Category Archives: Building construction

Guédelon A Castle in the Making

1299786143_DR Guedelon vue aerienne 2010I have been watching the very excellent program on BBC 2 re the rebuilding of a castle in the middle of France, a place called Guédelon using all construction, materials and methods of the time C 1200

Its interesting to see how and why certain things were done, plus, the tools they used to get such an accurate build. My students struggle with the Dumpy Level and Total Station, yet here they we’re building in stone with little more than a triangle of wood, with a plumb bob hanging to set level.

Well worth the CPD time to read through the site, and try and catch some of the shows on iPlayer.

Global Climate warming and condensation risk analysis

Simple condensation risk AnalysisIt occurred to me recently, that with all the talk of global warming, and energy, bug migration to the UK and hotter summers and colder winters,we might want to take a look at the way a lot of properties walls and other external surfaces actually work.

By this I mean the way we plan for condensation to occur on the external side of the free cavity, during the winter, we can clearly see from my quick sketch the way a lot of cavity walls work, condensation occurs at the cold side of the cavity and drains away, we try to slow it down with vapour barriers but they leak and inevitably the condensation forms, but the wall is capable of dealing with it. same goes for several other different types of wall construction, timber frame, render and solid walls, and lets not forget pitched and flat roofs.

But consider this, if the summers get hotter and longer and humidity rises a little, the condensation point is going to move, inwards, not helped by our natural inclination to chill the internal space.

The short summers and climate we see now, does not let this happen currently, the walls cope, but condensation is going to form on parts of the construction, currently not designed to cope with it, mould will form and we will see health problems.

So todays problem and CPD research is to look at this problem and see what can be done, you might like to split this into the various types of construction:

of this list Cavity wall and timber frame worry me, they will just fail.

My next step is to see what the European construction looks like, they must see this happening, how does Canada cope, I have been in Toronto in the summer with very high temps , humidity. I once worked on a Canadian system called R2000, I and going to look into this to see what they did, and how they cope with this temp and humidity, don’t forget their winters are a complete reversal, low temp and dam cold.

Of course, the answer might just lie in the use of sensors within the wall and devises like the nest, this could easily tell when things are getting out of sink and deal with it, by altering internal temps and humidity to move the condensation point back to a point where that particular construction can deal with it.

This leads to all sorts of question, sensors that last the life time of the building, and here I am looking at background scatter technology to provide the energy the sensor might need, Nest devises that can not only read the output but see incoming weather so as not to knee jerk react to immediate temp and humidity changes.

Sequence of Operations

Brick lined WellI am pulling together some notes for the Architectural Technologist on the Sequence of Operations, we all need to understand, both in the way we approach detailing, but also how and why materials are used and in what sequence on site.

Take for instance Plaster, its not done till quite late on in the program, finished timber is also left till very late, but first fix timber is used quite early on.

When a contractor gets involved in a project, you might find that a Gantt Chart or Critical Path Chart is made, this helps enormously, but in the early days we so often do don’t have this luxury, so rely upon our skills to sequence materials.

So often on larger sites, plant and equipment are fitted very early, just because they will be to big to fit once the construction is in place, so we will need to apply support, or covering/protection early.

As I build up my thoughts I will add these to a Google slide presentation, see below, curently in early days, but I will add, change and update as I research the concept.

Todays photo is of a well I have just found on a site I look after, interesting and a small challenge for the contractor as the foundations pass right over the top, so we are treating it as a pipe and will stop the foundations either side and put two concrete lintels over as we might if a pipe is involved. The well itself will be capped, and sealed, although I would like to just mass fill it with concrete, safer and a lot easier, and will stop the brickwork collapsing, although I think its been there since before the turn of the century (1900) and is still in quite good condition.

Glass so thin yet so strong

sddefaultRemember those excellent videos from Corning, “A day in the Life” (see below),  were the doctor see’s the wall come alive, a little bit of fantasy, not any more, the latest video shows Gorilla Glass bonded to a backing substrate to give a very durable composite.

I remember bonding glass to foam a few years ago, but the weight was to high, and the panel damaged to easily, well thats all changed, 1.5mm thick glass thats so strong, bonded to a lightweight foam, now the wall panel comes to life.

This opens up the scifi of the “A day in the life of glass” to the point of reality, but it depends upon manufacturing size, and detail, but give me the product and I will give you the detail.

I have added links below to some of my earlier blogs on the subject, is the time now right for us to take this and build, I think so, a house built this way, now thats a student challenge if I ever heard one,

A glass front with all the connection of my phone, with a shaped foam backer fitting directly onto a timber of metal stud, with no more than the same thickness of say 130mm, enough mass to cut sound and thermally good because of the foam backer.

