Wednesday 14 February 2024

Never Mind About Maths and Physics

Year 8 student's work at an Architectural Design workshop at
Hampton School, with the RIBA schools outreach programme.
Photograph by Paul Cochrane. 

So many people I meet say they would have loved to have trained as an architect but they were discouraged because their maths or physics were not good enough.  Don’t worry about maths or physics.  Buy a calculator instead!

There are about 46,000 architects in the UK and I bet you won’t find two the same.  Architecture is a subject with a wide professional scope, there is a place for everyone and I would suggest that individual talents need to be encouraged.  Some people are good at making presentations and delivering the pitch to win a project.  Others like to draw and enjoy conceptualising ideas.  Every practice needs its mechanics - the architects that can take a concept and make it realisable with robust details.  Job runners are essential because they can progress a project through the RIBA work stages from design, through its statutory consents, to construction and completion.  Some architects are good at client liaison - without clients where would be no work.  Others are good at contract administration and contract law - we all need to be accountable and stay on the right side of the law.  CAD, BIM, parametrics, generative AI and visualisation draws its specialists out of the profession, as does physical model making.  The examples can go on.  Architecture is a subject which spans all subjects, from arts, languages and the humanities side of the national curriculum to maths, sciences and technology.  And there’s room for everyone! 

If you want to be an architect, go for it.  It’s a big pool and can make very rewarding profession.  To test the water, here’s a couple recommendations to that every architect should do, from budding student to seasoned professional.  They are both confidence builders and learnt skills, so there is nothing to lose:

  1. Draw.  It is important to articulate your ideas visually in architecture, so drawing is an important skill to develop.  Get a sketch book, something that will fit in your pocket with a pencil, pen, anything that will make a mark, and practice drawing buildings, spaces, people, animals, anything.  There is one rule to remember - There is no such thing as a bad drawing.  So dive in.  You might not like your sketches at first but give it time and some patience.  Drawing styles are as individual as the number of architects so go with what works for you.  As you gain confidence, practice quickening your drawing pace.  There will be occasions when it is important to capture the moment, describing an idea in a meeting with a client, the boss or to a design team.  Look at as many examples of drawing styles as you can and experiment with the styles and techniques.  Enjoy developing your skills.   
  2. Network.  Architecture is a very social profession and networking is important not just to meet new people.  Networking is a life skill that will develop your confidence to handle many social situations you will encounter as a professional.  The goal is to feel confident standing in front of people and verbally articulate what you are about:  Be visible and accountable.  There are a lot of people to engage with from clients to consultants, suppliers and work colleagues, and everyone with an interest in what you are doing.  Think about what positively defines you, what excites you about architecture and why you chose this route.  Develop a set of narratives which describe your aspirations (where you want to go in the profession), interests (what makes you individual), skills (what you are good at, especially in drawing), and any success stories you might have to tell.  Work on developing your confidence to stand in front of people and successfully deliver the relevant messages for that situation.  Think of it as acting out a role.  This will become useful when it is time to pitch to a client for a project, deliver a presentation to an audience, argue your case on a design decision or stand your ground in a workplace dispute.  It is all relevant. 

Your college course at architecture school should cover most everything else, even some maths and physics (although I can’t remember when).  To help and as a starter in drawing and networking, some links are given below.  Good luck in whichever professional route you take.

Friday 26 January 2024

The Changing Residential Property Market

There aren't many options when deciding what to do with a rental property,
but the short-term rental option is proving to be an attractive choice
for many residential property owners.

Statera Estates director Ibrahim Braimah explains how changes in the residential property market are pointing towards new opportunities in short-term lets.  

Property management within the housing market is changing.  Fluctuating and changes offer both uncertainties and opportunities for private landlords.  Previous changes in tax laws for private landlords and rising interest rates have been pushing some landlords out of the rental market.  In contrast, proposed changes in UK planning laws to allow houses to be split in to flats under permitted development, and the rising short-term letting market offer opportunities.  At Statera Estates, Ibrahim Braimah specialises in property management of houses and flats as short-term lets through platforms including Air BnB and  

I asked Ibrahim these five quick questions:

1 What is the first thing to consider when entering the short-term letting market?
The success of managing properties through platforms like Air BnB depends largely on location.  Before doing anything, analyse the location of the proposed property and what would drive ‘traffic’ to it.  Ask ‘Why would people want to stay there?’

