Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Why do I never learn?

I get that familiar itch burning across my eyeball.  I try to stay strong, my brain tells my hand to beware! Stay away! There is nothing good happening here!  My brain has given direct, high priority orders to my hands NOT to go anywhere near that itchy eye ball.

Eye doesn't care..

Eye doesn't want to listen to the wise things that brain has told hand.

Eye doesn't give a damn that brain is still scarred with the painful memories of actions past.

Eye just wants to be rubbed, and he knows it'll feel damn good.

So he goes on and on, he itches without relent and pleads to those with the power to ease his suffering.  "What kind of human being can ignore the pleads of those in need if they have the power to help?" I ask myself.  So I feel ashamed that I ignored the cries, and I rub eyeball.  And it feels awesome, and everyone is content and happy, the world is a wonderful place when hand is rubbing eye.  Brain reminds everyone that this can't last.

I feel the familiar sensation.. like something is now caught in my eye.

And there is.. but its not just the dirt and grime I've just mooshed into my delicate cornea.. or the exploding capillaries now clouding my eye with a disturbing red hue.

It's the tear caught in there that hurts the most.. he swells and finally breaks free of his hellish eye prison.  It tumbles down my cheek leaving a stinging streak of regret and my brain whispers "Eye told you so."

His bad pun is part of my punishment also.

Thesis part I

Continuing the story of the thesis investigation..

I felt that a process of walking the Mourne Mountains was integral to the thesis.  I've included a map below for anyone interested in finding out just where exactly this place is in the world.  This walking exercise whilst both fun and often interrupted by me slipping and falling on my bum.. allowed for direct observation of the landscape, this was then translated into a series of drawings (some examples shown below) that mapped the existing pathways and illustrated the sequence of views experienced by the mountain hiker as he travelled the route.  This ambition was to develop the key skills of observation and accurate, informative drawing in such a way that the details of the journey were clear to both myself as the architect and a hiker / builder / client / building user.

The mapping exercise was inspired by the work of Alfred Wainwright (January 1907 - January 1991) and his pictoral guidebook series of the Lakeland Fells of the English Lake District published between 1955 and 1966. (Some examples of his amazing work can be seen below)  This body of work has become the standard reference work for this area of mountain range.  A similar dialogue between observation, drawings and mountain terrain seeks to emerge in my thesis process.

Developing a strong sensibility and understanding of the unique conditions within the Mournes better equips an architect to successfully engage with the mountainous granite terrain, as well as establish a personal position as to what is appropriate architectural response to these conditions.  I feel this kind of approach to architecture can benefit a building regardless of the site being in a mountain range or in a busy urban centre.

Old school memories

I miss floppy discs, I remember playing with them like they were cameras.... I could make a shutter noise and everything!  I was an odd child though. I once spent an entire evening pretending a cardboard box was a television that was broken (I was fixing it.)

Does anyone remember mini disc players?? I thought they were going to be the next big thing, then mp3 players came along and just blew them out of the water completely.  I wonder how long it will take for memory sticks to become outdated now?  I imagine the whole memory market will be transformed when cloud computing really takes off... I can just see it now - a child is born and he is assigned his facebook account where he digitally uploads all his thoughts and memories from day one.

What old school things do people still miss I wonder?  Let me know!

Monday, 30 July 2012


So the cost of my motorcycle insurance went up this year!  I've been enjoying a steady decrease in the premium since I first jumped on two wheels over six years ago.  When on the phone to the insurance people I was informed I'd be paying about an extra £50 on the premium.

I know it's not a lot but I was slightly shocked at the circumstance, I had done extensive research on price comparison websites and the offer they were giving me over the phone was still the best deal I could find by some margin so I was stuck accepting it, when I inquired as to why the premium had increased I was told 'it's just the way the economy is.'

I've never claimed anything or had a run in with the law or any of those nasty events that can have an impact on the price, so I've been left feeling a little glum and ignorant about how the position of the British economy influences the amount I pay so directly.  Is this a common thing for most people?  Does anyone have a similar story or some understanding of why prices are going up?

That £50 could have been really useful for me in the recent economic situation I find myself in!

Edit:  For anyone interested or reading this far I have learned of a couple of issues that may shed some light on the subject;

1) The existence (and subsequent removal of) a 'good student bonus' sometimes exists on a policy, which you lose the benefit of when becoming older (I had turned 24 at the time of the insurance renewal, but not sure when such a thing runs out.)

2) The simple fact that the insurance company paid out more than they were expecting last year to people in my age group, which would raise the premiums across the board, however I wouldn't view this one to do with "how the economy is.''  Maybe the phone representative just didn't feel like explaining himself further I don't know.

I couldn't think of any humorous comic about insurance type things.. I'm sorry!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Spider threat levels

I have a complicated relationship with spiders.  On the one hand I understand that they are living creatures with a right to life just like myself.  I also understand that in Ireland (where I am from) the very worst case scenario of a spider encounter is a non venomous bite.

