Design-led Architects based in Gravesend, Kent delivering highly workable contemporary and innovative design solutions to challenging briefs and tight budgets

How Not to Kill a Building




Kasan Goh of Clay Architecture will be giving a talk at Canterbury School of Architecture at 5.30pm on the 19th of January 2016:

This talk is something I've been kicking about for a while, and the title came from a conversation I had over coffee with Allan Atlee of CSA some time ago, where I was mouthing out about how much bloody work it took just to keep projects alive. We thought it'll be a great idea to base a talk around the seldom-talked about, less glamorous aspects of being an architect, and some of the challenges of small practice in the regions. About as far removed from Starchitecture as you can get. Raymond Quek invited me to test drive the talk at De Montford Leicester School of Architecture last November, where it generated a lively Q&A, now I'm looking forward to chatting to the students at CSA.

About Clays:
‘… the pattern for most architectural firms is to set up in London ( or another big city ), and compete in a hot soup of young practices, using every opportunity to create small photogenic projects to catapault them to the holy grail of public projects. Breaking the mould, Camilla Prizeman and Kasan Goh, a husband and wife team who met at the Architectural Association school in 1991, set out to create a different sort of practice when they moved away to Gravesend in Kent in 2000. Their unusual strategy has paid off and… they have created a practice steeped in its history and place in a way that is hard to achieve in the capital. Prizeman and Goh are more interested in the way that people will react to and behave in their buildings, than what the projects look like in magazines- though they do look extremely good. As Prizeman and Goh say: ‘There may be something to be learnt from concentrating on the design of normal and everyday things and places.’

 Vicky Richardson, Blueprint, 2008

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History project exhibition 20th October - 1st November

The Blake Gallery: Memories of Gravesham architecture shared at exhibition



Memories of Gravesham buildings, seen through the eyes of local people, will be shared at an exhibition at The Blake Gallery in Gravesend Civic Centre from Monday the 20th of October to Sunday the 2nd of November.

The display, at The Blake Gallery in Gravesend, is the culmination of two-year heritage arts project Making Places, Changing People by award-winning Gravesend practice Clay Architecture Ltd in partnership with Design South East.

The project, which received £45,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, invited members of the public to share stories, photographs, documents or drawings demonstrating the visual and social changes that have taken place in the area in the last 100 years in relation to architecture.

Eight audiovisual animations will be shown at the exhibition, bringing together pictures and information collected throughout the project as well as recordings of interviews with experts and residents. Display boards, produced by Clay Architecture, will accompany the films.

In The First House Built, Northfleet residents Jean and Oliver Madgewick recall moving into a newly built home in Coldharbour Road in the 1960s when the estate was surrounded by potato and cabbage fields.

The Church That Moved features a series of photographs and the voice of local author Peter Shearan describing how Christ Church was dismantled and moved from Parrock Street to its current spot in Old Road East over three years by the George Clay Partnership, a forerunner of Clay Architecture.

Kasan Goh took over Clay Architecture with his wife and fellow director Camilla Prizeman in 2000. He said: “The aim of the project was to explore 100 years of Gravesend history 'through the eyes' of the Clay practice, using archive photographs, documents, drawings, projects and oral accounts stretching back as far as records, archive material and memory could reach.

“Since launching the project, volunteers from Christ Church and civic group Urban Gravesham have been trained in oral history and archival research. They have worked really hard gathering information for the project, digitising the drawings and photographs and cataloguing the collection.”

The material gathered during the project has been donated to Gravesend Library and copies have been loaded onto a new website.

The project was first exhibited briefly for 3 days at Christ Church from March 29th to 31st 2014.

The Website also contains an electronic version of the exhibition, including the videos, an electronic archive of photographs, drawings and oral history interviews

Making Places, Changing People: The Exhibition will be at The Blake Gallery, Civic Centre, Gravesend, from Monday 20th October to Sunday 2nd November. Open daily, Monday to Saturdays 10am – 8pm, Sundays 10am – 2pm.

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We have moved to Great Lines Studios



We have moved!

At 6pm on Monday 22nd Chris Warden of Move2Clear turned up with his trusty crew and began loading up the vans ( we were still packing up 'til midnight ), at 2am Tuesday 23rd 200 boxes, tables, chairs, IT, shelves, odds and ends were unloaded into the former Air Training Cadet Core hut in Gillingham, now renamed the Great Lines Studios-- new home of Clay Architecture.

