Monday, 11 September 2017

MSc Historic Conservation: the 2017 field trips

Bricks and mortar (and stone and timber and thatch and plaster and…)
Good work in historic conservation requires both abstract knowledge and practical know-how: a firm grasp of architectural history and planning law, but also a trained eye for detail and a hands-on appreciation of traditional craft practice. The Oxford Brookes MSc Historic Conservation tries to instil both, with classroom teaching supplement by a varied programme of workshops, training days and site visits. Wielding a stone chisel, splitting a log, moulding a brick: the experience of doing these things fosters a level of insight that no lecture can produce. It's also good messy fun. Photos by David Garrard.

The dark days of early March found us at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey. Begun by Cardinal Wolsey in 1515, completed by Henry VIII and partly rebuilt in the 1690s to a Baroque design by Christopher Wren, the sprawling complex - more like a small town than a single building - is said to contain over 1,000 rooms and 26 million bricks.

Hampton Court Palace

Much of the responsibility for maintaining this colossal fabric falls upon conservation surveyor William Page, who was our guide for the day. Ranging from the palace's foundations right up to its bewilderingly complex roofscape, we examined the effects of several hundred years' worth of repairs to stone, timber, lead, plaster, terracotta, tile and, of course, brick. Wind, rain, frost and pollution constantly take their toll, especially on the building's vast array of extravagantly-shaped chimney stacks, which have to be rebuilt every few decades in specially hand-cut brickwork.

Roof-top detail

A week later, our brickish appetites unsated, we travelled deep into rural Buckinghamshire for a tour of HG Matthews' brickworks at Bellingdon, near Chesham. This part of the Chilterns is rich in good building clay, and used to support dozens of small brick-makers. Matthews are now the sole survivors; their hand-made red and grey bricks, still fired traditionally in open-topped Scotch kilns, have the same subtle texture and colour variegations as the historic local product, and are widely used on conservation projects.

HG Matthews' brickworks

The same trip also took us to the Chiltern Open-Air Museum at Chalfont St Giles. Director Sue Shave gave us a tour of the museum's collection of reconstructed local buildings, which range from a 15th-century cruck-framed barn to a set of Victorian cast-iron public toilets, and we discussed some of the unique challenges – both practical and conceptual – involved in the conservation of relocated structures.

Buildings at Chiltern Open-Air Museum

In the first warmth of spring we visited the premises of IJP Owlsworth at Mapledurham, near Reading, for the annual Lime Day event. Lime – a group of calcium compounds obtained by burning limestone, chalk or shells – is used in every aspect of traditional building work, and an understanding of the relevant properties and processes is essential to good conservation practice. Lime Day allows students to try out a range of lime-based crafts, including mortar mixing, bricklaying, plastering, rendering and daubing.

Lime Day at IJP Owlsworth

Back on campus, we received a practical training session in the ancient craft of thatching from Northamptonshire master thatcher Roger Scanlan. (He claims there's no such thing as a 'master thatcher', but he clearly is one.) British thatching embraces a range of methods and materials, each originally specific to particular regions of the country; we tried our hand at the water-reed, long-straw and combed-straw techniques.

Thatching demonstration

Towards the end of the semester we took a long drive down into West Sussex to visit the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton, near Chichester. The oldest and largest of its kind in England, the museum boasts an unparalleled collection of vernacular timber-framed buildings drawn from across the region. After a visit to the Artefact Store – an extraordinary assortment of rural building components, tools and machinery – we attempted the surprisingly difficult art of making oak pegs, upon which all traditional wooden construction depends. Joe Thompson, the museum's head carpenter, then gave us an illuminating tour of the buildings collection, discussing the variety of ingenious methods used to treat, repair and replace decaying timber, along with the principles that determine their application.

