Turner Prize: 2015

I’m sure that you’ve all heard of the Turner prize, even if you don’t follow the arts world. The shortlist of the artists considered for this prestigious prize is available to see online here.

The Turner prize is awarded to british artists under 50 years of age for the presentation of their work up to a year preceding the award being awarded to one of the nominees.

The nomination which we’ll be talking about in this post is a nominee called Assemble. You may have heard of them, they’re becoming quite popular. They’re a London-based group of 18 designers, architects and architectural students under 30, who were nominated for their work in transforming some run down houses in Toxteth.

The estate in question was being neglected to the point that rows of boarded up windows and half demolished buildings were becoming a normal sight there in the rather abandoned area. However, when you turn onto Cairns Street, it comes to life with lots of people, climbing plants, trees and markets with trainee builders creating scaffolding across the frontages of the homes either side of the road. Bringing it back to life.

The residents of the area were not happy with the idea of demolishing the buildings when in the past, there had been schemes and plans which promised to renovate these buildings (which came to no avail). Therefore, they took the matter into their own hands by establishing a community land trust, taking ownership of the derelict buildings from the council and renovating them themselves. The community land trust, and project attracted a Jersey based investor – Steinbeck Studios, to put together a plan for the area, which was drawn up by Assemble.

“We want to retain the generosity and flexibility of the original buildings,” says Assemble’s Lewis Jones, pointing out how nearby pathfinder new-builds have much meaner windows and tighter space standards. “We’re also celebrating the idiosyncrasies of what’s already there: if a floor is missing, why not leave it out and have a double-height space? There isn’t the usual pressure to extract the maximum possible value from the site and put profit before people.” [Source].

Find out more about Assemble here.

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History of homes: The Bedroom.

Imagine waking up in the morning to find that you’re sharing a bed with some work colleagues, family, friends and even strangers, all in one bed…this was a normal occurrence around 100 years or so ago. It was a communal place for many people to share, and you were happy to share it at the time, more people generally meant more warmth as there was no central heating in those days! Other than that, all you would have had to keep yourself warm for the night would be a blanket or cloak. There was no space to have separate rooms, so the main hall was the used as a dormitory of sorts.

Medieval beds were very basic, often all it consisted of was a sack 9ft x 7ft stuffed with hay – this is where the saying “hit the hay” came from. Because they were so big and basic, they were designed to be shared by many people, which is why you would be glad for the warmth of many people in one room.

Over time the Victorians added rooms to the house, and specific uses for each room. Victorians were much more high class than the medieval because they had the luxuries of money, and time to spend at home. With this higher class look on life, the Victorians developed bed linen, sheets, blankets, pillowcases, an iron frame and more to make the bed a much more sophisticated object. I read somewhere that in those days, you should make your bed up of an iron frame, a thick brown sheet to cover the metal springs, a horsehair mattress, a feather mattress, under blanket, under sheet, bottom sheet, top sheet, 3-4 blankets and pillow covers. The pillow covers should have been changed twice a day and the mattress turned every morning…this sounds like a LOT of work compared to beds now.

In the 1970s the task of bed making became a much easier task when the duvet was introduced to us by a Scandinavian fellow named Terence Conran. This is when some things which would once be considered risqué were now allowed, such as an advertising campaign ‘sleep with a Swede’ which was used for these duvets.

In the 19th century all of the bedrooms social uses fell away, and it finally became a private room for sleeping.

History of the living room.

In Tudor times, only the very privileged/well off people had a living room. Middle class people only began to have them in their homes in the 17th century, but by the 18th century more people of varied classes were aspiring to own a living room. This was because in those days, the living room represented something like a “trophy room”, it was a room in which you would have all of your best possessions on display. People started to decorate their rooms with this in mind, putting all sorts of trinkets in the living room, like ceramics, window nets and any other objects of value in clear view for guests to admire as they visited.

Nowadays, the living room is much less of a commodity, and more of an expectation. Even if you opt to live in an open plan home, you would probably expect an allocated area of floor space for your living room. It has lost some of its grandeur, if you’d use that word to describe the trophy room. Often, grand houses of yesteryear had the lounge reception room on the first floor with a grand staircase leading up to it (many of us would call this an upside-down house now). Perhaps that’s why, in most cases, the stairs are usually located near the front door.

The “upside down” way of living used to be a normal house plan for those privileged people. It was called the “piano nobile”, the reasons for having the reception rooms on the first floor rather than the ground floor were for the improved views, and to avoid the dampness and smells of the street level. Most houses with the piano nobile floor usually had a second floor above that for the homeowners bedrooms and private quarters. Above that would usually be an attic floor containing the staff quarters.