The studio is a former WWII RAF hut ( with bomb shelter ) built by the sappers-- a pre-cast concrete portal frame building which Kasan and Camilla bought from the MOD this year. The hut is a bit of a Tardis-- not much to look at from the outside-- acres of space on the inside-- space which we're in the process of customising for our very own use.

Steeped in history too: the hut sits on the edge of the Great Lines Park in Gillingham ( the profile of which now forms our redesigned letterhead ), part of the Brompton Lines heritage site-- Camilla's Grandfather was stationed nearby during the War, there are rumours that tunnels from Fort Amherst run right under us.

We're currently stationed in a site office in one of the rooms whilst work goes on in the rest of building. This morning Gransdens knocked out 3 of the 8 new windows to the drawing office, letting in the light. We will keep you updated on progress.

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History Project Exhibition Opening

Cabbage fields to Christ Church: Memories of Gravesham architecture shared at exhibition


Photo: Tollage Garage; Clay Architecture 

Memories of Gravesham buildings, seen through the eyes of local people, will be shared at an exhibition this month.

The display, at Christ Church in Gravesend, is the culmination of two-year heritage arts project Making Places, Changing People by Design South East (formerly Kent Architecture Centre) and award-winning Gravesend practice Clay Architecture Ltd. 

The project, which received £45,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, invited members of the public to share stories, photographs, documents or drawings demonstrating the visual and social changes that have taken place in the area in the last 100 years in relation to architecture. 

Eight audiovisual animations will be shown at the exhibition, bringing together pictures and information collected throughout the project as well as recordings of interviews with experts and residents. Display boards, produced by Clay Architecture, will accompany the films. 

In The First House Built, Northfleet residents Jean and Oliver Madgewick recall moving into a newly built home in Coldharbour Road in the 1960s when the estate was surrounded by potato and cabbage fields.  

The Church That Moved features a series of photographs and the voice of local author Peter Shearan describing how Christ Church was dismantled and moved from Parrock Street to its current spot in Old Road East over three years by the George Clay Partnership, a forerunner of Clay Architecture. 

Kasan Goh took over Clay Architecture with his wife and fellow director Camilla Prizeman in 2000. He said: “The aim of the project was to explore 100 years of Gravesend history 'through the eyes' of the Clay practice, using archive photographs, documents, drawings, projects and oral accounts stretching back as far as records, archive material and memory could reach.

“Since launching the project, volunteers from Christ Church and civic group Urban Gravesham have been trained in oral history and archival research. They have worked really hard gathering information for the project, digitising the drawings and photographs and cataloguing the collection.”

The material gathered during the project has been donated to Gravesend Library and copies are being loaded onto a new Making Places, Changing People website.

 A second exhibition will be held at The Blake Gallery, Gravesend, from October 20 to November 2.

Making Places, Changing People: The Exhibition will be at Christ Church, Old Road East, Gravesend, from 10.30am to 3.30pm, Friday to Monday, March 28th to 31st.

See www.claymakingplaces.co.uk for more on Making Places, Changing People and for a web version of the exhibition in April.  

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The Art of Feasibility

How to start up a school building project— the art of feasibility

Building works are costly to commission, but the consequences of poorly planned works are even costlier if they go wrong during or after construction.

Schools should seek expert advice in the planning of building works— a well-thought out feasibility study completed by an expert will highlight the risks and costs of planned building works, to enable the school make a decision on whether or not to proceed with the work, and, if the school does decide to proceed with the work, will provide the foundation for the justification for funding.

Project managers, surveyors and even builders may be able to carry out or contribute to a feasibility study, but in our opinion an architect (at senior, partner or director level) experienced in school projects will be best placed to provide the rounded knowledge that is required to carry out a thorough feasibility study at the planning stage. Beware of practices who assign feasibility studies to junior or less experienced staff to complete.

For example, we recently worked on a school re-glazing and re-cladding job on which an earlier feasibility study had been commissioned from a surveyor. Although, the surveyor had done a fair job in analysing the concrete failure and estimating the cost of the re-glazing and re-cladding works, they did not have sufficient skill or experience address the following issues:

1. The fact that the classrooms overheated due to solar gain in summer. There are software packages, Class Cool and Class Vent, which can be used to calculate the correct glass specification to reduce solar gain, and the correct opening window sizes to sufficiently ventilate a classroom. These requirements are not found in the Building Regulations Approved Document but in DFES’ Building Bulletin 101, which has the same legislative weight as the approved document. 

2. The fact that concrete failure was caused by approximately 1 km of cold bridging— interstitial condensation within the exposed building structure— and that the new cladding and glazing should be designed to remove or prevent future cold bridging in order to avoid a continuation or escalation of the problem. 

