Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Chair-ish Creativity

Year 6 (11-year olds) at Furzedown Primary School
design and model solutions for a chair, using structural kits, paper and card.

Creativity should be cherished in schools!  It is something which allows us to think around a problem and come up with ingenious, novel and innovative solutions.  It helps kids to think for themselves and means our minds never dwell with a dead-end problem.  Creative thinking is also a learnt skill which can be applied across any subject, but it does not appear to be a central part of the national curriculum. 

The UK is focused on STEM subjects; science, technology, engineering and maths.  These objective subjects teach us how things are supposed to be, rather than prompt us for possibilities of alternative or parallel solutions.

The counter argument for STEAM proposes to add Art based subjects to the curriculum.  Subjective and more questioning subjects are essential to develop thinking skills.  Art based subjects are also important to add depth and dimensions in support of the STEM subjects.

In addition to both, creative thinking techniques can be incorporated into the classroom to help students make the most out of learning.  Creative thinking helps the student take ownership of the subject, promotes engagement and can add fun.  For example, our architectural workshops for primary and secondary schools examine structures, materials, space, colour and light.  These bases are objective and a general brief is set, but the solutions are not prescribed.  The workshop dynamics are generally lively and a big part of their delight is witnessing the creativity of kids when they are allowed to let their minds run free. 

We are in a rapidly transforming world; job markets are changing, technologies are reshaping industries, working practices and life-styles, and globalisation is breaking down geographic barriers.  In such a dynamically changing world, creative thinking must surely be an essential component of our children's education.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Developments with Building Materials

GRP and Buildings, A J Leggatt, first published in 1984
GRP and buildings by A J Leggatt has proved a very useful reference for some recent projects. First published in 1984 it raises a number of points relating to the use of GRP in the building industry, which seem just as relevant today as they were 35 years ago. Not only is the book still relevant as a technical guide for composites, but it is also useful as a reference for managing innovations with materials in the building industry.  Key points are in blue with my comments below:

There are no bad materials, just bad designers
Using unfamiliar materials, such as GRP in 1984, to carry out important roles on buildings requires careful consideration and ‘whole process thinking’ to avoid unwanted consequences. It is important to understand how a material will perform in any given situation and not rely ‘design intent’ as a clause to avoid responsibility against failure. Any performance gaps should be identified and closed out by an appointed team member, preferably the lead designer and coordinator.  Involving innovations often requires additional design and technical experts. Leading the way with innovative design, fabrication and assembly generally comes with a cost premium.

Technology brings a short childhood and adolescence to [innovative] materials compared to traditional materials
The pace of technology accelerates and becomes ever more diverse. As innovations become available, their rate of evolution proceeds at a much faster rate than traditional materials.  This also requires design professionals to work at a fast pace to keep up. The building industry works with its established set professional structures, which support some innovations more easily others. Innovations in materials, mechanics, electronics, environmental services and BMS, AI, mobile communications, software applications and ‘the internet of things’ offers incredible opportunities for the development of the building industry, if we can harness them effectively.

Errors occur from not understanding the material’s performance and the building’s performance
As the technology of building materials and systems becomes ever more intricate and diverse, more specialists might be required to ensure successful progress in a project. The design team structure might grow with additional consultants including material engineers, cladding consultants etc., and with the architect taking a greater role in the coordination and integration of the entire team’s input. Working with innovation often means the architect needs to know not just all the elements to a project, but how they work and how they go together too, down to the nuts, bolts and fixings.

Fabrication is a skill, not a factory process
Architects and designers can easily work in isolation, without knowing the processes involved to realise a design from the drawing page into reality. It was a surprise, working with curved glass, GRP cladding panels and gasket seals, the extent of craftsmanship that was involved to realise a successful product.  Knowing how a material performs in fabrication, curing, release from the moulds, and in final machining, might easily be considered a black art by those that merely observe the process.  When robotics, computerisation, 3D printing and automation catching up it will only be to the loss of skilled knowledge.

GRP is a multi-aspect material
It is a composite material and because of this can perform many functions at once. It’s design and specification might require the consideration of structure, aesthetics, fire resistance, thermal insulation, thermal movement, thermal performance range, electrical conductivity, strength to weight ratio, weather resistance, chemical corrosion resistance, format (large or small scale), geometrical complexity, stiffness vs flexibility, ease of production or integration with other elements such as services or structure. These might require a range of trained minds and a delegated coordinator working around a single material.  This way of working is not always common practice in the building industry but definitely offers advantages if one product can perform the same task as several others and save time and processes on site during assembly. The GRP of the 1980’s os not the only composite or multi-functional material now available to the building industry. A new way of designing will de required to accommodate a new series of innovative materials.

