Saturday, 27 April 2013


Chartered Architects are required by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to engage in additional studies each year to further their professional credibility.  This 'continued professional development' (CPD) can include:
  • Set events organised by the RIBA, 
  • Lunch-time lectures from suppliers to the building industry, 
  • Reading the architectural press, 
  • Specialist training undertaken as part of a project or job requirement, and 
  • Any other source thought to be relevant.  
It's this opportunity to look at different sources which I find the most appealing because it gives an opportunity to search 'outside the box' for fresh ideas.  Here are some of my favourite sources available online:

UCL Lunch Hour Lectures
A real find!  Lectures not only include architecture, but nano-technology, medicine, material science, engineering etc.  My favourites (so far) include:

  • Prof. Peter Cook's presentation on how to win a competition, and a reminder of why we are architects.  
  • Prof. Adrian Forty's presentation on the metaphysics of concrete.  This accompanies his latest book, and the construct of his arguments lays open possibilities for how we interpret and value all the materials in the built environment.   
  • Dr. Jan Birksted's presentation on unraveling Le Corbusier's secrets to success.  It is very revealing but I'm sure the process is not isolated.  
Advertised as 'ideas worth spreading' it has a huge range of talks on a huge range of subjects.  There's even an app for the iphone where you can type in your subject area and find lots of exciting stuff, from smart materials to the material possibilities of silk in the built environment, to tinkering.

Fair Companies
This site specialises in 'tinkering' projects.  Its important to consider how hands-on inquisitive minds can change the way we live with design.  The jet engine, for example, was once a tinkering project.

Blog Sites
There are an increasing number of architecture blog sites.  Out of all of them my favourite is 99% Invisible.  I recommend finding episode 1 and starting from there.  They are very engaging and thought provoking, assisted by Roman Mars' microphone technique (which is part of the 'invisible' design of his broadcasts).  At the very least, check out episode 9, Doomed and episode 7, Alien, about how the rules of human behaviour and social conduct are all thrown in to question, when considering a manned mission to Mars.

Royal Institution
For science and its application to technology and engineering, check out the Royal Institution's (RI) web channel.  Its a great place to get lost in for a while, with entertaining animations explaining quantum physics, or watching the Christmas Lectures.  One way or another, the future is explained in these presentations, and it's up to us to interpret them in relation to the built environment.

Cabin Porn
No-one's going to suggest that architects can increase their learning with porn, but these guys have got a sense of humour.  When considering the design of anything from a house, to a retreat in the country, to a shed, this is a great resource to look at spaces, materials and connections with the surrounding landscape.

These sources of information, and inspiration outside the main stream channels are, for me, where the real fun is.  With that in mind, please feel free to add comments with your favourite sources of architectural inspiration.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

ArtBox Design

The new art room at Furzedown Primary School in Wandsworth is not excessively big or grand and budgets were tight, but still it was important to design a set of spaces that would create something special for teachers and children.   Here are some of the key design moves taken with the intention of providing the most enjoyable place possible for learning and teaching art.

The lighting design was critical to the success of the project:  
  • As much indirect natural (North) light as possible was required
  • Artificial 'task' lighting had to give an even and uniform distribution of light
  • A flexible lighting system was required to model the light around art subjects, and work displayed on walls required additional lighting
  • Control of the lighting system was important 
With the art room elevated over the existing school, it was an ideal opportunity to bring in as much North light as possible.  The roof lantern enables this and for much of the day the art room can operate without the assistance of any artificial lighting.  The rake of the ceiling under the roof lantern helps to distribute the light about the space.

The task lighting was developed with a lighting company.  All the fittings are recessed to keep the ceiling levels uncluttered and help keep the focus of the room at the level of the work bench.  A ring of spot lights around the art room work to illuminate work pinned up on the walls or subjects of artistic study.  hey can also be recessed in to the ceiling to assist the general task lighting. They operate on two circuits to allow additional flexibility of use.  All lights specified were low energy or LED to save running costs. 

Part of the lighting analysis prepared by FagerHult

Control over the lighting was required, not least to enable the projector and white board to be visible.  This was achieved with black out blinds to the north lights and solar shading blinds to the windows, and of course, controls to the artificial lighting.

Lighting control in the art room

It was very important to ensure that direct sunlight was eliminated from the design of the art room.  Patches of bright light disrupt the lighting environment, bring glare and are difficult to control.  Direct sunlight also introduces heat in to a space.  Therefore the art room was positioned to the west of its site, with corner windows looking in to the school's courtyard, (These only receive the evening sun, after school hours). The angles of the roof-scape and north lights were set out to block direct sun light.  

