspects such as making sure the building is well insulated and air-tight. Thought should also be given to the orientation of the building in relation to the sun; as natural light can help reduce energy bills in terms of lighting, heating and cooling. Using some form of brise-soleil (an architectural feature of a building that reduces heat gain within that building by deflecting sunlight) can prevent overheating in the summer; whilst still gaining the warmth and light from the low winter sun. Trees that provide shade can also help.

Moving onto the technology side of things, there are many routes available that each have their benefits and drawbacks. Where energy is sourced from is perhaps the main hurdle to overcome. Whilst solar panels are one of the more well-known ways of reducing energy costs, other alternatives to look at include Micro CHP boilers, air source and ground source heat pumps. Upgrading appliances to more energy efficient ones is often overlooked. Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery can remove stale air whilst retaining some of the heat which transfers to the fresh air entering the building which reduces the amount of heating required.

Team Trip to Kingspan to Learn about Timber Frame Housing

It is always very productive and a change of scene; to get the Building Tectonics team out of the office together to learn more about particular areas that we work on.  So, on Thursday 14th March we all went on a trip to Kingspan Potton, based in Great Gransden, Bedfordshire who specialise in fabricated timber frame housing.

The walls, floors and roof of the houses are fabricated in large panels in their factory and are then taken to site and bolted together to construct a house (or other types of buildings).  Although there are several companies who already work in this area; Kingspan have moved away from the mass housing market and instead of supplying the larger house builders, now just supply one or two units to small developers or even one-off houses.

On arrival the BTL team were greeted in the meeting room by the National Sales Manager; who gave a presentation about the different products they produce and then showed them around the factory where they are made. They saw how the process works from start to finish; from when the wood comes into the factory to when it leaves on the back of the lorry.  Following this, they drove 15 minutes away to the Potton Self-Build Show Centre in Little Paxton, near St Neots where they have 5 show-houses. The team had the opportunity to look around the show-houses; which showed them the different materials that Kingspan manufacture and the different structures that they are capable of producing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kingspan can help with the design of any house and have a pattern book of designs you can choose from; but obviously being an Architectural Practice, we already do the design for our clients.  However, Kingspan can take our bespoke design plans and prepare “shop drawings” showing the panels so that they can then be fabricated in their factory. It was very interesting for the BTL team to know all about the process and the types of systems available; for those occasions when a client wishes to have a timber frame house.

There are alternative systems available from other timber frame fabricators: –

Open Panel Systems
The majority of timber frame companies use an open-panel system for the internal loadbearing of the cavity wall.  These are made in a factory from a softwood timber frame covered with a structural sheet material such as plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) and fixed into a structure on-site.  They have a waterproof membrane on the outside and are left open on the inside.  The windows and door frames are fixed on-site and when the house is watertight; the electrical and plumbing casing is installed and the insulation put in place finished off with a vapour-proof barrier and plasterboard.

Closed and Advanced Panels
These systems are used by most of the Scandinavian frame companies and are delivered fully furnished and insulated, with the services in and the windows and doors already fixed – with the advantage that it is an airtight structure that needs minimal on-site work. However, it does mean decisions need to be made early on in the design about services and outlets.

Green Oak Frame
This is the most traditional timber-frame building method and is often referred to as exposed timber frame. The oak is often jointed using mortise and tenon joints, draw-pegged with tapered oak pegs and then integrally braced with curved oak bends jointed into the frame.  Insulating panels are then infilled into the massive oak skeleton and it is made waterproof using a system of perimeter trims and water bars; before being rendered on the outside, leaving the timbers exposed.

SIP Systems
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are high-performance building panels used in floors, walls, and roofs and are typically made by encasing a core of rigid foam plastic insulation between two structural skins of OSB, but other skin material can also be used.  The panels are manufactured under factory-controlled conditions and can be custom designed for each home.  SIPs are fixed to the outside of the timber frame, so the entire frame can be exposed in the interior or covered up, depending on the look you want to achieve.

Kingspan are first and foremost an insulation company and therefore, have naturally moved toward the highly insulated end of the market.  Timber frame housing can be extremely well insulated and this form of construction lends itself to the addition of a lot of insulation without making the walls unduly thick (unlike brick and block walls).  However, the really interesting development is the SIP technique as these panels can achieve incredible levels of insulation and therefore, are often found in zero energy projects where no heating is required; other than the heat that is created by simply inhabiting the house (possibly with the addition of some solar heating).

