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Emily Fisher: My Work Experience week at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd

Hi, my name is Emily and I go to Magdalen College School in Brackley. When we were told to find somewhere to do our work experience around January 2017, I wanted to find an architecture practice that would be willing to take me on for a week. Unfortunately, when I looked on the website that the school had given us, there were no small practices nearby. I also wanted a taster for what it would be like to work outside of an office, and in a more interactive way. I searched up architects in and around Brackley, and Clare Nash Architecture Ltd was one that came up commonly. I emailed Clare to see if she would be willing to provide me with some architectural work experience. Clare replied, and asked if I would like to have a short meeting with her in a local café, which I agreed to. After meeting Clare, I was very sure that I wanted to do my work experience with her, because I feel that the way her practice works will become a lot more common in the future, and I am generally interested in the type of architecture she does. After all the school paperwork had been done my work experience week was all set. A few days before I was due to start, Clare emailed me a plan of what we would be doing in the week. After briefly looking through I was very excited, as there was a large range of activities we would be doing.

 

 

 

Monday 10th July:

On Monday, I was quite nervous to go to the Oxfordshire Project networking meeting in Banbury, as I am usually quite shy, and not good around large groups of people I do not know. When we arrived at the café, I followed Clare through, and met a couple of other people at the event. After everyone had spent some time talking and socialising, we all went to sit down at the table that had been put together for us all. (The café had been closed off to the public so the meeting was private). Once we were all sat down, Melanie Greene, an Occupational Psychologist, stood up and gave a presentation, with a few activities, to us all, about our inner critic and our fearful child within us, and how we can master our mind, rather than let it master us. There were no other architects at the network meeting, but a range of different people in different professions, e.g. a performance developer, a stress relief therapist, a podiatrist, and a website designer.

Once Melanie Greene had finished her short presentation, we all had a banana and caramel pancake, which as a nice way to make the mood much more relaxed. When we had all finished eating, we went around the table, and people introduced themselves and their profession to everybody else. After people had all given a small speech about their job, the meeting was over. People started to leave, and others started to talk amongst themselves again. I spoke to a few different people, many of whom thought that I was about 4 years older than I am.

Next, we drove to a potential clients’ house in Croughton. The house was a fairly large 4-bedroom house built in the 1970’s, and the owners were looking to build a second-floor terrace and convert their loft space in some way. The clients also wanted to replace most, if not all the windows, as they were old and letting heat out of the house.

After this we both sat in the car and ate lunch, before heading over to Helmdon, where we visited an elderly couple, who were having trouble with some damp along their southern wall, (their bungalow was the second the builders had ever built, and they clearly did not know what they were doing).They were very sweet, and did not know what was causing the damp, or how to resolve the issue. Clare was very surprised to find that along the whole roof there were only two vents, one at each end, when usually they would be along the whole underside of the roof.

After this Clare dropped me back off at my house. Overall, I really enjoyed my first day of work experience at CNA, because I found it very interesting and educational. Also, Monday gave me a good insight into what it is like doing a variety of different things on a busy day.

Tuesday 11th July:

Architectural work experience

Visit to barn conversion/re-build

barn re-build project

Artists impression of finished dwelling

Clare picked me up from my house in the morning, before we drove over to pick up Jaina (who also works at CNA) from a park& ride near Oxford. Then we drove over to a client’s house, for a site visit, where there was a large barn being built. When I saw it, it was mainly just a steel frame with a floor and upper levels, but there were lots of pipes on the floor for the underfloor heating system. I found the site visit very interesting, as it was the first time I had seen a building mid-construction up close in real life.

Once we had left the site, we drove back to the park and ride and got the bus into Oxford, where we went to a small café/ restaurant, and took the only seat which had a plug next to it because Clare needed to plug in her laptop (At this point it really started to rain and we were very glad we were inside). We ordered a bite to eat for lunch, and I shared a lovely pizza with Jaina. After we had finished our food, I used Clare’s laptop to finish a presentation for her, after some instruction from Jaina, I successfully managed to move and place photos on different slides for Clare. As I had not used InDesign before, it took me a little while to get the hang of things, but once I understood it, it was simple enough.

