FINALISTS, FORGOTTEN SPACES COMPETITION/ October 2013: #ForgottenSpacesLondon, #PublicSpace, #UrbanDesign, #ColliersWood, #Left-overSpaces, #RiverGraveney, #Competitions

New Publication

May 2019

As we actively look to branch out beyond the Architecture with a capital A that has to date been the main source of work for our studio, we have welcomed the publication of a new article by our Director Shanka Mesa Siverio in an unexpected, but eye-opening collaboration with local academics and writers.

Time-scales for this have been almost as long as some of our built projects, but the process of writing an edited with an established publication has been creative in a very different way. We were first approached by guest editors of the West Africa Edition of the Critical Muslim earlier in 2018 for thoughts on the West African Architecture for the quarterly publication. Naturally the brief was challenged and the commission became an opportunity to write about things that have long been on our minds, including the role of personal identity and participation in architecture as well as the ever-present colonialism within the visual arts.

Architecture and Identity article

The resulting 5000 word discourse is titled 'Culture, Identity and Architecture' and covers observations on the mechanisms by which existing political structures and social narratives are created, reinforced and sometimes challenged by architecture as well as thoughts on the current progress being made by West African Architects from various nations.

We are also honored to be participating in their panel discussion at their book launch, to be held at the LSE on May 15th 2019.

The publication is available to order in paperback or download directly from the Muslim Institute

Masterplanning Workshop

April 2019

Masterplanning isn't the first thing you would think of for a typical Easter break activity for the kids, but that's exactly what we've been doing with students from local Havering schools and colleges at the Mercury Mall in Romford.

Masterplanning Workshop at the Mercury Mall

Working closely with our clients at the Mercury Mall for their very own Architecture Week, we set up an interactive 2-day workshop for local 11 – 19 year olds interested in finding out more about Architecture and Masterplanning. The workshop included interactive games, quizzes and the challenge of producing and presenting a masterplan for the carpark site next to the mall.

Masterplanning Workshop at the Mercury Mall
Masterplanning Workshop at the Mercury Mall

This was undeniably a big ask for students who perhaps hadn't even heard of masterplanning before they arrived, but our students were able to pick up complex concepts like sustainable design, design at different scales and even SWOT analysis highlighting how ready most people are to absorb new information if presented in the right way. The biggest win from the event was probably from the discussion around climate change and sustainable lifestyles that the event sparked.

Masterplanning Workshop at the Mercury Mall

The success of the event reinforced the importance of involving young people in planning, as not only did they all leave with a better understanding of sustainable place making principles and plenty of enthusiasm for the often inaccessible world of architecture and masterplanning, they actually came up with some pretty good ideas! Read the local-press write-up below. E mail us at: if you would like us to run a workshop on architecture, masterplanning or sustainable design principles.

WSMS Press

The No Collective

January 2019

As an Architect, it can be very easy to get your head stuck in a manhole. This is why it's so important to reach out and collaborate with people outside of the profession who can offer a new perspective and point out the possibilities which your training might lead you to miss by being a little too 'by the book'. Fortunately we have the NO Collective to keep us balanced.

In their own words:

"NO is a social collective that bases its works around investigating micro-cultures and introducing humorous artwork to a mass of seemingly un-interested viewers; by using familiarity and stereotypes, and often games, 'NO' is keen to widen the understanding of contemporary art mediums and open the mind to subjects that are close to home"

In doing so, things can get quite random.

The Big Draw Event by the NO Collective

Everyone is free to contribute and collaborate as they want and being a collective of many different disciplines, there is bound to be someone who is ready and able to offer some unique expertise, skill and insight. The highly appealing thing about this collective is that it doesn't worry about too many conventional definitions which is perhaps why so many hard to define, but brilliant projects have been realised through the collective.

So, if you have a creative or educational project that needs realising, or are just curious as to what this collective is about read more about the NO Collective here.

Forgotten Co-working Spaces

November 2018

Working Like a Dog by WSMS STudio LTD

Since starting WSMS Studio in 2013, we've worked from lots of different locations. From the spare room to remote working on a rooftop in Tenerife, to the gallery space above a fully functioning Church, in the centre of London's business district (which is surprisingly peaceful). We've explored formal co-working spaces and taken advantage of some serendipitous ones.

