Design project



A.  Appraisal Find out the client’s needs and carry out feasability studies for his requirements

Our new project was to be set in Brick Lane, a bohemian part of London.  Before we knew exactly what sites we are going to have, we explored the area in search of some specific points of interest. The way we tried to do this was sketching at different scales (S,M,L,XL) to try and capture as more of Brick Lane as possible, in all its aspects.

First aspects I learnt about Brick Lane before even going there:

-Wealthy silk weavers built terraced houses around 1900

-In the 1940s waves of immigrants took over : Irish, Jewish, Bangladesh

-Students and artists are taking over in the present

I found the mixed-used terraced houses of the silk weaver really inspirational and wise. I immediately decided my future design would definitely follow a similar pattern.

Sketch showing the mixed-use of a weaver’s house


Week 1

Visiting the Oma/Progress at the Barbican Centre this week was an enlightening experience as I got “behind the scenes” of buildings that before I had only seen as a final solutions. This gave me the other perspective, the building as a series of problems or questions before being resolved. One of the first things I noticed when entering the exhibition was this quote: “Start anywhere. Ask stupid questions. Stay up late” .

“Start anywhere” could not have been a better opening sentence of my current project. As I first got to Brick Lane I had no idea where to start from so I started looking at aspects at different scales to try and find a point of interest.

XL sketch of Brick Lane

L_arge scale sketch focusing on the vintage shops

S_mall scale sketch – detail of a vintage cafe I became interested in

M_edium scale sketch – I had found my interest in this vintage cafe that had a shop in the basement so I did a section to show that

What fascinated me about this cafe was that despite of the double height people from the street could look into both spaces at the same time

I became really interested in having this double point of view so this section became the start point of my design

B. Strategic Brief Receive strategic brief prepared by the client

The brief we were given stated „using the power of making to transform your site”. We were given specific sites in Brick Lane and started observing them closely. We surveyed the sites, drew site plans, sections and elevatios and made site models to be base for our future concepts. We talked to shop owners, homeless people living on sites, looked at the history and cultures of the area.

Week 3

In a lecture about Small practices, Pierre D’Avoine dwelt on how people imprint their identity to a new house. I very much support the idea that in order to create a credible design you have to understand what the client owns and needs to make it a very specific building and thus imprinting the client’s identity from the very first sketches.

“A house without identity is like a person without soul”, Pierre D’Avoine

I realized that if I wanted my design to be credible it had to had imprinted the identity of Brick Lane and of my specific site. The site i chose was on Osborn Street, right at the beginning of Brick Lane and it had a few abandoned buildings and an unused courtyard. The reason i chose the site was the big unused central courtyard which intrigued me because there were so many possibilities of a design.

Survey of my site

Site plan at 1:500

My site

Elevation of my site

As soon as I started surveying the site I found out that it was home to 16 homeless people. I immediately decided that they should be incorporated into my design, but something more than a shelter, I wanted them to be actively involved in my design. Then as I started researching the history of my site I found out that one of the abandoned buildings was a monumental stonemasons shop, one of the biggest supplier of Jewish monumental masonry in the 1950s. So I decided to bring this back into my design.  Also an article that I found saying that there is a big demand for stonemasons in the UK as this traditional craft is dying out influenced my design. I decided to have as the main programme of my building a stone masonry workshop where the homeless people would learn the craft of stone masonry.


An interesting detail that i noticed when getting on the site was the fact that the only way of access of the homeless people was jumping over a wall to get into the courtyard.

Homeless person getting out of my site

This really intrigued me and I decided to explore this idea a bit more.  An initial idea was to keep this in my design as a main way of access, together with other unusual ways. So I sketched all the different ways of access I could think of.

Sketch showing different ways of access

Developing the design through sections.

A first section of the design

Developing the design into a section of the site

C Outline Proposals Commence development of and make Outline Proposals of Strategic Brief to Project Brief

Once we had initial ideas of the possible design, we started making concept models to explore these ideas. Sketches, research, more accurate drawings.  The brief was a building for 30 people, so this forced us to think at a rather small scale but in a huge amount of detail. Questions like „What’s being made in your building?”, „Who uses my building?”, „When is it open to the public?” or „What’s the character of each room” came about very much.

This week What Architecture presented a Medium size project and we went to visit the site where they were currently working, which was on Brick Lane next to Shoreditch Station. I found this project really inspiring and very much related to the ethos of our practice which is working with and for the community. Their project focused on the same thing, bringing the local people together to use their building. What intrigued me about this project was the fact that they gave in the part that would have brought them the most money – the penthouse – to the community.

„This will help to overcome the fragmentation of neighborhoods caused by physical barriers”

This inspired me and I decided that this is exactly what I want to do with the homeless people on my site, turning them into a community that would work together .

But I realized that my building didn’t have the mixed used I was looking for at the beginning. So I decided to bring another culture to Brick Lane besides the many that have already invaded it – my own. So I included a Romanian Bistro which would be on a higher level above the workshop. I wanted it to be very traditional looking, a Romanian country-side cottage on top of Brick Lane.

Traditional Romanian country-side house interior

All these observations led to the manifesto of my design.

Manifesto of my proposal

I then started researching stone houses and stone masonry workshops to understand what spaces they need, what tools and machines.

Masonry workshop

Masonry workshop


I now had to think of the different spaces of my building, their uses and the possible connections between them.

Sketching how different parts of the building are connected

The masonry workshop led me to the idea of bringing gabion walls into the design and having the building grow over time as the homeless people would fill up the gabions with leftover stones from the workshop.

Dominus Winery by Herzog and de Meuron

So I started developing my building through concept models.

The first one I did was exploring the materiality of the gabions with mesh.

