Archive for April, 2012

Sustainable Studies

I spent this morning in an exam for my Urban Sustainability course that’s been chugging along in the background this term. It comes under the lecture branch in our course called “Humanities” which is effectively the catch-all for anything that isn’t construction or design. Past iterations of the lecture series have covered Manchester’s history, academic theories on observation and some talk of the value of senses in architecture. This term the subject has been on sustainable development and its various forms in planning, construction, building use and design and it’s been a very interesting set of lectures. It’s also been given extra depth through the inclusion of guest lecturers, most of which have been published and their articles placed on the reading list. Over all it’s been great to have an area of study that’s focused on academic problems and the theory of a subject rather than the continual grind of deadlines and work over thought.

My problem comes when considering it’s placement in our time studying architecture. We have had assignments set around designing environmentally sound buildings since first year and we’ve been encouraged to sling PVs on roofs and bioswales around our buildings with only a vague theoretical knowledge of what we’re trying to accomplish. This lecture series has made it clear that not only is there environmental protection to ensure but also social equity and economic growth to encourage. To say “build a carbon-neutral sports centre” speaks only of a close-minded approach to how we should be tackling the problem of sustainability and I think it’s wrong to teach someone how a photovoltaic works before making the point that our development as a culture does not revolve solely around sustainable energies but rather around a holistic approach, creating societies that are responcible but also designed to prescibe better social practices. Enabling more prudent environmental behaviour in people is about more than ensuring that their bulbs are low-energy but rather about making more cycle sheds, creating a more diverse built environment and thinking of a city in terms of how sustainable the transport system, not what the most interesting buildings are.

I just feel that to learn about how something works from a technical level before understanding the whole picture is gung-ho and irresponsible as we, as architects, are extremely culpable for society’s behaviour. This is not just a science, it’s about understanding people and how our futures could evolve.

(below are some readings from the course which I found particularly interesting)

Sustainable Urban Forms – Jabareen 2006

Experts and their approaches – Brand 2007

Hasselt – a Case Study – Brand 2008


Good design Is innovative – The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself. // Makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it. // Is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. // Makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory. // Is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression. // Is honest – It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept. // Is long-lasting – It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society. // Is thorough down to the last detail – Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer. // Is environmentally friendly – Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product. // Is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

good designers should watch the 2009 documentary, Objectified.

Arrange and Conquer

Over the last couple of hours I’ve been looking at what I call “arrangement diagrams” but the wider architectural community most probably have a more educated and informed name for. But that’s what I’m using them for so why not create your own name, there’s no point wasting time trying to sound more educated than you are and no time for anything really as deadlines draw closer. I’m going to keep this one short and sweet and to the point.

These diagrams are used to split your building into its individual elements, most commonly to examine the structural elements but also to create a stylised plan view which easily allows the user to group and associate different areas of the building. One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is by the Bjarke Ingels Group (predictably) with their extraordinary breakdown of their “8-Building” but below are some other fantastic examples. It also allows you to visually demonstrate the themes in your building (above you can see I’ve tried to show the light difference in each of the rooms on the right and give some hint of the material quality in the left-hand example) or really show people exactly how clever the skin of your building really is (below). There you are, an effective and beautiful method for showing your work, which is all architectural presentation really aspires to be.

Mashed Up Cityscapes

Most people will be familiar with the term “mashup” in music over the last 10 years. The idea of combining two tracks to create an individual and (on the odd occasion) successful piece of new music. Though I am often reluctant to admit it I do listen to a of podcasts and one of my favourites in the “Stuff You Should Know” podcast in which they recently gave a succinct and very amusing history of music sampling. This reminded me of a recent mini-project I embarked on but never really concluded and so I thought it would be nice to talk about it here:

Music sampling is, of course, the process of “lifting” sections of an existing track like the drum beat or line of melody and including it in your own work. Its roots pre-date hip-hop going as far back as the 40s but as technology has evolved the medium has grown in popularity and so (as with so many things) has the amount of lawsuits associated with it. This has led to some incredibly petty seeming quarrels (such as Beastie Boys for their use of a three note melody in “Pass the Mic”) but also incredibly dickish sampling by people like Vanilla Ice who didn’t even acknowledge his use of Queen’s “Under Pressure” in his one hit of all one-hit-wonders.

However, once the smoke clears what you’ve got is a potentially amazing set of opportunities, mixing one great song with another can give amazing results like Danger Mouse’s Grey album which I just cannot get over. Also, you get a certain amount of spoof like this funny but also incredibly good version of B.I.G accompanied by Thomas the Tank Engine! (This song features some very salty language so I won’t link directly to it but it’s on Youtube from a guy called “WasakWarrior”).

In a recent project I was looking at displaying famous buildings in a massive, cluttered and strange landscape. Eiffell towers rubbing shoulders with Big Ben and so on. But then I started thinking that if we’re going this far why not go further? Why not enable people to make their own landscape out of their own buildings, so I began work on creating mashups of buildings to display in the gallery. The idea being that people would be able to select two of more buildings and then press a massive “generate” button which would construct the building and display it in the landscape. Here are the results:

and the incredibly crass:

So, as you can see, much like in music sampling, the combination of two or more fantastic things does not always equal a fantastic outcome…

Common Ground

I was talking to my friend and mentioned that I’d spent the day on the common and it turns out people from Leeds have no idea what a common is… I mentioned “Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we” and she explained that that line had a comma in it: “Wombles of Wimbledon, common are we”! Now I used to live pretty close to Wimbledon Common and those Wombles were anything but common, you barely ever see them these days. Since the latter part of my most recent project involves the transformation and creation of public space I thought a brief look at the theory of public distribution of space was worth more than just a rendition of a childhood tv program theme-song.

Just to put the record straight a common is a piece of common land, that normally belonged to a larger estate but through public use has been given right of way so that people can use it for whatever, there are no gates or fences around it (like parks) and there are no restrictions for when it can be used. It’s public space.

South London where I live is full of them and the Lidos that come with them and they’re great places on a sunny day like today. This got me thinking about the public/private ratio that goes on in cities and more specifically London. I saw this the other day which really prompted this post:

Krier tries to find a perfect balance achieved by some cities like Barcelona with its many squares built into dense mazes of streets. South London is, of course, a very different beast and especially in the low-lying sub-city that is South London, more sprawl than inner city but really too dense to be called Suburbia. Here’s a map showing the “common land” of my area:

Design Report Update

This is the difficult part about daily posts, when you’re working on a massive body of work that only really works in its entirity. It’s lovely when I can say “this is what I’ve done today” and even better when I can relate it to something I’ve read or seen, thereby bringing my work into the sphere of the real and relevant. However, this is not always the case. Over the next two weeks I’ll be working on a “design report” which is a complete guide to my progression through this project. This will include precedent studies, acedemic research, generation of form, identity of materials and building techniques, notes on construction and any other details or issues that came up during this term. While this is interesting, it’s a major grind at times so I see this blog, at the moment, as a chance to get away from it, to talk more generally about architecture and to get some distance from my own work. This is different from term-time when I produce smaller pieces, re-hashes and sketches on an almost daily basis.

For what it’s worth, I have a work-in-progress of my design report, it helps to produce a pdf of my work so that I can look at it more objectively, rather than in an indesign document with its janky guides and options flying round the side. Titles remain unfixed till right at the end but the general gist of the material is there. I’ll stop making excuses now… Camera Obscura Design Report IN PROGRESS.

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