Friday, 20 November 2020

Pegboard Kitchen

Pegboard panels are a very versatile way to transform a space.  Here we took a small kitchen in a holiday let and gave it new life as a fun, playful space.  The same ply was used on the base unit fronts, with pegboard accessories used as handles.  A variety of lighting compensates for the lack of direct natural light.  Happy cooking!!

Pegboard and by Kreis Design
Installation by Steven Shaddick Building & Maintenance

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Regenerating Scotswood

Trans on Scotswood Road. On one side are shops and houses. 

On the other side are the railway line, river and the factories 

of Vickers, Armstrong’s for shells and tanks.

I uncovered this note from my late Dad describing life as a young child in the Scotswood area of Newcastle in the late 1930’s.  The area was adapting to rehousing, changing communities and social engineering.  Although this was more than 80 years ago I believe many of the expectations and aspirations of the residents are still of value today.

The Scotswood area started to the west of the Central Station and Scotswood Road ran along side the River Tyne until it reached the Scotswood Bridge.  It was a long road that I remember walking when we visited my Aunt’s house.  It was long, busy, black sooted but had some good shops and lots of pubs.  My Aunt lived in the back to back houses that stretched from the Scotswood Road up to the steep banks of the Tyne towards Elswick and Benwell.  Elswick, Benwell, and a bit further up the bank, Wingrove and Stanhope Street were a bit posher than the areas of Scotswood.  However, some of the houses in Scotswood dated back to early Victorian times and boasted cellars, an imposing entrance up a number of stairs, big windows and big rooms.  My Aunt by comparison lived in a small ground floor flat with a living room, a kitchen and two bedrooms.  There was no bathroom; the lavatory was in the back yard next to the coal house.  Lighting was by gas and in the evening the lamps hissed above the general conversation.  My cousins were noisy and street-wise.  They had black hair like their father and were dark skinned.  Uncle John was fierce and tough and stood no nonsense from the neighbours but was always ready to help if there was anyone in trouble.  He was a great union man and capable of nicking anything left lying about.  Scotswood was a bit like my Uncle John; tough, without airs and graces, fierce in defence of his beliefs and a bit suspect when it came to living by the law of the land.  

My family was moved by Newcastle Council from Elswick and with other families from Scotswood were given new homes on the Blakelaw estate next to the northern parts of the Town Moor.  The house had an upstairs and downstairs, a living room, scullery with a pantry, three bedrooms and a bathroom.  It had a garden at the front and at the back which were roughly marked out by wooden posts and wire.  It was 1938 and we had electricity!  All of our neighbours were new to us. None of us had moved with people they had lived closely with in Scotswood.  We were from the Elswick area, top of the West Road bank from Newcastle’s Snow Street.  We thought we would know some of our new neighbours but we didn’t. We were a new community that had to get along with each other in our cul-de-sac of houses in Murrayfield Road.  We were a motley lot.  Some found adjusting to the new houses very hard.  Our immediate neighbour was a rag and bone man.  He housed his horse in the scullery until the Council found out.  Bugs from the heaps of old clothing he piled up outside his back door began crawling along the back walls of the houses.  I had never seen bugs like those before.  Adjusting to having a front and a back garden was a novelty for the residents.  Agreeing the extent of each patch and keeping them cultivated and tidy became a new focus of communal attention and  contention.  Another change was the lack of shops.  A lean-to hut and a house converted into a shop were the only facilities for the whole estate.  These were located at the far end of the busy Portland Road which was a hike for both adults and children.  A Co-Op existed even further away in Cowgate.  We attended Cowgate School near Fenham which was another hike each day. The Council improved housing but neglected community amenities in their plan, especially for the kids. 

