A Practical Evolution of Ideas and Tech in Architecture

An Architectural Design Q&A with Ewen Miller

As an introduction, please tell us about you — what you do, what your passions are, where you work and how you got to this point in your career.

I’m Ewen Miller, an architect practicing in the United Kingdom, and I’m one of those lucky individuals that enjoy their work. Knowing that I wanted to be an architect since my early teens, I cannot imagine doing anything else.

After starting my studies in Aberdeen, Scotland in the late eighties, I finally qualified in 1992 whilst working in London. After ten years working in the south of England, I moved to Manchester in the North West of England, where I’m now managing director of Calderpeel Architects with offices in Altrincham, Manchester, Sheffield and Esher.

Architecture is such a varied and interesting career. Not only do you get to engage with varied clients and meet their challenging briefs, you also get paid to colour in.

“The design process is a complex and organic one…. The freedom to let your mind and your pencil wander through ideas always results in the most rewarding and successful designs.”

What is architectural design about for you and your company? What are your goals when designing a project and what inspires your design?

We specialize in residential work and have made our name designing and delivering specialist residential schemes. Whether designing one-off “Superhomes” or re-inventing suburbia, we are at the forefront of residential architecture in the UK. Our understanding of how individuals and families live their lives means we have a rich and varied portfolio of work. Our approach to architecture is to design for people, not for other architects or for glossy magazines.

What is your design process like? What tools and applications do you use to create a design from start to finish? How did you discover Concepts, and how does the app fit into your workflow and help you to accomplish your goals?

The design process is a complex and organic one. How ideas evolve and crystallize takes time. Drawing and redrawing again until I have an idea worth pursuing is the way I work. The freedom to let your mind and your pencil wander through ideas always results in the most rewarding and successful designs.

Being able to test ideas on the train, at a meeting, or in the studio meant our office was usually full of piles of tracing paper and notebooks full of doodles and sketches, working and reworking schemes harder and harder until a solution emerged. This all changed with my discovery of the Concepts application just over a year ago.

One of my colleagues introduced me to the Apple iPad Pro last year with the Apple Pencil. In typical Apple fashion, there was a very slick marketing video that promoted what the pencil could do. I had used a stylus on the iPad 2 but had found this to be cumbersome and rather unsatisfying, so my skepticism was quite high, but, as it turned out, unfounded.

“I was finally able to use my iPad as a true sketch pad.”

After a few days of experimenting with various drawing applications I chanced upon Concepts from TopHatch. It soon became clear that this app had all the aspects I was looking for and more. Combined with the sensitivity afforded by the Apple Pencil, I was finally able to use my iPad as a true sketch pad.

Setting and context is critical when considering architecture. I would historically work by tracing over existing views of any development site whilst trying to determine form and appearance of design proposals. This was always unsatisfying because the tracing paper was never transparent enough. It was cumbersome when overlaying more tracing paper, and I would have to rectify any errors in my sketching during post production in Photoshop.

Concepts’ layering system made this whole process easy, flexible, and ultimately more effective and rewarding. The ability to import a site photograph onto a specific layer, increase the transparency of the image, and sketch your ideas on different layers, eventually building up to a finished design in one file is astounding.

Not only can I now sketch ideas for presentation to clients, I can do this in front of them, and I am also carrying around every sketch I do on my iPad, making it possible for me to literally sketch anywhere and at any moment in time.

It is without any shadow of doubt the perfect merge of technology and craft that frees me to design and create without boundaries or hinderance.


Would you be able to show your process from start to finish? Perhaps share examples from an initial design to a completed product or plan, or examples of your work in each stage of creation? Please include specific details and as many images as necessary to illustrate this workflow.

It is impossible at this stage to show you any examples of my work that started on Concepts and are now complete because the process of procuring and constructing buildings is longer than the twelve months I have been using the app. However, here I share some sketches that show the way in which I have constructed the sketch, as well as some concept design development.

Apartments

This scheme is for an apartment block located at a key junction into Manchester from the south. The scheme has evolved; however, Concepts allowed me to trace over the outline massing model that had been prepared to start looking in detail at architectural treatment options.

Stables

These buildings formed part of a stable courtyard onto an existing country house in Cheshire. The client wants to convert these into small office spaces and as such needed some sketch views to indicate the proposals for consultation with the local heritage society.

Tower

Some development sketches for two 23-storey residential towers in Salford.

Extension

Some initial sketches resulting in the final sketch drawing of the proposal for a domestic extension. The final drawing was done using the new soft pencil feature with some light watercolour touches. The pencil effect creates a “softer” feel to the development which is useful when proposing something within a conservation area.

Riverside

A redevelopment of a site on the riverside in Chester. I lifted a street view snapshot from Google and utilized this to develop some initial massing and form studies, eventually settling on a scheme once the plan had been finalized.


We were asked by Apple and GBM Digital Technologies to take part in a video case study on how we use the iPad Pro as Architects and Designers. The production team from Modus TV was in the office all day, it was fascinating to see how another creative industry operates. Take a look at the film….

Ewen Miller is managing director of Calderpeel Architects based in the United Kingdom. He is an architect with over twenty-five years experience and is also currently a national council member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and chairman of the RIBA North West.


Read more in our Architectural Design Q&A series.

The Design Life of a Paperless Architect with Craig Burns
The Layers of Architectural Design with Erick Mikiten
2D and 3D Architectural Design Workflow with Woojae Sung
A Journey into Architectural Design with Evan Bronstein
Architectural Design Tools & Workflow with Antonio Ferreira

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Interview by Erica Christensen — Director of Community at TopHatch

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