Start on site – Colebourne road

We have the start on site today for one of my smallest projects ever. As is so often the case, this is a something from almost nothing scheme. We are taking out a really tiny kitchen, extending by just enough to get in a bigger kitchen and knocking through to the kitchen dining room. Small, but perfectly formed. Enjoy the picture, wheelbarrow fans!

Can’t touch this (thermostat)

Nice review of the Nest smart thermostat here from the Guardian. The smart thermostat learns your heating requirements, your schedule, how long your very own Castle Black takes to warm up and if you go out for the weekend without so much as a note on the fridge door, it knows. According to the review you could save about twenty percent on your heating energy consumption. What it does not address is whether it will still be possible to secretly adjust it without your partner knowing…

Gimme Tudor baby / uh-hu uh-hu

And all the girls say I’m pretty fly for a white and black sixteenth century construction technique. 

Blakesley Hall is a classic late Tudor crib in Yardley, showing mad skillz in oak framing construction. According to my guide, the building was made up in frames on the ground which were then tilted up and pegged into each other. Which must have been tricky, considering how irregular the elements are. Once the big oak frames are up, wattle (woven split timber laths) are woven into the gaps and covered with horsehair plaster which is then painted white and the timbers stained black, making the striking and beautiful patterns on the outside. 

Look carefully at the patterns. They are not random, but the happy congregation of artist and engineer. On the ground floor the beams are packed close together. This is partly a demonstration of wealth, but also responds to the additional load. The floors are fixed into the uprights and project by about eighteen inches or so. Because the timbers are joined by cutting a slot (the mortice) in the receiving piece and a precise projecting tongue (the tenon)on the end of the joining piece, we can’t have the joints in line – we have to break the pattern so that the mortices don’t weaken the pieces and the tenons don’t interfere with each other. The ground floor wall tenons fix into the floor beams of the first floor. The floor plate (the horizontal beam at the base of the timber wall) is joined onto the ends of the floor beams and the next wall is built off it. The uprights can’t line up – when they do, at the corners, we need extra reinforcement. Above the ground floor, where the posts are so close together, we have bracing – herringbone (mirrored diagonals) at the first floor and split semi circles at the attic storey. Nice. 

Uno dos tres cuatro cinco cinco seis

Surely the time has come for a mock Tudor revival?

A long time ago, in a construction technology far, far away, houses were made from thick oak beams tenon jointed and pegged, bricks or sticks and plaster to fill in the gaps to make walls. Often the filling was painted white and the timber stained black. This produces a very picturesque house that is also capable of achieving good height and wide spans. Nice. 

The look is so iconic and pretty that it has been replicated as a form of decoration, especially for upper storeys, in later periods when the structural needs have been answered more economically – usually with bonded brickwork. In terms of its symbolism the pattern occupies a very happy place, neither ecclesiastical like gothic stonework nor the pagan classicism of columns and cut profiles often associated with government or commerce. The feel is grand without being oppressive and having a rural or homely feel, perhaps even a bit leisurely. It also has an interesting relationship with modernism, being adopted by the rural Utopianism of the Arts and Crafts movement. So culturally, mock Tudor is (should be!) so hot right now. It’s the anticorporate building envelope.