Splutter Splutter

No one wants to read about the intricacies of someone else’s torment.

So I shall just keep to a minimum this diatribe about my ordeal at the hands of almost every window supplier/installer in London.

I have literally never come across an industry which is serviced by such a load of incompetent idiots.

I have spent SEVEN MONTHS being messed around by one contractor after another. Apparently there is ONLY ONE company in London that is actually able to take correct measurements, follow clear written instructions and provide a meaningful quote….. the reason I didn’t go with them was that they were charging £35,000 (yes, you read that right) for me to replace my windows.

The situation is represented in the following Venn diagram:


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Dismantled Panel

I’ve got two stained glass panels from the new house to renovate. They are potentially beautiful Victorian windows with some pretty painted sections, but various things have ruined them.

Stained Glass panels

Firstly there are lots of breakages all over the place and some bright spark has used araldite to glue completely different pieces of glass over the cracks. Secondly there are some odd discrepancies, like painted pieces which don’t match in colour or style or positioning, or painted pieces that were clearly made for other areas of the panel and then repurposed. This hotchpotch may have been done by the original Victorian artist using old scraps of glass, but I suspect these panels have been rehashed since then as there is also glass in there that does not look Victorian to me. Thirdly the colour balance has been so messed around with that it’s actually difficult to see the original scheme. Annoyingly it appears that the remedial work done to it was so unprofessional that the results are worse than the original problem… this is beginning to sound much like our house itself, the building from which they were taken out.

Once they were removed from the building I looked at the state of the lead to see if I could work with it, but it was so battered up I decided to dismantle the panel completely and start again with just the original glass.

This film shows the first stage of remaking one of these panels in which the lead lines are traced before the panel is dismantled. I’m working super slow these days given that everything is done during baby naps, so it felt good to use the magic of technology to speed everything back up to my pre-baby levels of efficiency!

Lambeth Rant


RANT ALERT!  Our house renovation project has been put on hold for a month now and it’s looking like the delays will continue. That is a month of the builders not being there, which means a month longer (and counting) that this project is going to take and that we are going to be stuck in limbo, not knowing when we will be able to move in.

And why? Because Lambeth Planning Department is not only jaw-clenchingly incompetent but hair-wrenchingly inefficient. I have just had an excruciating 60 day wait on some written planning advice that should have been delivered to us back in March!! And the advice that Lambeth finally got round to bothering to write, informed me that because the front door is on the side of the house they have decided that this side is the principal elevation of the building. This, despite the fact that the architectural terrace it is part of, the layout of the drains, the original address it was assigned when it was built in 1897 as well as that small thing called COMMON SENSE would suggest that the front of the building is in fact the FRONT and not the SIDE. But because Lambeth have now decided that the side is the front, that means the front and back are now the sides and Lord only knows where the back now is!

But this decision has major implications for pretty much all the major building works we were planning on doing including, depressingly, the new hoped-for glass studio. The planning regulations for a principal elevation are quite different from those that concern other elevations on a house. And yet Lambeth want to have their cake and eat it too… I said to them if the front is now the side, then I should be allowed to make changes to that elevation – but, no, because it faces the street, I am similarly constrained on that side.

In an act of petty retribution for my endless delays, I put in a formal complaint about the planning officer who was dealing with my case, and demanded my money back. Typically – as if to rub salt in the wound – Lambeth complaints department builds in a delay to their response time so, frustratingly, I had to wait another month to find out that they had at least agreed with me that it wasn’t a good enough service and sent my money back. This has been little comfort when facing the seemingly insurmountable problem of how to proceed with my plans with this major spanner in the works.

I am now wishing that I had read the planning laws cover to cover before buying a house with a front door on the side….