2 What are the pitfalls to watch out for?

Remember that short-term property lets are part of the hospitality sector rather than the property rental sector.   Obviously more time and attention is required to manage properties this way, and the market is seasonal.  Typically there is less income in the winter compared to the summer.    

3 What opportunities are there to take?

Short-let online booking websites are are fantastic platform to generate business, but it is important to build relationships with your client guests when they arrive.  This can drive future sales directly.  Excellent customer service is essential!  

Also, short-term lets don’t necessarily need to be over a few days.  Building contractors and large businesses often require properties for up to six months or more on short-let agreements, depending upon their requirements to accommodate site operatives or visiting employees from abroad.  

4 What is a little known gem?
Currently under Section 24 of the tax rules, properties that qualify as furnished holiday lettings can be treated differently from normal rental income.  This means that if the property qualifies, private landlords can offset their full mortgage costs against their income, which is not possible under standard traditional tenancies.

5 What is your favourite success story?
We took on a two-bedroom flat in Elephant and castle which had stood empty for two years.  It was in a poor condition after being abused by its previous tenants and the owners had lost confidence in the traditional rental market.  Statera Estates took the flat on, managed its refurbishment and now market it as a short-term let under Air BnB.  The monthly income has always exceeded the equivalent traditional rental value, bringing in twice as much in winter and three times in the summer.  The owners are very happy.  

Statera Estates offer a full service for short-term lets, currently focused on Central London and surrounding areas.  Ibrahim also coaches landlords on how to get started in Air BnB property management, for those who want to manage their own properties.  He said the short-term letting space is strong and competitive but it is still a healthy competition and good environment to be in.

Both Statera Estates and DesignBox Architecture are members of BNI Guild in London, UK.  Here we form part of a wide group of specialists who can assist with a range of property-related services.  

Friday 12 January 2024

Estimating Your Project Programme

 Another key aspect of managing your building project is working out the programme, or how long it will take.  This is especially important if you want to complete by a specific date or need to find alternative accommodation whilst the work is carried out.  Here is our little guide to estimating your project programme.  

The periods where you have most control over the programme (within reason) are during the design and non-construction times.  The construction period should be governed by a contractor's build-programme, but it is common for issues to challenge this.  See our post on the 'moving parts of a project'.  The planning process in particular can take longer than the scheduled 8-weeks following registration.  

Setting out the work-flow illustrates how long the project might take and what to expect in terms of your year (or two) ahead.  

Bear in mind that, with the best will in the world, construction work is noisy, dusty and disruptive.  If you are living in your home during a refurbishment, be prepared.  

We hope this is useful to help visualise the sequencing of a project programme.  It is recommended that you fully plan your project early and keep track of any developments.  If in doubt, seek professional assistance from a qualified architect. Here at DesignBox we can offer architecture and project management services, so please contact us if you would like to discuss your project.

Friday 22 December 2023

Calculating your Budget


Setting the budget for your project  is an important consideration.  There is a lot to consider and keep control of.  So here is a simplified summary of an approach to hopefully help control the process. Think of your project costs in four parts which are intrinsically linked.  

Then highlight the important items within each as well as items you might accept losing if costs mount up.  

Careful planning is recommended to keep control of your project.   If in doubt, seek professional assistance from a qualified cost consultant.  

Here at DesignBox we can offer architecture and project management services, so please contact us if you would like to discuss your project.

Additional references:

Checkatrade's average cost of a house extension:
Checkatrade's average cost of a new kitchen:
Checkatrade's average cost of a loft conversion:

Please note these links give estimated contract costs to which design and consents, non contract costs, contingency and VAT might need to be added. 

Good luck with your project! 

Tuesday 28 November 2023

The Moving Parts of a Project

Starting a building project can be a daunting task if you are managing it yourself.  There is a lot to consider and keep control of.  So here is a simplified summary of an approach to hopefully help control the process.