Building Tectonics have designed a couple of very low energy houses and are greatly interested in this area. SIP panels also offer really low air infiltration so therefore, help reduce heating bills and increase comfort as they avoid drafts and cold spots.  They can be very strong and rigid and can be used in floors and roofs; which is a real game changer in the construction of houses, but the building industry has generally not embraced this new technology.  Houses built like this can be erected on-site superfast incorporating all the services and the standard of finish can also be superior.

As a practice we would like very much to use this technology wherever we can; but the question is whether our clients will choose something brave and new.  The major practical difficulty is using prefabrication techniques for extending existing buildings, which is where most of our work lies. Ironically, the big problem would be bolting something so perfectly made (1 or 2 mm accuracy) on the side of an existing building where the building tolerances can often be measured on several centimetres. What we need are clients who can see the benefits of such new techniques and we stand ready to help in any such project should it arise.

Remodelling of Woburn Sands Cottage Interior

Whilst some clients have a design idea visualised in their heads from day one of how they would like to extend or alter their properties; equally there are other clients who contact us to ask for our help to come up with potential design concepts to make their homes work better and more efficiently for them.

This was the situation with our lovely clients in Woburn Sands; who contacted us on recommendation from a number of past clients, to discuss improving and enlarging their two-bedroom cottage. After an initial discussion, they took time out to go away and firm up exactly what they were trying to achieve from the design process, allowing them to then come back to us with a clearer idea of what they needed. Having made the decision to go ahead they thereby engaged us to generate some ideas for them of how to make their space work best within their budget.

Although it obviously helps when clients are clear about what they are trying to achieve, it is not unusual for us to help them clarify in their own minds exactly what they are trying to achieve from the design process. While our clients had clarified what their needs were and had developed some ideas of their own, they acknowledged that they had no prior experience in extending or modernising a house and needed an architectural design company to challenge their assumptions of what could actually work.

One clear problem they identified to us from the start was that the layout upstairs needed to be altered to allow all the rooms to be accessed off the hallway instead of currently having to go through one room to another. In addition, they also wanted to add a third bedroom with natural daylight and install a new family sized bathroom. On the ground floor they craved a more open plan layout with kitchen and family space that linked the downstairs space with the garden.

A very steep staircase needed some consideration; as to whether it could be either altered or relocated and we looked at the option of a loft conversion or two or three different layouts to achieve the third bedroom. A strong winner soon emerged which involved altering the ground floor layout to achieve the open plan layout they desired; meaning a first-floor extension would sit neatly over the top. Whilst a loft conversion would have been possible, it would not have worked out as financially economical.

When it came to the staircase re-design, we tried a few scenarios and again a strong contender soon emerged. Whilst there were a couple of issues during the building work; we were happy to help and advise the builder, as even experienced builders sometimes like a second opinion. Sadly, this is not always the case as not all builders are happy to declare their uncertainty over some aspects; which is a shame and we as a consultancy try to encourage builders to talk to us about any aspects, they are unsure of. It is always beneficial to foster a team spirit and both sides can learn from discussions on-site and use it for future reference, which in this case involved the correct choice of roof tile for a modified roof pitch.

Following the building work, our clients are very happy to have moved in and have provided us with some photographs of their new home which we are always grateful for. We wish them well in their new extended, enlarged and improved home and look forward to visiting in the near future to see this great space for ourselves.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Spotlight on the Team – Ina Cicu

Ina Cicu – Design Technologist

Ina joined the Building Tectonics Team almost five years ago as a Design Technologist. Having an Interior Design degree background, she was always fascinated by buildings and architecture but it wasn’t until she started to work here, she discovered the back stage of this wonderful creative process.

Due to her colleagues’ patience and professionalism, she has learned to redesign client’s houses; to undertake the technical part of projects such as Building Regulation drawings and how to deal with the planning applications.  Ina’s favourite part of the job is to design people houses, to create new space and to bring life to them.

Three things that inspire Ina:

Nature – this is the most amazing ‘architect’ as everything is perfect – shapes, colours, sounds, etc.

Travelling – this is one of my passions as travelling from place to place you can discover the different architectural styles influenced by culture, geographical area and time. You also meet new people who share with you their amazing life stories and visions.