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House of Horrors

Some of the rooms in our house renovation seem to be coming to the completion stages, so it was a bit of a shock to go upstairs the other day to go and look at the progress in the bathroom and to discover that the entire ceiling on that floor had disappeared! This is a ceiling that was drooping as a result of stupid decisions that the previous owners had made in the loft above, namely installing a water tank (weighing literally about a tonne) on an unsupported loft floor. So at some point this ceiling had to be replaced, but my builder evidently got fed up with waiting for the local building authority to come and inspect the site, and took it upon himself to remove the whole lot!

You will see that I took the photo on the left standing in the bathroom and I looked up above the beautifully constructed parts of the bathroom cupboards that had just been built to see right up another floor into the roofspace! A board had been left over the construction, just on the off-chance that it could prevent anything falling from above.

The hatch that used to be the only access point to the loft (before, above left) had been ripped open to reveal a gaping hole (after, above right). Every joist that had previously been holding up the ceiling to that entire floor had now been sawn off and removed.

I stood in awe-filled admiration at the cathedral vault of a space that had opened up above my head, when I suddenly realised with utter horror that the entire roof was now resting on one wooden column which, as far as I could see, was using nothing more than gravity to balance on the wooden innards of the original Victorian wall below. And that line of wooden pillars had no side to side bracing, so if anyone were to fall against a pillar, the whole lot would have come tumbling down!

It was Good Friday and the builders were gone, so I spent the rest of the long Easter weekend living on a hope and a prayer that nothing would slip before the builders returned on Tuesday to put in a few reassuring  RSJs.

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Quick decisions

Rereading the brief for this year’s Stevens Competition on the train up to London Bridge, I was reminded what a lovely potential commission it is going to be for some lucky budding architectural glass artist. So it was no surprise to find out that we had more than double the number of entries of last year. I was to act as one of four judges to assess the 46 submissions at Glaziers’ Hall so I knew it was going to be a busy day.

It was a rush to get through so many entries in the first round and the overall standard of the submissions was higher than last year, so there was more to look at and more to think about. I suspect a lot of entrants do not realise how short a period of time we have to look at each presentation, and I found myself getting slightly frustrated that so many statements included a lot of information about the commission that we already knew. As judges, we want to read about what is unique to the panel we are looking at, not the general information we already know from the brief. However there were a few gems in there which had made good use of background research and stood out as well thought out responses to the brief.

Surprisingly despite a broader range of good submissions to choose from, the four judges came to consensus pretty quickly and painlessly, with none of the arguments that happened last year. We’re looking forward to the seminar day on Tuesday 31st May at Glaziers’ Hall when we will discuss a selection of the entries.

Read more about the brief here.

House Appearing

The building work on our house renovation project continues apace. The rubble and chaos are slowly being cleared to reveal parts of the house which seem to be forming before our eyes. Having witnessed the house being ripped apart and stripped down to the bones, it is now exciting see at least a couple of rooms being built up again.

It strikes me as slightly mad that we had to decide which internet provider we will be going for, before we even finalised the layout of the walls, but when one has to embed cables in walls these are primary considerations. I’ve not just had the builders constructing new walls but also false walls, such as the fireplace wall which was brought 8cm forward to accommodate cables. And my builders are quick – they can construct a set of shelving faster than I can design it! I’ve been frantically measuring the spines of books to work out the size of living room shelves (above left) and all manner of shampoo bottles have been compared for height to ascertain the best distances to space shelves in the bathroom (above right).

Partitions seem to rise from the floor as if self propelled, and the next time I see them they have acquired a lovely new skin of tiles, like the shower enclosure above which is pictured before and after. Even just keeping the builders clued up as to which type of tile goes where is complex, given that there’s a pile of £5,000 worth of them sitting in the yard waiting to be used.


Ordering all the materials for the job while juggling a new baby has been a challenge, to say the least. Calculating that I need 153 metres of skirting board, 64 metres of picture rail and 58 metres of architrave, and coordinating the delivery and storage of these five-and-a-half-metre lengths of wood (when our longest room is half a metre shorter) has been fraught with problems when I’ve only had the duration of a newborn nap to concentrate on the figures!