With this knowledge I'm usually quite content to capture the eight legged  beasts in a glass and release them into the wilderness of my garden.  But there is always an initial period of pure instinctive reaction that consistently betrays my façade of manliness.

However I am sure this  comes from a time in my genetic history when the reflex to jump away from spiders was actually keeping me from being killed by the venom of these deadly arachnids, those men who were the best at avoiding the dangers of the world survived the longest to pass on their genetic material to future generations.

So rather than feeling ashamed about this gut reaction I've decided instead to celebrate the fact that I am a shining testimony to how adept my genetic line has been at installing such effective automatic defence procedures!  It's not cowardice people, preserving your DNA is important!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Poor Henry

I think our old henry vacuum cleaner is near the end of his life.. I was using him to hoover up some bulldog hairs in the living room not so long ago and I would have had more joy with one of those awful pubic restroom hand driers..

Even his smiley face is looking a little faded, the eyes don't sparkle the way they used to.  He's had a good run and served me well but for some reason I feel guilty every time I look at one of those glitzy dyson products with their super ultra sucking power typhoon technology and imagine that using one would almost make cleaning up fun.

I guess it's the smile, they've humanised the innate object so I view him more like an old friend, loyal and trust worthy but time has ravaged his body and usefulness.. I can't betray him for some young model.  Very clever by the makers of Henry vacuum cleaners..

Does anyone else have some strange loyalty to products for some reason or another? Or am I just weird?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Thesis origin

This update is to explain (to any of you dedicated to reading this far!) a little about my thesis process.  The advice from the university tutors when beginning the thesis was to begin with a location you felt attracted to, with an intrigue to study and understand it.  The first step of this was to create a collage.. (a little artsy for my tastes but I have an open mind!)

I chose the study of the hillside / mountain terrain in Ireland.

The collage(first image below) seeks to convey the qualities of this rural hillside.  Northern Ireland has a significant hillside topography for its size; the Sperrin Highlands, Antrim Hills and Mourne Mountains each create memorable identities for the places where they are found.

The untamed hillside has deterred cultivation through its reduced fertility and hostile conditions both structurally and atmospherically.  This condition of wildness and untainted natural beauty appeals to many people.

What is it about this condition that we find appealing?  The harshness of the place, the sense of risk and the physical exertion involved in traversing it are intrinsic to physical and mental health.   Is it also an escape from the neurosis, scale and tempo of a developed society?  The level of control in a city condition agitates our aspiration towards a sense of personal freedom.  architecture too has succumbed to a loss of freedom, heavily  controlled by planning and building regulation.

This notion of freedom breeds a romanticism associated to the hills that has provided a fertile subject for artists For example the works of Laura Butler, David Livingstone and Lesley Sharpe shown below respectively.

Often the tumbling stone wall is the only relic of human intervention in these landscapes. does architecture have a role in such places? Can the condition that makes these areas what they are be interpreted into an architectural response that enhances this existing condition?  This is what I intended to explore throughout the thesis process.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Spelling is important!

Something that has been on my mind recently is the importance of grammar and spelling when making a first impression, be it in business or socially.

I'm currently in the architecture job market having just graduated with my masters in architecture. Thus far it is feeling like a time and resource consuming blight on my existence, but I'm sure my opinion on the bloated university architectural education system will improve if it results in me finding some kind of work!

I digress, I bring this up because I've been agonising over my professional C.V. for some time as you can imagine. I've also kept an eye out for some of the better examples I can find from my architecture brethren. Throughout my search the amount of spelling errors and poor grammar I see on a routine basis is depressing. I mean, architecture is a vocation specialising in communication.. if some fool is furrowing their Neanderthal brow in a vain attempt to understand the complexities of 'their' and 'there' do you seriously want them drafting the structural details that will keep heavy steel beams from squashing you?

It's not like architects have a LOT of words to worry about, everyone knows we like picture books the best.

So children, the lesson is - in this day and age of the internet, the demeanour of your typing is the first real window anyone gets into the 'type' of person you are!

ps. I realise through making the below comic I have NO idea how to draw women..

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Olivetti Showroom

Thought I would kick things off with some information about the Olivetti showroom, which I studied as part of my Masters in architecture education.

The Olivetti showroom is located in Venice, Italy.  It was designed in 1957 by an Italian architect known as Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978.)  The brief was to design a display area for typing products and machinery. The use of Scarpa in the design process was important to the Olivetti Company as they had built a strong reputation and association to quality design work in their products.

The main feature I studied within the show room was the marble staircase resting towards the rear of the showroom area.  Scarpa's staircase is a testimony to the ability of architectural pieces to change the character and quality of an entire space.  The staircase is a marvel structurally and aesthetically beautiful.  Each stair is an individual slab of solid stone, a brass support rod lies within the stairs to support the weight, however from a building user's perspective the staircase appears to float like a cantilever with no support at all due to the shadow cast over the support structure.  