We've learnt to appreciate the variety of the opportunities we've had over the last five years and to value the uniqueness of each experience. These spaces are as much influenced by their location and space as the colour of the cushions and the flavour of the coffee, but without a doubt, the connectivity to other professions and ways of working have been the essence of the experience.

I doubt anything will compare in strangeness and surrealism of listening to choral hymns and getting to know the Archdeacon of Hackney (an inspiring lady) whilst surrounded by sausage dogs. But undoubtedly, each experience gives an insight into a small microcosm that we might never have known of. They have nurtured a genuine understanding how other disciplines work alongside our usual inter-disciplinary approach.

Collaborations at work by WSMS Studio LTD
Collaborations at work by WSMS Studio LTD
Collaborations at work by WSMS Studio LTD

This lived understanding been invaluable in our work, which, whether designing actual co-working spaces, such as the Retailery & Odd Box or housing, requires us to truly understand the needs and wants of people quite different to us.

Moving forwards, as we continue to develop our small practice, we're even more aware of the importance of both space and connections. With this in mind, we're very happy to have sharing office space with a newly created Estate Agent Social Enterprise; Urban Patchwork.

We love that they are founded on principles of going beyond the normal ethical standards and that one of their core aims is to provide a service that actually gives back to the community whilst still undertaking the demanding business of looking after and selling property.

An office with a view by WSMS Studio LTD

As well as fundamentally supporting their aims as a social enterprise, we're learning a lot about how properties are valued, the hard work behind the scenes and how start-ups can reach out to create mutually beneficial connections. We also have access to some wonderfully fast broadband for central London and most importantly, a beautiful place to walk the dog just outside the door.

In Azerbaijan and Other Places

May 2018

In Azerbaijan graphic by No Collective

One of the founding principles of the practice is that as Architects, we have developed the skills to work flexibly and innovatively with other groups whose expertise and interest overlap our own. Working with those that bring something new to the mix and challenge our pre-conceptions of what Architecture and Urbanism are keeps things interesting.

This year, we've started working more closely with an arts group that have been doing urban-community-based performance art and youth projects in the UK and abroad since 2010; The No Collective, on their project 'In Azerbaijan'.

Their work in Azerbaijan promotes youth participation in arts and culture in Azerbaijan through events, educational programmes and digital media. Our work for them involves an unusual and exciting shift from 'real' space to digital space – which is in our opinion as relevant to architecture as ever.

See their work:

Why hire an Architect?

December 2017

Most people in this country are quite astonished to find out that you are not required to use an Architect for any part of the process of any building project. Unlike many of our European counterparts who are required by law to get their plans certified by a qualified Architect, in this country you have no legal obligation to do so.

Anyone, absolutely anyone can draw and submit your plans for both planning and building control approval (the two main regulatory processes required for most building works).

So then, as most people ask me when confronted with this, why employ an Architect at all? And, why spend the minimum 7 years training to become an Architect? Here are my Top 7 reasons in answer to this, specifically aimed at those who might be thinking of undertaking a building project for their home:

#1 1. Not All Plans are drawn equal

Blueprint by WSMS Studio LTD

Ok, just to be clear, we don't just draw up plans. I'm using the plan as an example here; a plan is just a means to an end and only as good as the ideas and knowledge it incorporates.

I don't mean to imply that all Architects are made equal either, but after 7 years + of studying (and often many more years of putting into practice) design, spatial quality, aesthetic, functionality, technical and construction detail, regulation and legal structures of the construction industry, planning & urban design, project management and not to mention graphic design, 3d modelling and drawing skills, plans drawn by an Architect are going to include one or two decisions that those without this training will not even know to make.

#2 Permissions

Whilst it is true that anyone can submit plans for the granting of permissions, it does not follow that all those who do will be suitable. An Architect can help to manage risk of refusal through knowledge of the system and will act as a representative and translator of sorts between you and the powers that be with the backing of their training and understanding of design.

#3 Value for money

For the average project, an architects fees are going come in at roughly 10% - 15% of the cost of construction (usually a smaller % for the larger projects and higher % for the smaller ones).

This might initially seem like quite a lot but the truth is somewhere down the line you will pay it, it's just a question of the value you get out of it.

