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Keeping a level head in the construction trade during the Celtic Tiger

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This week I have been designing a house for a friend who needs to convert an outline planning permission into full consent before it runs out. It may never be built. It is a simple, traditional design, with nice proportions and plenty of insulation- nothing flashy.


It brought me back to a few years ago when I was spewing out three or four houses a week. The fact that I had started a part time engineering degree was enough to instantly qualify me as an architect. I designed hundreds of houses, probably half of them on NAMA’s books now. 


Anyone who could get their head around Autocad was employed drawing up house plans. It was Celtic Tiger fever. You had to learn on the job - draw up plans, take levels, survey sites, do trial hole tests and design waste water systems.

I could often be seen wandering around fields with a level (those intermediate levels still confuse me), a shovel and a bucket of water, searching for a trial hole, or trying to find a JCB driver to dig it, in the pouring rain, on a random hillside, so I could look into it. And don’t bother asking the boss for advice; he was far too busy running around in circles trying to keep up with the deluge of work.


The desperation on Friday to get the applications submitted before the newspaper notices were out of date was head bursting. Each one was at least four inches high with six copies of all forms, reports, plans, elevations, cross sections, site layouts, waste water treatment system reports etc etc. My boss would tear off after lunch to Galway with a towering pile of paper to join the fight at the County Council office planning desk to get them in before


The houses got more and more elaborate. It started with en-suite bathrooms for every bedroom, then walk in wardrobes, then laundry shoots, then bar areas, games rooms, swimming pools, loggias (never quite worked out what they were) The most lavish house I designed was a home for one of the big building contractors. It included all of the above, the master bedroom was 1000sq feet (the size of a cottage) and the en-suite bathroom included ‘his and hers’ wash basins and to top it all a pair of ‘his and hers’ toilets side by side.
I then upgraded to a structural engineer’s office and was immediately employed in specifying reinforced concrete for foundations and columns. 


There are countless different shapes of bent steel that are of varying lengths according to the design of the building. These have to be picked and placed on the drawing with the help of one of the dullest, but most useful computer programmes called CADS RC. The steel specifying job was a race to get the lorries to site and keep ahead of the builders.

One Christmas Eve I was doing overtime specifying steel for a new retail development. Every now and then I would feel a wave of panic as I ordered yet another lorry load of cut and bent steel, absolutely useless if any was the wrong size, and costing thousands. Every time I emailed a drawing to the suppliers I felt like sprinkling the computer with holy water.


That was how crazy it was. And then the deluge stopped

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