At the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

The year ended with a 3-day residential trip to Bath and environs. This exquisite 18th-century city is now a World Heritage Site, but faces ever-increasing pressure from tourism and new residential development. Amy Frost of the Bath Preservation Trust and Stephen George of the District Council both spoke to us about the challenges of preserving and sustaining its unique character. Bath is also famous, of course, for its golden Cotswold limestone; we visited Stoke Hill Mine, a vast underground quarry from which the stone continues to be extracted, and Wells Cathedral Masons, where it is cut and carved for use in both conservation and new-build projects, and where master mason Simon Armstrong kindly let us have a go with some chisels.

In the city of Bath

None of us, it seems, is on course to become the next Donatello. But the experience of trying out these activities, feeling their difficulty as well as something of their rewards, gives participants an enhanced respect for the skills involved, as well as a sense of the centrality of good craft practice to successful conservation. It isn’t everything – but it’s a start.

For more information about the MSc Historic Conservation, take a look at our website:

Thursday, 6 July 2017

School of the Built Environment Graduation 2017

Graduation 2017 took place on one of the hottest days of the year, Monday 19 June. The actual ceremony took place in a transformed sports centre and the reception in the beautiful grounds of Headington Hill Hall. Which meant that the students and staff had to walk across Headington Hill Bridge...and I was there to catch them.

School of the Built Environment staff outside the sports centre

Waiting on the bridge...

...the students...

...and staff.

And in the grounds of Headington Hill Hall...


...the paparazzi

Prizes being handed out by (a very hot) Professor Joe Tah (Head of School)

Where's everybody gone? Retreating into the shade as the day got hotter...

Now that you've graduated, don't forget to keep in touch. Join one of our alumni groups on LinkedIn/Facebook...a great way of keeping in touch with your mates and the School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brookes. We use our groups to post job opportunities, source mentors (for the Real Estate Mentoring Scheme), share news and to use your experiences to inform our course development, so make sure you join!

LinkedIn: Real Estate Management
LinkedIn: Construction, QS and Project Management
Facebook: Planning and Urban Design

Finally, for a full set of photos, take a look at the Graduation and Prizes 2017 album on the School of the Built Environment Facebook page.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Urban Design @ the Architecture End of Year Show 2017

The Oxford Brookes School of Architecture End of Year Show 2017 was launched on 26 May and finished (in Oxford) on 5 June. This year, the architecture students taking their specialisation in the Urban Design exhibited a fantastic array of work. The exhibition space was being taken down when I got there (late) on 5 June. However, I managed to capture most of the display posters on camera...

For more information on Urban Design at Oxford Brookes, click here:
MA Urban Design
BA Urban Design, Planning and Development

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Cowley Road Carnival 2017

Last Friday (5 May) students on the Built Environment Foundation (at Oxford Brookes) exhibited some of the work they have been doing for the Cowley Road Carnival. The carnival started in 2000, aiming to give Cowley Road its groove back. It worked. The carnival is brilliant!

This year the students have carried out research to provide Cowley Road Works (CRW), the organisers of the Cowley Road Carnival, with a socio-economic profile of the different wards along the Cowley Road and a strategy to raise awareness of what the Cowley Road has to offer. This has inspired a range of different ideas including the greater use of social media; interactive maps and apps and finally a range of products to help Carnival goers get the most out of the event. Some photos of the exhibition (and the 2016 carnival) follow...

Built Environment Foundation students and staff

Student work...

...and ideas

Oxford Brookes in the carnival procession in July 2016...

...and the healthcare team :)

For more information about our Built Environment Foundation, take a look at our website. And the 2017 Cowley Road Carnival is being held on Sunday 2 July 2017.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Undergraduate Field Trip to Birmingham 2017

The second year undergraduate students in the School of the Built Environment (Real Estate, Construction and Planning/Urban Design) joined together for the February 2017 field trip to Birmingham. The trip is part of the second year integrative project module, a module which gives students the opportunity to integrate the knowledge and experience that they have already gained during the first two years by completing and presenting a group project. For the Birmingham field trip project, students will be working together in small groups to produce a workable proposal that will be presented to a panel of judges (much like in real life). Each group consists of a mix of students (and skills) from across Real Estate, Construction and Planning/Urban Design. Click on the links for more information...especially the Warwick Bar link which has loads of information about this very interesting area.

