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


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.


RIBA South East Regional Awards 2014

On the 20th May, our project for the extension of the chapels at Medway Crematorium won an RIBA South East Award 2014 along with 11 other projects ( including our favourite, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft by Adam Richards Architects ). Check out the judges’ response on


We’d like to thank everyone involved on the Medway Crematorium project, hats off to Medway for commissioning the project and putting their trust in us, hats off to Provian for their work on the building ( Rick Archer & Colin Baldry, D&B Manager and foreman respectively ), hats off to our consultants— not only did we manage an award against stiff and August competition ( Clays were the only Kent practice amongst mainly London practices ) , we also managed to stimulate a mini-rant and lively debate on design & build from the chair of judges, Mike Russum.

Mike was right in many respects, but he did miss one point, which is how well, in this instance, the team managed to work together to deliver the facility— as anyone working in this industry knows, it’s all about how you work within the constraints set for you, and what one does despite all the obstacles a project throws your way, that matters.

For an architect every finished project is a little ‘death’, all WE can see when we walk into a finished building is what could have been done better. It’s a bit of an occupational curse. As far as finished projects go, Medway Crematorium is less painful for us to walk into then other finished projects.

A big thank you to Quintin Lake for the fantastic photographs, which, I must say, looked great projected on the screen.


Case Study: Concrete Repairs to ‘60s RC frame buildings

The main teaching block before refurbishment

Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Faversham 

The main teaching block and science block of the school were built in 1967. Both are reinforced concrete frame buildings that featured exposed reinforced concrete columns and window transoms; the main block has reinforced concrete balconies on the rear façade. 

The exposed concrete was in very poor condition; sections of concrete were spalling and had fallen off, exposing corroded steel reinforcement— an ongoing maintenance and health and safety problem; repairs were undertaken in 2001 and 2005 but the repairs were themselves in poor condition; the lightweight mortar failed to bind and was spalling in areas. 

Exposed concrete window mullions spalling throughout the block facade

The walls of the buildings had no thermal insulation; the existing windows were clear float single glazed metal Crittall windows. Classrooms are located behind the east and south elevations; the rooms suffered from solar gain and were hot and uncomfortable in summer— a situation exacerbated in the IT suites where air-conditioning was required to counteract the additional heat gained from IT equipment ( in these rooms, internal blinds on the windows were almost permanently left down to try and reduce heat gain and solar glare from the afternoon sun ). In winter, the building did not retain heat well and the school’s energy bills were high. 

Exposed reinforcement to the balconies

Clays were commissioned by the school to carry out concrete repairs and refurbish the façade of the main and science blocks; following the disappointment of being dropped from the BSF programme in 2010, the school wanted a fresh new look for the school buildings to send a positive message to the school community. Clays also carried out a feasibility study that demonstrated that extending the blocks to create a new Sixth Form Centre would be uneconomic— extension work would bear the extra-over costs of temporary accommodation for 16 classrooms; the original buildings had not been designed for disproportionate collapse and the cost of structural work for any extension would be disproportionate to the net area gain. 

Turning our attention to the façade works, a heat gain and natural ventilation analysis was carried out using Classcool and Classvent software. 

Clays developed a refurbishment strategy that involved:

 • The removal of all horizontal concrete window transoms and repair and protection of exposed oxidised metal reinforcement to the balconies. 

• Reducing the number of windows to the IT suites to the minimum required for natural ventilation to BB101. Solid composite panels rather than clear glass panes were specified on some of the windows in order to further reduce heat gain and solar glare. 

• Replacing the existing Crittall windows with double-glazed aluminium windows designed to be fixed in front of the exposed concrete columns, thereby protecting the reinforced concrete elements from the weather, reducing cold bridging, interstitial condensation and further concrete failure. The new windows had a maximum U-value of 1.8 W/m2K and were doubled-glazed with an outer pane of low E glass with a solar transmittance of 0.4 or below— resulting in a 52% reduction in solar transmittance without significant loss of daylight transmittance. 

• Replacing the existing ‘fish-scale’ tile cladding with rainscreen cladding ( cedar on the east façade and Trespa on the west façade— which is in shadow and not suitable for timber ) to achieve a maximum U-value of 0.28 W/m2K. 

The contract, managed by Clays, was let for tender and completed, within a tight budget, in 12 weeks in time for the 2012-2013 academic year. 

In the process, 1,958Lm of defective concrete and cold bridging have been encased / removed. The rooms now perform significantly better which will prove beneficial to running costs and comfort— in summer, blinds are now left up and lights left off. The school is very happy with the look of the refurbished blocks. 

