Sunday, 12 October 2014

Shed Shed Shed!!

So, during the filming of the final of Shed of the Year, Max, Will and I were sitting in the SOTY Winnebago feeling pretty shed happy and fueled with caffeine, we thought it would be a brilliant idea to build our own shed for the Festival of Thrift later on that year.  Sadly Will couldn't make the date, but Max and I quickly realised it would be a hilarious way to put our shed chat into practice. 

Shed of the Year Filming

We obviously wanted to do something super thrifty so after several bonkers ideas that sadly wouldn't work due to several things - mainly gravity, we came up with a plan.  With an architect and a industrial designer - what could possibly go wrong?!

I wanted to build something that didn't resemble the scavenged materials or objects that it was made from, so Max came up with the concept of using old paint tins to create artichoke feathered tile cladding and I got a little carried away about making structural glulam beams from scraps of pallet wood.  With a little skepticism from Max, we went on our merry way.

The shed had to be very low cost and also expandable so someone could take the concept and either build it exactly or use it the basic design and make it their own, tailored to their garden or space.

As a starting point I was looking at an interlacing A frame.  I wanted some of the shed to open up and transform the space.  It is also a great structure as the basis of a modular design.

Initial Shed Sketches

I generally sketch out ideas which then take some sort of shape which then informs what materials to use.  Then the detailing of those materials and how it could be built brings the whole design together and it starts to take form.  I love wood, and I love slatted wood even more.  So that's what I used.

 Building up the design

Finalising the model

With the design drawn up and modeled - I was happy that it was in the realms of physical possibility to build by three people over two days so then I started to worry about creating pallet wood glulam beams.  Max said it probably wouldn't work,  and I started to think he was possibly right.

Strangely pallets sell online at anything from £1 to £6 each.  However with a bit of running around and explaining we weren't going to make pallet tables and sell them for hundreds of pounds, we managed to score a load of them from a logistics company.

Collecting the Pallets

In theory, the idea of making these composite beams is that the pallet itself doesn't have to be in good nick because the structural strength is formed over the finished glulam beam as a whole, rather than the individual slat strength.  So we stripped the pallets using some of my favorite tools - a shagging great big crowbar and a hammer. 
I then laid out the slats of wood to create beams.  For the general joists I used two slats side by side and for the structural joists I used three to create the A frame.
Glulam Construction

From my drawings,  I knew that these joists would all have to be around 3 meters long so I started gluing my beams together to that length.  I used a waterproof wood glue that was creep resistant. I didn't know what that meant,  but I liked the sound of it.  I intended to just glue and clamp the timbers, but it was quite tricky as the pallet wood was different widths and I kind of ran out of clamps too so I ended up screwing the timbers together as well as clamping which worked really well. I left my trial beam to go off over night and went home and dreamt of shed.
IT WORKED! The beam was super strong and I tentatively jumped up and down on it before I set to and made the other twenty.  Now, it took a while yes.  Finding, breaking and sorting pallet wood is labour intensive as is making the beams but with screws and a bit of sunshine and a lot of coffee we were making a three meter strong structural beam in about 10-15 minutes. 

  Testing the first beam

The good thing about clamping the wood is that although ideally its best to the the nails out,  its not essential.  As long as you hammer them down in line with the grain of the wood, they get squashed into the wood and stay there.  Although you would have to use a chop saw that can cope with nails when you cut everything to size later on.
I decided it would be a good idea given our short weekend at Thrift Fest to make one module of my shed.  I based each module on a standard sheet of stirling board/osb.  They can be sourced pretty cheaply new or free from used hoardings if you get lucky, either way they are a perfect way to both build the flooring and give some lateral stability in your little timber frame shed. 

I could go on about the design and building of the shed in some more detail, but I am aware already this post is already pretty tedious.  Overall I think we built a practical modular shed that two people could construct relatively easily over a long spring weekend.  

 The Shed Build

The tiles worked well too.  It was great cutting them up messing around with them and to create different cladding designs and the kids at Festival of Thrift loved getting involved.  Obviously if you used metal tins, it would be a little more difficult and potentially deadly, but the resulting shingles would have a beautiful silver glow with the remnants of old paint and varnish stains that would make each tile unique and gorgeous. 

When we were building, we realised that you needed a fair old whack of empty paint tins to complete the shed.  The fabulous people at Cuprinol gave us a load of their empty plastic tins, but it got me thinking that actually you could use any material really - especially large empty drinks bottles and that would be great inter dispersed with solid tiles to give natural light in the shed. 
I'm working on creating these shed plans so that everyone can have a starting point to build their own shed and take my concept and make it their own.  That's what I like about sheds, its the most democratic form of architecture and I love it.

 Prototype Type "A" Shed Design Drawings

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

My memories of the Glasgow School of Art...


My memories of the Glasgow School of Art...

I have written a little piece about my memories of both studying at the Mackintosh and being a tour guide there for over four years.  It is not about historical fact, but just some of the things that made the building so special to me.  I haven’t been into the Art School properly for nearly ten years, but I can picture the building and recall my tour almost to the word such was the influence the building had on me.    

