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Highlights and Resolutions

We’re greeting the New Year with some personal highlights from 2013 and resolutions for 2014…

Mike meeting Dion Neutra:

Judging modernist architecture by living in it for a short stay is an experience not to be missed, a bit like washing a car to really enjoy its fine lines and detailing. Last time it was a Usonian House in Pennsylvania, this year it was Palm Springs and LA territory, the home of some of the most innovative early/mid century houses in the World.

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Don Wexler’s contribution to the development of the post-war California bungalow and steel houses is not well known but his understated houses are architecturally stunning. Living in one of his many houses on the El Rancho Vista is the ultimate desert climate chill zone complete with the chance to visit the nearby Kaufmann Desert House by Neutra. By way of something completely different, the Fitzpatrick-Leland House in Laurel Canyon is available to rent.

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Luarel (5)

Just off Mulholland Drive and perched on the edge of a cliff, it’s a 1935 low cost house, mainly timber frame and gunnite, with the volumetric and spatial interplay you would expect from Rudolph Schindler. Breakfasting overlooking the canyon through the sheet glazed wall and Eucalyptus trees is a wonderful fusion of modernism and organic architecture. The influence of FLW on Schindler, his college friend Richard Neutra, his apprentices Wexler, Gregory Ain and Harwell Harris is clear.

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Wexler PS 217

So what is my 2013 highlight? it has got to be meeting Dion Neutra and standing on the lawn of the Lovell Health House talking about his Dad and his childhood years spent at Kings Road.

Rob begins making a home4self:

Two new challenges in 2013 were my stand out highlights for the year – finally starting the self-build house project for my own family after many years of planning and returning to Birmingham School of Architecture as a visiting tutor.

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Facing the challenges of project managing and building a house for yourself is an experience I’d recommend every architect attempts. Using it as an opportunity to experiment with new materials and construction techniques has provided the opportunity to develop ideas I hope to offer to future clients. The winter weather is slowing us down slightly, but I’ll be spending this month laying more clay blocks and weatherproofing the timber frame. Updates from site can be found at home4self.tumblr.com

My 2014 resolution is a little predictable: finish the house!

Katie qualifies:

Highlights:

  • After a 10 year slog of studying and training on the job I finally became a fully qualified Architect- which means no more dreaded PEDR sheets!
  • I completed another two half marathons and obtained a new PB despite being full of cold.
  • Running Medal

  • Finally started writing my own blog about the architecture and historical buildings of Birmingham, here’s a cheeky plug – architectureonmydoorstep.wordpress.com
  • Blog Screen Clip

  • Turning a age milestone and having a great party with family and friends, life begins at 30!

Resolutions:

  • To get sketching, my aim is to do a drawing a week… my sketch book is at the ready.
  • To make more time for more reading- no excuses.
  • Keep up the running and take on some more physical challenges such as bike riding and hiking. There is some talk amongst friends of doing the three peaks challenge but a dumbed down version over 3 weekends but don’t hold me to that!

Dan’s Neopolitan street life:

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My highlight for 2013 would have to be my study trip to Naples and the Amalfi coast; ten days of pizza, sunshine and, of course, interesting architecture. The purpose of the trip was to observe a City’s “Street life”; something all too easy to find in Naples, one of the busiest ports in Europe. Some of the particularly noteworthy buildings I saw in the city are photographed below.

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Of course, any trip to Naples and the surrounding area would be incomplete without mention of Vesuvius and the ruins of the Roman towns that lie in it’s shadow. Pompeii and Ercolano (AKA. Herculaneum) were both incredibly interesting; it is amazing that both are so-well preserved, especially in the case of Ercolano’s remaining mosaics, some of which are photographed below.

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For 2014, my resolution is to get back into the habit of keeping a journal, as I have been somewhat lax over the last few months of 2013. Also, I should try to sketch more in said journal, as my last journal was somewhat lacking in sketches.

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We have the technology!

Over the past few months we have been joined once a week by Phil an Architectural Technologist student from BCU. He has put together a short post about his time at Axis and his practice experience so far.

‘Hello everyone, my name’s Phil and I am currently engaged in completing work experience here at Axis Design.  I met the team back in late August and since then have been joining the team every Tuesday in the office.  I am currently in my third year at Birmingham City University studying a BSc (Hons) degree in Architectural Technology on a part time basis.  I elected to enrol on the course part time in order to maximise the amount of practical experience I could gain in a working environment, specifically within the environment of an Architect’s office. 