Now the living room is more of a casual reception room, used for entertaining and socialising with guests, rather than showing off your material worth. We still decorate our living rooms, that has not become completely obsolete, but perhaps not as pretentiously as we once did.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

General Election: What the conservatives say they will do for Milton Keynes.

As we’re sure you already know, the Conservatives won the general election. So whether you voted for them or not, it’d be a good idea to brush up on your knowledge of their policies, current achievements and potential plans for the country.

We were looking at our own local manifesto for Milton Keynes, but if you live in a different area, you can find out about your local manifesto by clicking here.

On the subject of jobs, the conservatives have been trying to help to create more job opportunities in Milton Keynes South. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits has gone down by a chunk of 59% since 2010. That means that there are more people who have found work and are now employed, providing for themselves and their families.
They have also helped to create 4650 apprenticeships in Milton Keynes South since 2010, helping young people to gain the skills which they need to go into the career they want to be in. We have hands on experience with the apprenticeship scheme, our own employee Jade came from an apprenticeship supplied in Milton Keynes and has been kept on, securing a job with us. So we can back the idea of the continued growth of apprenticeships.

More than £49,733,030 has been invested in creating new schools in Milton Keynes South to help young people get the best start in life that they can with their education. The Conservatives pledged that if they were to win, which they have, that they would continue to give every child the best start in life by securing more good school locations and create 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020.

The Conservatives started a scheme called “Help to Buy”, this scheme has already helped 312 families in Milton Keynes South to buy their own home, and pledge to extend it so that more families can get the security of their own home. They also pledge to build 200,000 Starter homes and extend “Right to Buy” to 1.3 million Housing Association tenants.

They also helped with gaining an investment of £140 million in the South east through the Regional Growth Fund, supporting 45,000 jobs. They say that they will improve on the broadband for Brighton and Hove, Oxford, Portsmouth, Chelmsford, Southend, Milton Keynes, Reading and Southampton. They want to put £686 million of funding into various flooding defence projects in the South East and will support the £900 million redevelopment of Reading Station, they also want to put £778 million into the funding for improving local roads between 2015 and 2021.

The Conservatives have helped to cut income tax, 54,278 citizens of Milton Keynes South are now paying less income tax and keeping more of their wages to spend as they wish. They plan to keep cutting income tax by raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500 and increasing the 40p tax threshold so that nobody earning below £50,000 has to pay it.

There are 103,900 more businesses in the South East than there were in 2010, and 24 businesses in Milton Keynes South have received start up loans helping them to grow and create more jobs for our area. Conservatives want to keep backing businesses with lower taxes, less red tape and more start up loans.

So there is the basic rundown of schemes that the conservatives hope to put into action for Milton Keynes. If you need more information on any of the schemes above, here are some useful links to follow:

Help to Buy Scheme – http://www.helptobuy.org.uk/mortgage-guarantee/how-does-it-work

Right to Buy Scheme – https://www.gov.uk/right-to-buy-buying-your-council-home/overview

Regional Growth Fund – https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/regional-growth-fund

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Tecton Art Center

As you may be aware, Building Tectonics operates from the Tecton Centre which is quite a large old chapel building which we refurbished to give us our Mezzanine studio space above and offices, with a workshop and gallery space below. In due course local artists have come to inhabit and meet at tecton and it has become a bit of a social hub.

And so the Tecton Art Center was born. The art gallery houses the work of local artists in and around Milton Keynes with a range of different pieces and styles to feast your eyes on. There are also classes, crafts and little bits and bobs to buy as unique gifts as well as paintings, photography, mixed media, metalwork and more.

If you happen to be around the area, why not pop in and have a look, it’s opening times are on the facebook page which can be found by clicking here.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

History of homes.

Centuries ago, if you had more than one room in your home, you would be considered wealthy and well off. Nowadays this has come to be expected (with the exception of open plan homes, but even then we expect to have different areas dedicated to what would be the kitchen, dining room or living room etc).

Rooms were being invented due to a combination of things, the main reason being the growing technology which was becoming available to us. This, however, was not the sole reason for the evolution of rooms with separate purposes. Other reasons for this were us and our changing attitudes to privacy, cleanliness and class.