While Scarpa had a masterful control over the design and construction of staircases, sadly he did not share his abilities when it came to walking down them.  He was killed from injuries sustained when he fell down a flight of concrete stairs.

Please enjoy the images below, they are a mix between professional photographs of the showroom along with some of the physical models I constructed at 1:20 scale to explore the space in real time!

Introduction post.

Hi, my name is Scott Todd, or Toddy if you will.  I started this blog in order to share my opinions and such with the world wide web. I imagine the content I provide will vary greatly, hopefully providing an interesting / thought provoking and humorous view point to the things that make the world go round.

I'll also more than likely be posting a lot of information about architecture.  A mix of some of my own university projects and things I find interesting about the profession I imagine.  We will see how things develop!

I'll try to keep the posts relatively concise and interesting to read. I know you kids like your messages short and sweet, what with your texting and tweeting and whatnot. So to kick things off.. some university work from my 3rd year. Feels like a long time ago now but I still enjoy the project:

"Building Armagh's Identity"

The project is a proposed town hall for Armagh - a city within Northern Ireland. The new building seeks to provide a centralised base from which the county of Armagh can build political and social agendas for the future. Street perspective below.

The building is to be located on the site of the previous town hall that now only remains as a memory of the locals. The site is currently occupied by a large car park, shown on the map below outlined in red.

The larger scale map from 1908 shows the site as it sits in this block of the city, surrounded by 3 main roads. It is of note that the site sits next to the Shambles market yard. A space which is used weekly by the city.

Some research into the site investigating vehicular access with the observation that the car park is often closed allowing no movement through the site. I address the significance of the Market yard and the main shopping road on which the Building will sit - Upper English Street (yard and street ringed in yellow) Also worth observing the site falls by 4 meters in a slope.

The site is overlooked by 2 Large Religious buildings, A church and a Cathedral. Armagh is often referred to as the Religious Capital of Ireland so I felt it significant to insure some visual connection between the new civic building and the existing heritage.

Cultural identity

The city of Armagh is rich with historical culture, it is referred to as the
religious capital of Ireland as well as the “orchard county”. I also observed that many people used this space to travel through / eat their lunch in, even though it is a drab car park. These were the two main motives in my decision to create a sequence of apple gardens throughout the site. The building seeks to connect these exterior spaces together by treating them as 'rooms' with their quality of space considered to the same level as the interior spaces.

The composition is based around a central council chamber, which controls the garden spaces situated around it. The democratic centre is the heart of the building connecting the green spaces around it. I explored this connection of interior to exterior in many sketches and models as I felt transparency and openness were key to the quality of space as well as the political ideologies that should be represented in a civic building.

Continuing the thought process of the building's political agenda I felt it was important to prioritise the council member's offices (22 council members represent the Armagh people) This is shown in red on the sketched plan. The space is wide and open with a large meeting area in the form of an atrium where the public are invited in to speak with their council member. The council offices also engage visually with Upper English Street this was another motif of transparency and openness.

There is an area of the building dedicated to more social activities for the public, such as a café, library, it suite and resident services. These functions have been consolidated into a wing of the building shown in blue. This wing serves an important social purpose as well as architecturally being quite significant – they open up the site to form a wide, well lit avenue. This is a large improvement over the current situation where houses are feet away from a large concrete wall (see photo of existing, and my proposed urban walk way - which offers a clear connection through to the market yard and the cathedral)

Political and social identity

The ambition is to create a new building of power and responsibility for the community to take pride in and identify with. This is achieved by allowing the public unparalleled involvement in the internal functions of a civic building through large social meeting spaces for the public to convene with their council members, or indeed through the open nature of the council chamber allowing for public spectating.

The large green spaces, interconnected with the civic nature of the internal spaces marry the important political functions of the
building with areas for recreation and relaxation for public and civil servant alike. The gardens step down gradually following the natural contours of the site. Interior wheel chair ramps insure that entering the building on a higher or lower level is no difficulty.

Aesthetic identity within the city

The architecture seeks to blend with the existing identity in scale and form whilst having independence and modernity. This is achieved through decisions such as allowing the front facade (where the council offices are located) to reflect the strong chimney elements of the building's neighbour. Keeping the building at a respectable scale on the street scape also insures views to the cathedral are not disturbed.

Aesthetically the nature of the council chamber was explored further. I felt it important that this key space displayed an organic nature without the limitations of maintaining a truly organic structure, such as the timber trellis I explored (shown below)

I decided to represent the organic nature of the space though exploring the cellular composition of nature, and allowing this to inform the design of the large frame that maintains the council chamber space.

Elevations along the main shopping road Upper English Street.

And also along Dawson Street – the road between the site and the Shambles Market. I felt it important to reflect the brick materiality of the adjoining houses.

Sections explaining the visual and physical sequence of connections I wanted the building to have between it's rooms and garden spaces.

Well that's it I'll not labour this with any more information for now, it's actually a lot more than I intended to put anyway.. just got carried away!