The Moor was a great boon for us.  Its space and freedom were something novel, and we enjoyed it.  As a gang, the children of Murrayfield Road discovered that over the Moor, in the South Gosforth ‘posh’ houses, there was a small park with swings and a slide.  We trecked there for a while and enjoyed the playground until we were chased off by the South Gosforth residents.  Acceptance of the community did not come easily, after all they had come from Scotswood!  Even on public transport there was a separation social groups.  The No. 4 bus to the centre of Newcastle was always crowded.  The No. 5 service to Newcastle ran on the same route but the closest stop was outside Blakelaw which missed out our estate. You paid more on this bus and it was used by people from Ponteland and Darras Hall.  

Newcastle Council were recognising that they had to address the amenities of our estate when the war came along and all plans were shelved for 5 yeas.  Apart from a new primary school, change was slow.  The community had gelled well but self help was expected. 

Later, in the 1950s, more people from the Scotswood were decanted in to the Montague Estate and Denton area and the new residents seemed to experience similar issues of cultural  change as us.  Money was scarce, the post-war years were lean and Newcastle council at that time was not really tuned to think of community assets to attract residents to the area.  

The original community of Scotswood was tough.  It was not always pretty, but it was alive and vital.  Planning and action by the Council tied to breathe life in to the Scotswood community with improved housing, but also in the process, a re-engineered community culture and controlled social hierarchy.  I wonder how much of what they delivered to this community was working for the community’s benefit.  

July 2007

Friday, 16 October 2020

Finding Form: Using Paper to Realise Architectural Ideas

Working regularly with children and school groups running architectural workshops, I use techniques on paper folding and paper engineering.  The work involves investigating design in 3D to help develop spatial cognitive skills. Folding paper and card helps develop children’s dexterity and the fine motor skills in their hands, which is something easily neglected with the use of iPads and games consoles. The workshops regularly take the children’s design ideas and scale them up to full size with large-format corrugated card and plastic, so the students can experience their creations full-scale.

Products of a design workshop in the Design Technology 
department of Graveney School, London SW17

I think working with paper in this way identifies a gap in the architectural work-flow for professionals as well as being a study focus for school workshops.  Architects don't really play with paper and card to test 3D ideas.  Too often it’s done through 2D or 3D computer models.  UCL's 'Fabricate 2020' conference this year addressed a wealth of computer technologies, parametric software, rapid prototyping and CAD-driven machinery.   Foster & Partners are also investing significantly into large-format 3D printing.  We're handing over our creativity to AI.  The human brain and hands are more sophisticated and articulate than any software or machinery.  A goal of this post is to encourage architects to ‘play’ with paper and card more freely.

Play is the highest form of research - Albert Einstein

I normally work with school students in local authority schools where resources are limited.  Simple paper and card is hugely effective and gets quick results.  I aim to 'lead' the workshops with examples and pre-made kits but the emphasis is on experimentation and play.  It’s not long before they flip the script and student’s creativity takes over.  What children have in imagination out-strips anything I can offer in design experience.  They unpack what experienced designers consider normal or take for granted, and re-structure the work in ingenious ways. 

My enthusiasm for this hands-on paper-based approach to 3D design led me to reach out to Paul Jackson, a world-renowned origami artist and author of over 40 books on the subject.  We discussed the subject and he offered lots of advice on teaching methods and workshop exercises, to get the best results out of this working method.  His advice was very insightful, offering a lot of strategies to work with in the classroom.  Paul said:

There are many reasons to want to manipulate paper, and many methods to work with.  Folding and cutting are the two most basic mechanisms and are creative opposites: Folding makes a sheet smaller and cutting makes it bigger.  This expanding and contracting are two sides  of the same coin but do very different things with the paper.  Folding is geometric and a controlled process.  Cutting can offer a lot more freedom creativity but can be without the same discipline and control as folding.  Paul focuses on folding as it offers more creative control and is a reversible process, which cutting is not.  

Playing with variations on one of Paul's standard folding motifs.

Secondly, start with the reasons for wanting to fold.  Is it to create a structure, a shelter, a pavilion, a bag to piece of furniture?  This should be the starting point of the process.  From there, let play and experimentation drive the investigation to see what the paper offers through your mind and fingers.  

