The practice blog

What I Did During the Great Lockdown of 2020

This sounds like the title of the kind of English composition you had to do when you were 11. Actually I did feel like I was 12 again during lockdown when being at home felt neverending, that you’d never grow up or leave the cage. I lost 6 projects, the designs of which I had painstakingly worked on last year to go “live” in spring and summer. Only one had been constructed. The others were put on hold, at risk or cancelled due to the clients running out of funding.

Why architecture equips you to write

Well, guess what? Why would I be immune? Like my clients, I was also on hold, at risk, “cancelled” and out of funds. Those who are employees or PAYE, look away now, because none of this will affect you or make sense. The nature of construction industry is peaks and troughs. I have been through about 220 recessions since I started running my own firm as a youngster of 31. I am glad I did because it has freed me up to think creatively and courageously, taking risks where I had to. Even doing bar jobs and weekend makeup jobs when I had to.

Architecture equips you to write because it is a tough profession, a discipline with long hard hours and very tight profit margins. Hey, this sounds just like writing! Actually they are very similar. People always say I do so many different things but I don’t. They are all the same thing: the disciplined arts. Only those with passion and stamina can withstand the daily grind and pressure of architecture and/or writing. You will only want to create the very, very top quality of products and you will still never even be happy with it. The time you pour into it, when you are not even designing/writing but designing/writing within your head, is unaccountable. It is every waking and sleeping moment. Design and writing are each obsessive, all-consuming, a sickness, a love. It is self-deprecatory. You will always suspect you are slightly sh1t or worse than you are, in comparison with another architect/writer, which in turn means you will exceed your own expectations and put in 120%. At least.

What I did with only one “live” on-site project

1. I wrote 3 books.

They are non-fiction. The fourth, another novel, is still a work in progress (WIP). I thought very hard about my own business which is and has always been giving people what they want. It is the antithesis of Dominique Francon, the main character in that atrocious novel “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, about the business of architecture, in which she finds out what people want, which is something that she also despises, and then NOT giving it to them. Granted the book is godawful but she is an excellent strong character because she shows us who’s boss. Writing is not a hobby for me. It is also a business, my side hustle. I write for myself. I asked myself what I really loved doing if I was not working? What if I really wanted to read wonderful books which didn’t exist yet? Can I do better than that? Can I write books to help people who are like me? I love writing, Chinese food and exercise. And I am over 50. So I wrote a Chinese cookbook and 2 workout books for over 50s. I started writing them immediately when the idea came to me in lockdown. Was pleasantly surprised when 2 out of the 3 (30 CHINESE DINNERS and AMAZING AT 50: 10-DAY FLAT TUMMY CHALLENGE) have hit the Amazon top 100 Bestseller list in their categories this week (week of 27 July): #13 in Chinese Cooking and #73 in Health and Fitness respectively. I wrote without any expectations. I only wanted to write with each book, the very, very best book that I can. And of course, in the style that is laced with Ivy witticisms.

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2. I released a new suspense novel.

OVERBOARD at the start of the lockdown. Unfortunately, exactly on the same day, March 20th. It sold well on release date, then it dipped for a few months and now it is selling well again thanks to point no. 2 above. Nevertheless, I have only focussed on the ebook and online sales as there will be no physical launch or events and as the lockdown is ending or the second wave beginning, I have no intention to do any physical promotion anymore. The desire to do so has waned, due to point no. 3 below.

3. I did 3 online courses.

2 free courses and 1 paid, all in marketing, publicity and building the brand in an authentic, organic way. I didn’t want to spend money or time but I had to. These were my investments in my business and myself. With the homework it was such a killer. It was not like I had too much time. I had 13 hour days. The webinars were always at 2pm EST which was 7 pm in London which was family time. So I watched them on replay. I listened to podcasts to supplement my current understanding and knowledge of the market. I started art classes with Lulu Allison of Middle Distance Arts. It is not really a course as such, we do different things every week. I was really proficient in art when I was in school. She’s really reminded me to see things as I always did, within the mind’s eye. Everything was lost in adulthood to construction, feasibility and practicality. The thing that is hammered out of you the moment you begin architectural training is art, except for the perception of light and dark which architects are experts at, giving us a head start skill in any of the creative arts (fashion, interior design, graphic design, industrial design, furniture design, landscape design, sculpting, etc). Every line has to make perfect construction sense or it has to go. In art, no line has to make any sense. The entirety is more than the sum of parts and who’s counting lines?

4. I had my 50th birthday “party”.

At home just with family. It was really spectacular event and it was heartwarming to see my children make so much effort. I wore the lace dress I had been reserving for my OVERBOARD book launch party which did not happen. Everything that I thought would happen did not happen this year. And everything that I thought wouldn’t happen has. Had I done a big shebang in some room in a pub in Soho, I would have missed out on my children celebrating with me. I would not have had it any other way. I handmade the invitations to my family. My daughter organised a 5 minute Tik Tok family dance tutorial. My son did the scented candles, bartending and cocktail making. My husband gave me very nice jewellery and a Chelsea t-shirt and Queen songbook! As you know I am a fan of minimalist tiny gold jewellery. We ordered in burritos. Okay, it wasn’t Chinese food. But come on. For a change.

5. I started a family book club.

Every night we had to read as a family in one of the children’s rooms for about 20-30 minutes and after that, each of us had to take turns to tell everyone about the book we were reading. As a result, it became a habit. The libraries were all shut and I could feel that their worlds had shrunk to YouTube, gaming and Tik Tok. During the entire lockdown when people were enjoying their lie-ins, I woke up at 5 am every day to write those 3 and a half books. I don’t have all day. The children are at home and I believe still are. I needed to spend time with them too. Even if I was really crap at homeschooling and teaching, it was just hanging out time with them. Watching Sherlock, YouTube, cooking meals and making things with them took all day and it was important to end each day with the book club. Minus white wine.


My only relief is that the lockdown will end, and I will get more architectural contracts, or the 5 dead ones will start again. I also still have so many books to write. I am already planning another 3 but I have to complete my WIP first. This is tinged with sadness too. The children will grow up. Yesterday, while walking through the park on a normal weekday, a Wednesday, in the middle of the day when I should be working and not be walking through the park in sunshine, I was hand in hand with my daughter. We were both eating ice creams with the hand that was free. She had an orange Calippo and I an “Extreme Impact” Chocolate Raspberry cornetto. That was what it said on the tearaway conical paper.

Extreme impact. How will we remember this time in history?

Ivy Ngeow RIBA has her own London firm (established 2001).

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Written by Ivy Ngeow B.Arch (Hons) MA RIBA © 2020 All rights reserved

Tweet me @ivyngeow

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She is the author of 7 books.

FICTION 

Overboard (Leopard Print, London) 2020

The Power Ballads and Other Stories  (Leopard Print, London) 2019

Heart of Glass (Unbound) 2018

Cry of the Flying Rhino (Proverse Hong Kong) 2017

NON-FICTION

Awesome at 50: Body Reboot in 6 weeks

Amazing at 50: 10-day Flat Tummy Challenge

30 Chinese Dinners: Healthy Easy Homemade Meals