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The Dangers of Being an Architect PDF

By Liam Kellehar

alt  Olive Country Life magazine, August 2009




I have never seen the point of extreme sports and although building sites are dangerous, the architect’s natural aversion to heavy machinery means that we come low on the work related accident statistics.

However, surveying old and decrepit buildings has taken its toll on the architectural and related professions. It is now a general safety rule not to survey a building alone, last thing on a Friday afternoon. Accidents happen. It is not unheard of for an architect to lie undiscovered for the entire weekend in the building he was surveying. So if the bargain purchase you have discovered cannot wait for an accompanied viewing, take precautions.
Make sure that you have an appointment with a friend who knows where you are and will not take your no-show simply as bad manners.

Although architects do not always get on with their clients, normally this does not prove to be fatal. However I remember hearing of one client/architect dispute that got a bit out of control. I am a bit sketchy on the details. I am not sure if the matter related to unpaid fees or aesthetic differences. But I recall that a shotgun may have featured in the proceedings.

The event occurred in the Highlands of Scotland. I can only assume that Hamish McNasty (not his real name) was returning home from a fruitless hunting trip when he found himself in the vicinity of his architect’s house. Naturally desirous to clear up a few points that had been bothering him about the design, he neglected to realise that he still carried the weapon over his shoulder. Unfortunately, the discussion became heated and angry words were exchanged. The architect died from his wounds. I suppose that there are only so many
times that you can tell an angry Scotsman with a leaky roof that “the design is an ironic reference to Le Corbusier’s church at Ronchamp. You should give the metaphor more time to bed in.”

It is for these reasons I did not view the survey I was about to carry out with trepidation. Perhaps I should have been forewarned. On my fi rst visit the client had told me, with a nonchalance that I did not feel I could muster. “First day of the holiday, I was stung by a scorpion.”

Nevertheless, I blithely proceeded, checking some dimensions. Retrieving the end of my tape measure from the long grass, I found that I had also taken hold of a wasp. No matter how innocent your intent, I have always found that wasps respond with a sort of psychotic aggression, not out of keeping with Southend seafront on a Saturday night.

When I had finished swearing the searing pain had eased. I completed the few dimensions that remained and decided to head for home, 30km away over twisty Spanish campo roads. I have an allergy to wasp stings. Nothing serious, but I knew that my hand would swell to the size of a circus clown’s glove. I was keen to get back home while I could still drive. To ease the problem I thought I would try the local remedy of a mud poultice; it could not do any harm I thought. I then set off along the dirt track back to civilization. I had been travelling 5 minutes along chassis scraping terrain when I thought that I would check the progress of the swelling
in my right hand. This proved to be a mistake. For the inspection of my injury coincided with the moment that the hitherto straight road took a nasty kick to the left. The car went straight on and came to an abrupt halt in the ditch.

I surveyed the situation calmly and decided that I would try to reverse out. Upon reflection I can now see that a recce of the terrain may have been helpful and that I should have turned the steering wheel in the opposite direction. Two minutes later I was hopelessly stuck. I climbed out of the car to inspect my handiwork. The nose of the car was buried in the ditch wall at an acute angle and the driver’s side rear wheel was over 1 metre off the ground. To the casual passer-by, the vehicle would look like a projectile fired from a large cannon, hidden somewhere in the nearby hills.

I was just musing on the frequency of casual passers-by along dirt tracks in Spain, when to my astonishment I saw a car approaching. As he came close I hailed him with the casual manner that I felt the situation required. He did not seem to catch the mood. He got out of his car and stared, mesmerised. No doubt trying to calculate the trajectory of my vehicle to discover the location of the nearby artillery.

Perhaps an explanation was in order. By way of introduction I waved my right hand in his general direction. It was now encrusted with dried mud of a rich chocolate colour. To my horror I realised that I must look like a man who had just suffered a severe reversal of fortune in the trouser department. He looked at my hand for a moment with raised eyebrows. Then, bless his cortijero cotton socks, he jumped to a conclusion than even now I would still have difficulty coming to.

“¡Oye avispa!” He nodded approvingly. Clearly anyone that knew of the old remedies was okay by him. Even if they did have a penchant for parking their car in the nearest ditch. It was now short work to agree that the vehicle should be restored to the track.

“And where’s your tractor?” I enquired. He turned and pointed to a nearby shed, that I had previously failed to notice. I had to conclude that if you wished to place your car in a ditch, then anywhere within 100 metres of an almacén containing a tractor that could pull
you out was about as good a place as any.

My chariot returned to the highway, I bid my modern-day Don Quixote goodbye and determined to make more orthodox progress along the remaining part of my journey.


Liam Kellehar BA (Hons) Arch., RIBA, COACo no 570, is a British qualified architect registered to work in Spain.  He  lives in the Sierra Sur area of Andalucía.  He can be contacted by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by mobile telephone on 690 721 141.