But one or two rooms are now looking a little better dressed!

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A Brief Visit to Southampton

I was delighted to have been asked back as one of four judges for next year’s Stevens Competition for Architectural Glass. The new brief for the competition has just been announced and it is a very exciting commission. St Mary’s Church in Southampton is commissioning a glass artist to design a stained glass window to commemorate the crew of the Titanic. Southampton sustained the greatest loss of life as virtually the entire crew of 1500 was drawn from the city. St Mary’s, its mother church, is closely connected with the ship which sailed from Dock Gate 4 close by and it was chosen as the venue for Southampton’s first memorial service after the disaster.

In early November I jumped on the train to meet the other judges at Southampton. We were driven from the station past the stadium of Southampton football club which has the nickname ‘the Saints’ as it originated from the church choir team. Pulling up in front of the church, we could see the neo-gothic architecture of the Victorian exterior which survived the blitz. 

The building was gutted except for the baptistery, belfry and vestry and all the windows other than those in the baptistry were destroyed. The present church was reconstructed in the 1950s with a spartan neo-Cistercian interior and attractive stained glass windows which were modern interpretation of what had gone before.

I particularly liked the window in the Seamen’s Chapel with its references to ships sailing beneath a rainbow and the drapery of a cloak emblazoned with stars like the unfurling firmament. Walking further round to look at the only original windows, I noticed the ceiling of the baptistery was also painted with gold stars on blue. My natural inclination – despite my role as a judge not an entrant – was to start coming up with ideas for the new window (old habits die hard!) and I immediately saw the potential link to an idea posited in the brief that 550 stars could be included in the design for the new window to represent the number of crew who died in the disaster. 

The new window panel will be built into the north aisle and the brief requires the design to incorporate a quotation from the Old Testament book Song of Songs – ‘Many Waters Cannot Quench Love’ – as well as the emblem of the White Star Line, the company which owned the ship. The site and the brief offer a rich source of ideas for what should be a very exciting commission.  

Read the competition brief here

Creative Town, Proud City

Returning home from our Cornish week away, I was intrigued to find out more about the apartment building we had stayed in, the Barnaloft/Piazza apartments on Porthmeor Beach in St. Ives. The building was designed in the early 1960s by Henry C. Gilbert, better known as Gillie and integral to the artistic life of St Ives for the half century that he lived and worked in the town as an architect and an art gallerist. Bernard Leach said about him: “We owe Mr Gilbert a great deal for what he has contributed to art in what used to be a fishing village” and Leach actually moved into number 4 Barnaloft in the latter part of his life after he had given up potting.

Single Form With Two Hollows

Gillie brought two of Hepworth’s sculptures into the design for the Barnaloft/Piazza apartments – the bronze ‘Two forms in Echelon’ and ‘Single Form with Two Hollows’ at the east end of the building, and he championed local artists, holding an exhibition in the Guildhall to celebrate the granting of the Freedom of the borough of St Ives to Hepworth, Nicholson and Leach in the late 1960s.
Design Journal 1965

His design for the building won a medal from the ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1963. The award was for Good Design in Housing and the assessors recognised how the building had weathered well unlike previous winners of the award which had deteriorated rather quickly into an unkempt state.

One of the assessors for the award was Arthur Ling who was City Architect of Coventry between 1955 and 1964. We had been staying at the apartment building because my mother happens to know Ling’s daughter who now rents out the apartment to friends. Presumably Arthur Ling had judged the building worthy of the award in 1963 and then gone on to purchase one of the apartments as he liked it so much.