I enjoyed Tuesday just as much as Monday, even though we did less, because I learnt a few new skills, and experienced what it is like to work outside of an office, but doing less practical work.

Architectural work experience underfloor heating

Underfloor heating pipes on top of the insulation before screed is laid

Wednesday 12th July :

I was looking forward to today because we were going to Oxford Brookes University to work with the rest of the team. Again, Clare picked me up in the morning, and drove us to Kings Sutton train station, where we caught the train into Oxford. After getting off the train we got the bus to Brookes. At first, we went into the Abercrombie building, as this is where Clare usually works with her team, however the room was freezing cold and very desolate, as there had just been a new floor put in. Once Katie and Julia had arrived, we decided to go back to the Forum, where we sat in a work pod. I listened whilst Clare’s team had their meeting and caught up with each other once Jaina had arrived.  They spoke about some old barns that they are converting in Helmdon, and showed/edited floor plans to the client’s request. After this Julia left, and the rest of us went to have lunch.

After lunch, we went back up to the work pods. I used Clare’s laptop again to finish the presentation on InDesign for the Syresham Gems talk she was doing that evening, unfortunately I was unable to go. I found this quite relaxing, because I got into a rhythm of placing, adjusting and labelling photos easily. Around 4 we left Brookes to return to Brackley.

I also enjoyed Wednesday because it was very different to the two previous days, and was purely calm and easy going all day.

Thursday 13th July:

On Thursday, Clare had to pick me up earlier than usual, because we had to drive over to west Wycombe for another Oxfordshire Project networking meeting. I was a lot less nervous for this meeting than I was on Monday (though mainly because it wasn’t my first day), and really enjoyed it, as the people were very friendly and interesting. There was a quick presentation about motivation and mindset, before we all had a bacon sandwich, or fruit salad, and I introduced myself. This time I got to introduce myself and talk a little bit about how I have found working at CNA (I just said that I have so far enjoyed myself and have found it a good experience). Once everyone had talked about their company and a bit of their background, we were left to talk amongst ourselves and some people started leaving. We left just after 12:00, and drove home. Clare had an appointment so dropped me off and I spent the afternoon writing up this blog to put on her website. This was good as it meant I got a small taster of what it is like to work from home in the day time.

 

Friday 14th July:

Today Clare and I decided to meet up in a café in the morning in Brackley, as we had to upload the blog to the website and a potential client wanted to meet Clare. Also, one of my teachers was coming to meet Clare and I in the café, and see how my week had been.

We spent about an hour working on the blog and uploading it onto her website with a few pictures of the site visits. This was fun, as I found out how Clare changes fonts and titles on her website, and how she uploads information to it.

Once my teacher arrived, we had a quick chat about what I had done, and then he spoke to Clare for a while about what she does and for some advice on what he could do with his budget in the way of barn conversions near villages. Once he had left, we worked on the blog a bit more, and then the lady who was meeting Clare arrived. They had a long conversation about economic housing like passive houses and other more efficient systems. Then Clare had to send a couple of emails, before we left and went to get some lunch.

After Clare had gotten her lunch, we walked up to the town park where we sat and ate lunch for a bit. Then Clare gave me a short tutorial on how to use Vector works, which was very interesting because I had never seen or used the programme before. Next, we walked back to Clare’s, and made a quick stop before driving to a small barn conversion/extension just next to Helmdon. The site visit was very nice, as it was completely different to the previous site visit, even though they were both barns. This barn was much smaller and sweeter than the other one. We stayed here for around and hour and a half, after which we left to drive home.

Barn conversion and re-build

Showing new steel frame for re-build part of barn conversion

I found Friday very interesting, because I learned a new skill, and could understand what was happening on the construction site better than on Tuesday, because it was smaller so much easier to see what was going on.

Overall, I really enjoyed my whole week of work experience at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd, and found it very insightful. It was a very good experience, and really helped me confirm what I would like to do in the future. I would recommend her company to other people both clients and future work experience students, because it was very interesting to see how Clare and her team work together outside of an office. I am wholly grateful to Clare for putting up with me all week, and would like to say a big thank you to her for allowing me to do my Year 10 work experience week with her and the company.

