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Inspiration Archives

Designers and architects reflect on why they got into design and architecture, and how they stay inspired.

vanessa image

Vanessa Bizzell

Vanessa Bizzell, Owner and Founder of Bluemouse Ltd., shares how 3D modeling has helped solve design problems and her inspirations.


How old were you when you first thought about a career in design or architecture?

"I think I was 15 or 16. I went to do work experience in a joinery workshop, and I realized I really liked building things."

What person most inspires you?

"Zaha Hadid – it’s partly about the process and the way that she’s decided, “I want to do this”, and she’s found a way to make it happen."

When I’m not designing buildings, you can find me ____.

"Normally off in my VW camper van off in a field somewhere, normally making something out of twigs with kids!"

Vanessa story

Vanessa’s story

I’m a director and the founder of Bluemouse Limited. We’re a small architecture studio - there’s only two of us. We do mainly small project architecture, so private residential work, some extensions, and small collateral education projects. Most of the people who come to us want something a little bit different, but they don’t have massive budgets, so we serve part of the market that, certainly in Britain, a lot of architects won’t deal with, so we’ve angled our business at them.

A lot of people have been turned away by other architects for their design work - for example, I had someone come to me today and ask me to design a deck and a handrail to be consistent with a larger project we did for them a few years ago. So we do a lot of bits and pieces and also the big work.

How did you decide to get into architecture?

I’ve always been really creative, and enjoyed looking at design. My dad is a surveyor, so I would go on jobs with him and get experience with the built environment and those kinds of things. He passed on this absolute fascination toward buildings when we’d go on the weekend. It’s creative as well is why architecture was the right choice for me.

What do you like best about being in architecture?

Ten years ago, I would have said something about drawing and design, but now I think it’s about the process and dealing with all the personalities that get a building from a client’s initial idea to making it real onsite. I really enjoy working with all the different personalities [everyone from clients to engineers], because they’re all so different - working with a client that’s got a vision and working through those processes is fascinating. And it’s great working with engineers and consultants you meet and get the drawings right. It’s about the process and the set of skills and people coming together to build something. I also really enjoy working with builders to puzzle through things and get the right end result.

How does BIM help you with it?

We use Revit LT and it really works for us because we work at the smaller end of the market. We’re able to use more adventurous designs for our market knowing that we can resolve problems before we get on site. So, because we’re building in 3D I’ve got the confidence that the work I put in Revit LT will work when we build and any problems are sorted out before we get on site. I know my clients don’t always have that confidence; [working with other architects] they have to use contingency plans. But I couldn’t justify taking the risk for them.

What’s important to me as well is that they can see where they’re spending their money; we can express the design. I can’t take a sketch and build it into a 3D program; I can’t afford to take it into a CAD program, and then rebuild it. BIM is such a seamless process. We can sketch and we can build it in Revit LT and then we can run a render from that, and we can detail the model without having to use different software.

What project are you most proud of?

That’s hard to say! Although at the moment I think it’s the one we have going on site later this year. It’s a project where we’re using quite a few new – or new-to-us – kind of construction methods in slightly different builds. This is a small design project that the client kicked off because they wanted to be part of the design team. And I think this is the first time that we’ve worked with the client with such firm ideas and we’ve been able to go over the 3D model with them. We’ve made quite a few changes and one of the things we’re doing is a green roof that is quite sloped, and I don’t know that we’d have been able to achieve that without using Revit LT to resolve all sorts of geometry issues. I’m really proud of that one. It’s going to be pretty, but it’s also about how we’ve managed to bring in the client into part of the design team.

How do you stay inspired to be creative?

I craft. I carry on designing in different scales and different formats. I sew, I build, I do small scale joinery, and I paint as well. So I try and do other disciplines. As with architecture, I really like producing things, though I find that it can be frustrating that your end product is essentially a set of drawings on paper; you don’t actually get to build it yourself.

I sew a lot of things – we’ve got a rusty old camper van and I sew all sorts of bits and pieces for that and I sew clothes for my kids and that kind of thing. I also do some work with schoolchildren, going in to talk to them about using craft and sewing different materials to explore material engineering. And I think sewing – or any kind of craft, really – is like building, using one material and making it look pretty and it staying up! I think that the skills that you learn in craft are applicable to architecture.

Have you used BIM to market your firm?

Yes – we do market heavily the fact that we work in 3D. We do talk about the software quite a lot, and we’ve won lots of work off the basis of 3D images. Most people that are clients don’t have the ability to produce 3D images without the fees going so high, so we can offer very basic sketch renders as part of our standard service.

We use our renderings a lot in marketing, and I think that’s how we sell our services, really. We work in a small geographic location, and a lot of our clients know each other as well. So we’ll go out to see somebody and they’ll look at the visuals in our portfolio and they can see that what we’re selling them is what the client got in the end.

Have you won work because of your use of BIM?

Yes, we definitely have. It’s been mainly around our ability to produce renderings and visuals. There are only two of us, and we both work part-time. We are in the process of moving our business model so if we are going to pursue larger jobs we will be changing the way that we market ourselves and we’ll be pushing BIM quite heavily then.

What is your dream project?

I think it would be designing my own house! I think other than that, designing something for a cooperative, or self-builders, or people that wanted to live together. We home educate, and I think designing a small community around home educators would be really ideal. Something really green and hippy in the country.

For more on Vanessa’s projects, please visit: Bluemouse Architecture Ltd.

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