GRP is after all a ‘composite material’ and therefore it’s application might require careful coordination with a team of specialists which is not usual practice in the building industry.  The usual project team structure of design consultants working largely isolated in their respective disciplines might well have contributed to some of the mistakes in early architecture projects involving GRP.  By comparison, GRP has been used successfully in other industrial sectors for several decades, noticeably transport industries, with streamlined and sufficient design and fabrication routes. A J Leggatt’s book is a prompt that the building industry and architectural profession might benefit from some more modernised procedures to successfully incorporate innovative building materials into projects. Becoming more efficient and contemporary in this way to keep pace with innovations in materials might also enable the building industry to integrate more directly with procurement structures of other industries such as the automotive, ship or train building sectors which could have very exciting prospects.

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Three Pavilions Challenge

Celebrating Architecture 2019 with Urban Learners have been holding Architecture workshops this summer for groups of creative school children at three London pavilions; at the Architecture Foundation, Serpentine Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  I was fortunate to attend the last two and assist some of the children with their design creations.

Workshop at the Serpentine Pavilion and RCA.
Workshops were held with a variety of age groups from key stage 1 to 4.

The workshops began investigating the pavilions.  The children experimented with drawing, measuring and photographing aspects of the pavilions to understand form, space, scale and proportion.  This knowledge was taken by the children into the studio after lunch, to design and create model pavilions of their own.

Workshop at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Colour Palace Pavilion.
The workshop kits and materials were developed to match the design and aesthetics of the actual pavilions.  

The days were fast-paced and fun.  The working dynamic of children with architects created an infectious buzz of excitement.  The work-flow focused the children towards the highlight of the afternoon's creative events; designing, building, documenting and presenting their own pavilion.  Everyone came away with a strong sense of accomplishment!

Thanks to Venetia and Neil for organising the events and giving so much creative enjoyment to the school children and grown-ups alike.  Keep an eye on out for their next series of events. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Project Management

To further DesignBox's credibility in project management, we are pleased to announce that we now have PRINCE2 Practitioner certification.

PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is a process based methodology for effective project management.  It is used widely in the profession of project management internationally and used exclusively by the UK government.  PRINCE2 protects the business justification of a project, builds a planning approach focused on achieving the project products, and divides the project in to manageable and controllable work stages.  The PRINCE2 methodology helps to provide greater control of project resources, focus on the business goals and manage project risk.  This helps project teams work efficiently and gives assurance to Clients.

For architecture and project management, PRINCE2 will prove invaluable to DesignBox for assisting the development of building projects, realising wider project and programme items, and tackling any innovation requirements.  We look forward to applying it to our next relevant projects.

Monday, 8 July 2019

The Human Bug Hotel

Furzedown Primary School's year 6 class (11 year olds) have been doing a series of Architecture workshops investigating
  • structure and materials,  
  • space, form and light, 
  • scale and proportion,
  • design narrative and story-line,
  • response to a chosen site and its environment.
The workshops were carried out with a sequence of lessons following the methodology documented in our 'Architecture for Kids' post, which include a progress of design sessions developed around structure, drawing, making and building.

Designing spaces: 
Models representing individual spaces developed from
the children's design narratives and story-lines.

With the brief of creating a space (pavilion, shelter or den) one design that stood out was for a kid-sized human bug hotel.  This clever design played with scale and proportion, shrinking children down to the scale of a bug to experience life in a bug hotel.  It also was a very simple solution to a design proposal requiring only a few components to make it work.

Drawing in 3D is a skill. 
Here axonometric paper was used to recreate the designs in drawn format,
to understand how this drawing technique works,
and to develop the designs with annotations and details.

The bug hotel chambers were cut from plastic water barrels from Smiths of Forest Dean with the acrylic domed lenses from Project Plastics.  The class assisted with fabrication, cutting the barrels with a jigsaw and drilling holes for the fixing points which were make with bolts, washers and wing nuts.

One very simple and playful design to create a kid-sized bug hotel;
creating an environment where children can imagine what life might be like for
insects living in an environment of vegetation and greenery. 

Building the human bug hotel.
Measuring, cutting, drilling, bolting and assembling.

The assembly was placed next to a willow frame which had lots of foliage to dress around the chambers which made it look in place.  To add to the fun, the willow frame had a space inside where the children used to play.  The resultant human bug hotel gave a project where kids could engage in an insect-world, observing more bug-like kids in the play space habitat beyond.

Experimenting with the spaces of the human bug hotel.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Space Filling Polyhedra

Purely out of curiosity, this is a summary of all the space filling polyhedra; forms that tesselate in 3D.  It should cover the basic variety of forms but there are several additional variations from these which can be achieved by bisecting, elongating, twisting or distorting the basic units.  Some but definitely not all are noted here. 

Space Filling Polyhedra

The cube is the only platonic solid to tessellate in 3D.  The triakis truncated tetrahedron is the closest form to the tetrahedron.  Shapes which tessellate in 2D work as space filling polyhedra when extruded into prisms.  Slicing, bisecting and skewing these prisms create further space filling forms such as scutoids.  There are also other variations of gyrobifastigium, hendecahedra and hexahedra which form their own families of polyhedra.  The square based pyramid is a very versatile form for mediating between the cube,  rhombic dodecahedron, dodecahemioctahedron, elongated square pyramid and other forms.   More complicated geometries such as the plesiohedron and stephenoid hendecahedra accumulate into dynamic collections of forms.  All of this is worth an investigation in relation to architecture for its innovative value to create economical and dynamic spacial arrangements of buildings.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Are Buildings Affected by Wind Chill?

