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. 


A hole in the ground

It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs. and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the hill – The Hill, as all the people for many miles around called it – and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then the on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river. 

This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. 

J R R Tolkein, The Hobbit

She’s a rainbow

Architectural mouldings – timber or stone cut to a profile of subtle steps and curves – serve a specific purpose. They allow us to get diferent colours from one material using light and hard and soft shadows. 
Actually, this isn’t the Rainbow. That’s in Digbeth. This is the Hare and Hounds, right here in King’s Heath. Cheers!

Moseley road baths

Since 2013 the council have decided not to retain this and other pools in the city. Already neglected the building suffers from a lack of maintenance and the structure is past due for repair. A local group campaigns for it’s preservation and active use. Personally I would like to see proposals that avoid adaption to generic sports standards and instead seek to promote it’s unique qualities as a destination for character bathing. Many parts if the building including the bathing rooms, where men and women could take a bath, are disused. The building is linked to it’s sister building, a library, and harks back to an age of public buildings for health, education and improvement for the public. On our age of mean individualism there seem to be no political institutions who can support this kind of project. Hats off to you Edwardians!





magic moment

I saw this one in Solihull on a client visit. The black timber and basket weave brickwork creates a nice pattern around the entrance but I most like the roofs and windows. Here we have, from left to right oriels (windows that hang out there outside the wall line) a tall leaded glass portrait window to the entrance-and-stairs hallway (which breaks the floor line to show you that it lights the stairs), then a stone window with dormer above and then a pair of bays – tall at the bottom, short at the top. Going back to the black painted garage doors are four lovely diamond windows. So, a nice selection. Now onto the roofs. We can see at first glance a lot of roofy action – gables, hips at different heights and a dropped eaves at the little dormer window. Look again and the builders have been a bit smart and they have kept the roof lines running throughout for both the main roof and the gables – whoever designed this knew that they would be asked to draw up the rafter plan and set the pitches. The gables are achieved by stepping forward a section of wall to form a bay and the rafters built up off the side walls – but look how low the roof comes down over the stairs – he doesn’t need the headroom of a first floor room. He brings forward another bay for the porch – but the top gable roof runs all the way down to the porch wall – you try it on your next project! the dropped eaves above the basket weave is usually achieved by stepping forward the wall so that the roof reaches down further to reach it (or rather comes up from a lower level). You can see a little return wall in the bay. The house plan – what we can see of it – is a long rectangle with just a couple of bays at the front to create interest – but the builder has done a lot with what he has here. Good job!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1925 House update

The tenders for the loft rooms came back on the 1925 house back in June. Of the five contractors we had one no bid, one high and three close together. The client was looking for cost savings, so we met with the lowest bidder to see where we could make some economies. What the contractor came back with was to strike out the premium feature items and the overall savings were slight. In addition, the contractor had just won a long job on the other side of town – so there would be a delay to the start. When the first phase of the work was undertaken, the client’s dad worked with with a builder friend to do the site work, with the engineer and Kings Heath Architect assisting with the details – insulation, structure and so on. The plan now is to do the same with the loft. There will be much more control for the client and hopefully some cost savings too.

One of the features of the 1925 house is the beautiful and complex roofs which sit low over the house. In order to bring the eaves down onto the first floor, the wall plates (which support the rafters) are dropped down into the room and the ceiling is tied between the rafters about 18 inches above the top of the external walls. This means that we can’t put any additional weight onto the ceiling, because it is not supported by the external walls. Instead we will drop two long steels across the whole width of the house (don’t worry we can assemble them in sections) and fix new joists between them to form our new floor. That’s that figured out. How we will work around the existing supports for the roof we have yet to discover. The engineer thinks that the original builders just put extra posts and purlins in where it looked right – a system that has worked for the last 88 years even if it doesn’t meet existing building regulations. Now we will have to work carefully around the existing structure. Any parts that need to come out will need to be replaced with something else – perhaps the new internal walls will stiffen the existing roof.

Oxford Road

Arts and Crafts architecture is a romantic style of architecture that celebrates the handmade and bespoke. It uses materials and finishes to create a rustic effect and it breaks away from the formal symmetry of classically influenced compositions. There are good examples of rural houses but right here at the heart of things there is a wealth of amazing buildings using the style and technique of this artistic movement. Like this one on Oxford Road. We can see the waney edge oak boarding, brick and timber base with blackened oak timbers and render to the first floor. Leaded windows and low eaves with lots of roof above add to the cottage effect. It brings an anti industrial rural style into a suburban setting, in terms of materials but also in terms of spatial arrangement.

For a little mental contrast think of a towny type building with a formal street frontage and a symmetrical composition. Such buildings present an arrangement of the facade that  shows regularity and often use cut stone mouldings to show prestige and dignity. Arts and crafts goes against all of that with big gables breaking out all over, porches, set backs, dropped roofs projecting features and special windows, often revealing, or at least telling a story about, the internal arrangement of rooms such as the hall and stairs.

I didn’t have the privilege of seeing inside this one except in my own imagination. Into the shelter of the porch after a long trek across the wild moorlands of Moseley and after knocking the great knocker on the heavy oak door, I was admitted to the oak panelled hallway. As my eyes adjusted to the coloured light filtering through the stained glass windows, through a half open panelled door I saw the light shining from the great fireplace in the hall, where, dressed in his smoking jacket and Turkish slippers stood mr Witchington reading a letter with the dark look of conspiracy in his eyes.