Rooms are losing their specific uses, so to speak. Not everyone is able to have so many rooms used for different purposes, for example a breakfast room, study, living room, music room etc. The trend of having different rooms for different uses came about during Victorian times, moving away from the medieval style of having one central room in which all activities took place. Now some of us seem to be moving back to Medieval living with modern open plan rooms, but a lot of new houses still have a lot of small rooms being built into them with pre-imagined uses assigned to each one. (E.g. en-suites and cloakrooms).

In a series of blogs, for the next couple of weeks, we will go on a journey through some of the most popular rooms and the history behind them.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Lifestyle: Exteriors and Interiors Exhibition 2015

We were recently a part of the Lifestyle: Exteriors and Interiors exhibition at Middleton Hall in Milton Keynes. It was our first exhibition stand ever, so this was a learning curve as much as a marketing opportunity for us.

We didn’t really know what to expect from it, but were pleasantly surprised at the amount of genuine interest from the general public. The nature of the enquiries reflected our workload, with some people asking about loft conversions and family rooms, to other people asking about brand new modern houses. From our point of view it was nice to hear from people outside of Milton Keynes as well.

Students looking for work experience also came to speak to us, and even though we aren’t taking anyone on at the moment, it was nice to hear their enthusiasm.

Exhibition 1

There were quite a lot of flyers and business cards being taken from the tables at which they were being kept. So that would lead us to assume that people are interested in what we could do for them, but not at this particular moment in time. This was also a good time to network with some other companies, so we took this opportunity and got to know some of the other companies there, and what they did.

The fact that we’re getting new enquiries from people who are mentioning that they saw us at the exhibition has got to be a good sign, so I’ll sign this blog off with this: not bad for our first try.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Detail

When it comes to detail, we don’t like to impose any design feature on a client. It’s almost a policy to try to leave a blank canvas so to speak, so that the client can “dress” their house to their tastes. However, with an existing house we assume that the client likes their house so we’ll look for features to either replicate or, what I describe as “pay homage” to. This approach is particularly important when designing a facade. Sometimes you can create a frontage that is just too busy for instance and the effect can be overwhelming. On the other hand, to extract a detail and use that in some subtle way often works well. Where a completely different approach is required, such as where the existing house is devoid of any attractive features, and/or the client has made it clear that they don’t like the appearance of the house, then we do have to look for other design clues. I had better just add that the old adage “less is more” should be remembered, especially in a modern design context where you are relying on the whole form and shape of the building to create the chemistry.

On the inside of the house, the approach is different because most interiors have few features as such, and so the design interest comes from the shape of the rooms, the way light plays on the surfaces and the views to the outside, plus of course the interior furnishings which as I have said above, I prefer to leave to the client. Most clients are happy with this approach, but if they ask if we can help with the interior design we know people who can offer this service.

In our view, if you get the design of the building right the rest is mere detail. Get the design of the building wrong and you may be stuck with it a little longer.

Post Note: As well as knowing interior designers, we also know artists who will produce a bespoke piece of art or sculpture to your specification such as size, topic colour scheme for a very reasonable price. Please get in touch for more information.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd

Extending vs Loft Conversion vs Converting your Garage – Which is the best value?

I met a lovely couple this week who were considering converting their single garage to create a self-contained annex for their daughter who is expecting. It was clearly too small to convert in this way, especially once you allow for the insulation etc you need to the external single skin of brickwork that most garages are built of. The problem is that they had few alternative options since the garden was small, and so they were loath to give up some precious external space. The third option was to convert the loft, but they could not see how to do this to give the degree of separation which was required. In actual fact this may be the answer to their problems, but until we are commissioned to do a feasibility scheme and carefully analyse how we can configure the space, given the usual structural and access constraints with a loft conversion, we will not know. Sadly, we may never know because the budget probably won’t stretch to a loft conversion (with all the trimmings, en-suites and all).

A photo of the back of a house with a red brick exterior, a one storey extension and a chimney on the right hand side. There is a bi-fold door on the bottom floor which has three panels framed in a dark brown wood, there are also 6 windows with the same style framing. There is a patio with black slate slabs in front of the door, and then a lush green lawn and a small stone garden feature with a plant on the left hand side.

A rear extension in Milton Keynes.

