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Updated: Feb 17

Many architects, like myself, say that architectural beauty is an expression of art. While beauty may be subjective, there is a collective appreciation for the beauty of nature. Can I dare to state that the beauty of nature is absolute? Not sure, but finding someone who finds nature ugly is rare. Nature inspires people from all walks of life (fact). Whether it's the mesmerising waves of the sea, the sublimity of mountains, or even a modest cascade of waterfalls, its beauty cannot be denied. And I am here to announce that I have embarked on a new journey to explore this beauty. It has just begun with art.

Indeed, I have shifted my focus, transitioning from architecture to art, from being an architect to being an artist. Now, when completing an online form to select my job title, I will scroll a few lines down to select 'artist'. This change has been a long time coming, as I had to overcome financial concerns and my stubborn pride. If you are studying architecture and have already dedicated more than 7 seven years to the profession, you understand me. However, through personal growth* and introspection, I have embraced a more relaxed way of life and proudly identify myself as an artist.

The journey began with the project Cut Flowers, recently showcased at the Pink Tardis, a community space in the local shopping mall. Living in a deprived area of London, I was surprised to find an exhibition space in my borough, specifically in a shopping centre. But the opportunity arose from a kind person and the good spirit of my hood.

The Pink Tardis, once a tiny flower shop that closed down, now serves as a community art window. We often see a pattern on our high streets: independent stores struggle because of gentrification or their inability to compete with cheap megastores or online retailers. The history of this shop presents an opportunity to reflect on small businesses' challenges in today's ruthless market. I visited my local florists and captured images of their flowers to incorporate into my artwork in the Tardis. It symbolises the revival of the Pink Tardis as a flower shop, albeit in a different form - through art. It also represents my quest for beauty.

I hope my art resonates with you and encourages my new audience to appreciate the intricate structure of flowers in the Cut Flowers series. It is a late-career change for a lonely (sole trader) architect, and I hope it is worth it.

*getting old


Cutting bromeliad plants in B&W photo
The Pink Cut, 2023

Dark stain on chrysanthemums in B&W photo
The Pink Stain, 2023

Flowers in the shape of atomic bomb
The Pink Bomb, 2023

Pink tardis as a community art space and window.
The Pink Tardis at Heathway Shopping Centre


I am Alice Hsieh, and you are reading my blog post.

'kind person' is Katja Rosenberg from

Updated: Feb 13

To impress my friend and his mates visiting the UK for the first time from Brazil, I took them to Soho, central London. But, in truth, I didn't know where to stop for food and drink, and the sightseeing had reached already a tiring stage. We soon fell into a tourist trap – I led them to a pub chain, an Irish-themed one.

The music was loud, so we had to shout at each other in an attempt to catch up on all those years since we left university. My friend insisted on saying 'London has favelas* too' as was his very clever finding. He swore he saw some shanty constructions and went on saying that the UK sells the image as a developed country, but it is just a façade.

- But where did you see the favelas?

I was offended. Even as a Brazilian, the more I live in this country, the more I feel I ought to defend it. But surely, my friend was mistaken. Through my architect's eye, I've never seen any settlement of which could be classified as a slum.

- João, maybe you just saw some garden sheds.

He shook his head; he looked sure. I explained that a simple timber favela-like construction wouldn't protect people from the harsh British winter. Nobody would survive here living in enclosures made up of single wooden or metal panels, different from the Brazilian tropical climate where people enjoy mild temperature all year round. Therefore, favelas do not exist here.

Today, I am still unsure what he saw that made his mind up. I regret not explaining to him what an allotment is. That could be what he spotted on the train rides – something not unusual in London's suburban landscape. And when a Brazilian has never been to this country before, they can confuse the agglomeration of sheds easily with slums – something common in South American cityscapes.

Despite planning authority** in England being inconsistently stringent, it will never allow illegal shanty constructions to extend to the point that tourists can see. There are unlawful house extensions in London, but generally hidden at the rear of the house and never as alone standing. What sprung to my mind was that London is full of people living in 'bad' housing similar to favelas' intent. Many people occupy such substandard accommodation in overcrowded households that living in a place with, as we called, a 'Living Room' is considered lucky. According to the Guardian (30 Sep 2020 - link), 'Nine out of 10 shared houses don't have a living room'. The slum is out there but inside of the houses and flats.

Considering the poverty is relative and not absolute, poverty in advanced economies can also be highly penalising. Housing is expensive:

  • The average rent in London for new tenancies is £1,665 a month (Homelet 2019).

  • The average London salary is 36K or £2,321.74 per month after tax (

An average person like myself will use up to 70% of the salary towards the accommodation. The reality is either you earn more than the majority of people or live badly. And the solution most Londoners have been adopting is house-sharing.

More people into the 30s, 40s and even 50s are house-sharers. Flat/house-sharing is good if the purpose is saving money but not if it isn't a choice. Not if you work to pay for your living. The modern favelas are here, hidden in overcrowded housing, sometimes in beautiful Victorian houses or modern apartment flats. The façade, the building shell, does not reveal the relative poverty of London.

Before the pandemic, the overcrowded houses might work just OK. Say not all flatmates were using the same communal room at the same time. Say most of them are using a so-called home as a dorm. However, house sharing problems have started to exacerbate since the first lockdown. All architectural failures of our accommodation have begun to affect us:

  1. Deficiency of acoustic insulation.

  2. Lack of daylighting.

  3. Access to garden or balconies.

  4. Absence of adequate natural ventilation.

  5. Lack of views out (viewing natural scenes, external open space)

We might think that the minimal construction requirements should be there in place by the building legislation, but, in reality, it's not what we are experiencing with the building we live in. These elements - acoustic, daylight, access to green, natural ventilation - seem crucial to our mental health, yet this same word 'mental health' is rarely part of building design's vocabulary.

There are favelas within the housing system in London. Not only the buildings (new builds or conversions) have failed us with poor construction, but their rents are expensive. Time to recognise it and reveal the precarity of the living standard of room renters officially, so the good architectural design once in practice will apply to all.

Was my friend right? London has favelas too.

Residential building façade
Rundown Building Façade

Image by coombesy from Pixabay

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

There are reasons not to be a fan of Xmas myself. No, I am not against the festivity. And no, I don't have any past trauma neither am a reincarnation of Scrooge. But how insanely the Xmas shopping is and its amount of waste generated in recent years seem not in harmony with the planet any longer. Ironically, this is year will be different. It is the year of the pandemic; and Covid-19 confinement will last, at least, for the entire Winter.

The idea of being restrained in the house, in the cold and having a few hours of sunlight could be daunting: able to give anyone the blues, not to mention the people who suffer from "seasonal affective disorder," or SAD. Nevertheless, the perspective of the Xmas can light us up, literally and metaphorically speaking. Adding colourful sparkles lifts the mood, warms the grey weather and makes us smile. I have no evidence-based stats to demonstrate the benefit of Xmas lights. Still, we all have experienced the changes in our mood once we enter our regular office with new Xmas decorations or the wow feel when seeing a lighting display. We can feel the joy, even if it's for the split of a second.

Colourful lights and bright sparkles are also used in other celebrations to signal happiness or special celebrations. In South Asia weddings, not only the party is decorated with glittering lights but also the family's houses typically cover the façades with a curtain of these sparkles.

The magic happens when the electromagnetic spectrum of light reaches the eye, converts into electrical signals to be sent straight to the brain so we can have an instant perception of the world outside of our body. Lights give us the vision.

Lights are in everywhere and part of our daily life, but why do we continuously marvel with the luminous glow? Firstly, there is a process of mental conditioning by associating a pleasant event with lights. Since our memory as a toddler can recollect, fairy lights in Xmas come with the enjoyment of receiving gifts, topped up with feasts. The glittering lights in weddings, for example, are related to the celebration of a union, party with lots of drinking and dancing. However, the opposite reaction can also work by association. Flashing red and blue lights can reflect the feel of danger and anxiety due to their adoption in police cars and ambulances worldwide. Our emotions are easily triggered by visual association.

Lights do spark us joy. Apart from Xmas light decorations, my recommendations are:


Introduce some decorative lights, such as uplights or indirect wall lights. Having extra lights will allow you to dim the ambient by switching off the main ones — common practice from bars or restaurants to produce a cosy and romantic atmosphere. You will then have the option to change the mood of the space, especially if you are spending a considerable time in the same room: well lit when working and dim lighting when relaxing.

Combination of different types of lighting in the restaurant: Floor lamps, ceiling uplights (indirect), coving lighting and direct spotlights.

The full brightness might induce alertness, but a long exposure cannot be abused. Supermarket lighting is an example of 'who wants to stay there longer than needed?'


Create shades by illuminating plants and large pieces of furniture from the ground or unusual angles. It is a form to distribute the light differently and define the silhouette of shadows, giving life to inanimate objects. The multiple shades happen similarly in the natural world, like shadows by the moonlight; therefore, the effect can bring back the sense of comfort. The toy industry has been using the same shadow technique in baby light projectors, gadgets that calm babies in the bedtime.

We are fascinated by the shadows, and, sometimes, they seem to have a life of their own.

Wendy had to sew Peter Pan's shadow back on.


Change the bulbs with different colour temperature. The easiest way to create a different ambient is to change the cool white light to warm light bulbs or the other way around. The bulb's temperature dictates your perception of colour, so it is like photoshopping your room with a new hue. Note that warmer lights are not as bright as cool white, so adding a table lamp on the working surfaces, desks, for example, can help to compensate the amount of light lost.

The colour temperature in Kelvin can be found on the light bulb or its packaging. This picture is a cruel but simple representation of the relationship between temperature and colour.

One thing is to endure being in the same space for a prolonged time, knowing there is somewhere else to retreat; another is to know there isn't. So spare some time to apply these new ideas before the blues kick in. Enable your room to switch to a different mood with the flip of a switch. And remember to keep your mental wellbeing well lit.

Photo Credits:

Restaurant Window by Michae Gaida from Pixabay.

Supermarket aisle by Oleg Magni from Pixabay.

Foliage shadow by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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