Squeeze me baby

Working, as I do, with Edwardian and Victorian terraces, I see a lot of subtle variations in the typology of these houses, but the overriding concern for their original designers is this: how to get as much house as possible into a plot that is between 10 and 15 feet wide – that’s about 3.0 to 4.5m. This beautiful but tiny house is one of a set of four, facing onto Kings Heath park. They have a front room, back room and stairs in the middle. The stairs are super steep, so they finish with a landing at the first floor about 18″ (about 450mm) short of the party wall (brown plan). In front and to the left is another super steep winder stair turning all the way up and back into the attic (blue plan). Because the stair run is greater than the width of the house, the designer has found some extra space: The attic stairs go over onto the neighbour’s side of the house. The designer has split the space between the double chimneys between the houses, with the garden half going to this house and the front half going to the neighbour. This is the most dense and critical part of the house plan and the walls, steps, doors and turns are all squeezed super tight. Not that they feel intruded upon, like a door too narrow for the body, but the elements are compact and without any wasted inches. The edges of the first floor landing are bounded by the Bedroom 1 door, the top riser, the Bedroom 2 door at an angle, the first tread to the attic and 18″ width of the wall carrying the neighbour’s stairs. In Bedroom 1, the wall runs level with the chimney breast – because behind it are the neighbour’s attic stairs. If you check back to the Ground Floor plan, you will see that we are above the alley, so this wall can run all the way down to the ground.

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Stanley 10m 33′

Sad to say, but my old tape died on me – it no longer rewinds. I have a new one thanks to Toolman in Yardley – cheaper than the internet by the way. Elevations for my survey drawings, take a look.

Because the building is on an angle we get a three quarter view down the side, plus the feature corner is on a radius, this means that all that Victorian awesomeness is seen in semi profile. Indicating these details, especially the mouldings and keystones, on CAD can be a little misleading. CAD doesn’t follow the eye in drawing, it follows the number. This can mean that the mouldings look deeper or shallower than they are – but wait, when they are drawn face on they are not exact either. Drawing at a scale like 1 to 100 it’s impossible to show what the stone details are exactly, the lines would be too dense to read and they would make the detail areas heavier in tone than the outlines with deeper returns, like the window openings. In fact the precision of the lines – their straightness and even weight, the way the line corners meet – gives a false impression to the reader of accuracy where there is in fact just a summary of what is there in the flesh. In a ruled ink study different pen weights would indicate depth and significance where appropriate and the finest details would call for the lightest lines. In CAD these touches are hard to make because of the mediated nature of the process and the limited choices in pen weight. We draw on the screen, we are surprised by the print. When working on the paper or film directly the work has more of a correct impression, especially working freehand. Plus it’s quicker. But people think it’s less accurate. Less accurate than what? Look again, what do you see? That’s no building, that is white with black lines. There are no materials, no shadows, no rain, no perspective. The drawings are attractive because they are complex and we admire the effort that went into them. But it’s not even a building.

If you ever see the drawing package from an engineer they can be pretty dry. I would like to say that they contain more mistakes than my work, but hey. One thing they are though is correctly elevational. That is they show what is seen truly face on as if we have a section just in front of the elements represented. This means that they are dimensional representations. 8.6 metres is 8.6 metres drawn to scale on the elevation. If the building is like this one, the side that returns (goes around the corner) would not be shown.

I’m sure the Victorians had engineers. And architects too. But what did their drawings look like? Pencil, ink and watercolour wash for the elevations, pastels or oil or watercolour for the perspectives. Plans and sections pencil and ink. Some of the most impressive drawings are the old stone mason drawings, full size or 1/2 or 1/3rd, mixing elevational accuracy and tone work to express the curving profiles. Every drawing should have a reason. This one is for the planners, change of use. Enjoy!

B06 India House Elevation John Bright Street B07 India House Elevations

What is ask an architect?

I have so far given out about 500 flyers for ask an architect and some people have asked “what is this”? A fair question. I believe that there are a lot of people here in Kings Heath who have simple questions that can be answered fairly easily about their project, or who would like to have some work done but are not experienced in the construction process. I am taking a few hours out of my weekend so that people can come and ask me without making an appointment, trekking into a big office in town, getting past a receptionist, or paying a fee. Hopefully some people might even consider me when the time comes to get started on the job. See you Sunday!

Ask an architect

Feeling shy? Have a question? Come and meet me to talk about anything. It’s free and you can get a coffee (although you will be expected to pay for that upfront) because it’s at my favourite local cafe, right here in Kings Heath.

11th November

3pm – 6pm

at Cherry Reds, York Road, B14 7RZ

If you can’t wait until then, ask your question below. If you want to ask something private, click on my get in touch page and send me an email.