Concept model showing gabion walls worshop

Concept model – plan

Exploring possible shapes of the workshop by modelling. The workshop will be underground so people can have the double point of view I was interested in from the beginning. I decided to have  this shape because I wanted a part of it to be right under the pavement so people would walk on top of it and look down into the workshop.

Workshop sketched on site

Concept model – elevation

concept model – plan

So the homeless people are the ones building my design by themselves and for themselves. The way my building works is that as the homeless people learn the craft they would use the leftover stones from the workshop to fill up the gabions and raise the building. Eventually they are going to build a floor above street level of flats for them to live in and a top floor with the cafe and a terrace overlooking Brick Lane.

I did another concept model to test the arrangement of the flats.

The design developed towards having a central open core that overlooked the workshop so that the workers (the homeless people) would be in touch with it at all times but also for the future bistro that will be built on a higher level so that clients can watch the homeless people work.

Concept model – detail

Concept model – plan

I also tried to show the building in another way – as if it would be carved from a single piece of stone. I tried to achieve the look of a building in constant progress and the messiness from the workshop that would eventually extend to the entire site as the building grows.

I realized by doing this exercise that my idea of having them fill in the gabion walls with leftover stones from the workshop actually works as I was left with pretty much useable pieces of plaster.

D Detailed Proposals  Complete developments of Project Brief. Develop the Detailed Proposal from approved Outline Proposals and submit application for full planning permission

By this point we had decided on the final design, we produced a more resolved set of drawings, plans, sections and elevations of the final proposal.  In a real life project this is a very important stage as the final set of drawings submitted as an application for the planning permission become the contract. So everything has to be perfectly well drawn and explained for the constructors to be able to build it accordingly.


A lecture on Extralarge projects by  AHMM in Barking Central came exactly at the right moment in my design. They divided the project into six phases: a library, retail with housing, a hotel, the „lemonade house”, a bike shed and a residential building. The reason for this was so that the project is more organized and it doesn’t have to be built all at once, which makes it easier for them to pitch it and the builders to execute the work.

I found this very helpful and it related to my project which also develops over time and allows the workers – in my case the homeless people – to build it gradually as they learn the masonry craft and produce material to fill up the gabions.

I started working on a more refined set of drawings to show the initial design.



At the crit the common thought was that I really have to make a model that shows exactly what my building looks like, as my concept models don’t do that.

So I started modelling the building just as I drew it in plan and I realized that it looked too much like a series of boxes but there was no clear sense of a space. Also that central core that was supposed to be a main thing in the design wasn’t as spectacular as I have expected it to be. I also realized that my present plan had a lot of wasted space regarding the circulation which I could have used to enlarge the open core. So the design moved a little bit forward.

I also realized that my previous design was completely blocking the only entrance to the abandoned garage at the back of my site, but which could be used if the future. So I decided to make a bridge from the pavement to this entrance for the future users of the building.

Sketch showing access to the garage through the bridge

I made a final model, a part of my design which was missing.

I made a short movie showing how the model / building grows over time.


The final shape of the roof terrace and cafe changed to be exactly on top of the flats because I wanted the light to get directly to the underground workshop through the open spaces.

Final model plan view

E Final Proposals Design Final Proposals from approved Detailed Proposals

At this stage we started looking into more detail, how the lights comes in the building, the shadows it casts on different objects/sides of the room, views from different angles, materiality. Making movies at this stage is really helpful as well as rendering and Photoshopping to get an image of what your building will look like and how will people see it.

At this stage after I have decided on a final design idea, I started making the final set of drawings to show all the aspects of my building.

Section and workshop plan 1:50

Street level office plan and flats level plan

In order to understand exactly how my design would work, I have to figure out how the gabions would stand up. So I realized they need a steel post ( 40 mm) but they would be covered by the stones. Therefore the I-beams holding the flats level would be connected to these posts to provide support. On top of the I-beams there woud be 300 mm timber boards leaving the structure exposed in areas where there are no living units. Inside the units there would be on top of the timber boards timber flooring.

Perspective long section

I decided that the units would be made out of gabion walls as well, but a much thinner structure of 150 mm cage width in order to keep the same language of materiality. The stones would be much smaller and densely packed together in order to provide a better temperature and light control needed for human in habitation.

Perspective cross section also showing how my building could take over the existing garage in the future

Moving towards more technical aspects of my design, I started researching gabion walls to understand how they work, stand up and what it takes to build them. I found out that a few qualities they have is that they regulate temperature (retaining the heat over the day),  circulating the air and filtrating the light through the gaps, casting beautiful shadows.

There are 2 sizes of stones used, large ones of 20-36 cm and small ones of 10-20 cm and the mesh used will be 7.5 cm. The large stones will be used in areas where light is needed as they create a more porous condition when stacked ( the main structural wall from the workshop to the flats and all the walls above street level) and the small ones for the walls surrounding the workshop (acting as retaining walls for the earth around) and the gabions of the flats as they provide more thermal protection and enclosure.

Interior perspective of the staircase space in the workshop

Exploded axonometric of my building

An important aspect of my building is that it develops over time, so I decided to show that in a drawing.

Series of sections showing the development of my building in time

Final design crit featuring a complete set of detailed drawings, final and concept models and other drawings supporting my design.

PRESENT – The only thing I am missing as was a general thought of the critics is in habitation of my building, the social and communal aspect. So I decided to do one last drawing showing how my building develops socially, showing all the main aspects I am currently missing: noise, messiness, tools, machines etc.

A good reference from the crit which inspired me for this drawing was having the homeless people work together not only in the workshop but also on other aspects, having to build their own dining table, dining at set hours, developing the communal aspect.


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