Everything man made requires design, where conscious or not. Good design is conscious and like good art only appreciates in value over time. A good Architect will be able to release the hidden potential in home, increasing both the quality and quantity of space. Not only can employing an Architect save you money through good design throughout the process, the final product could add up to way more than a sum of parts.

#4 Quality of Life

Hammock by WSMS Studio LTD

This is closely tied with the above as I believe that this something that everyone wants – it's their main reason for earning and spending their hard earned money.

In terms of space this is something less tangible and far less understood than you would imagine. Everyone knows what it is to be in a space that gives you a sense of something special, but far fewer people are able to quantify, let alone create it.

This ability is what you develop over 7 years and more. It requires social and poetic awareness combined with technical skill that is at the heart of all good Architecture training. It is put into practice through the very personal role that an Architect takes in the creation of your home. Again, not all Architects approach this in the same way and this is where you will want to ensure that feel comfortable with your chose Architect and their approach.

#5 Security

This comes from the knowledge that someone is giving you the guidance that keeps you within the law and ensures that decisions are made that will keep you and your project safe. Unlike anyone else in the construction industry we are bound by our professional codes to act in your best interest.

This might seem an odd thing to worry about, because building work appears to be so commonly and 'easily' done nowadays. But in reality, often there is little standing in the way of bad decisions with costly consequences. An Architect will help manage the risks involved in a project through in-depth knowledge of the legal and contractual processes needed and their advice will be backed by an appropriate level of insurance and you have further recourse through the professional institution of the ARB.

#6 The Environment

Urban Design Books

This is often not the first priority when extending your home, but whether you are motivated by the rising cost of fuel, changing regulations or social responsibility, Architects can enhance the use of the environment from through design.

This is not just technically as you might imagine, but throughout the design and process. Again, not all Architects treat this in the same way, but all Architects are required to take their responsibilities to wider society seriously and the better ones will actively apply this throughout their work. Ask your Architect for their Statement of Sustainability if in doubt.

#7 It Just Makes Sense

So much of the time I despair when I see what poor choices people have made when they adapt their homes. So many missed opportunities and sheer waste of an opportunity.

We have moved on from the days of seeking surgical help from self-trained doctors or asking a well-respected friend to represent us in a court of law, but somehow we are used to settling for the equivalent when slicing and dicing our homes without any professional support.

If you're convinced and have a project you'd like to discuss, drop us a line:

Digging deep

September 2017

Revit model, scissor stair

After a drawn-out planning process which included, rather unexpectedly, an audit on the Basement Impact Assessment by Camden, maternity leave and some hesitation due to Brexit, we're very pleased to see Ranulf Road make it to site with gusto.

Progress has definitely made up for the lack of urgency in the first half of the process and it looks like, we might be in time to see the family in for Christmas after all.

Construction, basement

We're confident this is going to look great and you can check out the latest progress pictures here .

A Christmas Reading List on Urban Design

December 2016

I was recently asked by an Architect for some tips on what to read to develop an interest in Urban Design.

My first response was to think back to my Urban Design and Sustainable Place Making Masters reading list– but then, quickly realized that most people don't have the luxury of 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for a whole year to read up on their topic of choice.

So, sticking to the top ten theme, I'm recommending a top 10 books/ publications that are essential reading to develop an interest in urban design. You could ask Santa for these but many are available to download free of charge:

Urban Design Books

#1 The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs

This is an obvious classic and one that many of you will have read; but, probably not from cover to cover and possibly not for a while. It's also surprisingly hard to get hold of.

Despite that I recommend that every serious Urban Designer has their own copy (maybe a digital one will be easier to get hold of and take up less space), if only to remind them that observation and clarity of thought are sometimes more valuable than 7 years of education.

The thing about this book is, it seems very obvious to us now, but at the time it really wasn't. The genius of the book is how well things are articulated so that it now seems like common sense to us.

It is important to read this book in context. We can read it with the benefits of hindsight and it is best read after a trip to Greenwich Village in New York where you can see the good, bad and ugly of the theory in action.

You have to make up your own mind what the key messages are are; I get something different every time I read it, though the chapters that have left a lasting impression are those on the relationship between economic diversity and physical diversity.