 

 

July 17, 2017

AECB Conference 2016

Anne Thorne Architects straw bale house

Fran’s strawbale house

The AECB conference 2016 was held at the UK’s greenest building – The University of East Anglia Enterprise Centre designed by Architype. The most exciting thing for me was that the walls are clad in thatch (a vernacular material) and that all materials were sourced as locally as possible. When designing buildings, there is a lot of focus on keeping energy bills low, but not so much on keeping embodied energy low. Embodied energy is the energy required to manufacture and then deliver the product. Today we can import materials from anywhere, in stark contrast to the vernacular builders of the past who would have been limited to their local area. The latter is far more sustainable, but often overlooked as a necessary part of eco-building. The Enterprise Centre also achieves Passivhaus levels of comfort and air quality. It is a beautiful building, proving that eco design need not be ‘wacky’, it can fit well if it is well designed.

I learnt a lot from Bill Butcher of Green Building Store’s talk about their latest deep (meaning very eco) retrofit of a house in Cumberworth, West Yorkshire. The owners had been paying £3000 a year just on heating (not including wood burning stoves) and were freezing, on this exposed Yorkshire hillside. Having come into some inheritance, they decided if they wanted to stay put, something had to be done. So they enlisted GBS who have achieved a 67% reduction in their heating requirements. GBS used a combination of capillary active Tectem insulation, fibreglass and a new product called Diathonite, all internally. The airtightness result (2 air changes instead of 1) was not as good as they were aiming for. Bill said this was because they should have treated the partition wall as an external wall.

David Gale and Tomas Gartner from Gale and Snowden Architects launched the new Building Biology course in the UK. This teaches practitioners how to mitigate the effects on human health caused by radiation, dust, off-gassing from synthetic materials such as MDF and plastics and alternative materials to use in construction that will not create problems. Our indoor environments have a huge impact on our health including allergies such as asthma.

Fran’s straw bale house

AECB conference 2016 straw bale houseA great highlight of the AECB conference 2016 was a visit to Fran Bradshaw (of Anne Thorne Architects),  house in Norfolk. It is Contemporary Vernacular Design at its best, with locally sourced materials (even the reeds for the thatch which due to poor water quality in the UK, often has to come from abroad), and a design that is a contemporary interpretation of a thatched cottage. Using renewable and low embodied energy materials (timber frame, straw bale walls, roof insulated with thatch, cellulose (recycled newspaper) and wood fibre board) it is also an eco-house in the truest sense. The house also very nearly achieved Passivhaus, showing how energy efficient this way of building can be. it is a brilliant example of how to achieve a beautiful house and an eco-house. All of the AECB visitors agreed, this is the way forward.

I can’t wait to build my own straw bale eco-house!

Hemp prefabricated construction

Greencore Construction

I also attended a seminar by Greencore Construction on hemp and timber frame prefabricated construction. This was very fortuitous and perfect timing as my blog about a CNA visit to one of their houses describes.

Gary Wilburn, Director at HPW gave a talk about some of their larger projects, including a Peppa Pig tourist attraction and a shopping centre with restaurants at Rushden Lakes. While a bit controversial at an event about eco-building (do we really need another shopping centre/tourist attraction to enjoy these natural environments?), Gary’s message about methods of persuasion to clients not yet sold on the benefits of building sustainably was a good one. After all, these types of commercial projects are going to happen whatever we at the AECB might prefer. At least if there is a green architect whispering in the client’s ear, things such as miles of extra cycle paths, wind-catchers providing passive ventilation and removing the need for air-conditioning, use of renewable energy sources and renewable materials as well as wildflower roofs will mitigate the overall environmental impact.

August 30, 2016

Hemp, Lime and Timber Frame Prefabricated Panels

Greencore construction

 

 

Hemp, lime and timber frame prefabricated panels are an exciting way of creating eco-homes. I recently visited a ecohouse (that doesn’t look ‘eco’) completed in August 2016 and built by Greencore construction and was given a guided tour by Julia Bennett and Ian Pritchett.