Paul often begins workshops teaching  generic folding techniques.  These are outlined in his books and offer many many possibilities and applications.  Using A4 paper makes work simple and accessible.  Students are less concerned about making mistakes.  Trial and error is important.  The process involves making a mess in the classroom; creating a large body of studies from which the more successful examples can be extracted to form a vocabulary of 3D geometries to develop design proposals with.  

Developing variations on standard folding motifs

This process gets students working three dimensionally, realising studies they can hold in their hands and developing their understanding of 3D geometry which they can then apply to multiple applications.  It’s a process which also seems to work for different design subject areas such as Architecture, Sculpting, Textiles, etc., because the basic principles are transferrable.  Improvisation is an important part of the workshop process because the design sequence will always be different and individual; creativity unpacks what we think we know and offers new possibilities for achieving the design goals.  

Some other very simple exercises include the use of post-it notes.  Asking the students to make one fold only in the sheet might not seem too creative, but assemble them in sequence in a grid and they can transform in to am impressive composition.  Examining the pattern with changing light adds to the dynamic and can be really exciting.  

Options on the theme.  Even crumpling a sheet makes a versatile

Paul says that a simple fold offer more design possibilities than complicated folds.  They can be used in many applications.  Two to three folds can offer a great base for creative design.  Start simple and play.   Test the designed forms in changing light and the environment of the workshop.  

Simple folds establish modules, units, simple patterns and folding motifs which can be arranged in a variety of ways and at different scales to create a huge variety of forms.  Experiment with variations on the same pattern; repositioning nodes, angles of folds and changing the shape of the paper etc.  This offers yet more variations and possibilities.  Different arrangements achieve entirely different forms and results.  

Paul’s advice is to keep the investigation simple and work up to a level of complexity comfortable with the class.  It’s a visual and tactile process that enables students to understand 3D form directly like no other activity - but play is a must:  Play play play!  Paul adds that origami might have been around for thousands of years but there are novelties, new discoveries and new creations that emerge with every investigation.  

Translating folds in to sheet patterns to create pleats and structures

There is something magical about taking a piece of paper and from a starting point of nothing, creating a form, structure or an object with your hands and a few quick folds.  Paul describes it as modern day alchemy.  It's also a reversible process which can transform between one state as another, something which is unusual and special in creative processes.

There is nothing in a sheet of paper that suggests what the form is going to be before it is folded.  It is usually very difficult to visualise a resultant 3D geometry from looking at a folding pattern.  This is a learnt skill. We are not born with it.  We are used to 2D and 3D patterns and forms but we are not trained to perceive the transition between the two.  Perhaps because this needs to be learned we find it easier to rely on computers, CAD, parametric software and 3D printing etc.  But automation and digital technologies are not the same as having something that you can create, hold in your hand and manipulate from one stage to another.  This is not something achievable with 3D CAD.  Computers produce one item at a time and these are not immediately accessible as items you can hold in your hands.  

For primary school pupils, paper folding is important for developing fine motor skills and dexterity in the children’s hands.  Muscular strength required to hold a pencil with early years classes could run in parallel with basic origami skills.  

For architects and design professionals it should be second nature to have a stack of paper to hand by the desk, to enable design issues to be investigated with folded paper exercises.  

For me, this makes workshop planning more focused and efficient.  I look forward to testing these principles out in the classroom soon, when restrictions allow. 

Paul Jackson and his work can be found at:



YouTube:  (Although Paul stresses that books on the subject are a much better source for ideas and learning skills) 

Monday, 27 July 2020

Architecture runs on STEAM

Architecture involves just about every subject in the National Curriculum. It is not limited to STEM subjects and relies as much on arts based and practical subjects to create balanced results.

Architecture demonstrates that it’s important to have a full spectrum of subjects for creativity.  Subjects are important in themselves and in integration to support design and architecture related disciplines.

Architecture demonstrates the importance of the full spectrum of
academic subjects; individually, integrated and from the connections in between.

STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) promote left brain thinking.  They are important objective subjects but often teach us how the world is supposed to be, rather than prompt us to consider how it could be or challenge the knowledge.

STEAM subjects include The Arts, adding creativity, subjectivity and a challenge to what we think.  This is important for adding depth and additional dimensions to the more objective subjects.  It can present a challenge to our thinking and make some uncomfortable departures from our comfort zones, but the results are worth it.  It's a key component to innovative and creative thinking.

A full spectrum of subjects, including practical courses, are important for creativity.  This allows thinking around problems and realising solutions which would otherwise prove difficult to unlock.  Young minds are diverse thinkers And incredibly creative which is important to recognise and encourage.  Education can help train the mind to harness and develop that creativity.  This makes it important to support STEAM subjects in education and promote connections between each subject discipline.  Art based subjects help us to question, conceptualise, visualise and describe our thoughts, not just illustrate them.

Sunday, 5 July 2020


DesignBox Architecture with Graveney and Glenthorne Schools are delighted to have been shortlisted for the Empowering Platforms competition held by the London Festival of Architecture, with Westminster Council.

The competition called for proposals to reimagine the experience that people have with the River Thames along the Westminster north bank:  A design centred around inclusivity and accessibility, creating a stimulating experience at the river-front for all.

Our proposals sought to capture the imagination and creativity of secondary school students with a response reflecting the cultural diversity and ideals from the students, our next generation of London citizens.

With the student team we developed 'YouScape'; an urban outdoor garden library.  It's a place to sit and relax and escape from the pressures of London.  It is designed to be a simple platform to connect to nature within the heart of London and engage with literature.  An oasis within the city.

Site investigation, design considerations and brainstorming

It is designed as a catalyst for community involvement, to draw people to the installation to engage with others and read a book, surrounded by greenery.  Relaxing in the installation, people can observe the passage of time, watching the activity on the river and passers-by.  A screen with planting and a wall of books separates people from the noise and bustle of the traffic behind.

'Put your feet up and read a book' was a key reaction to the site from the student team.

Initial concept ideas and MoSCoW analysis

The concept was developed to capture the scenic river views whilst isolating people from the noise of the city.  The project seeks to capture light and encourage the growth of plants, to help make it an engaging and interactive installation for everyone.  

Student concept perspectives

The selection of materials examined the practicalities of the surfaces required with opportunities to introduce colour and light into the installation.  The team selected plants which are ideal for horizontal and vertical surfaces, require little maintenance and can be easily trained.  They were identified for their variety of types, colours, flowers and even fruit.

Materials for practicality, durability and fun

Planting selected for variety of type and colour, and for ease of maintenance

The proposals were drawn up in CAD to create a measurable set of drawings for discussion with suppliers and fabricators.  The team discussed the advantages of simplifying the range of materials and number of assembly processes to enable a simple procurement route with as few supply chains as possible.  This was of increased importance in the period of social and economic lock-down because of Covid-19.

Plans, sections and elevations of the proposals for
discussions with suppliers to resolve price
and programme issues

The proposals involved a stressed skin structure in timber and polycarbonate sheet.  Each component performs several tasks.  The structural frame doubles as the book case and the polycarbonate sheet stabilises the overall enclosure and let light in.  The installation is self-supporting and can sit on rubber levelling mats, set directly on the pavement.  The installation is designed to be as simple as possible so it can be fabricated by a joiner or general builder and assembled by the student team.

Structural developments in discussion with a Structural Engineer at Price & Myers
and with feedback from timber fabricators

The proposals included solar cells with localised batteries to supply power for lighting.  A small back-up battery similar to that used in EV vehicles was proposed to keep the overall system energised.  This could be topped up periodically either by a portable charging system or swapped out for a fully charged unit.

Low energy LED strip lights concealed within the flange of the ribs were selected with colour temperature gradients to work with the changing colours of natural daylight.  An integrated photocell allows the lighting to respond to natural daylight patterns.