Urban Design Books

#2 Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam

Another fairly obvious one, but again I recommend reading from cover to cover and to anyone with an interest in society, not just the built environment. It will resonate with anyone who has lived in a city and ever felt the nagging loneliness and dislocation of modern life.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it offers both hard evidence and solutions to problems of lack of social connection and social meaning that are at the heart of so many 'symptoms' such as poor health and lowered quality of life. This book is hugely relevant to Urban Design as well as the way we as citizens live our lives.

Again, it is set in America, but it is surprising how translatable many of the ideas are.

#3 Manual For Streets, DCLG

You won't be reading this one on the train but, it is an essential publication for anyone working in Urban Design.

I actually hadn't read this whilst studying, but referred to it on a weekly basis in practice. If you're well versed in this when working on masterplanning projects in practice, you will be streets ahead of most Architects(!)

#4 The Essex Design Guide, Essex County Council/ Urban Design Compendium, HCA

Two of the most comprehensive planning and design documents relevant to urban design practice in the UK. You will find that much local planning policy is based on these documents and they incorporate a lot of the most recent urban design research as they are regularly updated.

Again, these area best as a reference tool, but useful to be familiar with. I've put them together, because they are useful in a similar way.

#5 CABE the Value of Urban Design, CABE

If you aren't already convinced by the value of urban design, you might not have got this far on the list, but this publication contains some really interesting and useful research to persuade anyone of the actual value of urban design in cold hard economic terms.

It would be good to see similar research done on the value of good design in general as though most Architects take it for granted, we sometime shave less luck convincing our clients.

CABE have a lot of excellent publications available free in their archived content, relating to urban design. They cover everything from community consultation to creating masterplans. Definitely worth a browse.

#6 Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson

This was a real eye opener to me. Strictly speaking it is about our economic and ideological political stance in the developed world. But, its relevance to urban design and indeed all design in the age of climate change cannot be underestimated.

If you've ever found yourself wondering if unlimited economic growth is either feasible or desirable, this publication offers some answers.

The ideas in it have influenced so many of the opinions I hold about the place of urban design and how we should be approaching growth in our cities. It's essential reading for everyone in my eyes.

City and Society

#7 City & Society by R J Johnston

This is a tough read, but persevere; it's another eye-opener for anyone from an architectural background as it covers aspects of planning theory, economics and politics in a way that you probably won't have come across before. It draws links between the economic and social in ways that are not obvious at first, so you'll find yourself looking at the spatial organisation of cities in an entirely different way.

It is an older book so it's best used to understand the historical context and to build up a knowledge base rather than for practical work. It is also quite academic though intended to be narrative so just be ready to re-read some of the pages. Fortunately it's not actually that long or heavy so it's a good one for taking on holiday when you have the brain-space to take it in.

Urban Design Drawing

#8 Drawing for Urban Design, Lorraine Farrelly

The equivalent of the Architectural Graphics book by Ching that was on most of our architectural reading lists, but much better. It contains some nice images and graphics that will inspire you to experiment with hand sketches, digital models and diagrams.

#9 Information is Beautiful, David Mccandless

This should be paired with the above for inspiration on clever ways to present information. So much of what you do as an urban designer is research based, being able to present complex data well in easy to understand and attractive ways is a useful skill to have, especially if you get into the public consultation side of things.

It's also a nice coffee table book to have as it contains all sorts of interesting facts, but if you don't want to splash out on the hard cover book, the website is readily available for browsing:

#10 Life Between Buildings by Jan Gehl

This is set to be a classic and particularly isnpiring because Gehl has managed to put so many of his ideas into practice around the world, but most notably in his home city of Copenhagen. A study trip there is advisable to get the most out this book!

The above is by no means a comprehensive list, there are many important thinkers that have influenced the direction of urban design theory that should be read, the likes of Kevin Lynch, Gordon Cullen, Ebeneezer Howard…(the list goes on). All have to be read to understand the history of this subject.

However, I'd say the most important thing in urban design reading is to read widely and gain a basic understanding of economics, culture, sociology and politics as well as architectural history. Beyond that, as Jane Jacobs demonstrated, involvement in your local community is as essential as any reading you can find the time to do. Good luck!