 

It is true that the garage conversion would be the cheapest option if it were an acceptable solution, whereas a loft conversion and small extension would cost more. Of course you’re not comparing like with like. So how do you decide on what is the best solution? It is not always straight forward but clearly some permutations are not workable. For instance you cannot put a garden room in the loft and you cannot put a nursery on the ground floor of a two storey house. So once you have thought about what space you are trying to achieve the range of choices may be narrowed. Then I suppose the budget is the next thing to consider and you have to be realistic about your objectives. For a basic garage conversion you are probably talking about a minimum of £10k, a loft conversion £18k upwards and a small single storey extension about £20k.  But I would also argue that for value for money the extension is still the best. You may lose some garden space but with the others you will lose either garage (storage space) or at least part of a an existing bedroom (space for the stairs, to access to the attic rooms). These are non monetary costs but none the less should be considered as something you will sacrifice.
A panoramic photo of a loft conversion. From left to right, there is a lady sat at a desk working on her computer, next to her is a grey model of a castle, next to that is a red fabric sofa with cushions. There is a triangular crevice in the space behind the sofa,shelving with books and photos are filling the space. By the sofa is a small bookcase and two wooden chairs. To the right there is also a skylight window letting natural light into the room.

Loft conversion in Milton Keynes.

We know that for some, the garden is so important that extending over the garden is also too much to bear. The option that is often overlooked is to extend your house at the front. This of course takes some design skill so that it can be designed in to look comfortable with the original house. Another more obvious option to satisfy some requirements is to extend over an existing ground floor extension or garage, and we at Building Tectonics do plenty of these too.
But we won’t know what’s best until we have carefully looked at the options and often, sadly, the only way to do this is by a thorough investigation of the possibilities.
A photo of a converted garage space with wooden flooring and cream painted walls, a green fabric sofa with brown, cream and green cushions, a window and a skylight window in the roof giving the room a light airy feeling.

The inside of a garage conversion in Milton Keynes.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd

Foundation Design

A picture of the word foundations in a brick texture with a black outline and small amount of shadow below each letter.

There are some new and interesting developments in foundation design which offer an alternative to the way we have been constructing foundations for the last few hundred years. At least so it seems. It would be interesting to look at these new developments in the context of the traditional ways of supporting a building.

Lets consider what we expect from a foundation. It has to be able to spread the load so that the ground can support the load. It has to be stable, so that it will not move around. Sometimes the foundations are used to anchor the building so that it will not overturn – this is particularly true of taller, lightweight structures such as timber frames houses.

A photo of pale stone foundations with a small set of stairs.

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons stock images.

 

So how do we achieve this? Spreading the load is not difficult except where the soil is very soft, and that is not usually the case in our area. Ensuring that there is no movement is more difficult as our clay in the South East of the UK is prone to shrinkage and heave caused by changes in the moisture content in the clay. For this reason, the minimum founding depth is usually a metre and much deeper if trees are nearby. Holding a building down sometimes has to be considered but by the time you have dealt with the other criteria, this holding down or overturning aspect can be shown to be resolved.

The way we spread the load of the building can be dealt with in a number of ways. The usual way is to dig a trench, fill it full of concrete and then build the load-bearing walls off of this. This is called a trench fill foundation (or footing as builders like to call it) where the concrete almost comes to the surface, or a strip foundation if the trench is only partly filled with concrete and then masonry is built up to the ground level. Sometimes we dig a series of holes which are filled with concrete and then beams span between. These ‘pad foundations’ as we call them require less excavation and soil to be taken from the site, and less concrete, but require additional structural elements above.

The above techniques account for 90% of low rise buildings in the UK whereas for the remaining 10% the solution is usually a piled foundation. Crudely, piles are either driven in or a hole is drilled in the ground and then filled with concrete. The piles will give intermittent support just like the pad foundations mentioned above, and so beams have to be used to span across the top to support the buildings walls. Where the hole in the ground is first created and then filled with concrete it is classed as a replacement pile, and where a steel element is driven into the ground it is called a driven pile. Further sub categorisation is made and they are described as short bored or deep bored piles.

Now this neatly brings us onto the first new innovation in the UK for many years. We now have a worm-screw type of foundation which could be described as a large steel screw and this is screwed into the ground where it becomes the support. It reduces the amount of spoil that has to be removed from site and can be installed in any weather.

Another new type of foundation is that promoted by Advanced Foundation Technology Ltd as advocated by Kevin McLoud of Grand Designs. Basically, this seems to rely on removing some soil and replacing it with a material that will not be affected by freezing conditions. I confess to not understanding how this deals with the shrinkage caused by changes in the moisture content of clay and so I will remain skeptical for now, but clearly in areas where the ground is affected by changes in temperature only, this could be effective.

Clearly the type of foundation your building designer or engineer chooses will be based on individual factors pertaining to your project, and the industry is notoriously conservative for not taking up new ideas but it will be interesting to see how these new ideas are taken up.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd