RIAI / Simon Open Door Day – Resounding Success

Another RIAI / Simon Opendoor day is over and this blog post gives a reflection from an architects viewpoint on this hard but rewarding day. This is my fourth year to provide an hours consultation to a member of the public for a donation to the Simon Communities of Ireland; this year I held the consultations at The Gateway Hotel in Swinford as opposed to my studio at home. The benefit of this ‘neutral ground’ made the clients feel more at ease rather than being on the architects ‘territory’.

Five consultations were booked for the day (Saturday); starting at 10.00am and finishing at 6.00pm in the evening; the projects varied across a broad spectrum and for the day to be a success the architect needs to be able to ‘think on his feet’ and cover a wide ground in what is quite a short time. Gaps are left between each session as inevitably time runs over and it also leaves a little period to collect ones thoughts before the next consultation commences.

Session 1: 10.00am-11.00am

A new house already at sketch design stage but clients were concerned about the bulk on two of the elevations and were looking at ways of investigating alternative glazing arrangements bring more space and light into a key part of the design.

The advice from the RIAI from previous years was that a design will not be provided in the hours consultation; I’ve largely ignored this advice and try and provide at least some pointers or guidelines on what you should look for in any potential design. This years emphasis seemed to move more towards my way of thinking and I tended to try and work towards a more developed potential design. In session 1 I had already received copies of drawings and photographs of the site previously so within the hour I suggested three alternative ways of increasing the space and bringing more south light into the building.

The image below shows one of the photographs brought to the session by the client showing an outline of the traditional 2 storey farmhouse in it’s context.

Outline of house

Outline of house in context

Session 2: 12.00pm-1.00pm

A conversion and extension of an existing two storey farmhouse, currently uninhabitable, increasing accommodation and comfort levels. The project already had planning permission but the clients were unhappy with their “architects” designs. As recommended by the RIAI, I was unable to discuss other architects but I suggested her checking that her architect was registered with the RIAI as the title ‘Architect’ since the recent Building Control Act is now a legal registered title. She had already done this and her “architect” was not registered, so I explained that the only architects legally allowed to call themselves architects in this jurisdiction are on the RIAI register.

As well as exploring the design and discussing possible options, we discussed the planning procedure in terms of submitting a new application and retention planning permissions.

Session 3: 2.00pm-3.00pm

An existing single storey bungalow (photo below) where the client was looking at internal remodelling. This is an example of a client be able to create his own drawings and three dimensional drawings of possible design solutions (this is increasingly happening since advances in software applications such as SketchUp have made CAD affordable and easy to the masses). I was able in the hour to provide an ‘architects touch’ where spaces are made more functional and free-flowing. We analysed what the stage he was currently at and worked together for the hour to go forward in his proposals.

What’s amazing is the length of time these projects have been in the clients’ minds; some over 4-5 years ! The RIAI / Simon Opendoor day is a great opportunity for the general public to engage with an architect on projects that they would have never gone to an architect for. The architect equally can show his skills on a wide range of aspects and illustrate that there is ‘no job too small’ that a client doesn’t benefit when employing an architect.

Session 4: 4.00pm-5.00pm
Armed only with a selection of photographs and a few dimensions of the kitchen I was able to effectively draw up an existing ground floor plan of her existing two storey, detached house. We then discussed the drawbacks of the current layout (lack of light to kitchen, small utility area) and then set about in the remaining time look at alternatives for relocating the utility, creating an open-plan living/dining space and extending the kitchen and bringing more light into the kitchen/living/dining area.

The hour sounds a short period of time but it is amazing how much you can cover in that period and this is an example of a client amazed at a whole range of ideas never before considered.

Session 5: 5pm – 6pm

A session rescheduled from the Sunday to allow my family to see our 11 year old son play in exhibition match at half-time during the Allianz final at Croke Park between Mayo and Cork (my sons team played better than the Mayo squad !).

A dormer bungalow where the clients were looking for a sun room at the rear. An explanation was given on Planning Exempted Development (which this extension would probably fit under) and we sketched out a few ideas, discussed the benefits of triple glazing and how by careful design you can integrate roof lights or atrium style glazing alongside solar panels.

In conclusion the day gives me the opportunity in exploring a wide range of different designs with a wide range of potential clients; it’s hard work but the benefits are enormous; The Simon Communities of Ireland obviously benefit and with over 950 consultations taken place across Ireland; the day has currently raised over €50,000 for the charity and clients get an architect’s input on projects that wouldn’t normally have happened.

Would I do it again ? Of course, it’s an incredible day, my only request to RIAI / Simon is that with the current economic situation concerning architects; the momentum is continued in some way to provide similar consultations throughout the year. Obviously this would need to be carefully thought through in order not to dilute the impact of the existing day.

For more information about Simon and/or the Open Door day visit: www.simonopendoor.ie