Please share this post with anyone who would like to improve their understanding of Urban Design principles. If you'd like to be kept notified of new posts of a similar variety e mail us:

10 Mistakes To Avoid When Extending

October 2016

extension by wsms studio ltd

There are several mistakes that are easy to make when extending your home, fortunately many of these are also easy to avoid, (particularly if you play close attention to #10):

#1 Rushing In

Ever heard the phrase 'only fools rush in'? This is never more true than with changes to your home, but it's an easy mistake to make out both enthusiasm and blind panic.

It's worth remembering that building projects take time. There are ways to save time, but rushing in is rarely going to achieve this.

Instead, spending a few weeks getting the plans and approach right during the early stages can save you vast amounts time and money down the line. A large proportion of an Architect's work happens way before a stone is turned on site and there are good reasons for this. The pre-construction stages are essential for a successful final project.

#2 Throwing money at the project

This might seem an odd one, as generally you get what you pay for. But that depends: Most home building projects don't have unlimited budgets and so you need to be clear about your priorities for your cash.

Spending money into the wrong things can be a waste: It's a common fallacy to spend thousands of pounds on fancy finishes in a vain attempt to fix badly built or badly designed spaces. Some costs are unavoidable, but a good Architect will be able to save money in the right places whilst achieving an overall high quality space.

See our kitchen fit-out, built for 1/4th of the price of a standard flat-pack to see a low budget example of this.

#3 Avoiding Permissions

Sometimes people cut corners on statutory permissions only to find out that when it comes to selling they have serious problems, having to take out costly insurance to cover the breach.

It might seem a drag having to wait the 8 weeks for planning or having to arrange visits from Building Control, but these checks are ultimately there to protect you and those around you. If you have doubts speak to an Architect or your council, but never risk assuming you don't need permission.

  • Planning Permission
  • Listed Building Consents
  • Building Control Approval
  • Approvals from Utilities companies such as Thames Water for building over a sewer
  • Party Wall Notices to your Neighbours
  • Instead of ignoring these, contact us for professional advice:

#4 Taking a piecemeal approach

This frequently happens when people have different areas of their home that they would like to change, but aren't sure whether they will have the time or money to do it all at once.


It's easy to fall into the trap of piecemeal solutions that add up to a series of disjointed 'temporary' solutions that last a lifetime and cost a fortune overall.

A holistic plan is essential if you want have a house that feels complete. Your architect can help you to phase your plan according to your needs, but ensure that the design is a holistic one and fits within your budget.

#5 Going into the project without a clear list of objectives

This is harder to get right and a more common issue than you might think. Part of your Architect's job is to help you to clarify and develop your brief and to understand why you want to build in the first place.

Reasons might be purely lifestyle, or it might be that you want to add financial value but aren't sure how. More often than not it's a combination or reasons, but you need to know and understand your priorities in order to obtain them.

Sometimes, the answer is not to build at all and your Architect should be able to give you an honest appraisal based on your priorities. Contact us for a free assessment for projects within London or Tenerife:

#6 Getting sucked in by pretty images on Pinterest

Don't get me wrong, Pinterest is a useful tool and I advocate that all clients get on there to see the kind of things they are drawn to. But, it's easy to get caught-up in images that aren't applicable to your particular project.

When looking at images it's important to decide what it is that calls you about a particular image and why. Your Architect will be able to apply the key qualities into your project in a way that is appropriate and personal.

#7 Always going for the cheapest offer

The cheapest is not always the best option (though sometimes it is). It's important to get a series of quotes for every service you need throughout your project - from choosing your bathroom fit out to the people who manage your project.

In order to make appropriate comparisons, you need to check what services and products are included as well as making sure you know enough about the company you're working with to feel comfortable.

To obtain a detailed quote from us e mail:

#8 Avoiding Contracts

Your project is likely to be as significant and complex (if not more so) as purchasing your house. Yet, whilst no one consider completing purchase on a house without having contracts in place, many will undertake building work based on trust alone.

Trust is an important thing in any working relationship, but relying on trust alone when it comes to construction is naive. Pre-written building contacts with your contractor and Appointment Contracts with your Architect/ Engineer are essential if you want to proceed smoothly and efficiently.

The truth is stuff goes wrong in projects and often it's the clauses in the contract that ensure that the right people take responsibility. Your Architect should advise you on which type of building contract is appropriate for your project and can help to administer this contract. You should also proceed with any professional only after signing a contract outlines the services to be undertaken as well as terms and conditions.