Prefab or craft, can you have both?

Having written a book on Contemporary Vernacular Design, I am very keen to retain craft skills as much as possible. However, as part of my book research, I interviewed architects Alan Dickson of Rural Design and Neil Stevens of Dualchas, both situated on the Isle of Skye and both producing beautiful contemporary vernacular dwellings, well suited to the tough conditions in the Highlands. What was intriguing to me was that both firms provide their own pre-fabricated dwelling options (coming under R-House and Hebridean Homes respectively) in addition to their usual bespoke dwelling design. These still look beautiful, and as Alan Dickson explained; there are 101 ways to get timber cladding wrong and one way to get it right, pre-fabrication is a way to get it consistently right. These prefab houses look beautiful and crafted.

Inspired by this, I have been keen to explore pre-fabricated construction to reduce time and worry on site (especially with Passivhaus builds). Which is why I was so pleased to attend the Greencore seminar at the recent AECB conference in July 2016. (strange how you have to go all the way to Norwich to discover what you need is only on your doorstep in Abingdon!)

Having provided the hemp construction system for The Triangle, Swindon (link), which was not prefabricated and built on-site during the cold and wet winter of 2010-11, Ian Pritchett could see that prefab, where panels are built in a dry factory, had to be the way forward (having been a doubter himself).

The natural prefab panels

Hemp, lime and timber frame prefabricated panelsGreencore offer a timber framed, hemp-lime filled, factory-made panelised system. But this is not SIPS – which is high in embodied energy, not breathable and studies in America have highlighted issues with poor airtightness detailing causing internal rotting. The hemp and lime lock up carbon and are both renewable and breathable offering a superior living environment. Greencore offer a bespoke design, working with architects at an early stage to ensure that design and construction are in synergy and there will be no surprises on site (or at least they are vastly mitigated – there are always surprises on site).

Commercially viable…

Ian is keen to point out that although you can use clay or lime plasters internally to complete the full breathability of the wall (and therefore a lovely atmosphere as well as very low environmental impact). You can also use standard plasterboard and emulsion paints and that these more commercially viable materials will still offer a pleasant living environment when combined with an MVHR system. I was surprised to discover a lack of fresh paint smell and assumed eco-paints had been used, but no, standard emulsions and an MVHR ventilation system delivering constant fresh air allowed smells to disperse very quickly.

Lots of light in a hemp prefab house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house is simple in design, with an attractive L shape, lovely open plan spaces, lots of light and beautiful vaulted ceilings with large rooflights in the bedrooms and bathrooms.

Simpler to achieve Passivhaus detailing…

Unlike the wide masonry cavity wall Passivhaus construction that I have previously used, the hemp-lime timber frame construction is easier to build in many ways. Windows are best situated in the middle of the insulation to retain best thermal performance and this can be achieved by sitting them on plywood boxes in masonry cavity construction, however stone reveals are not possible and aesthetically clients are not so keen on the deeper external reveals. The hemp-lime system allows you to position the windows centrally without ply-boxes as that is where the timber frame is situated. However, to fulfil client expectations (and this house is a commercial project), Greencore have used pure-nit boards to cantilever the windows closer to the external face of the wall. Purenit® boards, though more expensive than plywood offers much better thermal performance.

Using PHPP (Passivhaus Planning Package) software as standard they are able to predict heating requirements and always beat the predictions of the software on site. This means that the performance of hemp-lime beats the predictions of the PHPP and the heating demand is lower once built than was predicted by the software. This is very advantageous and defies the industry norm of as-built energy performance being lower than predicted in SAP (the industry standard for assessing energy performance of building as required by building regulations for all new buildings).

I am looking forward to working with Greencore on future projects.

 

 

August 30, 2016

Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book out!

My new Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book is out in November!

Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book

My new book, Contemporary Vernacular Design – How British Housing Design can Rediscover its Soul will be available in November 2016. It is available to buy using the link below.