The main teaching block after refurbishment

View of the refurbished teaching block

Image/s: Before images by Clay, after images by Dilip Hirani


Launch Lunch

02.02.13 Launch Lunch

Clay History Project Group Members

On Saturday 2nd February 2013, volunteers for the ‘Making Places, Chaning People’ project met for a special launch lunch at the Three Daws pub. It was an opportunity for volunteers to meet each other and share their excitement and aspirations for the project. Among the attendees were a retired partner, an associate and an architect from the George Clay Partnership, as well as directors and employees of the current Clay Architecture. Members of Urban Gravesham Historic Society also attended as well as residents of Gravesend with interests in the history of the town.


The lunch provided the first official opportunity for Project Manager, Irene Siejo to formally introduce the project. Both she and Kasan Goh gave speeches on the importance of collective memory and outlined the project programme and scope. It is hoped that the project will be part of the Love Architecture Festival this summer, organised by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects).


26.02.13 Oral History Interview Workshop


Volunteers met for a day long workshop to learn interview methods which will be used to draw out the collective memories of local people as well as retired directors and associates of the George Clay Partnership.

The day left volunteers excited about the project and enthusiastic about practicing their new skills.

Below are comments from some of them:

It was a very informative and enjoyable day; the volunteers got to know one another and learnt a great deal about the gathering & recording of oral history, which is such an important part of studying the past. I'm sure the project is going to prove a success in exploring different aspects of buildings in Gravesham and their effect on the lives of people who lived and still live locally; I'm looking forward to helping with this fascinating project. Gill Emerson
I found the training day on oral history very interesting and informative, I gained a lot of information which will be useful for the project. As for the project, I think it is an excellent idea and something I am looking forward to being a part of. Mary Whitsitt
The Oral Training Day was a fascinating and informative introduction to the task of interviewing people and encouraging them to share their memories. We learned many of the dos and don'ts of recording oral accounts and it was fun to put into practice what we had learned during the day by interviewing each other. Not as easy as it seems!
Having lived in Gravesend all my life I am delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in this exciting project which when complete will be a very important record of our town's great history and heritage. It's great to know that public access to the planned exhibition, workshops and website will bring our findings to life for a wide audience. Beverley Draper
I really enjoyed the Oral History training day. I found it most informative, and very professionally run. I was totally enthused by the presentation, and although I have realised that interviewing for the project will require considerable skill and commitment I can't wait to get started.
I have been speaking to Gravesend octogenarians with many memories of the 30s and the war years and all are keen to be involved, so I don't imagine there will be any lack of volunteers! Pauline Cunningham
I enjoyed the training day, and it made me happier to continue being involved in the project. Although I am a relative newcomer to the town - I've only been living here for 45 years! - I have accrued a great deal of historical knowledge about the place, much of it which came from writing the history of our church, although I also undertook research when I was being trained as a teacher in the 1970s (my subject was geography). I have several acquaintances who are Gravesend born and bred, and know that I can persuade them to open up as to their memories of Gravesend over the past 80 years in at least one case. Peter Shearan


Kent Design Award 2012 for Best Public Building ( Education )

Walderslade Primary School

Last night, at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, along with 6 other projects ( out of 94 entrees ), Walderslade Primary School won a Kent Design Award ( held tri-annually ). Amongst the other six winners are the Turner Centre, Margate by David Chipperfield Architects, and Dover Esplanade by London practice Tonkin Liu.

We won in the Public Buildings Education category, a tough category-- to be honest I was expecting a commendation at best so the award came as a shock. Walderslade was a difficult job, the D&B-ness shows through in places in the finished building. We didn't even make it into the public buildings category on the first shortlist-- we'd originally been placed in the energy performance category, but the judges were pleasantly surprised when they visited the site, apparently the building looked 'better in reality than in the pictures' ( no disrespect to our photographer Quintin-- we didn't have his final photos at the time of entry ) unlike other entrees that looked 'better in the pictures than in reality'. So the judges decided to upgrade Walderslade to the public building category.

There we were up against stiff competition, such as the crafted elegance of the Sevenoaks School Performing Arts Centre by Tim Ronalds Architects ( Tim was a technical tutor when I was an architecture student in the late '80s ), and Jestico + Whiles’ £35m Cornwallis Academy.

But the judges later told us how much they liked the project: what tipped the balance in the end was how, given the constraints of a very difficult and challenging site and the technical complexity of building the design in response to the site, the team managed to provide a 'great space for the kids'. 'Whereas anyone can build a good building in a beautiful site using a name architect'. I'll take 'great space for the kids' as a compliment for the team.

We like to thank the team for their hard work, and to thank Medway Council for commissioning us in the first place ( if anyone has Lexley Maxted and Steve Gilberthorpe's email addresses please forward this to them as thanks for getting us to do the first feasibility in 2003 ). Medway has been one of our best clients, with whom we've worked 9 of the 12 years Camilla and I have been running Clays. Walderslade wouldn't have been possible without the experience and valuable lessons gained on other Medway jobs such as Fair View School, Danecourt School, St James Sure Start, Medway Park to name a few.

