I worked in Singapore for a while and Feng Shui was popular there, it is growing in popularity here and elswhere. I am sceptical about it but having worked with clients who are concerned about Feng Shui I have become more sensitive to the idea of space as something that can alter the mood of people within it. A Feng Shui example of this would be not sleeping under a beam. In reality this isn’t a problem but the thought of that weight bearing down over you can be unsettling. A more abstract consideration would be forces or spirits moving into a house and for this reason Feng Shui avoids strong axis’ leading to an arrival point or travelling through a living area. Often the placing of entrances is at an angle or has some symbol to ward off that energy. Again, from my prosaic viewpoint, this is nonsensical but if you are in a room that is off to one side of a thoroughfare it does feel more private and peaceful and this can only be good for the soul.

Another strong influence that has shaped my feelings towards space is the hindu based architecture of Bali. Towns, villages and buildings (houses, palaces and temples) in Bali are all sensitive to their orientation with the clean, cerebral part of the planning being towards Mount Agung and the utilitarian, earthy planning towards the sea. A better explanation of this is here http://bali-article.blogspot.com.au/2008/10/layout-of-compound-in-balinese.html . Additionally buildings were historically single storey to avoid having ‘unclean’ feet above ‘sacred’ heads. This relationship of bodies in space or in a setting I find fascinating. Again I am sceptical but I do feel more comfortable personally sleeping on an upper floor away from street level activity, I suspect it is because of an almost unconscious feeling of safety and privacy. The final Balinese influence is the Balinese peoples cultural habit of making offerings to spirits or Gods and placing them at meaningful points around the house. A balinese friend told me that without doing this they feel unsettled during the day. Again I’m sceptical about this but I do understand that if you embue an item with a spiritual power and that item is in the house then it would affect the person who believes in it. This could be seen as ‘mess’ having a negative spirit and therefore people feel happier in a space where that spirit is removed – because ‘mess’ is rarely a physical problem.

Why do I mention all this? Because last night my son and I in the presence of A made a ‘Happy House’ totem out of twigs leaves and string. My son wrote happy house on a leaf and this was tossed into the reinforcement and incorporated into the slab. A was slightly embarassed by this episode but the concreters were happy with it.

The Joy Of Concrete

I love concrete and I’d like to use more of it. This love developed at architecture school which was riddled with Corbusian inspired modernist teachers. The professor there, when I was studying, was Andy MacMillan who worked for a company called Gillespie, Kidd and Coia. Here is some of their work: http://www.gillespiekiddandcoia.com/ .This was during the dark days of post mordernism when lime green greek columns were a serious proposition. Google ‘brutalist architecture’ images for more concrete porn. A house I designed in Dunsborough, WA, has some neo-brutalism and that can be seen on my website.

Unfortunately, due to cost constraints, we don’t have that opportunity here so this is the best concrete update I can give you. On Monday the concreter came to site and dug all the ground beam trenches, these are so that concrete beams can be poured that will sit under the slab and support the slab and walls. When we did the bulk excavation at the back garden earlier in the month we dug down 200mm below the finished ground level so that the soil from the ground beam trenches could build the finished level up again. This was a good idea and saved us some work but we underestimated how much more soil would come out when the ground beams were dug out and we will have to wheelbarrow more soil of the site. Below is a photo showing the ground beam trenches. It also shows a 50mm layer of sand that sits above the soil and that will be under the polythene plastic that will form the waterproof membrane. Also below is a photo the following day showing the waterproof membrane and the reinforcing steel that gives tensile strength to the slab (concrete is strong in compression, steele is strong in tension). The steel is supported off the ground by plastic spacers so that the steel is in the slab rather than at the surface of the slab where it could corrode. These are seen as the black discs under the steel. The concrete is trucked to the site and pumped to the back of the house. The concrete floor is then smoothed, levelled and toughened by being ‘floated’. This is when the concrete us rubbed, in this case it is power floated with a machine but it can be burnished by hand to give a more natural finish. One of my favourite floor finishes is when black pigment is added to concrete and it is then hand burnished. This can give an effect like black semi gloss leather. In our case the floor will be battened out and recycled floorboards will go over the surface.

Cost Misery

I can never understand why buildings cost so much to build in Australia. The technical requirements are a long way behind Europe with residential construction and yet it seems to me that the basic construction here (clad 2 x 4 frames) is on a par with much more complicated systems abroad. I was hoping that the design would be around $350K but it is important to get early sketches costed by an outside estimator skilled in this kind of work. So we sent the drawings to get costed, to do this costs around $1500 but I’m convinced that the report that comes back prevents people going ahead with over budget designs or allows owners to manage there costs. In our case the cost estimate, at about $450K, stopped us in our tracks. I discussed the design with the cost estimator and he suggested reusing the existing locations of the bathroom and kitchen and reusing their walls. My wife (I want to keep some level of anonymity but using ‘my wife’ all the time is irritating me so from now on let’s call her A) was evfen more shocked and she was pressing for a single storey extension. So it was back to the drawing board. The image below shows a single storey version that tries to retain the palm tree on site. My view was that it was a pity to miss out on the site potential that this site had, A agreed in part.