The CPD, is vast, so much to research and pull together, printing minute circuits in the glass, embedded sensors, wifi connection, the list goes on, is this another paper !. Watch the second video, its the one were the explanations are given, I think its the better of the series, and worthy of repeated watching.


Architectural Technologist – W B McKay (Building Craft Series)

W B McKayAll through my working life I have carried about with me from job to job my copies of McKay, there are three in the set, and I have alway found them to be the last answer on a construction detail problem, even though they are so old. But recently I purchase two other of W B MaKays books via Amazon, the Carpentry edition, and the Joinery edition.

It seems some of the work from my original three linen bound set has been used but expanded in these two great books

The details in the book, may be a think of the past, but so often i come up against them when surveying older houses, and the client ask’s can I have the same door, simple answer is yes, I’ll detail it for the carpenter and away I go to the McKays to find the correct detail to improvise on.

It’s no use trying to get a replacement from the local builders merchant, they just will not want to know, you might try your luck as some of the Architectural Salvage companies, and if your in luck one thats almost or exactly like the one your trying to match, in my view its well worth heading down this route.

But if all else fails draw it up for your self, and look for a good carpenter to make it.

Architectural Technology – Old Brickwork in need of pointing and a church in need of a vist

Birmingham Catherdrial

Birmingham Catherdrial

I happen to be driving past an old barn near to we're I live and got the permition of the owner to take a few photos, of the construction, I was immediately drawn to the state of the existing brickwork, old neglected and a state, Badley in need of some TLC, with as always in a case like this, some strange alterations.

The CPD is one of, what would you do, rebuild, repoint or what, my answer is as the contractor has done, carefully remove loose brickwork store, clean down the mortar and Retix with mortar to match in type and strength, I might be tempted to line the internal with a single skin of thin block work, say a 75mm tied to the older brickwork.

It's not always as simple as that, the bricks might crumble, and then it's a match problem using bricks from else were on the project, and what do you do with the areas were bricks have been taken from. Are they the same size. I happen to know that one of the walls was specifically designated as being for this purpose and was replaced with a timber frame and timber cladding.

Today's picture is one I took yesterday, of the inside of St Martins church at the start of the bull ring, I have lived near to this church for most of my life and never been inside, but enter and you might be in for an Architectural treat, the stone work is of rockfaced Grimshill stone and certainly interesting, but it's the roof that struck me, influenced by the great hammerbeam roof of Westminster Hall. The beams are decorated with fine tracery and end in large carvings of angels. My photo does not do justice to the inside, it's high and dark, but once your inside and your eyes become accustomed to the light, the roof comes alive.


Architectural Technologist – Foundation setting out

When I draw a new extension plan, I invariably set the foundation line in a green dotted line, just to make sure every one knows just where it is, the width of the foundations and the excavation. I also put my general note on saying the min dept to the top of the completed concrete. I know full well the actual depth of the dig is dependant on the building inspector, looking for firm ground, the presence of roots and type of soil. But I like to set the number of brick or block courses to top of slab, so the contractor has a level line of the top course to tamp the concrete on. In most cases in my area of the planet it's 5 blocks. I so often get calls asking to full fill the trench with concrete, I hate this but sometimes it inevitable. It not cheaper to do,it's just a quick fix to speed the job up.

Foul and storm pipes are also part of this, supporting and bridging with lintels. But the point of this blog is to remind the technologist that the CPD required for this area is most important, once the foundations are set it controls the job, so CPD involves setting out with profile boards, setting the top of foundations again checking and controlling with the profile board, shoring, pipe positions, oh and you might not know what's there until you dig !, soil types, and on older buildings existing coursing dimensions.

Several time in the older parts of Birmingham, we have excavated to find no foundations at all, the house was built on two or three courses of bricks, it's not a problem most of these houses have been up for over 100 years so it's just a detail that must be dealt with, by not disturbing the bricks and if needed underpinning, which inevitably involves more work, and if it's a neighbouring wall, the party wall act.

So CPD for foundations has quite a bit to cover, from old to new, I use an engineer to do my calcs, but so often he goes for the simple, so having some knowledge of what's possible is important, otherwise you might get caught with some meaty concrete being poured.

I have saved to my Evernote account several documents relating to foundations, mostly party wall act reminders, access, foundation designs I have used, I have my brick dims tables there to. Which reminded me about a great little video from screencasts online showing some great tricks for storing notes, I particularly like the email trick for sensing emails to the right folder and attaching tabs.