Think of your project in four parts which are intrinsically linked.  Then highlight the important items within each.  This will include large items such as the overall budget cost and size of the project, and relatively small items such as the type of floor finish or type of windows.  There will be implications of each item in terms of scope, cost, quality and time and understanding the dynamics of these will be helpful as your project develops.  

It’s easy for a project to run away with itself, with costs and timescales increasing putting pressure on the nice things you want.  Careful planning is required to prevent this. 

The key antagonistic relationships are cost and time, against scope and quality.  Changes in scope and quality during a build usually have a greater impact on cost and time than they would during the pre-build design stage.

Imagine all four parts in a diagram where the relationships are triangulated and each part connects with all the others.  This helps to track the impact of one against another.  

These diagrams are really the same model seen with a different central focus: The parts arranged as a tetrahedron enable us to analyse the project prioritising each area.  

We hope this is be a useful tool to help visualise the mechanics of a project to assist with its control.  It is highly recommended that you fully cost and set the scope for your project early in the project and regularly track them as the project develops.  If in doubt, seek professional assistance from a qualified cost consultant.  Here at DesignBox we can offer architecture and project management services, so please contact us if you would like to discuss your project.     

Saturday 26 August 2023

Invisible Cities Visualised

The multitude of AI platforms now in existence make a buffet of resources for assisting creative work-flows.  AI is diversifying and specialising, with different applications taking the lead in different creative disciplines including essay writing, coding, song writing, music composition, story telling and visualisation etc.  

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Experimenting to see how Midjourney would tackle Italo Calvin’s ‘Invisible Cities’ created some interesting results and it became a very useful introductory exercise to see how the software works.  

Midjourney’s representation of Isidora: 
A dreamy city with spiral staircases encrusted with 
sea shells and buildings with telescopes… 

The latest skill-set to learn appears to be ‘prompt engineering’; a combination of descriptive words, reference images, correct prompt sequencing, grammar protocols and reference codes to generate the required image.  But it often involves a lot of trial and error and it’s like working with another person in the room.  Sometimes the images are incredible and sometimes you just have to accept what you are given, despite all the hours down the Midjourney rabbit-hole.  

Midjourney’s representation of the futuristic city of Dorothea, 
With aluminium towers, gates and draw bridges, moats, and canals…

As an architect, it s important to be able to produce your own design images directly,  Being able to ‘hold a pencil’ is the first skill, but packages like this can make a powerful support tool when managed accurately.  

Midjourney’s representation of Isaura, city of a thousand wells…

It appears to work with some preconceptions based around the prompt words. Images related to cities often result in vertically stacked buildings or historical scenes, pointing towards a dystopia or utopia, depending on the vibe in the prompts.  

Midjourney’s representation of the city of Armilla with no walls,
ceilings or floors, just water pipes where house should be…

The creative direction has to come from the accuracy of the prompts.  The software is powerful in both executing the instructions and creating compelling graphics, but it appears to draw on its enormous library of reference material and established comprehension of the world, rather than open minded creativity.  

Asking Midjourney for an image of a room with no walls, ceiling,
floor, walls, doors or windows, just to see how it copes…

Meanwhile, back at the point of this blog post, the objective information from a selection of the cities in Italo Calvin’s book were drafted in to a prompt sequence with great excitement for the images Midjourney would assign to each city, realised over half a Century after Invisible Cities was written!

Experimenting with he idea of a city built on scaffolding…

Some images are are very exciting and evocative.  Others looked a bit more like products of a set process.  There was a lot of trial and error, experimenting with the text, prompt settings and results.  The exercise was also useful because it prompted careful focus on the cities being described in the Midjourney engine and it was telling that all the images i imagined I’m my mind looked nothing like those given by Midjourney!  

Experimenting with the idea of a city in the sky…

Obviously there is still no substitute for developing your own drawing skills yet, but at the very least AI offers an incredible set of reference resources to work with.  