At WSMS we always insist that a clear contract is in place before proceeding with work. Like many Architects, we operate under RIBAs standard forms of appointment or a letter contract for smaller jobs.

#9 Assuming things will work out

Whether your project is large or small, there are unforeseen risks. These can be physical (often you don't know what secrets your existing house has to reveal); regulatory (risks of planning refusal, etc); personnel based (the risks of employing teams of people you don't know and managing them on site); or economic.

TV reality tends to skim over the issues that occur on small jobs, but the truth is there will likely be some complex problems along the way and you should go into any project with your eyes open to that fact.

It is an Architects job to mitigate and manage these risks for you, from being your representative with contractors, planners and approved inspectors to dealing with unforeseen events on site. Those willing to go it alone are those that should be prepared for a lot of work and a lot of stress and a steep learning curve.

See our Services a full list of the project management and architectural services we provide to ensure a smooth process.

#10 Thinking that Architects are too expensive for your 'small job'

Employing an Architect is one of the best investments you can make whether your project is large or small. They can help you avoid mistakes but also add a huge amount of value to your home through their skills and knowledge.

It can be easy to think that the up-front cost of employing someone to manage your project would be too much, but more often than not, a short term saving is substitute for the loss of long term value. In addition, Architects are often not as expensive as people assume and you might be surprised as the value that we can offer.

To get an idea of costs for your project, e mail us at:

Rough Guide Available

October 2015

Very few people have experience of working with an Architect; so when starting out on your project, a lot can be a bit of a mystery.

To help explain the process and why we work the way we do, we've produced a "Rough Guide: What to expect and how to get the most out of your project". Free to Download:

WSMS studio guide

The guide is useful reading for anyone embarking on a project without previous experience of working with an Architect. It covers the basics of fee setting, industry recognised work stages and building contract types as well as some information about our own ethos and services.

For further information or to work with us, e mail us at:

NLA Short-listing

September 2015

NLA exhibit

We're pleased to have been short-listed as part of a team of four, including fellow Architects and Urban Designers from the University of Texas & Levitt Bernstein in this important and topical international competition launched by the NLA.

As the title of the competition suggests, our idea is 1 of 100 to solve the Housing Crisis exhibited at the NLA's exhibition space on Store Street from 15 October to 17 December. We'll be exhibiting alongside a number of well-known design firms and property consultancies, all attempting to tackle this pressing issue in their own way.

As the brief was left entirely open, the potential solutions cover everything from a design prototypes, to planning law, to the supply of land and more, with one thing in common: They all aim to increase the quality and quantity of housing supply in the UK.

Of course, what can be described as 'quality' is open to debate and it was left to each of the entrants to offer an answer to this in their own way.

Our answer settled for nothing less than a range of adaptable, affordable housing that would increase quality of life, improve community cohesion and would be architecturally unique and sustainable.

Community Chest Graphic

Our entry, 'Community Chest' is a system of design, finance and technology aimed at building capacity within the self-build housing sector. You can read about it in detail here and see the other short-listed entries on the NLA website.

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Finalists, Forgotten Spaces Competition

October 2013

wsms forgotten spaces exhibit

We are very pleased to have been short-listed as finalists for Forgotten Spaces London 2013, with our entry 'Urban Boardwalk', set on a grass verge by the roadside in Colliers Wood.

Our entry has been selected for exhibition at Somerset House following the announcement of the 26 finalists for the competition run by the Mayor of London in conjunction with the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Landscape Institute.

Previous finalists include some of the best and most creative architecture practices in the city and the exhibit is a chance for all Londoners - not just designers - to think about the untapped potential of our urban environments. Even if weren't short-listed, we'd love the very idea of this competition as a way of challenging creative agencies to think across disciplines to improve London's neglected spaces - of which we've found there are many.

urban boardwalk graphic by wsms studio ltd

We hope you'll join us for the exhibition which runs from 4th October - 10th November 2013. Unfortunately you've already missed the Petcha Kucha event given by representatives from all 26 entries, but rest assured we were able to concisely explain the key points of the design within the allotted 3 minutes of speaking time. You can read about our entry at a more leisurely pace here.