Book Review #1 – The Environmental Design Pocketbook (2nd Edition) by Sofie Pelsmakers

If you’re thinking of investing in just one book on sustainable building design I’d strongly recommend you buy The Environmental Design Pocketbook by Sofie Pelsmakers. The book is currently in its second edition, and should be essential reading for not only architects and architecture students but anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings.

The Environmental Design Pocketbook is a fantastic reference book which is well illustrated and easy to use. The research incorporated in this book make it an essential reference to both practicing architects and students concerned with the environmental impacts of building design.

At almost 500 pages, this edition continues to build on the already vast amount of data contained in the previous edition, bringing the book up to date on recent changes to both regulations and practices. It tackles topics from what can be achieved in the building industry to UK general policies, legislation, frameworks, tools and environmental assessments.

Throughout the book, it is well organised and boasts helpful illustrations to aid the details. At the end of a chapter there is a ‘key recommendations’ section which flags the points that require further thought; arrows are used to indicate points to cross references with other chapters or sections and finally, a spanner symbol relates to building maintenance and care.

Overall, The Environmental Design Pocketbook is a must have for anyone serious about sustainable design which is an important and growing topic within the architectural industry. I found this book to be extremely important to have on hand as it is packed with everything you need to know about how to design a green building in the UK. As a student I will find this book invaluable for helping me to embed sustainable strategies into my projects.

Price: £25

Map Making

Mapmaking is a basic human instinct. It is how we make sense of the world around us, and has become a hugely important record in our written history. Cartography has been known to date back approximately 8000 years, before we even learnt to write and has continued to be a valuable resource.

Mapping was a prominent part of our initial context studies in architecture school. It was a process which could be displayed in both 2D and 3D forms and exercised in a range of media. Maps are incredibly useful for data visualisation which can be used for personal benefit or as a tool to communicate a sense of the area with others. These outcomes can be incredibly important and could reveal patterns you may not have noticed initially. The maps we produce today within the creative field are often conceptual, being used for installation and explanation. When thinking of producing a map there are some things you could consider:

  • Edit out what you don’t feel important or relevant
  • Think of a specific objective
  • Do you want to show complex social structures?
  • Direction
  • Symbolism
  • Micro-climates
  • Sun-paths
  • Circulation
  • Transport
  • What are you recording?
  • What Qualitative and Quantitative data do you want to show?
  • Is it a diagrammatic map?
  • Are you focusing on mapping: particular buildings, roads, landscape, materials, textures or vegetation?

After deciding on the correct approach for your map it is a good idea to make sure you have the relevant information to accompany it or if you feel the image is enough to communicate your ideas.

  • Title
  • Orientation
  • Date
  • Author
  • Legend
  • Scale
  • Index
  • Grid

The map In the reference image is a figure-ground study drawing for Vitra Firestation by Zaha Hadid.

Quantitative – Relating to, measuring, or measured by the quantity of something rather than its quality.
Qualitative – Relating to, measuring, or measured by the quality of something rather than its quantity.
Cartography – The science or practice of drawing maps.

Architecture Easter Eggs

Last year I enjoyed reading ArchDaily’s article titled ‘Easter Eggs Designed by Architects’.  So, for Easter this year, I thought it would be fun to mess around in Photoshop quickly and turn some existing architectural photographs into eggs.

Can you guess who the eggs are inspired by?

Happy Easter!

Answers (From left to right)

  1. Norman Foster
  2. Renzo Piano
  3. Tadao Ando
  4. Zaha Hadid
  5. Richard Rogers

Additional Reading:

Women In Architecture #IWD2015

In light of International Women’s Day (March 8th 2015), I decided this was the perfect opportunity to show some gratitude to the women in architecture I admire most. 

Angela Brady – In 2000 Angela was a founder of RIBA’s ‘Architects for Change’ group, which campaigns for the greater involvement of women and ethnic minorities within the industry. Additionally, she was a chairperson for Women in Architecture from 2000-2005. This hard work eventually led to her being elected as RIBA president in 2011. Angela has also been awarded the lifetime achievement award from Women in Construction (2012) and the WISE women of outstanding achievement for leadership and inspiration (2013). I had the pleasure of seeing Angela at EcoBuild this year in which she was passionately talking about sustainability. She continuously strives for a fairer industry.

Alison Brookes – Alison has recently been named as one of Britain’s 500 most influential people. She boasts being the only UK architect to have won all three of the UK’s most prestigious architecture awards: the Manser Medal the Stephen Lawrence Prize and the Stirling Prize. In 2012, she won both Housing Architect of the Year and the Architect of the Year Gold Award. I also was lucky to attend ‘The BD Debate: Quality housing fit for 21st-century living – why can’t we get it right?’ debate in which, she spoke passionately about the housing crisis.

Sarah Wigglesworth – Sarah is an award-winning British architect and Professor of Architecture at Sheffield University. In 2012 she was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry, becoming the first ever woman to be awarded this prestigious title for architecture. Her firm is committed to exploring sustainable futures and creating spaces that have a positive affect on people.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are thousands of other fantastic women in the construction industry. However, architecture, as a profession, is not known for openly welcoming women into the industry. This struggle for integration surprisingly continues today. Despite approximately 40% of architecture graduates in the western world are women, no more than 12% are estimated to be practicing as licensed or registered architects.