3. The fact that removal of failed concrete from a reinforced concrete frame building is noisy work and needs to be carefully programmed to reduce affecting normal school business (unless classrooms are decanted, at additional cost). 

4. The fact that air-conditioning cables running across the building elevation needed to be rerouted, and the air-conditioning units sited next to the windows and cladding needed to be decommissioned for the duration of the building works. The existing air conditioning units were old and were unlikely to restart after decommissioning and so needed to be replaced.

Unfortunately, the school had bid for, and obtained funding based on the recommendations of the earlier feasibility study. Because the cost and complexity of the work had been underestimated by the surveyor, we had to carry out a number of value engineering (cost cutting) exercises to enable the project to be completed despite the oversights. The school could have had a better result if they had gotten a better feasibility in the first place.

Do not be shy of seeking a second opinion or getting a reference for your architect / surveyor etc.

An experienced professional will advise the school on what additional consultants are required (structural engineer and mechanical and electrical services engineer for example) in order to plan the job properly.

It is important that necessary surveys are carried out at an early stage to gather as much relevant data as possible. See these as a necessary but preventative cost— surveys help to identify and highlight potential risks (and hidden costs) to the project. Your architect will advise you on the surveys required for the feasibility study.  

Feasibility studies and reports come in all shapes in sizes, but are only worth their weight if they achieve their objective. This varies from project to project, but typically a feasibility study should aim to achieve the following:

  • Clarify and test the clients brief. The brief may be a single project— such as a classroom, staff room extension or sixth form centre— or a group of projects or list of building defects that need addressing (leaky rooflight above classroom X, cracked concrete above the hall, overheating of classrooms in summer etc.). 

  • Identify and appraise different options for achieving the requirements of the brief in a way that will enable the school to decide which option is the most appropriate or feasible option to implement. This should include a cost estimate of the various options (typically estimated by a quantity surveyor or building estimator, then compiled and presented by an architect). 

  • Identify risks and other hidden or abnormal costs, and recommend how these risks may be avoided or reduced, and advise on the cost of these risks or the cost of avoiding these risks. An example of a common risk would be: asbestos removal. 

  • Draft a programme for building work and advise on the best way to procure a competitive price for completing the work. 

A feasibility study is NOT:

  • A design. It is the necessary groundwork at the early stages of a project which will help clarify the project brief. Repair and maintenance work may require very little, or no design input at all, but it may need the specialist knowledge of a designer (for example, conservation knowledge if working on a historic building more than 60 years old.)

 A good design:
  • Meets the criteria set out in a good feasibility study.  

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Clay History Project

…and we’re off!

This week saw the inaugural meeting of a local history project entitled: ‘Changing Places, Changing Lives’.

-100 years of social and urban design history viewed through the eyes of an architectural practice in Gravesham and Medway.

After over a year of idea development and petitioning for support, we are thrilled to announce that Heritage Lottery Funding has been granted to research, curate and present the local history project!

Clay Architecture is collaborating with Irene Seijo (Project Manager) to drive this vision. The funding will enable researchers to compose an understanding of the history and growth of the towns; using a starting point of archival resources and the collective memory of retired and practising members of the former George Clay Partnership (now renamed Clay Architecture). The architectural practice has been based in Gravesham and Medway for more than 100 years and has built numerous buildings which are integral to the town’s historical fabric; including schools, churches, pubs, industrial factories and cultural buildings.

The first meeting with Duncan Hiscock (former Partner) and Ted Clifford (former Associate) was full of stories, intimately recanting the spirit of the town and the practice. Through the informal but intriguing discussions, we explained the initial direction of the project. Firstly; a steering group, of volunteers, needs to be formed. From initial research they will select three projects, which best illustrates the history of the towns, to explore in depth. Secondly, a team of volunteers will be sought to help carry out the research. They will be trained in archival research and cataloguing as well as how to conduct oral history interviews.

At the end of the explorations, we aim:

  • to curate an exhibition with the potential to tour to different locations, comprised of images, videos and audio recordings of oral history interviews on the projects and the town
  • to produce a website which could have local history/architectural information continually inserted
  • to conduct workshops with local school children
  • to have a legacy of local residents, trained in archival and oral history recording, who can use the experience and knowledge gained in this project perhaps in other similar initiatives to come

It’s going to be an exciting few months ahead. Watch this space for further updates on the progress of Changing Places, Changing Lives.

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