My journey so far here at Axis has taught me a great breadth of different topics, such as learning about some of the great minds of Architecture such as Frank Lloyd Wright and his exploits creating Usonian dwellings.  From this knowledge, I studied and carefully recreated The Herbert Jacobs First Residence.  This is the part you would expect to see a few images of the fully completed model.  Unfortunately, to my shame; I committed the cardinal sin of only storing the file (along with some of my university work) solely on one memory stick…of course when technology works its great but when it decides to cease working it can be an utter nightmare!!

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Moving forward I have been incredibly privileged to have access to both the office’s vast physical and digital libraries as well as being able to tap into the combined knowledge and experience of the dedicated professionals that work here.

I would like to thank Directors Mike & Rob for allowing me into their practice and providing me with an insight into the office environment and day to day workings of an Architects practice and to thank Katie and Dan for welcoming me.  Wishing Team Axis and you the Reader a very happy Christmas during this festive time of year.’

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BCU Sphere of Influence

‘Sphere of Influence’ Event courtesy of the Friends of The Birmingham School of Architecture

The Birmingham School of Architecture was founded in 1905 and over the past 105 years has helped inspire and influence generations of young architects and designers. Last night our practice was fortunate enough to be invited to the ‘Sphere of Influence’ event at the Birmingham School of Architecture at their new home at the recently completed Eastside campus.

The event celebrates the impact the schools staff and student alumni have had on the world of architecture and teaching. Nominations were submitted which saw a wide range of alumni who have made an impact on an international, national and local level featuring architects, industry professionals, academics and current BCU staff. Last night consisted of an exhibition of the final selection of nominees detailing the past and present activities of the various names and their lasting influence on the industry and school.

BCU Sphere of Influence

Axis Design has always had strong links with the school and two past partners were included in the nominations (Allan Haines & Joe Holyoak) as well as current Director Mike Menzies. Mike was a senior lecturer as the school from 1974-1987 with a specific responsibly for the teaching of Environmental Psychology and Urban Design and was nominated for his inspirational teaching. Our connection with the school remains today with Director Rob Annable now teaching on the MArch course and the practice has provided employment for many past students over the years.

An enjoyable evening was had by all and it was great to see so many familiar faces that have helped shape and contribute to the success of the school. It was also a chance to have a look around the new BCU campus and school facilities which provide a fantastic space for future students of architecture.

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Katie Hughes – Architect

We’re delighted to announce that we now have another fully qualified architect on the team. After joining us 7 years ago as a year-out student between undergraduate and post-graduate education, Katie Hughes has now completed her final Part 3 exam. Here’s a few words from her about what it took to get here…

When I first started on the route to becoming an Architect I never fully realised just how difficult the journey would be. I was a naive undergraduate who thought that 7 years of training would be a breeze but I couldn’t have been more wrong. For a start when I finally qualified last week it had taken me just over 10 years to reach part 3 accreditation… slightly longer than anticipated and certainly not a walk in the park!

Katie's mugshot

The training has been full of ups and downs and a massive learning curve but more importantly I have found it interesting to look back and see how much I have matured and changed during the whole process.

I found the part 3 course to be the final piece of the puzzle bringing together all of the practice and project management issues I had encountered whilst working in the industry. The course I undertook at BCU covered a range of topics from construction management, health & safety, dispute resolution and setting up your own practice. There was a range of experienced speakers and a variety of different modules covering all aspects of professional practice which were related back to current topics in the industry. The course was really helpful because you could directly relate it back to your work in practice. It was difficult to keep on top of the course workload and work full time simultaneously but the coursework aided my work in practice and vice versa. I also found writing my self-appraisal and recording my quarterly PEDR sheets helped remind me of all the valuable experiences I had acquired over the last 10 years and the achievements I had gained as well as charting my entire career and seeing my professional progression. The critical case study was also a chance to reflect on a past/current project and apply all of the knowledge learnt in the lectures to critique and analyse a real project.

My advice to anyone thinking of starting the part 3 course is to just do it. Enrolling on the course was the push I needed to start taking on more responsibility within the practice and build my confidence. Even if you don’t feel ready at the beginning of the course you can use it as a way to work on your areas of weakness and fill in gaps in your knowledge.