London's villages as per Abercrombie PlanArthur Ling also had a very interesting career, having previously been Chief Planning Officer for the London City Council – then the most prestigious office in the local authority sector – in the post war period when the authorities were considering how to rebuild the devastated city. London’s layout was at a ‘critical moment’ in its history, and in 1943 the County of London Plan, designed by Patrick Abercrombie and John H. Forshaw, was the first of two ambitious documents for post-war improvements to the capital. This was the forerunner to the Greater London Plan (the Abercrombie Plan) of 1944, and the film below was released by the Ministry of Information to explain the county plan. Abercrombie and Forshaw feature in the first two thirds of the film, and then Arthur Ling himself presents the planning concept of the Plan in the final third of the film.

The film, ‘The Proud City’, is fascinating for the old-fashioned, stilted delivery of its protagonists, as well as their concept of the new London as a series of neighbourhoods of around 10,000 inhabitants echoing the cluster of villages that characterised the ancient area. Their preoccupations with combating the dirt and disorder of the city with a utopian vision of a better, fairer city is a theme that is still in circulation with today’s regeneration programmes.


The Final Judgement

The Stevens Competition prizegiving day was on Tuesday and though we were one judge down, we had a lively seminar between Helen Whittaker, Douglas Hogg and myself, the three judges that were left. The seminar is traditionally held at the magnificent Glaziers Hall on the river at London Bridge, where the competition entries are spread around the River Room for students and visitors to look at before a group discussion. With fewer entries this year than in previous years, we were able to lean all the entries against the windows with a wonderful vista across the River Thames, and it was lovely to see all of them at once, as opposed to the judging day when we were shown the panels in groups of six.

Just before the students came in, we three judges had a conflab and decided that the chairs were too widely spread to create a sense of intimacy in the ensuing discussions, so we rolled our sleeves up and tottered here and there moving the furniture around in our high heels (Helen and I, that is – Douglas had chosen more sensible footwear!).

And then it was time for the students to enter to hear our verdicts and our feedback on each of the panels on show. I found my outlook subtly shifting gear from the critical judging eye that we had employed when filling out the mark sheets for each panel, to the softer, more educational stance we needed to take in order to deliver our feedback to the artists. Helen voiced my own feeling that at times like this, we feel we are no more qualified than anyone else to proclaim which panels are good or bad; certainly for my part, it feels like not long ago that I was one of the students waiting to make sense of the feedback delivered about my own efforts in the Stevens Competition. However we were brought into do a job and, on the whole, we largely agreed about the general verdict on most panels.

It was lovely to hear the students themselves explain their own motivations for the designs and to see the genuine pride in the faces of the winners. However a downside was hearing from one student who came up to me after the seminar and said she felt she had failed because the sum of her marks in the various judging categories added up to less than 50% of the total available marks. She felt dejected and expressed doubts that she’d want to enter the competition again. I tried my best to assure her that the marking system was not necessarily a reflection of the quality of her panel, but I suspect she thought I was just back-pedalling. I have thought about this more since that day, and I stand by what I was trying to explain to her. When marking panels which are set against each other in a competition, one marks differently from how one would assess a panel on its own merits. It is the difference between the judging eye and the educational stance, that I was alluding to earlier. When one is marking to judge, one has to ensure the aggregate marks are differentiated from panel to panel…. in other words, one starts by imagining the panels in order of strength in each criterion and one mentally gives, say, the eleventh panel out of the sequence of twenty one a mark at roughly 50%. Then the ten stronger panels in the imaginary sequence would be graded above 50% and the ten weaker panels would be graded below. That is not to say that the eleventh panel is only half as good as it could have been but, for the judging process, the difference between the marks aggregated by each panel is more important than the marks themselves.

Unfortunately the girl I spoke to didn’t understand that this was what the marks represented and took her below 50% mark to be a damning indictment of her work. It was a great shame because her work had a lot of excellent qualities, but in this case they were just not quite right for this commission for Swansea University. As I said to her, if the commission that has been discussed by the Glaziers as a possible candidate for next year’s competition goes ahead, then I would anticipate her particular style would be very well suited to that competition, and I hope that she reconsiders applying again.