Successful and intelligent people – these are the ones who inspire me the most – both in my personal and work life.

What is your favourite example of Architectural Design?
My favourite architect is Antoni Gaudi and his work transcended mainstream Modernisme, culminating in an organic style inspired by natural forms. One of my favourites is his masterpiece Casa Batllo (pictured above) as like everything Gaudí designed, it is only identifiable as Modernisme or Art Nouveau in the broadest sense.

The other example of Architectural design which inspires me is Tianjin Binhai Library, in Tianjin, China; which was designed by a Rotterdam-based architectural firm along with the Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute, a group of local architects. Due to its tight construction schedule by the local government, the project went from preliminary drawings to its doors opening within three years in October 2017.

Spotlight on the Team – Mantas Mackonis

Mantas Mackonis – Architectural Surveyor

Mantas started working at Building Tectonics straight after he finished Sixth Form nearly 3 years ago. After working in retail for a short period, but not knowing what he wanted to do career wise, he was put in touch with Tony who gave him the opportunity to work with him and the team.

Originally Tony hired him to try and teach him how to measure a house; as whilst everyone in the office can use the software to draw, no one could actually measure a house apart from Tony. Therefore, this was an area that the team needed additional help with.

His role at Building Tectonics is as an Architectural Surveyor so he basically goes out to the clients houses and obtains all the required measurements, then comes back to the office and draws all the measurements on the system ready for the team to work on potentials schemes.

Three things that inspire Mantas:

The End Goal – The biggest thing that keeps me going is the end goal; as in this industry things can get tough but when you think about the future and how much of a difference you can make on people’s lives, that’s what really motivates me.

Happiness – I love that look on someone’s face when they are smiling, their eyes are bright and their body language is open and jovial – that full-on happiness is inspiring to see. It’s infectious and it’s awesome.

Dreams – Everyone should have dreams that they work towards in their life. Seeing people go after their dreams is inspiring, and it makes me work harder to achieve mine.

What is your favourite example of Architectural Design?
My favourite building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; purely as it is the world’s tallest building. It’s mind-blowing to think about how tall it actually is, and this magnificent centrepiece of Downtown Dubai stands at 828.9 metres high. The task of creating the world’s tallest man-made structure was awarded to the Chicago office of American architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings and Merril LLP. It’s crazy to think what the future holds and if there will ever be a taller building…

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.

Scratching the surface of Concrete.

Two billion metric tonnes are made worldwide annually, it’s also a very economic material so it’s used unsparingly. This wasn’t always the case and for a while, it was a material much loved by architects to be seen and revered. It is made from materials commonly found all over the world except the cement constituent. The Romans made a type of concrete but this knowledge was forgotten in the dark ages.

In 1824 Joseph Aspdin from Leeds made the first modern cement from pulverised limestone and clay which he then burnt and ground down into a powder. He named this “portland cement” because its colour resembled portland stone. It has a very good compressive strength which is durable and can be formed into complex shapes and sets at a wide range of temperatures. We now combine it with steel to increase its tensile strength which makes it an underrated wonder material of the modern age.

A type of modern architecture not in favour these days called Brutalism was coined not because it is somewhat brutal in appearance, but from the joining together of two French words, brut (the french word for raw) and béton the french for concrete, and this got corrupted into Brutalism.

After photo of the interor of a children's room with roof lights and folding doors to the garden.

Another satisfied client.

Feedback is so important to us, as a company we strive to give the best service we can. The feedback we receive helps us to do that by showing us what it is we’re doing right, and what aspects we need to build upon. We thought we’d share a recent testimonial from one of our clients.

“First of all, we absolutely love our extension, it transforms our house! Everything feels more spacious and less ‘boxy’ – its impact is bigger than expected. Thank you so much for your help with this. We feel we have a new house on the same address! Even our garden looks bigger, how unexpected!

More specific feedback for yourselves:

What worked well was the good advice you gave us about what would work and what wouldn’t and therefore keeping it cost-effective, you visiting us and giving us face to face advice and having the ability to make as many changes as was needed until such a point that the scheme was satisfactory.

What could have been a bit better would have been to help us set realistic expectations early on, such as quickly finding a builder and advising us on eventual build costs, especially the effect of the hedge on the foundations.

Once again, thank you for your involvement and direction with this project, which has improved our day-to-day lives immensely. We are delighted.”

Exterior