After two years of visiting case studies in the UK and Europe, my Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book has finally gone into production with RIBA Publishing. These two years were challenging because the research involved visiting case studies, interviewing residents, architects and developers or housing associations as well as writing and editing. During this time I was also running a busy practice and teaching a day a week at Oxford Brookes University. The book also contains 5 case studies from further afield, researched as part of my masters thesis. Julia Phillips (architectural assistant at CNA) helped me  with editing and organisation of the book and Katie Reilly (architectural assistant at CNA) gave me useful feedback prior to submitting the manuscript when I was too tired to read another word!

The research has been hugely rewarding and I have met some wonderful architects as well as inspiring housing associations and developers. This research informs our work at the practice and is very much a part of our ethos.

I am also excited to announce that architect Piers Taylor (of £100k house: The Final Fix TV series and founder of the Invisible Studio Architects), is currently writing the foreword.

Buy here

August 20, 2016

Clare Nash’s first Housing book talk

Clare Nash's first housing book talk

 

Clare Nash’s first housing book talk 24/11/15

I was pleased to give my first book talk to the RIBA East Midlands Housing Group and the Northamptonshire Society of Architects. I will be giving more talks all over the UK in future months and it was really useful to receive feedback from my audience on ways to improve.

November 25, 2015

Grand Designs Architect Panel!

I recently received a phone call for Grand Designs asking if I wanted to be an expert judge on their panel. How fun to be a Grand Designs architect, I thought! They wanted me to appear on a new programme about eco-self-build projects happening in Bicester. They were interested in me as I am a female architect with a specialism in sustainability. They came and did a screen test which went very well. I received very good feedback following the screen test. Unfortunately they decided that the panel would be too architect heavy with two architects on it in the end. But how nice to be asked!

A Grand Designs Architect ?

The programme will be about 10 self-builders who are building on the 1000 new self-build plots,  at Gravenhill, south of Bicester that Cherwell District Council are offering. My job as an expert panelist would have been to make a shortlist of 10 from 20 potential self-builders for the 10 Grand Designs allocated plots.

October 25, 2015

RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Role Model – what that means to me

RIBA Role Models

At the RIBA Role Models launch event at Portland Place, London, June 2015

Why an RIBA Role Model?

I became interested in becoming an RIBA role model for two reasons. One, because I am a female architect and I have noticed for some years that there are very few of us! And two, because I studied Part 2 part time, a route that is not well publicised but makes studying architecture more feasible and less daunting financially.

Here is a link to my RIBA Role Model Profile

The only female architect in the office

I was fortunate to work in a roughly 50/50 male/female office for 5 years (after previously working for a practice of 14 staff where the only other female was the receptionist) and really enjoyed having female senior architects to look up to. Previously all my architectural role models were male (and most still are). There is nothing wrong with that. I have received a lot of support from everyone in the industry whether male or female. To me, it is a wonderful place to be, full of highly intelligent creative, witty people. But when you are sat in a boardroom with 10 other men, all of them at least 10 years your senior, but you are the architect and expected to chair the meeting, it is rather nice to have support from a female colleague who understands what that is like.  Women, even those with high intelligence, lots of qualifications and experience, suffer from imposter syndrome (when you wonder when people might find out that you don’t really know what you are doing!). They talk themselves down, where men would usually talk themselves up. This can lead to higher stress levels and high levels of conscientiousness. The first one is unhelpful but can be relieved from feeling you are not alone, the latter one is a highly valued skill in any employee.

None of this of course, has prevented me from being an architect and starting my own practice. I am passionate about architecture and can’t imagine doing anything else. This is what has got me through, but also I have been very fortunate in the quality of experience I have had. I have never experienced sexism directly, but unfortunately know of many others who have.

While writing my book I have had the privilege of meeting some of my architect heroes which has been fabulous, but perhaps disappointing that more couldn’t have been female heroes on my bucket list.

Why do women drop out of architecture school?

I also have the privilege of teaching technology to architecture BA students. At BA level there are roughly 50% female students, this drops off to 20-30% at Part 2 level and even less qualify at Part 3. It made me think that something is happening in that year out that is putting off female students, but not male ones. I hope by being a role model I can encourage more female students to continue to pursue architecture which is a wonderful career.