I would recommend not rushing the part 3 course and make sure you have a suitable case study which you can see from initial concept through to the construction stages. I think it is really important to have the experience of seeing a project through the main work stages and seeing the change of attitude and priorities between pre and post contract work. Site experience is also extremely valuable. It’s not just about ticking off boxes and making sure you have enough hours for each work stages it is also about whether you feel ready for part 3 accreditation. I deferred my case study by 6 months because I wanted to make sure I had the confidence, communication and professional skills needed to take that next step.

Finally, qualifying has been a massive relief and even though it has been extremely stressful at times I feel the hard work and pressure has made me a stronger, more competent person. I can now look forward to concentrating on my career as an Architect… bring on the hard work!

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Niemeyer living on

Research and Development is tough. Thankfully we’re fully committed to continual professional development here at Axis Design and even go so far as undertaking long distance travel to learn more about the profession we love. For example, here’s some thoughts from Axis director Mike Menzies following a recent trip to Brazil:

Oscar Niemeyer

“Back in the early fifties when Oscar Niemeyer and his friend and collaborator, Roberto Burle Marx set out the plan for the Ibirapuera Park, roller blading and skateboarding were yet to become part of the urban street culture. However the shade and cool breezes offered by the serpentine concrete covered walkways linking many of Niemeyer’s principle buildings in the Park has been appropriated by a new generation of young Paulistas, keen to demonstrate their skills weaving between the pilotis, café tables and groups of tourists and visitors. As a lifelong communist, Niemeyer would have no doubt raised a wry smile at this counter-cultural invasion of the world of art and culture celebrated within the nearby museum and exhibition spaces.

Oscar Niemeyer

Two of which, the Pavilion of Brazilian Culture and its nearby twin, Museum of Afro Brazilian Art have undergone recent extensive renovation works. The interior spaces framed by their cantilevered floors, raking pillar supports, brise soleil and concrete louvred facades are an uncanny precursor to much later open-plan, loose-fit, flexible exhibition spaces.

The interplay of the structural grid of floor bays and supports with the serpentine, ramped access routes is a powerful and unfolding experience as you walk between the floors. His lifelong affair with curvilinear forms, most recently seen in La Lingua, his newest auditorium building in the Park, came to its conclusion with his death last December. However his urban cool lives on, not least in the uncanny parallels of a sinuously, executed grind and his meandering plan for Ibirapuera Park.”

Oscar Niemeyer

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Introduction To A New Member Of The Team

The newest member of our team introduces himself:

Hi all, I’m Daniel, the newest person to join Axis Design. I first met the team in the summer of 2011, when I appeared outside the office asking if it would be possible to base my year 3 Office Adoption study on the practice. The team graciously accepted, and over the course of four visits throughout the summer I got to know everyone. A year later, I applied to join the team, and they have again graciously accepted.

I’ve been at Axis for a few months now, having graduated from my Architecture Part 1 course earlier this year, and it has really been quite an eye-opening experience. Working in a team, meeting clients, learning new programs and the practical application of architecture outside of a classroom; there have been some lessons to learn since I joined the team, but I’m enjoying myself, learning new things and meeting new challenges. Everyone’s been really helpful and welcoming in what I hope will be the continuing path of my professional career.

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Homecoming

Founding Partner of Axis, Tony Goodall was a fan of Pink Floyd. ‘The Wall’ was not his favourite album but taking a leaf from it, when he died in 2006, it was our intention to put ‘just another brick’ in some of Tony’s walls. Our colleagues at Compendium Living and Lovell Partnerships graciously agreed to us building memorial stones into projects which he had worked on over the last few months of his life.

Such is the nature of the construction industry – projects can take several years to come to fruition – a wall of memories in the new Park at Weston Heights has only recently been completed but is now home to a brick dedicated to Tony, as well as bricks dedicated to the memory of other local people who were part of the estate.

Ernie Clarke, Chair of Coalville Resident Association and Wendy Lister, Regeneration Officer from Compendium Living.

The wall at Weston Heights overlooks the River Blythe which flows into the River Trent connecting his birthplace in Meir with Nottingham, his university town and by way of its tributary, the River Dove the Peak National Park around Ashbourne. Dovedale was the screen-saver on Tony’s computer.

An additional memorial brick has been built into a wall at Stoke Road in Bletchley – a road name giving yet  another serendipitous nod to Tony’s Staffordshire roots. The curved wall, part of the Waterside development built by Lovell Partnerships, is a lovely spot with in-built seats overlooking the Grand Union Canal.