Working environment
In addition to the lighting strategy, other design considerations were made to help make the art room an enjoyable space to work in, within the tight budget.  

The additional volume of the north lights help make the art room feel like a very generous space.  The rake of the ceiling also assists with the acoustic performance of the room by working to disperse the busy chatter of the class.  

An under-floor heating system was installed to eliminate the need for radiators, and allow all the wall space to be used for displaying art work.  Services along the walls are contained within a three-compartment trunking, just above skirting level.  Here power socket numbers and IT routes can be set and adjusted without the need for further conduits or services on the walls.

Art room on completion

By designing to eliminate direct sun light, and creating the building enclosure with a highly insulated and airtight SIP system, the art room does not so susceptible to sudden variations in temperature.  It can maintain  steady, comfortable temperatures and a stable environment.  The high level north lights are also the quickest and most effective way to remove heat from the art room, (with 30 enthusiastic children being one of the the quickest way to generate heat).

Year 5 art lesson

The colour of the walls and ceilings was specified as Dulux's Timeless.  This was to match the off-white from the Spring Palate from the Colour Affects colour psychology system.  The Spring palate is designed to help lift enthusiasm and levels of concentration. 

Dulux Timeless

School design and beyond
I hope this is a helpful description in to our approach to design.  Our aim is to provide the most enjoyable and functional environments possible.  In response to recent proposals from the Government on the standardisation of school and class room design, this should help to illustrate how a project by project approach is much more valuable than pre-determined solutions for providing the best solutions for educating our children.  In situations like this, the old-fashioned starting points of assessing, site, function, spacial and environmental requirements and needs of the end-users are no substitute for set plans.  Evaluating the relationships between these key parameters will return different solutions for every school in the country, as all these conditions and needs are different - and rightly so.  Although we are great fans of technology and progress at DgnBx, it has to be used in design to fit our needs, not the other way round. 

Smiling faces!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Composite future

An article in the RIBA Journal this month stressed the importance of the close working relationship between architect and structural engineer.  It stated that many great architects have gained success from teaming up and working closely with great engineers.  This is true, but the article mentioned innovations such as lime mortar to eliminate movement joints in brick panels, which is hardly twenty-first century cutting edge stuff.  We as an industry can do better than that.

It is commonly believed that technology advances quicker outside the building industry and this is a product of the the maturity of our industry and the professional structures within it.  (How we are stuck in our ways).  It is useful to take a look at innovation in other industrial sectors to and see what we might learn from them.

Composite future
To illustrate how the fusion of designer and structural engineer might work, a great example is to look at composite structures:  One product to incorporate all the requirements of both parties, as if architects and structural engineers are working in a symbiotic relationship.  (Can you imagine that?!).  The Lamborghini Aventador is a good example to spark the imagination, with its carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) monocoque structure and body panels.

The Lamborghini Aventador

More within the realistic grasp of us architects there is the carbon monocoque cycle frame.  Design aesthetics and structural integrity in one.  I bet many architects ride one to work every day, before specifying mortar colours.

Kuota carbon monocoque frame

This technology is not standing still (excuse the pun).  Companies like BAE Systems by necessity invest heavily on innovation.  One development to watch is the use of the carbon within carbon-fibre structures as a fuel cell material.  If this were to catch on in the building industry we would have architects, structural and service engineers all investing their input in to a single integrated item.  Could this ever happen?  But it might have enormous potential for the our industry by buildings making lighter, better performing, with fewer component parts and less messy to assemble.

The Lola-Drayson electric racing car experiments with cells integrated within the carbon
monocoque structure to power the car's controls

 This technology and design approach is not outside the reach of the building industry.  These are specialist consultants out there ready to be involved in forward thinking building projects.  Optima Projects, run by David Kendall specialises in the mechanical and structural design of FRP products for the building industry.  By the nature of his work, not only does he connect very closely with the design team, but he also works very closely with specialist FRP manufacturers.  It is a model of working which might prove useful to furthering innovation within the building industry.  Currently Optima has many projects abroad (even though the engineering knowledge is here), but as Britain catches on, I hope more composite structures will develop within the UK.

FRP foot bridge currently in design with Optima Projects

Optima Projects were also involved with
Zaha Hadid's Chanel Pavilion

There are structural engineers branching in to composites, and typically the path is being led outside the UK. Jan Knippers (academic and practicing structural engineer) at Knippers Helbig in Stuttgart is taking this lead. His talk at the New York Digital Crafting Symposium is well worth watching for an insight in to how that jump is made and what it means to the professional structure of the building industry, not just for engineers.  An example project is the 'One Ocean' pavilion at the South Korean Expo 2012 in Yeosu.  External FRP blades move and twist to modulate the environment within the pavilion, in a way to simulate nature.  (His work draws a lot biomimicry).