Architecture has to be long hours and inflexible?

Architecture is famous for long hours and inflexible working patterns. However I have been fortunate to see another side to that. While working at a large practice and studying for Part 2, I worked 3 days in the office term time and 5 in the holidays.  I was running 3 jobs on site, the experience of which fed into my course (technology was no bother whatsoever). It was usual for me to check emails when at university and if there was anything urgent from the builder, I could ring the office to send things for me. It made me realise that flexible working was possible in architecture. I was also famous in the office for leaving on time. It was rare for me to work late unless there was a very important deadline. I was concerned this would make me appear uncommitted. But I knew that my life outside of architecture (triathlon, gardening, gigs) left me refreshed for the following day. Because I wanted my life so much, I was very efficient in the day times to ensure I could have both – architecture and a life.

It is now part of my practice culture that people work flexibly for me. In the winter I enjoy a run or a trip to the allotment in the afternoon in daylight and work in the dark evenings to catch up. Why shouldn’t my employees also be able to do this?

Part 2 Part Time

As I have mentioned above, studying part time gave me the opportunity to gain really valuable experience while studying. I studied for an extra year (Part 2 is 3 or 4 years studied part time, I chose 3), but I went straight through to Part 3 as I already had enough experience, so it actually saved me a year of practical experience. It also meant that when I lost my job in the recession, I had enough experience to set up my own practice, something that would not have been possible for me, had I studied Part 2 full time. Because I worked full time in the university holidays, my salary was enough that I could pay all of my living expenses and pay my own university fees. University fees are much cheaper when you study part time, even taking into account the cost of the extra year. I therefore only have a small student loan from when I studied my BA full time. This may not be the right route for everyone but at least if more people know about it, they have a choice and at least financial reasons should not put them off architecture.

Here is a link to my RIBA Role Model Profile

August 2, 2015

RIBA role models

Clare Nash RIBA Role Model03/06/15

I am pleased to have been selected as one of the 12 RIBA role models to encourage future architects from all kinds of backgrounds and to make it a more inclusive profession. I had great time at the launch event last night and it was lovely to meet the other role models. Not enough time to chat to all of them personally but hopefully we’ll chat at future events. The RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and RIBA president elect Jane Duncan put on a great event that brought up a lot of useful ideas for how we can make the profession more diverse and inclusive.

RIBA Role Models Project

RIBA Role Model Clare Nash

Clare Nash RIBA Role Models

 

June 3, 2015

But having said that…further Barns Permitted Development clarifications

Barns Permitted DevelopmentBarns Permitted Development

RIBA news shows Barns Permitted Development guidance for conversion to dwellings has had further clarification on what exactly is ‘undesirable’. Previously, this was undefined giving councils the right to refuse all kinds of applications because it found the proposed development ‘undesirable’. I have not found this to be a problem so far with any councils that I have worked with. But the need for this clarification shows that some councils are not of the view that barns should be converted to homes. However, one South Northants council officer did say to me “It seems the government wants barns to be converted into dwellings”, so perhaps more councils will be taking this viewpoint in future. It does also seem that overall, it is looking favourable for barn conversions to dwellings for the foreseeable future. The government has taken the time to produce this guidance, which it wouldn’t have done if this was a short term trial. However what happens following the election is as always, unpredictable.

For more on Barn Permitted Development see the following blog posts:

A recent barn conversion to dwelling project that received planning permission see here

If you would like to know more about the change in law for permitted development barn conversion to dwellings, then please see my blog here

 

 

March 20, 2015

Freelance Vectorworks 3D Architectural Assistant

In addition to existing staff, Clare Nash Architecture is looking for a Freelance Vectorworks 3D Architectural Assistant / architectural technologist or technician. Based in the UK, ideally not too far away from South Northants/Oxfordshire area so occasional meetings are possible. Clare Nash Architecture is very focused on energy efficient design and you would be working on predominantly rural projects; farm building conversions, listed farmhouses, rural self-build, extensions and alterations to existing buildings.

March 5, 2015