Our thanks go to Compendium Living and Lovell Partnerships for their support in remembering Tony through his work.

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Liz’s Farewell

Architectural Assistant Liz recently broke the news to us that she had received the offer of a lifetime. She waves goodbye to us as she travels East:

With a heavy heart I am saying my farewells to the team at Axis Design.

Life is calling me eastward and I am off to the bright lights and dizzy heights of Hong Kong…. to do pretty much the same as I do here in Birmingham! Although, I imagine residential design to be somewhat different to the low rise, DQS riddled design of affordable homes here in the UK. It’ll be high rise planning and tight spaces – thank goodness Mike has taught me the art of 45 degree planning!

I will be living and working in Hong Kong but my projects will be based in Mainland China, this couldn’t be more perfect for me, I can’t wait to explore!I have to thank Mike and Rob for taking me on and taking me under their wing. I wouldn’t be going where I am today if wasn’t for the chance they took when they let me though the door. I’ve learnt and grown so much, I feel incredibly lucky to have inhabited the old foundry building at Crosby Court.

Thanks for having me.

Liz.

 

Since she penned her farewell, we’ve received an update. Liz emailed us last week (she still remembers us – hooray!). She’s settling in well, is enjoying learning about the cultural differences in architecture that have come with her new role and she also succeeded in making us all very jealous by sharing a photo of the incredible view she wakes up to every morning (left).

We’ve loved having Liz around at Axis and she will be sorely missed. We wish her all the very best with her exciting new journey.

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My time at Axis Design

A couple of weeks ago we were joined by Matt, a Year 9 work experience student, who spent a day in the life of Axis Design. He’s been kind enough to share his thoughts:

I decided to go to Axis Design to find out what it was like to be an architect and what they did in the office. They had a great range of books and information that my eyes were almost sore. I looked at the different projects that they were working on. I was intrigued by all the detail and different aspects of their renovation projects.

It amazed me how much a building can do for the environment when you remove the need for heating. After making lots of cups of tea for everyone (a key skill needed for any work place) I sat down at the computer and was put through a tutorial and guide of the design programmes involved. I created my own version and layout of a design from a brief which they had been given and surprised myself with the detail of my virtual world.

I was taken to a project that was finished and talked through the development of the project from ideas to problems to finishing thoughts. The whole experience was absolutely great and answered a lot of questions as I wish to become and architect myself. I love architecture because it combines creativity with precision, art with maths and science. I love the feel of responsibility for crafting the world of today in my own hands and shaping the world.

So I thank Axis Design for the experience and especially to Rob Annable for giving me the opportunity.

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Been there, done that, nearly got the T-Shirt

Liz Clayton, Architectural Assistant here at Axis, shares what she’s been up to in the final year of her Part 2:

I’m due to finish Part 2 of my architectural education within the next few weeks. It’s been a long haul but freedom is just around the corner! The final year (for us part timers at least) focuses solely upon an Integrated Design Project. I chose Birmingham as my city of interest with particular focus on Birmingham’s historic metalworking quarters, where my project site is located.

My project is called ‘The Music Forge’ it contains a hot-metal-works for converting scrap metal into sheets, workshops for instrument making and performance, and practice spaces for use by the local music academies. The concept was conceived off the back of the dwindling number of metal manufactories in this once prosperous metalworking centre and the need for the repopulation of creative metalworking business in the area.

The project quickly became about two things; the process of making instruments and sound – from both the performance and the fashioning of these beautiful objects. The dichotomy of sounds that would emanate from the two building programmes drove the project to become about two interrelating but contrasting halves.

Music and Architecture have fascinating experiential comparisons. They are both constructed of moments, relationships, collision, contrast, structure and patterns. Harnessing and communicating these comparisons has been controversial as there is no universal synesthetic reaction that translates music into a visual form and vice versa. Art can provide the integral link between understanding music as architecture or similarly time as space. Famously, Kandinsky provided visual expressions of the relationships of musical tones and patterns. His work, interestingly, is easy to relate to the work of Steve Holl and his ‘Stretto House’ in Texas. At first glance the Stretto House is cumbersome, not what you associate with music, but it is in the details that the delicacy of music is materialised. The building holds two contrasting rhythms which touch, just as a flute would interject upon an oboe.

I’m not sure if I have managed to achieve this level of delicacy but this project has been about contrasting sounds imagined together as a cacophony, which I feel the building I have drawn and developed over the year has at least managed to express.

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