Noel Isherwood

An Architectural Dilemma

An Architectural Dilemma

This week at tennis as I watch my son from the bench, return the ball over the net one more time, I notice a mother next to me reacting to a certain shot her daughter had successfully made into the court of her opponent. Apparently, this is the daughters return to the tennis court after months off having broken her leg earlier in the year. Each success on the court this morning is worth celebrating!

Before long we are discussing the merits of the tennis centre and how the children seem to be enjoying the disciplined regularity of the Saturday morning tennis routine.

The conversation moved on quickly to architecture.

Now although I am an architect and enjoy discussing the subject, this rapid progression of thought from tennis to architecture on a Saturday morning is not the norm. I quickly realise why. The lady and her partner, a successful film producer by all accounts, are in the middle of a classic dilemma.

They have had plans drawn up for an ultra modern home to extend or replace the mundane 1940s building which is their home.

As is common with many coastal towns in the UK, this particular plot just happens to have superb views to the sea. The ‘view’ becomes naturally the overriding focus of the design. This plays well into their ideas for large open vistas and of contemporary materials like steel and glass. I don’t know if you’ve read the 1943 novel ‘The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand or watched the classic film shot in black-and-white? This book was required reading when I first set foot in a school of architecture. The novels protagonist is an individualistic young architect who refuses to compromise is artistic and personal vision for worldly recognition and success. The story follows his battle to practice modern architecture while opposed by an establishment centred on tradition.

This books polarisation of modern and tradition or the superiority of individualism over collectivism, reflecting Rand’s belief, is something that trickles down to the approach of many an architect or designer today. An uneasy relationship exists between the two approaches which is embodied in institutions and individuals trained in colleges who think it’s still 1943. As a result the two approaches are seen as opposites and in many cases mutually exclusive.

So back to my tennis conversation.

The film producer partner, being visually aware and favouring the modern approach has fed the design development of the new house plans with ideas gleaned from different parts of the world wherever his film locations have taken him. This I understand, has caused some exasperation to the architects who no doubt encourage his preference for all things modern, but the time has come for decisions. “This is costing us money”.

The conversation then moves on to “What do you think of grand designs?”.

This is ominous.

Of course you think of ‘cutting edge’, ‘experimental’, ‘never-before-used-materials’, ‘spectacular design’, on the one hand and on the other, frustration, massive overshoots on the budget, building cock ups, abandoned projects, exhilaration and disappointment.

So I say this.

Grand Designs is a sensationalising of architecture and building for the purposes of entertainment, pitting will against will, pursuing unrealistic dreams and ambitions, where it is difficult to distinguish between having a healthy vision and outright stubbornness.

We briefly talk about the exciting range of modern materials available today and then the jaw dropper!

The daughter is now hop skipping her away back into tennis and has managed to gain the ‘Rally Master’ badge. My seven year old is holding his own too. He already achieved the same badge a while back so all is well with the world!

The jaw dropper!

The mother now brings out the mobile phone, flicking through multiple images as she does so. “We’ve been totally blown away by this house we have just seen in the area”. I’m expecting a revamped version of ‘Falling Water’, the renowned architectural masterpiece of Frank Lloyd Wright, a house horizontally projecting over a waterfall with no visible walls.

‘Falling Water’ by Frank Lloyd Wright

What I see blows me away.

What I see is a Welsh slated, pitched roofed stone built double fronted perfectly symmetrical and beautifully proportioned traditional Welsh house, trumpeting its social superiority with a centrally positioned crow stepped gable, by way of a portico, overlooking a beautifully green meadow.

What I see is more like this – the Crow Stepped gable.


“So you can see” continues the mother …”we have a dilemma!”.

I am gobsmacked. Lost for words!

Luckily the tennis has drawn to a close. “Well, my name is Noel and er… I help people with their architectural dilemmas!”.

“I’ll see you next week! ”

If you have a dilemma with your project plans and need help thinking it all through, as Leonard Cohen nicely put it…’I’m your man’.


If you are taking the next step with your project you can apply for a free telephone consultation with me by calling +44 (0) 789 1776251 or alternatively enter your details here and I will arrange for a free 30 minute consultation.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *