Barefoot in the Mournes

Mourne wall from Slieve Muck


1. Read Robert MacFarlane’s, The Old Way’s, and grab a map (a paper one if you have it)

2. Now travel to somewhere new, somewhere spontaneous, somewhere where the scenery is different enough to attract your attention in a way the  monotony of the contemporary city once did, or even more so.

3. Now walk, just pick a direction, and walk

4. Take off your shoes

5. Walk again, but walk in the mind of a child, as one experiencing every step with curious caution, and fresh innocence.

I wanted to begin this post with a challenge. One to anyone eager for a breath of fresh air, anyone who is reading this out of – the incredibly human invention – of boredom, especially if you just happened to stumble across it with ‘nothing better to do.’

By no means an uncommon book, I was recommended The Old Way’s by a friend and quickly discovered others who had been moved to contemplate the notion of paths, landscape, identity and heart though MacFarlane’s eloquently human and joyful writing. However it wasn’t till walking the Lagan Meadows with another companion who happened to take her shoes off – resulting in the burning of her soles given the unnatural heat of Belfast in these past few weeks of July – that I was struck with the essentially simple desire to experience landscape in one of the ways the author spends many of his walks, not without painful consequences of course, and that is barefoot.

Lake C1


Lough Shannagh from Slieve Muck

Spelga Dam, Silent Valley, and the lesser known lakes and pools of the Mourne Mountains sit as patches, sown in a loosely draped net by the incredible stone walls of the hills. Aware of the location from my childhood, my Lithuanian/Irish friend Kastytis Donauskis and I set off in search of a wall to follow and hill to climb. Kastytis has been a travel companion, unfortunate chauffeur, and endless pool of patience across the past year, although we share little ‘common’ interests, it is our differences and curiosity for new experiences that have found us drawn together to explore as much as we possible in recent days.

A lone and uneventful bus journey brought me to our meeting point in Dungannon, and from there Kastytis and I made a direct route to Hilltown in the Mourne mountain range. Briefly stopping off at the aforementioned Spelga Dam to stumble across a fossil like rock I have yet to examine, we finally eventually arrived at the midpoint of Slieve Muck. By no means a great nor challenging climb, this was an experiment for me, one of escape, change, and given that I had three vaccinations teasing me with their side effects from that very morning, it was also a relatively safe gamble in 28 Celsius heat – It may be worth noting how incredibly ‘Irish’ my skin is.

Shoes to one side, water, camera and a grapefruit in pack we set off, following a stone wall across the road and up towards an assumed summit in the distance. Even in the heat, the Mournes held true to their association with water, as marshy patches, small sink holes and run off repeatedly offered my city dwellers feet a ‘fresh’ taste of the real world.


Mourne range

From the lower point of the climb the range dominates the view, like a fort of land, creating a foreground against the sky, Spelga dam the only large variation of colour on the irregular green blanket. As we rose the grass gave way to a softer moss and cotton, swaying in the warm breeze which left the meadow brown’s fluttering endlessly. This blanket of plant life pockmarked in shards and slabs of granite must surely awaken anyone’s feet, to become conscious of every footfall, aware of where and what comes into contact with the sole of each step, the texture, temperature, moisture, all which changes constantly and surprises endlessly. My mind was moved to a state where an action as simple as walking, and a notion as unassuming as landscape, became an adventure in tactility.


Wild Cotton

I briefly put my shoes back on, to test the placebo of it all, maybe I was imaging this was something special, romanticising a well written book? That lasted all of a minute. My feet felt stifled, suffocated, and by extension my body, and my mind felt numbed and separated from the path I was taking. The further we climbed, the clearer it became that the summit we observed from the roadside was simply a change in gradient, and the hill extended higher and higher before us, however we trudged on, jokingly moaning about the heat and the weather – I doubt there are many in Northern Ireland that are as eternally dissatisfied with the weather in the ways we make ourselves out to be.


Mourne wall from Slieve Muck

Further on, and with the ground wetter still, I was surprised to find two small common frogs at this height, however it only reaffirmed the character of the territory we were in, all the while, the stone wall accompanying our accent, often at a gradient which seemed structurally impossible. The walls of the Mournes are a feat of will and determination which could inspire any man to push on with a climb, constantly aware that someone did it all before. While carrying boulders.


Mourne wall from Slieve Muck

But it was worth much more that the small struggle the hill asked of us, as the surrounding fortress of hills settled down into and below the horizon and the walls from all around came together to meet. Views extended to the coast and beyond, to further summits, to small towns and to the patchwork of green farmland. Views which allowed our eyes to touch water, grass, stone, mountain and air, while barefooted skin offered immersion like no other, sight and touch breathing it all in at the same time. As I returned to my shoes and the city – with a little added blood, granite can be troublesome for the clumsy – I realised I was returning with not just a new experience, but a new appreciation of the landscape, one that allowed me to see, breath, feel, contemplate and appreciate it humbly, like we all do the very first time.


Meeting point marker of the three walls on Slieve Muck

Recommended Reading?

The Old Ways – Robert MacFarlane

The Eyes of the Skin – Juhani Pallasmaa



To China

It has been some time since I last posted, and here is why!

I have been lucky enough to secure a place on the University of Manchester’s Study China program, studying Chinese language and culture for three weeks in the prestigious, and quite beautiful, Nanjing University, Jiangsu. After this I have been extremely lucky in being awarded one of 10 year long Zhejiang Scholarships funded jointly by the British Councils ‘Generation UK China‘ program and Zhejiang Providential Education Department, allowing me to study in Zhejiang Sci-tech University, Hangzhou.

Following seven years of living, studying and working in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I have recently been pursuing getting away to explore different cultures and begin to appreciate the diversity of the world first hand. When western architecture and lifestyle takes so much from the local heritage, Greek origins and developed nations, I am sure to encounter inherit differences in culture, history and people which will prove nothing short of exhilarating. Undoubtedly there will be an infinite number of challenges ahead (My first language studies in 7 years to say the least!) but I am certain facing these, and experiencing the challenges of others, will only further my understanding of humanity, and ask me to develop a further respect for the diversity and resilience we are capable of.

You will be able to keep on track with my travels as my camera, journal and sketchbook remain permanently attached to my hand at; ‘BSA Study Abroad,’ a Travelogue charting the adventures of our current year group. So please do drop in and say hello! We leave to various parts of the world this August and September, studying for a year before returning to Belfast for the final year of our undergraduate degree in Architecture with fresh eyes, and new horizons.

I will of course be back on track to bring news from China to these pages too, so keep in touch, especially if you have any advice of experiences of the country you’d like to share.

Until then, I will leave you with a shot taken from our Architecture studio in Belfast, one that makes those late nights worthwhile.


Sunset behind Divis Tower/Divis Mountain, Belfast


Sketch Selection; Year 1 Architecture

In response to an old post by a fellow Architecture student over at ‘Her design journal’ I thought I would share with you a selection of my favourite sketches from my Year 1 sketchbooks of my undergraduate.

– 2012/2013

10007 copy

Bridge perspective from ‘Dry Joint’s’ project

12 copy

Folly design after Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion 

10006 copy

10003 copy

Sketch analysis of University of Ulster’s Belfast campus, York street Belfast for ‘Constructing Architecture’ project

10017 copy

Parasitic stage design for ‘Politic’s in Architecture’ project – Model/Further info can be found here


25 copy
34 copy

A series of progress sketches for ‘Titanic Loss/Memorial’ project

31 copy

Exploring plans after Zvi Hecker’s Spiral apartment house

30009 copy

30008 copy

30014 copy

30016 copy

Field sketching in Edinburgh, Scotland – Enric Miralles’s Scottish Parliament/Benson & Forsyth’s National Museum of Scotland

10018 copy

Exploring styles – Redrawn from Lebbeus Woods’s drawing for the retrofit of Ivan Straus found on; The Reality of Theory

Drawing for me has always been my favourite method for recording space, and for translating my spatial thoughts to something communicable. I do not claim to be in any way proficient in doing this (these are 1st year sketches after all!), and like most struggle with the process of recording 3D thought to 2D Presentation, none the less it is a skill which I find fascinating in it’s complexity, and I cannot deny an obsession for well crafted and considered drawings. There is a tactility to drawing which I have found extremely difficult to recreate through digital means, and a seductive mystery in allowing the viewer to mentally fill in what is not observable, something which a clinically accurate model may not allow happen. Drawing presents our ideas in a flawed and beautiful language of creation and recreation, it may never be perfect, but it is always personal. I hope you enjoy this short post nearly as much as I did drawing it!

Recommended reading?

Architectural Design, Sept 2013 – Drawing Architecture (Neil Spiller)

Find Herdesignjournal’s original post here.

The space between objects


I have been blogging statements, polemic’s to a degree for a short period of time, without much introduction. These observations have been my first ventures into the blogosphere and concern what I have seen on travels, or what I have recently been thinking when I consider ‘Architecture.’ My last post was concerning the context of objects in response to reading Kengo Kuma’s, ‘Anti-Object.’ This response, a short 200 odd words, attempts to cross the discipline’s of Psychology (Of which I hold an Undergraduate degree), and Architecture (Of which I am currently finishing my second year at Undergraduate level), through the topic of relationships, memories, and identity.

Big, broad, expansive topics, right? And hardly ones which can be pinned down in a short sharp post! But these are notions which get my psychology/architectural mind pondering continuously, and with the notion of object’s without context in mind, I believe it would finally be relevant to share some of my student work with you! Contextualisation of my thoughts so to speak.

Discovering Narrative – Year 2 Semester 1

My design project (‘A House for an Ancestor’) for the first semester of second year on the Ba Architecture at University of Ulster was heavily influenced by the narrative generated by investigations of a previous project. We were asked to survey a small A4 size portion of a tree bark, noting every minute detail in a manner similar to Georges Perec’s beautifully obsessional observations.


 AD3 2014 Callum Holgate Smallest8

Spatial mapping studies of a Tree bark – Hand drawings/Photography

Apart from the data collection of the survey, my observations began to consider the relationship between the city and the tree, why we as human’s feel the need to ‘implant’ nature into our artificial cities. My first notion was to questions whether the human mind can possibly develop far enough from it’s origins to ever feel entirely comfortable in a self generated world of brick and steel, or will our depths always search for a reminder of the natural world in order to regain a sense of place and peace? The tree is allowed to grow freely in it’s city cage, offering it’s inhabitants shelter from the daily struggle, the noise and pollution of the city. To escape from what we as man have created.

If offered the option, I would have declare myself against the city, and would chose the chaos of the tree over the city’s harsh anonymity, but the reality of the world asks for us all to appreciate the co-existence of entities, and this is where I began to develop a notion of the dialogue which exists not in objects, but between them. On one hand the warmth of the organic world of nature represented in the tree, and on the other hand the strength, control and order of mankind, represented in the city.

AD3 2014 Callum Holgate Smallest10

Contour model; Abstraction of the dialogue between the tree and city – Photography/hand-drawing 

Through group discussion on this theme with another member of my year we generated the above model which, abstracted, represents the tension and dialogue of this narrative. The top section, held by a steel rod and a single wire, presents the contour of the tree surface surveyed, the lower section describes the various heights of these contours in uniform steel protruding from concrete; the city.

AD3 2014 Callum Holgate Smallest9

Contour model; Tree/City

Discovering the space between/A House for an Ancestor

As individuals we were then tasked with designing a House for an Ancestor, our first ever ‘Architectural’ project and to be sited in a portion of the tree we surveyed (with it’s surfaces scale hugely exaggerated). My ancestor, a Miner, offered what the perfect opportunity to further expand on the relationship between man and nature. Instead of the being represented by the city, here man presents himself as directly interacting with nature in his search of minerals and ores, utilising his power to manipulate the earth towards his own goals. This can be viewed negatively, as far as to be called hubris, but it can also be viewed as a mutual harmony. We can look at the miner as the first step in converting the earths’ minerals into new technologies which may benefit mankind and create better living conditions, and ultimately a better future. Again this became a question of dialogue between entities, which allowed me to site my project in the empty space generated be a large overhang in the tree surface, suspended between the ground and a ledge.

Site concept

Site concept painting – Digital

I did not want to shoehorn program, to prescribe space or to produce something which was generated solely by my own control. Instead I wanted to utilise both the control of man and the chaos of nature to evoke a harmony which spoke of the delicate nature between things, the beautiful tensions. After an exploration of materials I settled on creating a 9x9x9 cube of wire, suspended on a steal frame on a wooded base, with 3 sheets of acrylic suspended between.

Material 1


Material test #1 – Photography

Varying in opacity, these sheets represented the progression of the miner from light to dark, with the intention of creating an Corbusier-esque Architectural Promenade in reverse, I wished to enlighten my ancestors journey as he descended through the space.

Prom and Site


Site, Promenade & Scale – Hand Drawing

The final step in the generation of space was to apply nature further, so far it was only represented in the wooden base of my cube. In order to develop the dialogue I placed the cube in an old gas oven at it’s highest temperature for about 2 hours. The results combined the control I had prescribed with the unpredictability of fire in the burning natural gas, and of gravity, as nature pulled on the plastics and steel. A blissful bi-product of the experiment was the rich colour produced by the smoking of the plastics due to the burning wood. After cooling I found myself with a beautifully delicate golden cube which glistened in the light and produced the scent of charred wood. The process had created undulating spaces within the cube where the materials blended together or resisted each other. A dialogue; and the beginnings of my House for an Ancestor.



Discovered space/Dialogue – Photography
Space to planning

Dialogue to planning #1 – Photography/Hand Drawing

This sums up the progression of the narrative I chased in the project, and as I have been developing projects further towards resolution since, I have found myself seeking to increase my appreciation and understanding of the relationship’s between, as opposed to the objects themselves. I believe it is easy to succumb to an idolisation of aesthetics, and to overlook the beauty inherit in the space generated by relationships and interactions. We all live in a world beyond our individual control, and I hope this approach can only make me more aware of our reality and further my appreciation for what I could otherwise be so easily overlooking.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading! I hope there is something in this that you find of interest, and maybe even prompts you towards looking into these topics further. However, I should probably add that I do not in anyway recommend setting fire to anything without taking all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of yourself and others (Disclaimer!)


– A response to current reading and the Lagan Meadows, Belfast

We are all temporal beings, and move with time; our personalities, our memories, are constructed from a collection of events existing in relation to one another along our personal timelines. What would become of our identity if these did not connect? Instead existing as detached phenomena floating in an empty chasm?

An ‘object’ sits separate and cold – unwelcoming – adrift. What use is this object if it cannot be used, if it is so isolate that it connects to nothing, relates to nothing? What use is Architecture if it does not recognise its context? It’s pursuit of individuality asks the removal of a significant, and traceable identity.

Nature has a wonderful habit of showering its beautiful chaos across the clinical order of our isolated intervention, it reminds us of the significance of the relationships between things, the connections which generate a cohesive identity, a unity.


Currently reading:

Narrative Architecture – Nigel Coates

Anti-Object: The Dissolution and Disintegration of Architecture – Kengo Kuma