I wouldn’t say I messed up but…..

Contemporary artists studio
Some architects are control freaks and like to present their work as inevitable. As if everything had been intended. I prefer architecture that reflects life. You know, full of good intentions but a bit messy, more complicated and ultimately more interesting.

On a recent project we ended up doing something that definitely wasn’t intended and the project ended up being the better for it. We had to resolve an issue and the solution that was adopted was a result of both client and architect ideas.

The situation was this:
We had designed and mostly built a contemporary artists studio as an annex to a listed 17th century half-timbered cottage in Cheshire. The structure of the building comprised an oak frame and one end was fully glazed. In order to shade the end glazing, the roof over-sailed the gable by quite a long way.

We toyed with the idea of there being an external oak frame but in the end both client and us preferred not to do this. The roof was therefore designed without external support.

In the event the building was built as planned but one of the sizeable roof timbers forming the overhang warped excessively and caused it to noticeably sag on one side. Clearly a state of affairs that could not remain.

The external oak frame was re-considered but again rejected. As an alternative, the clients suggested using steel posts to prop the corners up but I was concerned that this would look like a repair job. My training as an architect also caused me to want to avoid using a different material as it would not be pure enough. And anyway steel, however treated, would end up rusting.

What to do?
Well, I ended up giving up on my purist training, changed the material to aluminium and suggested to the clients that the external structure should be a complete frame, following the roof profile. We chose to colour the aluminium matt black as I realised that this would have the benefit of providing a visual link between our building and the adjacent half-timbered listed building. Especially when seen against the white rendered underside of the roof overhang.

So what did I learn?

  1. Not all advance design decisions are the best decisions - you need to keep an open mind and stay humble.
  2. This shouldn't be taken as an opportunity to defer decisions - you have to do your best at the time.
  3. Architectural purity is a useful design strategy but has its limitations.
  4. Internal and external issues can be treated differently - it's a choice.
  5. Collaboration, based on a great client relationship, is best. Of course, I knew this already but this is a nice example and I think the clients liked being involved and it adds to their enjoyment of the completed building.

So did I mess up because I didn't come up with this solution in the first place? 

Maybe. Maybe that’s a bit harsh. One of the tough things about design, and life in general, is that there's always a better way.