From as young as I can remember, I always wanted to be a surgeon.  I worked hard in order to fulfill my dream of studying medicine at Cambridge and there was no question in my mind of any other profession for me.  For my 16th birthday, my parents took me up to Glasgow for the weekend and amongst other things, we went up to see a Mackintosh exhibition and the Glasgow School of Art.  I didn’t realise it then, but that surprisingly sunny weekend would change my life.  The image looking down at Mackintosh’s sketch books at that exhibition is as clear in my mind today as it was back nearly twenty years ago.  It was that point that I realised that I wanted to an Architect and I wanted to come and study at the Glasgow School of Art.   

I matriculated at Glasgow in 1998 and quickly fell completely in love with the Art School.  Its castle like fa├žade was the view from drawing board in the Architecture department across the road for many years and as I learnt about the school’s design, history and Charles Rennie Mackintosh himself, I was fascinated.  I became a tour guide at the Art School, and wonderfully each tour guide was encouraged to write their own script to enhance the historical facts, dates and important people.  I still believe this was a great idea, especially as Mackintosh purposefully didn’t catalogue all his specific ideas and symbolism throughout his work, preferring the viewer to be open to their own interpretation.  The tours lasted over an hour and even after pulling an all-nighter working in the studio or with a touch of a hangover, I loved every minute of it.  I feel so privileged to have been able to discuss my thoughts and interpretations of this historic building with visitors from around the world, and I am nearly in tears again writing this, to think that we will never see, smell and feel the original again.

"Tree of Influence" Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1895

I wanted to write down some of my personal memories of the Mack and the influence it had on me as both an architecture student and now as a practicing architect.  I am writing in the present tense, as I know it will be restored to its former glory.

Scottish castle design, light and dark contrasts, European and Japanese influences and various symbolic motifs are evidence throughout the architecture of the School.  One of the main symbols that ran through the building was that of the pagan based “Tree of Knowledge.”  This Tree of Knowledge is found in various guises throughout the work of Mackinstosh, his wife Margaret and the Glasgow Four from intricate organic forms to the pared back three by three square motif.  The planting, growing and flourishing of this wonderful symbol is evident throughout the Art School.  Two heavy swinging black painted timber doors form the main entrance to the School that each have a simple carved seedling design sprouting up to little purple and blue stained glass leaves.

 Entrance Doors with magnificent keystone

As you enter through the dark polished concrete walls of the lobby, light floods down in front of you from a central staircase leading up to the first floor gallery.  As you walk up into the gallery, there are tree like carved roof trusses canopying above.  This symbolic representation of the Tree of Knowledge continues until the library – fount of all knowledge where these seedlings and sapling trees have formed a dense forest of columns, and branches forming the most beautiful dark timber construction contrasted with double height church like leaded windows lighting the plaster casts below, arms raised to the light. 

The First Floor Gallery roof trusses

Both the Northern European folklore and traditional Japanese design influenced Mackintosh, none so much as the Art School library.  The purple stained glass and black iron geometric lights hang down like Art Deco forest creepers and the notched balustrading with the colours green, red, white and blue representing the elements earth, fire, wind and water give a fairy tale forest feel, musty smell and the dark lustre of the wood.  

 The Library

Mackintosh played with light and dark in his designs, and in the Art School he turns the entire building on its head.  High ceilinged airy corridors at the basement level are contrasted with a low vaulted stone corridor on the top floor.  As you ascend the beautifully polished concrete stairwells at each end of the building it feels counter intuitively like you are walking down into bowels of a huge castle.  Turn a corner and feel like you are projected out over the building perched high on Garnet Hill.  The magnificent Hen Run is completely glazed looking out over Glasgow city and to the mountains beyond.  

 Vaulted Cellar like top floor corridor

The Hen Run - such a contrast also on the top floor

I am sure like me, all previous Glasgow School of Art students that spent time in the Art School would no doubt be able to pool our collective memory of the building and be able to rebuild it from scratch such is the beauty, influence and love of our school.  I think it is vital to rebuild using woodworkers, glass makers, leaded window builders and craftsmen by hand and using techniques that would have been used at the turn of the 20th century.  Only then will this magnificent building have a chance to be crafted as Mackintosh’s Tree of Knowledge.  The House for an Art lover, completed in 1996 from the original design although is beautiful, it slightly reminds me a of a flat pack version of Mackintosh.  For me, it’s the little hearts carvings, alcoves with both concrete and timber polished to a shine by over a century of hard working students walking the corridors and studios. 

House for An Art Lover

I know millions of pounds will be spent on the rebuild, but I am starting a campaign to ask all former students of the Art School from the year that I started studying in 1998 to the present day to give between one and ten pounds.  In this way, in addition to all other funding, we could raise up to £320,000 which will contribute to the rebuild in honour of the memories that we all have there.   

Although Mackintosh also designed and built some beautiful churches, to me The Glasgow School of Art was his cathedral to art and learning in all its forms and I truly loved it.