Services developments kept simple to be easily managed.  Proposals developed with AECOM.

The budget for the installation was £20,000+VAT, which was to include a nominal design fee of £2,000+VAT.  This left £18,000 for fabrication, installation, one relocation during the LFA 2020, maintenance whilst on site and removal at the end of the festival. With a Quantity Surveyor, we worked back from the logistical and site requirements of the project and determined that £12,000 was available for materials and fabrication to achieve the proposals. 

Exploded Isometric:
1 Structural ribs,
2 Bracing,
3 Flooring with anti-slip surface,
4 Central tower book case
 5, Rear wall book case,
6 Metal grid for training plants,
7 Polycarbonate coloured transparent roof

The proposals considered that the installation might be fabricated off-site, transported to site and lifted in to position as a single unit, with lifting eyes similar to that of a 20ft ISO container.

A place to sit, relax and read a book and engage with nature
in the heart of London

We are all stakeholders in the design of our surroundings.  YouScape, designed by our team of secondary school London students demonstrates this.  We hope that the proposals demonstrate how we all can take a greater role in working to create a more inclusive, accessible and cohesive environment.

Value engineering: Investigating options with geometry,
materials and fabrication methods to reduce costs

Discussions with suppliers identified that the curved geometry was adding a premium to the price and exceeding the budget.  The team discussed options to reduce costs without compromising the concept.

Amended scheme to meet the competition budget

The value engineered option is designed to save costs by replacing the curves geometries with faceted panels, sizing all items to work with full 8'x4' ply boards, and fabricating the installation for flat-pack assembly so it can fit into the back of a large luton van.

Value engineered scheme, exploded isometric:
1 Four base panels bolted together,
2 Six rear panels,
3 Two panels bolted together to form the lower walls,
4 Two panels with polycarbonate roof to form the upper walls on each side,
5 Central book case tower,
6 Four panels with polycarbonate sheets to form the roof

The process of working with the student team was thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening.  As our next generation of London citizens, the values and insights they brought to the project, along with commitment and collaboration was a delight to experience and work with.  We produced a very exciting and achievable design proposal despite the restrictions we worked through.  The student team was brought together in the first lockdown of 2020.  We raised the team from volunteers, reaching out through the School's Google classroom platform and we never actually met face-to-face to work on the proposals.  The project progressed through a combination of daily Zoom meetings and emailed files.  I am extremely proud of the team, firstly for rising to the challenge and secondly, for persevering through these difficult circumstances.  I'm told they thoroughly enjoyed the process and I worked to allow the students to lead the design conversations and have fun with the design.  

In addition we had assistance from the industry specialists listed below, which gave the zoom discussions an additional dimension and grounded their proposals in reality.  I understand that one student now wants to pursue a career in architecture and another in design-based engineering.

Professional Design assistance:

Structural Engineering: Price & Myers, London

Services and Sustainability Engineering: AECOM

Cost Consultant: Morham & Brotchie (Oban)


Buildability assistance:

Phil Cooper, Cooper Joinery & CNC Services

Michael Acey Furniture & Bespoke Interiors


A professional Architectural drawing class was presented by Phil Buckingham: Drawing Classes for Architects.  The class took place over Zoom and focused on interior and exterior perspective techniques to help the students develop the proposals.  


By Chris Curtis,, developed from the student’s drawings.

Our scrap-book of ideas which we used in the design discussions can be found on our Pinterest page.

I hope there will be an opportunity to repeat the process with another competition soon.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

A Window to the Future (in a nutshell)

I asked my son for a list of things he had seen on the internet which interested him.  It was partly to get an understanding of what makes him 'tick' now that he is 16 and shaping his own views of the world.  It was also because the interests and values held collectively by our next generation of adults will shape the future of our business and industries.

This is the response below with his notes:  A set of nine youtube clips mostly about technology, economics, health and the future of our nations. 

