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Thoughts for the Weekend & this Week’s Links

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Becoming an Architect.

This week, I was talking to someone about careers and why or how we pick something to do for the rest of our lives. I got lucky, I knew what I wanted to do when I was thirteen. But there are a few people, experiences and objects that make this a journey rather than a bolt of lightning moment.

As I sit here at 6 am looking out the window, drinking decaf tea and visualising what this blank page will become, I realise this will be a difficult one to write in a couple of hours. So I’m going for a broadly chronological numbered list format to speed things up:

1. My Dad had a small wooden drawing board and two sprung chrome clips to secure the paper. It was probably A3 in size and had yellow edges with rounded corners. I cannot remember what he or I drew on it, but it sparked an interest in representing the world through technical drawing.

2. My Mum had this old black metal tin of watercolours. I think it was her grandfather’s; each colour was in a small square ceramic pan. Some were broken. The mixing tray was also ceramic and had been cracked and glued back together. I don’t remember it being used much but it somehow represented a connection to art and the act of making a mark on a piece of paper. Creating something from nothing.

3. When I was nine, we lived opposite open fields that were being turned into a large housing development. It was a great place to explore. I can remember clambering across open floor joists, using the walls to steady myself. Feeling the texture of the concrete blocks and mortar joints, looking down on the ground floor slabs, damp-proof courses, and into the cavity walls. I started to learn how buildings went together by touch and the need to avoid gaps in the floor joists.

4. My parents built a side extension on our house. This brought two new people into my life. Bill Builder and The Box Man. Now, what Bill did is obvious. The Box Man was the name my Mum gave to the architect chap. He wasn’t an architect in the qualified sense but he had an office in Ringwood and produced our plans along with many others in the area. I think his perceived lack of imagination led to his nickname. But I had my hands on his drawings and found the large-sized paper plans, different thicknesses of lines, details, and handwritten notes fascinating. The notes described what the walls and floor were to be made from, and it started wiring connections in my brain with my physical experience of building sites.

5. I’d obviously shown an interest in drawing because for Christmas when I was around eleven, I received an A3 Rotring drawing board with an orange sliding horizontal ruler. This was a fine piece of German plastic engineering. I started to learn to draw. Truth be told I was never very tidy at drawing with ink. I had to work hard to slow myself down, my mind ran way faster than ink could dry. I was waiting for the computer to come along. I needed a tool that could keep up.

6. I had an Art teacher in Middle School called Mr Daniels. He was small and had a beard and a polished head. He had a habit of sneaking up behind Patrick Hellyer and me and banging our heads together. To be fair, he probably didn’t need to sneak up on us. We weren’t paying attention, but one day he changed my life. He took us into Cranborne village, marched us through the Square, along the High Street stood us at the top of Salisbury Street and told us to draw what we saw. And it is that single moment, sat on the kerb looking down the narrow street with a building at the end, a terrace down one side, a building on the left and the church tower in the distance that flicked a switch on.

7. When I was thirteen, The Box Man and Bill Builder reappeared as my parents bought a run-down cottage in a nearby village. The plans included a large two-storey side extension, a single-storey rear extension, and a complete gutting of the original cob cottage while trying to retain as many original features as possible. As a result, I found myself sitting at a drawing board in The Box Man’s office on a week’s work experience. I can’t remember much about what I did other than being taught about how to position the rooms of a house based on the orientation of the sun and my Mum’s instruction that I was not to take a hot pastie back into the office for lunch. The smell would be offensive I was told.

8. The Cottage project meant living in a caravan in the garden during the build. That Christmas, I got a full-sized drawing board with legs, and it was crammed in the caravan, looking over the garden. I observed how Bill Builder and his labourer could churn up a lovely garden with a dumper truck. I learnt how heavy a sheet of plasterboard was and how big and strong the labourer was—I wish I could remember his name.

9. Seeing a building project come together from the drawings, coming home from school to see progress, and helping my Dad nail down chipboard floors after football built a work ethic and an intuitive understanding of the process. Once I’d completed a BTEC in Construction at eighteen, I was probably in a good position to work for a box man and draw houses.

10. During the first year or so of architecture school, I did wonder what I was doing. There was very little talk of construction, cavity walls, damp proof courses, planning law or anything else that I thought being an architect was about. But eventually, the spark that the art teacher had lit started to burn. Lectures on things one can’t always see or touch: philosophy, art history, technology, culture, society, design process and history provided a broad arts education that started to make sense. That sketch of the street in Cranborne turned on an intrigue in places, communities, and interpersonal relationships. It was the first drawing of many that appeared to just illustrate a built environment. But that formed part of a thinking process and represented so much more than one can see or touch.

Interestingly, the government categorises architecture as part of the Creative Industries, and I suspect most architects see themselves as part of that sector. But we work within the Construction Industry. I don’t know of another profession that spans such a divide. But the art teacher, the box man and the builder sort of represent the world in which an architect has to operate as a designer, thinker, and creator to advise on legal, contractual, and financial matters while engaging in depth in engineering and construction. The goal is to interpret and rationalise a mass of requirements from a tentative line on a blank page to a built complex system.

The effort, range of intellect, and brain power required to do this are immense. As I sit here thinking about it, my eyes are full of tears. I’ve been an architect in spirit for forty years. I’m proud, and probably a little tired. Only forty years to go.

This week’s web links, carefully curated to pique your interest, include a book on allergies, a very nice house in Devon and a hotel in a 12th-century monastery.

Considering a new kitchen? I’ve been recommending Kutchenhaus kitchens for years for their quality, attention to detail and customer service. On Saturday, 11 May, the Petersfield store is having a drop-in event from 11 am-3 pm in their newly remodelled showroom. Pop in for a chat to discuss your project, see the latest Miele appliances being demonstrated by their chef and stay for a drink and refreshments. The closest parking is at the Festival Hall, Heath Rd, Petersfield GU31 4EA

I’m always eager to hear your thoughts and suggestions on the topics discussed. You will always find me at carl@carlarchitect.co.uk.

All the best

Carl's signature

This Week’s Links:

I had an interesting response to last week’s TFTW, which discussed my frustrations with how David Lloyd dealt with people’s allergies. This book was recommended. The author, Catherine Hobson, offers a guide to living with life-threatening allergies. Worth a read if you want to learn more about this subject as Catherine has had first-hand experience of

A lovely conversion of a stone barn in Devon by two furniture designers.

A 12th-century Italian monastery converted into a hotel.

Faroe Islands Rowing Club.

An interesting article on Living Rooms for Living by Emma Kelsall.

Main image credit: Sketching Dreams: A discovery of a passion for architecture. (DALL-E

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