The location of the development site for the project is Warwick Bar, situated in the Digbeth area of Birmingham. Warwick Bar is situated in a conservation area and lies ten minutes walk to the east of Birmingham city centre. Surrounded on three sides by the historic Grand Union Canal, Digbeth Branch Canal and the River Rea, the area was home to a complex of factories and workshops and is now being redeveloped to provide accommodation for a rich mix of heavy industry to arts and service sector agencies. The overall aim of the student project is to identify a new long term use for the site taking into consideration potential changes to the area brought about by the HS2 development and taking into account the Birmingham Big City Plan.

The day started with a series of presentations about the developments taking place in Birmingham and continued with the walk through Warwick Bar. Photos by George Blumberg (thanks George)...

Then back to Oxford Brookes to start work on the development projects. Students from the following courses attended the field trip - to find out more about any of the courses, click on the course:

BSc Construction Project Management
BSc Quantity Surveying and Commercial Management
BSc Real Estate Management
BA Urban Design, Planning and Development
BA Planning and Property Development

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Spatial Planning Field Trip to Lyon - November 2016

The postgraduate students in Spatial Planning (31 in total) went on a field trip to Lyon recently (from 14 to 18 November 2016). The field trip was designed to provide students with practical examples and experience of planning in another European country. Students (and staff) had a great time taking in the sights and learning from local academics and practitioners. Click on the blue links for more information.

The old part of Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage site with some stunning buildings and vibrant colours (enhanced by the beautiful weather during the trip). The students visited the La Confluence regeneration project by the rivers Soane and Rhone and enjoyed spending a day working with students from Institut d'Urbanisme in Lyon. There was a group meal on the third evening which was followed by a cultural trip to the Beaujolais Festival 2016 in the centre of Lyon. Take a look at the itinerary and photos (courtesy of John Carnie)...

On Monday 14 November the students flew from Gatwick to Lyon, checked into their hotel and then walked via the river (Rhone) to the Lyon Institute of Planning (Institut d’Urbanisme de Lyon or IUL for short) for a presentation on Spatial Planning in Lyon, by Dr Roelof Verhage (Director of IUL).

The next day (Tuesday 15 November), the students went on an introductory walking tour of the city centre in the morning, visiting the St Jean Cathedral, Place Bellecour, and crossing over the Rhone and Saone Rivers. The students moved onto the Part Dieu district for lunch and a presentation on planning in Greater Lyon (Lyon Métropole), by Gilles Sabaterie, from Agence d’Urbanisme de Lyon. And now the photos from Tuesday...

On Wednesday 16 November the students visited IUL to work on projects in particular areas of the city, with some of the IUL students (in English). There were five sub-groups, looking at the following areas: Carré de Soie, Villeurbanne Gratte-Ciel, Part-Dieu, Croix Rousse - Bas des Pentes and La Duchère. This was followed by a group meal in the evening at Le Poêlon d'Or, a traditional Lyonnaise restaurant.

Thursday 17 November (and Beaujolais Nouveau Day). The students were off to the old part of Lyon for a walking tour and presentation with Philippe Lamy, Project Director, Mission Site Historique, Ville de Lyon. This was followed by a boat ride down the Saone from Vieux Lyon to La Confluence for a visit to La Confluence Visitor Centre, where the students saw a film and model, related to brownfield mixed use regeneration, and a walk through La Confluence. Take a walk through La Confluence yourself here.

The last day: Friday 18 November. The students went to the Lyon Metropole for a presentation at on Transport Planning in Lyon. Then there was some free time for a final look at Lyon before returning to the UK with plenty of new information and experiences.

For more information on Spatial Planning at Oxford Brookes, click here.