How we can harvest the energy of the sun on a galactic scale and push onto the next level of civilisation:

How we can use the energy of the sun and move the whole solar system in any direction:

In-depth explanation of the recent pandemic:

How we could utilise this as antibiotics become obsolete:

Infusing glass with uranium to create luminescence: 

How we could turn a black hole into a bomb hahahaha:

Information on the EU:

The moral discussion of whether to allow robots to have rights as humans:

Where valuable minerals are created and the conditions needed:

It addresses an ambitious set of ideas which reflect the areas of technology we are entering in to now, including GRAIN (genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence and nano-technology) supported by Tier-0 technologies, and beyond with astrophysics and energy creation.

I thought it was a neat little exercise and might prove valuable as a wider student study to form a perspective on the valued held by our younger generation and what the world might be like in the future.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Innovations with Building Materials

I wrote a literature review on the innovation of  materials in the building industry some time back.   Then period architecture, especially Victoriana was considered more desirable than contemporary builds in popular culture.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world was on the start of a technological wave involving the internet, information technology and world wide communications.  The innovative products of this were conspicuous in their intent to introduce us to their brave new world.  By comparison, innovations in building materials were often hidden behind more familiar or traditional materials with reference to the past.  Other industrial sectors such as aircraft, train and car manufacturing appeared more confident about displaying a design aesthetic which marked their place in the present, looking forward.  

With the current generation of technological innovations progressing with the involvement of A.I., automation, genetics, 5G networks and nanotechnologies, it is worth taking a look at the position of the building industry in this context, to speculate what the affect might be on Architecture. 

Barriers to Innovation

Barriers to innovation arise from the balance of the relationship between producers and consumers.  The products of this relationship provide evidence of how innovation is managed and tells a lot about the producer / consumer relationship.  Back at the turn of the century, there was a strong reliance on design as a tool to reinforce the values of known materials rather than experimenting with the possibilities of the new.  There were and have been since, lots of innovations in building materials and building systems, but the finishing layers usually default to a familiar material with a commonly held value, with the innovation hidden behind.  There are many excuses that might be given, such as a building has a long design life so designing it to fit in to a known period style is safer than exposing innovation that might look dated in years to come, and innovative design presents a risk because new building systems can fail with serious consequences, but I believe the key issues lie within the structure of the building industry which and its knowledge and understanding of its consumer base and stakeholders. 

The building industry is very fragmented with a lot of independent business entities involved.  Clients appoint Architects to represent their requirements and aspirations with aesthetic designs.  Architects also have one eye on their position within the Architectural profession and standing with their peers, PI insurance, resource schedules and project risk assessments.  Other design team members are similar.  It is difficult to establish an integrated and cohesive R&D programme to a relationship which gathers for one project over the course of a year or two, then disbands.  Instead, design is used as the key tool to balance functional requirements and aesthetic aspirations, largely with materials and building systems available to the industry; products developed specifically by companies to ensure a successful uptake. 

Innovating with building materials

Knowing the market place and the customer base is a key item.  Typical examples where bold innovation has changed societies and industries are often characterised by single businesses which have carefully controlled their innovation processes and managed their risks to achieve great results.  The public face of these companies looks simple and understandable, even though the processes and supply chains behind are not. 

Brand value and standing within the market place reportedly accounts for a lot of credibility with the public.  It is hard won and easily lost, but represents customer loyalty and trust.  With the public's engagement in a company brand, the risk associated with bold innovations can be greatly reduced and more effectively managed. 

Opportunities for Innovation

Developments in technologies are progressing at an ever increasing rate and we are on the verve of a next wave of changes to society with Tier 0 technologies.  This will no doubt have an affect on the building industry with regard to how we design and produce buildings, how the services will operate, how they will be maintained and lots of stuff to do with what goes into them, but hopefully it will also mean more than a smarter way of producing a brick wall.  It's a chance for the building industry to catch up to other industrial sectors but for this to happen, it might require a new business model in the industry to present an integrated and cohesive offer; a Google or Netflix of the building industry.