Let’s drive out inequality and celebrate all our construction industry talent #SeeMeJoinMe #InternationalWomensDay

Further Reading:

(Post in progess)

Sensing Spaces

The Sensing Spaces: Architecture Re-imagined Exhibition was run by the Royal Academy of Arts from the 25th January – 6th April 2014. The event called for seven architects to reawaken the city’s relationship to architecture by showcasing the importance of the role it plays on our everyday emotions. The participating architects: Grafton Architects Diébédo Francis KéréSensing-Spaces1 (1) Kengo Kuma Li Xiaodong Pezo von Ellrichshausen Álvaro Siza Eduardo Souto de Moura The goal of the exhibition was to evoke different emotions from the visitors and ultimately change the way the city engages with architecture. The collective architects were given 23,000 square feet and 72 days to complete a breathtaking large scale installation. Whilst visiting I found myself not just viewing the designs but how different groups of people were reacting to them. The designs were highly interactive allowing visitors to touch, climb, sit walk and play within the space. The chosen materials varied considerably between installations, allowing for human response to be changed through sight, scent, sound and touch. The different materials and shapes caused opposing behaviors and where some designs created a tranquil atmosphere others encouraged noise and play. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this exhibition. After seeing how a variety of materials, shapes and lighting can affect the human emotion so considerably, I have taken away the understanding of how crucial these factors are in producing good design. Further Reading:

(Post in progress)

“In a city the atmosphere is all around you and is ever changing. New things will become old things, so the idea of continuity is very real. Time is a great architect.” – Alvaro Siza

Designing for nature – Project Bird House

I recently became a member of the RSPB and was sent their ‘Give nature a home’ booklet ( as seen advertised on TV. Their powerful message of ‘if you build it they will come’ inspired me to explore this as a short project. Of course I am aware these animals would probably be just as happy with traditional wooden natural houses, however, I thought this could be an exciting small scaled proposal which might inspire people to pursue it further. It is a nice sized project that will encourage a lot of the thought processes used with larger schemes.

Inspiration below:

This post will look specifically at some of my most popular visitors here at home. A birdhouse should be designed with a certain bird in mind. The image above is one I explored looking at designs for Blue Tits. Blue Tits are widely spread in Britain and are also regular visitors to my garden year round. They are known to thrive in the nesting boxes. Just like designing for a human, individual bird species with have their own requirements for how they live, so after some initial research I was able to form a program in which to follow when designing my bird house.


  • Security – The birds are very sensitive to the need of feeling safe. This can be controlled by using appropriate dimensions that are similar to those they choose in their natural habitats. The box height, depth and floor, diameter of entrance hole and height of hole above the box floor are all important aspects for nesting birds and should be considered early in the design stage.
  • Ventilation – Without adequate ventilation in the nesting box it can cause overheating for the birds who are used to living in cold temperatures.
  • Drainage – Looking carefully at drainage it is easy to see why this is important in birdhouse design. Designing it in order to not retain water can reduce/eliminate harboring bacteria and parasites. Slanted roofs to drain rainwater are a common feature to most birdhouses.
  • Accessibility – A safe location must be chosen for the birdhouse. When the birds are sleeping or caring for their young they are at their most vulnerable. Hanging them high in the trees is a good option for security.
  • Limiting predator access – The entrance hole should only be big enough for the desired bird to enter. This limits the amount of larger animals that could get in. Building a perch outside the door is not always advisable as predators can use it, so predator guards should be considered.
  • Ease of maintenance – Potential for a removable lid to clean out the box in between residents is crucial. This will keep the nesting box usable for years.
  • Weathering – Careful consideration for the materials and how they will perform within the climate and the environment will be an area of focus if I want to design something to be sustainable and comfortable.

I hope to do a follow up post in the future with a more in-depth and completed project overview. I am aiming to complete around 10-15 A3 pages for this project in total to keep it at a manageable size, whilst juggling it with my evening course and preparing myself to go back to University.

30 day challenges!

It’s that time again…The start of a new year. After reading a couple of books regarding self improvement I came across the concept of 30 day challenges. In particular, I read ‘Challenge yourself I dare you: 30 day challenges’ by Stuart Ralph. ( He looked in depth at the idea of setting yourself a goal for a shorter period of time – to ease the commitments and the potential risk of failure. I have used this concept as one of my ‘New Years Resolutions’ for 2015. This resolution will be versatile enough to dedicate as much time as I wish to it, depending on other commitments.

Another place in which this idea is discussed which you may find of use is Steve Pavlinas’ blog: Steve describes it as ‘A powerful personal growth tool… a concept borrowed from the shareware industry, where you can download a trial version of a piece of software and try it out risk-free for 30 days before you’re required to buy the full version. It’s also a great way to develop new habits, and best of all, it’s brain-dead simple.’ Also, on his blog are plenty of suggestions to get you inspired!

Towards the end of 2014, I began brainstorming some ideas as to what 30 day challenges could benefit me and other architecture students alike. I have tried to include a range of goals that will help to develop aspects of architecture.

  • Sketch every day for a month.
  • Learn a new building material a day.
  • Write a new blog entry.
  • Take a photograph a day.
  • Do 30 minutes – 1 hour of 3D modelling.
  • Write an extract in your journal.
  • Meditate.
  • 10 minute life drawing exercise.
  • 30 artistic performances in 30 days.
  • Learn a new vocabulary word every day.
  • Write about 30 pieces of Art.
  • Go for a long walk every day.
  • Read for an hour day on a subject that interests you.
  • Write a 500 word reflection.

I hope to look at a range of challenges across: professional practice, technology, design and History topics within architecture. Pease feel free to post a comment and share your goals for the next 30 days if you decide to give 30 day challenges a try. I am hoping these will be a much more achievable way to complete the goals set for the new year.