- FEATURE: BUILDING INFORMATION MODELLING
Posted: 30/04/2018 by Thomas Robinson ArchitectsHow does BIM* enhance a building project?
- FEATURE: LIME VS CEMENT
Posted: 16/04/2018 by Thomas Robinson ArchitectsThe great mortar question?
- FEATURE: GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIPS
Posted: 26/02/2018 by Thomas Robinson ArchitectsAs many building projects start on site at this time of year, we are sometimes asked by clients. Does it matter if the architect and the builder don’t really get along on site? Or if a stonemason simplifies an intricate moulding without checking with anyone?
The short answer is yes. It may sound like a fluffy part of the building process – ensuring harmonious relationships – but good relationships are about communication and are crucial to the success of the project.
There is no single project management solution to fit every job. Our practice has been involved in a variety of procurement models and contractual arrangements to get projects built. What we have noticed though is that when things are set up well, people behave respectfully to each other, are motivated to get on with the work, and better finished projects result.
It’s not always easy, of course. Some of the clichés are true. For example, we designers tend to think of the construction stage as the messy bit, the dangerous stage when so much could potentially go wrong. For the builders, this is where they get stuck in, and they don’t want the architect poking his or her nose in every 5 minutes!
The trick is to set up protocols right at the beginning. If the builder knows exactly who to direct a particular query to, that helps – and all his workers know to flag up issues as they arise. If the architect and client source builders and specialists whom they know and trust, that helps considerably. Getting the right people for each job is critical – if you’re creating a traditional country house, you may need a specialist stonemason, or a joiner with classical-design training. It’s in these details that we really strive to get it right every time.
So, to achieve the successful realisation of a design your team must understand that working well with other people is essential. Sometimes it’s an absolute joy. You may have drawn an intricate detail, for example, involving precise three-dimensional geometry, and you discover that the stonemason is completely familiar with how to form it and knows the vocabulary of classical mouldings inside-out. Or you may find that the lead workers suggest touches of detail that bring life to an otherwise utilitarian waterproofing detail, or a joiner who explains how to finish a jib door in some panelling to make it truly secret. If this is what is happening on your site then you have found good people.
Harmonious relationships such as these can be hard to find in the building industry. We prioritise getting this aspect right. The structure of contracts is sometimes blamed for relationship problems when one side seeks to unfairly take advantage of a situation. The secret to creating a favourable environment for a building project where things go well on site for both sides of a building contract, is for both sides to understand what the other needs to get out of it, and to care that the other party does in fact get what he needs. We know that organising that right at the beginning makes for a happy build.
- FEATURE: HOW TO WIN AT THE PLANNING GAME
Posted: 09/01/2018 by Thomas Robinson ArchitectsA question to always ask yourself as an architect is, does your design have a story? My brilliant professors Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein at the Glasgow School of Art, and my former boss, architect David Page would always enquire, ‘What's the story then?’, when I produced a design for critique. Although nerve-racking at the time, it has ingrained in me the importance of asking myself this exact question as a designer and architect each time I embark on a new project
Not only will a solid story – or concept – help you get a project past the planners, it will also make for a smoother build process, and result in a more successful house or building.
Why is it so important? If your story or concept is good, the design will flow and take a strong and beautiful direction. If the concept is shaky, you may be in trouble.
Sounds simple. Well, the process of getting to a coherent story takes time. We start by doing our ‘due diligence’ – this means looking at the surrounding buildings, understanding their character, scale, and raison d'être. With our client’s brief at the front of our minds we start forming opinions. We aim to combine what our client wants with what is architecturally right and what the planners expect into a harmonious solution.
Questions we ask ourselves include: How will the new building fit it in? In what way should it contrast? What key characteristics from the surrounding buildings do we want to play with and replicate? How will we make it unique, yet not stick out like a sore thumb? This way the story is built, with every architectural move we make having a secure reason behind it. Once decisions have been made and the story is in place, we use it to guide the build, but in the first instance it helps us gain sometimes challenging planning permissions for our clients.
Sometimes a client arrives with a very fixed idea of what they want, but when we assess all the factors, we can see an alternative plan would be more successful. However, some of our best projects have arisen from such challenging beginnings. Taking the client with us on each design story is crucial. The most dynamic clients will push and test the concept and it will get stronger in this environment. Collaboration is key. And while creating a successful story we build great relationships with our clients too.
You always know when you’re in a house with a good design story. There’s no niggling feeling of, ‘Why did they put that door there?’ Or ‘It’s a shame I can’t see the great view from this window.’ Every decision has been examined carefully, and the result is a home that not only sails through the planning process, but is a pleasure to be in and look at.
A good example is this large new contemporary Scottish home, pictured, for which we won a Herald Property award. When the client first arrived, they knew they wanted space, light, and a home that celebrated the surrounding countryside, yet their initial idea meant that sunlight wasn’t maximised and the way the house sat in its environment didn’t quite work. The great thing on this project was
that our client was receptive to our suggestions. We were able to explain why our suggestions worked, and he was able to follow our story and understand why we had come to decisions. The planners granted permission for this new home without hesitation, and even praised the thoughtfulness that had gone into the design. The client is thrilled with the finished house, and we’re thrilled to have won a design award for it.
The house in question has a very large massing with expansive interior spaces built with the aid of a steel frame. Yet it sits so well in its environment, actually designed into the curve of the land, that it doesn’t appear huge, despite having several outdoor areas for different purposes, such as entertaining, gardening, sitting. But go inside this open-plan house, and you’re immediately struck by a feeling of substantial flowing space.
The same goes for the design of the materials palette. On every build, you must have a durable reason why you have chosen each material. Again, does it fit in or contrast? And why? Are your window styles historical or contemporary – can you accurately describe why? The final complete story should be conceptually bombproof.
As another example, if you've designed a two-storey building with minimal unevenly proportioned windows, when the neighbouring buildings are single storey with geometrically proportioned windows, then you've got a difficult story to tell. In this instance, unless you can think of good reasons why you would disrupt the urban grain, you’re going to struggle with the planners at the very least.
I'm not suggesting that design rules in suburban, urban, or rural patterns can't be challenged, but it must be for good reason. You – and your clients – need to be certain of why you’re doing it.
Another common architectural issue is internal flow. Many homes have rooms ‘in the wrong place’ What I mean is they don’t link to other parts of the house very well, or they face away from good natural light. For example, a kitchen facing the north-facing drive is rarely as good as one looking over a south-facing garden. Our job is to spot these issues, and design every aspect of a house considering everything as we go – again, working out why we should do something and then applying that logic. Of course, with experience these aspects of design become second nature to us architects. But each new project has its own story, and writing that story is crucial every time.
In the end, planners love a solid concept or a good design story. And you need planners on your side. It helps them understand the architectural reasoning behind your proposal and if they can understand your design reasoning and agree with you, you are much more likely to gain the all-important planning permission – and you’ll also end up with a more successful building.
- PRESS: THE SCOTTISH FIELD
Posted: 29/11/2017 by Thomas Robinson ArchitectsThomas Robinson Architects in The Scottish Field
- FEATURE: DAMP – HOW TO PREVENT IT USING CLEVER SUSTAINABLE DESIGN
Posted: 25/11/2017 by Thomas Robinson ArchitectsIt is ten years since my first enlightening read of Neil May’s fascinating paper ‘Breathability – the key to building performance’*. It clarified and amplified many things I knew about using materials cleverly to prevent damp-related problems, and spurred me to design buildings with his solutions in mind. Being an architect in Scotland, water is always a significant factor in any building design.