Experimenting with he idea of a city in the sea,
constructed from scaffolding…

In conclusion, this is an incredible resource and easily an important tool in the design arsenal.  It’s advantage as a professional resource comes in to play with he skill of knowing prompt engineering.  But unlike most other software packages, it’s fun to engage with and provides lots of exciting visuals on the way to reaching your final image.  

Friday 6 January 2023

Technology Takes Command

G.R.AI.N Technology Directs the Future

Technology is changing our lives at lightning speed.  It can now assist us to gather ideas and formalise arguments in seconds.  A.I. for in particular is about to change the way we exist.  For example,  give Chat GPT a topic for an essay, thesis, piece of creative literature or even computer code and it will provide responses more insightful than you could imagine, in a matter if seconds!  In fact, it took far less time for it to produce the well considered and articulated responses below than it took me to write these less articulate lines.  

On the theme of technology and its future impact in Architecture, Chat GPT responded below on the implications of  Genetics, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, nanotechnology and cryptography (Grain+Crypto), arguably the key components of the next technological revolution and their possible impact on the future of Architecture:

1.  What is the future of Architecture?

It's difficult to predict the future of architecture with certainty, but there are a few trends and developments that are likely to shape the field in the coming years.

One trend that is already well underway is the increased use of technology in the design and construction of buildings. This includes the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software, building information modelling (BIM), and other digital tools to streamline the design process and improve the efficiency of construction.

Another trend is the focus on sustainability and the environment. Many architects are designing buildings that are more energy efficient and have a smaller environmental footprint. This includes the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, and the incorporation of green spaces and other features that can help mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on the field of architecture. Many architects are now designing buildings with features that can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases, such as better ventilation systems and touchless technologies.

Overall, it is likely that technology and sustainability will continue to be major drivers of innovation in the field of architecture.

2.  What opportunities exist for robotics in Architecture?

There are many opportunities for robotics in architecture. Some examples include:

  1. Automated construction: Robotics can be used to perform tasks such as welding, painting, and bricklaying with a high degree of precision and speed.
  2. Building inspection: Robots can be used to inspect buildings for structural integrity and identify problems that need to be addressed.
  3. Disaster response: Robotics can be used to access disaster-stricken buildings and assess damage, allowing emergency responders to prioritise their efforts.
  4. Energy efficiency: Robotics can be used to monitor and control a building's energy use, ensuring that systems are operating efficiently and consuming as little energy as possible.
  5. Environmental monitoring: Robotics can be used to monitor a building's environmental performance, such as air quality and water usage.
  6. Security: Robotics can be used to patrol buildings and monitor for potential security threats.
  7. Transportation: Robotics can be used to transport people and goods within a building, such as through the use of elevators and automated carts.

Overall, the use of robotics in architecture has the potential to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance safety.

3.  What opportunities does genetics offer to architecture?

Genetics has the potential to offer several opportunities to the field of architecture. Here are a few examples:

  1. Customised design: Genetic information can be used to create customised designs for buildings and other structures that are tailored to a specific location or climate. For example, an architect could use genetic data to design a building with features that are optimised for a particular region's weather patterns or natural disasters.
  2. Adaptive design: Genetic data could also be used to design buildings that are able to adapt and respond to changing environmental conditions. For example, a building could use genetic algorithms to adjust its temperature or lighting in response to changes in weather or the time of day.
  3. Sustainable design: Genetics could be used to design buildings that are more sustainable and have a smaller environmental footprint. For example, architects could use genetic information to design buildings that are more energy efficient or that incorporate renewable energy sources such as solar panels.
  4. Customised materials: Genetics could also be used to design and develop new building materials that are customised for specific applications. For example, architects could use genetic engineering to create materials that are stronger, more durable, or more sustainable than traditional materials.

Overall, the use of genetics in architecture has the potential to revolutionise the way we design and build structures, and could lead to more efficient, sustainable, and adaptable buildings.