So it was good to sneak in and nick one on behalf of Medway at a KCC award ceremony :-)

Have a good weekend!

Walderslade Roof
Walderslade Internal

Image/s: Quintin Lake


Place making: Makers and architects in collaboration

Attended 3 day on-site residency Place making: makers and architects in collaboration, jointly organised by Kent Architecture Centre and the Crafts Council and hosted by the University of Kent School of Arts at the Chatham Historic Dockyard. 5 makers and 5 building environment practitioners were selected to collaborate on developing new ways of working and different methodologies for exploring place.

Click link to view The Architecture Centre - Valuing a place

In collaboration with jeweller Lin Cheung and art student Martin Trowbridge produced a piece about the overlay of site history.

Martin Trowbridge produced a piece about the overlay of site history


Medway Crematorium


This week Clays obtained planning permission for alterations, mercury abatement work & extensions to the chapels at Medway Crematorium inKent. The existing X-plan crematorium, designed by Sir Dawber, Fox and Robinson, was completed in 1959. The new extensions keep the symmetry of the original design ( set to the side of the chapels to avoid trees and cremated remains ) and retain sightlines within the extension to the apse and pulpit ).

Click link to view 3d sketchup model - Media Lightbox


Buildings we like # 1: No. 3 slip, Chatham Historic Dockyard


If you google-earth Chatham Historic Dockyard or drive eastwards towards the Medway tunnel you will see 5 linked large shed structures along the banks of the Medway: these are the covered slips no. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 built between 1838 and 1852. No. 3, the oldest surviving covered slip, is my favourite building inNorth Kent. Clays were invited to produce a competition design for converting No. 3 into an exhibition space in 2005. We didn’t win, but we did get to dream.

The earliest slips or slipways were large wet docks dug into the side of the river bank to build warships for the Royal Navy. A ship could take years to build, long enough for the timbers to rot if not careful— so large structures were built over the slips to protect the ship under construction. As technology advanced and the ships got bigger, larger and wider span structures had to be built over the slips.


Started the same year ‘Oliver Twist’ was published, No. 3 slip stands at the cusp of technological change: it was the last on site to be built over an earth dock ( the sides probably held back by temporary retaining structure )— the slightly wonky and skewed plan with a curved end has a real handmade feel to it. The use of cast or wrought iron had become feasible in buildings by 1938, but no. 3 remains a timber linked truss structure. The roof was first covered in tarred paper, soon replaced with standing seam zinc— perforated by a pattern of glazed rooflights. The river end of the structure was covered in sail cloth and rigging, unfurled when the ship was to be launched.


I’m told No. 3 was superseded almost as soon as its first ship was launched. Ship design and technology moved on to the next ( bigger ) stage, and slips 4, 5 and 6 were built in 1848 ( triplets, must’ve been a bumper year for ship orders )— designed by a sapper, Captain Thomas Mould ( good name ) and built by a co. from another Lambeth. 4, 5 and 6 are wide span metal structures that pre-date Paddington ( another building we like ) and Kings Cross train sheds.


I love the raw expedience of the junction detail between no. 3 and no. 4 slip— which looks literally as if someone ran a giant saw straight through the skirt of No. 3’s roof eave and said, ‘OK, now join no. 4 onto here.’ Not surprisingly, the join leaked. No. 4, 5 and 6 were soon superseded by no. 7 in 1852 ( another sapper, Colonel Godfrey Green )— one of the earliest metal truss roofs. No. 7 remained in use until ’66, but no. 3 will always remains no. 1 to me. You don’t get something properly extraordinary unless you stick your neck out or fly by the seat of your pants.

The slip was backfilled in 1900, and a steel mezzanine floor added— used as a store for ships and boats. You will occasionally see No. 3 moonlighting on TV ( car commercial ) or in the cinema ( Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie, CGI-ed to death ).


Taken together, the 5 slips are a Chatham version of Marcel Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages, AKA Canned Chance, in which Duchamp threw three 1 metre lengths of string onto a carpet, one after the other, fixed the strings in the shape they landed in, then made rulers out of these shapes, to be used as the ‘rule’ or ‘standard’ with which he made his subsequent constructions ( the network of stoppages for his Bachelors, for eg ).

To me, Canned Chance and the 5 Chatham slips perfectly describe the creative or productive process: you can try to do exactly the same thing 3 times, but the results will never be the same. You have the same brief three times and get a different building out of it each time— circumstances, resources, experience, technology, fashion—everything changes, all the time.

Image/s: Clay Architecture and Googleearth