'One Ocean' pavilion

FRP flexible blades 

There are many specialist FRP manufacturers around.  Those involved in the transport sectors (trains, boats etc) are normally of the right size and willing to turn their attentions to building systems.  David Kendall knows many, but some examples are Brecknell Willis Composites, Advanced Composite Structures and Prodiction Glassfibre (manufacturing building products) in the UK, as well as MMS Technologies in South Africa, who manufactured the FRP cladding for the Halley VI Antarctic Research Station.  MMS also have the capability to do engineering, analysis and some testing in-house.

Halley VI cladding consists of a single air-tight and insulated layer,
encapsulated in FRP skins

It is important to look outside the confines of the building industry and see what is happening in other industrial sectors.  There is a lot of exciting stuff developing of which this is only an example, and when you start looking the possibilities start unfolding.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Materials to save the environment

Its worth taking a look at Kasper Guldager's talk at TEDx in September last year.  (I noted earlier he is the Director at GXN, the innovation arm of 3XN).   He made a very promising remark that one day buildings might act as a solution rather than the cause of pollution.  Imagine if buildings could play a positive role in environmental systems such as the carbon cycle and water cycle.

We are all familiar with eco-friendly options for green roofs and walls.  The advantages of a green roof are that it adds thermal mass to the building envelope, assists with managing the dispersal of rain water and allows a degree of photosynthesis from the plant life.  Planting options are increasing all the time to maximise biodiversity. Unfortunately it's not appropriate for every project.

Green roof system

More recently the technology for hydroponic walls have been developed and quite a few companies produce them now.  There was a bit of a jungle corner at Ecobuild this year.

Patrick Blanc vertical garden

But GXN are playing with a number of cleaver new materials and building systems which can advance the construction industry still further as an environmentally sensitive concern:

Phase change materials (PCMs):
PCMs have been around for a while and phase change plasterboard has had publicity in the UK.  Now there are a number of alternatives to consider.  The advantages of PCMs are that they trap heat as the environment  within a building warms up, and release it as the building cools down.  This assists to stabilise the building's environment within comfort zones, reduce the amount of heat lost to the outside through the building envelope, and reduce energy loads on air conditioning systems.  Currently most of the products are paraffin based as this material can change state from liquid to solid at around 18 deg C.  To illustrate the potential significance of these products, the amount of energy required to transform a beaker of water to ice at 0 deg C is the same as the energy required to heat the water from 0 to 80 deg C.

Micronal Smart Board is probably the best known and comes in plasterboard sheets.

BASF Micronal Smart Board

DuPont produces Energain, heat responsive thermal mass panels.

DuPont Energain

Rubitherm is another parafin based PCM.

Rubitherm material

Lehmorange are clay panels with paraffin based PCM additives.  The clay also helps to regulate moisture levels.


Air purifying materials
These materials include chemicals such as titanium dioxide which works with UV radiation to produce an air-purifying affect called photocatalysis.  This breaks down dirt and organic nasties and traps some pollutants such as nitric oxide, which are then washed away with rain.  Pilkington have been marketing Activ glass for some time which has a titanium dioxide film to the outer face, but now there are more products to consider:

Hydrotect is a tile product.  The manufacturers claim 100m2 cleans the air as effectively as 7 (medium sized) deciduous trees.

The hydrotect affect...

Tensotherm is a PTFE tensile membrane with a titanium dioxide coating.  The PTFE envelopes can be filled with Nanogel for a highly insulating product.

Shopping under Tensotherm

ClimaLife are a concrete roof tile coated with titanium dioxide to stay clean and free from mould etc..

ClimaLife roof tiles - available in several colours...

Noxite comes as a roofing felt or single tile coated with titanium dioxide to remain clean throughout its design life.

Noxite roofing shingles

Algae facade systems
Arup Materials Consulting team have been working on an exciting facade system which contains an algae solution in the cavities of glazing units.  The algae's growth during the day can be calibrated to work with the shading requirements of the building.  Heat generated can be captured and used within the building and the biomass from the algae can be harvested and used for heat and power:  A living, breathing high-tec facade system.

Algae facade system
These examples currently have a limited impact, but as the technology develops and their use and popularity increases, we could see a trend for new materials and building systems capable of reducing energy loads and making significant contributions to the balance of the environment.