4.  What opportunities does Artificial Intelligence offer architecture?

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to offer several opportunities to the field of architecture. Here are a few examples:

  1. Automated design: AI could be used to automate the design process, allowing architects to create designs more quickly and efficiently. AI algorithms could be trained to generate design options based on a set of parameters or constraints, allowing architects to explore a wider range of design possibilities.
  2. Optimised design: AI could be used to optimize the design of buildings for specific purposes, such as energy efficiency or sustainability. AI algorithms could analyse data on building performance and suggest design changes that would improve the building's performance.
  3. Predictive analysis: AI could be used to predict how a building will perform under different conditions, such as different weather patterns or occupancy levels. This could allow architects to design buildings that are more resilient and adaptable to changing conditions.
  4. Virtual assistants: AI could also be used to develop virtual assistants or chatbots that could help architects with tasks such as scheduling, project management, or communication with clients.

Overall, the use of AI in architecture has the potential to greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the design process, and could lead to more innovative and sustainable buildings.

5.  What opportunities does nano technology offer architecture?

Nanotechnology has the potential to offer several opportunities to the field of architecture. Here are a few examples:

  1. Customised materials: Nanotechnology could be used to develop new building materials that are customised for specific applications. For example, architects could use nanotechnology to create materials that are stronger, more durable, or more sustainable than traditional materials.
  2. Self-cleaning surfaces: Nanotechnology could be used to create self-cleaning surfaces for buildings, which could reduce the need for maintenance and improve indoor air quality.
  3. Smart buildings: Nanotechnology could also be used to create "smart" buildings that are able to adapt and respond to changing conditions. For example, nanotechnology could be used to create sensors and other devices that can detect and respond to changes in temperature, humidity, or occupancy levels.
  4. Energy efficiency: Nanotechnology could be used to improve the energy efficiency of buildings by creating materials that are able to store and release heat or electricity more efficiently.

Overall, the use of nanotechnology in architecture has the potential to greatly improve the performance and sustainability of buildings, and could lead to the development of new and innovative materials and technologies for the construction industry.

6.  What opportunities does cryptography offer architecture?

Cryptography is a branch of mathematics that deals with the secure communication of information. It has the potential to offer several opportunities to the field of architecture, particularly in the area of building security. Here are a few examples:

  1. Secure communication: Cryptography could be used to secure communication between different systems within a building, such as security cameras, alarm systems, and access control systems. This could help protect against unauthorised access or tampering.
  2. Secure data storage: Cryptography could also be used to secure the storage of sensitive data within a building, such as financial records or personal information.
  3. Secure building access: Cryptography could be used to create secure building access systems that use encryption to protect against unauthorised access. For example, an access control system could use cryptographic keys to authenticate users and grant them access to certain areas of a building.
  4. Secure payment systems: Cryptography could also be used to secure payment systems within buildings, such as vending machines or parking garages. This could help protect against fraud and unauthorised access to financial information.

Overall, the use of cryptography in architecture has the potential to greatly improve the security of buildings and protect against unauthorised access and data breaches. 

This is  is a fascinating set of responses which suggests Architecture and design, building systems and the service life of buildings being more self-aware and autonomous in the future.  There is a lot about processes, procedures, materials and environmental sensitivity but not much on style and form.  I suppose style and form will be influenced by technology and express the innovation with visibly new materials and building systems.  Alternatively, as it so often does, familiar materials and architectural forms could cloak the innovations in an acceptable wrapper.  

The responses above offer a fascinating insight into potential technological advancements in Architecture.  Future AI engines, including Chat GPT will evidently be able to control more directly the evolution of the industry and associated professions.  Not even the best project managers can extract from of the heads of the client, design and stakeholder teams all the most valuable information and deploy it successfully, but AI will!  

Will humans be left behind in this continued development?  500 years ago, it was believed one person could acquire the sum of all human knowledge.  As knowledge progressed, academic disciplines split in to specialist areas.  Now there is so much specialised knowledge it has become a skill for us to collaborate effectively.  This is where AI and innovative technologies can step in to assist, albeit with a leap of faith.  

I'm sure Siegfried Giedion would have had a lot to say on this subject.  75 years after his book 'Mechanisation Takes Command' where he predicted the opportunities of mechanisation, prefabrication and mass production following technological advancements in the Second World War, the opportunities for technological progress in Architecture and the Building Industry today has never been greater.