The wind chill effect is the temperature that a person feels because of the wind.

Air temperature feels colder combined with exposure to wind. 

It's a combination of the external temperature and wind speed.

For example, a bottle of water placed outside at 4ºC, exposed to the wind
will cool to the ambient temperature quicker than the same bottle placed in a fridge at 4ºC
(even with the fridge door closed).  

The temperature of water in the bottle will not descend below 4ºC but the temperature will fall as it it were affected by a lower temperature.  This is why we are vulnerable to frost bite in low temperatures and high winds.  The heat can be stripped from our skin very rapidly.

The wind chill table demonstrates how quickly the energy can be stripped from
a heat-producing object

Because a building produces heat, it is also affected by the wind chill effect.

This is because heat is stripped away more quickly from an object subjected to wind.

They just can't tell us because, unlike people, they generally have no sensors to register the effect and they do not normally shiver.  It generally relates to the amount of additional heat a building has to produce to compensate for the wind chill effect.

Buildings in exposed locations (top row above) will feel wind chill more than
buildings in sheltered locations or less exposed surface area (bottom row).

Fortunately the wind chill effect is subject to conditions which can be influenced by building design.  This could save up to 20% of energy used for heating.

Adding an additional skin to the building can create a zone 20 to 200cm where air can be
tempered and controlled to reduce the wind chill effect.

Buildings with a single skin or narrow ventilation cavity are more affected by wind chill.  Adding additional layers, obstacles or landscaping can reduce the the affect.

Landscaping and trees can reduce the the exposure of a building to the wind (left)
Adding a secondary skin to the building can create a controlled environmental space reducing wind chill exposure (right)

Building in to the ground, under a green roof or next to water etc. (left)
Or building a mega roof such as Buckminster Fuller's project for Manhattan (right)

Using a green roof and green living wall reduces wind chill (left)
Using an external wall to shield the building also helps (right)

Some of the many ways building design can be articulated to minimise the affects of wind chill.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

How Simple Can Architecture Be?

During a design workshop with a school I was asked by a disgruntled sixth-form student

'Why do you architects make out that your work is so complicated?  All buildings have to do is look good, function and last!'

It's true!  Why do architects overthink certain areas of their work more than others, to the detriment of a 'whole-process' strategy of thinking?  Architects need to ensure that their projects:
  1. will look good
  2. function properly
  3. will last
This staring point is simple and makes a useful framework to work from.

How simple can Architecture be?
Developing this with an idea-gram, the simplicity quickly becomes populated with lots of more complicated procedures and areas of work, but bringing them in to the framework of these three points gives them relevance, importance and establishes context.

Some considerations added to this simple framework
This idea-gram was thrown together with ideas considered relevant to this context.  Every Architect will have a different response.  Several of the areas included here extend beyond the standard Architect's scope of work, suggesting greater integration with project management, construction management, logistics and service & maintenance areas for example.   To ensure these three headline criteria are successful,  perhaps architecture does require a greater degree of involvement with other parties engaged in the construction, operation, service and maintenance of a project?

Friday, 12 April 2019

Space Filling Spheres

A small study to see what happens when stacking spheres are converted in to space-filling polyhedra:

It is interesting to play with space-filling shapes in architectural design, just to see what can be created and examine their significance to architecture and design.  Tessellating polyhedra is a big subject.  Part of it are the forms which are created when stacking spheres are converted in to space filling polyhedra.  These are useful because they represent some of the most compact arrangements of forms.  Regularly stacked spheres occupy approximately 74% of space.

In architecture and design, it points to geometric shapes that offer a low surface area to volume ratio, with a potentially low energy loss through the envelope, or components which might prove easier to move and transport.

There are several ways to stack spheres in compact arrangements, but they seem to fall in to two basic arrangements.  Stacking spheres with a square base also creates an arrangement with a triangular base on the diagonal.  Working with a triangular base, the stacking arrangement offers the opportunity to rotate the second layer through 60º.  The spheres still stack but create different arrangements and different space filling polyhedra.

Matching the arrangement of the layers gives a trapezo-rhombic dodecahedron as a space-filling polyhedra.

Trapezo-rhombic dodecahedron

Rotating the arrangement of layers gives a rhombic dodecahedron as a space filling polyhedra.

Rhombic dodecahedron

The trapezo-rhombic dodecahedron and the rhombic dodecahedron are similar.  If a rhombic dodecahedron is sliced across the central horizontal axis and one half mirrored, it creates the trapezo-rhombic dodecahedron.

Trapezo-rhombic dodecahedron to rhombic dodecahedron
slicing through the horizontal plane, making a mirror image and reapplying

It also replicates the arrangement of atoms and crystal structures in nature.

Making the rotation about the horizontal centre of the arrangement creates a cuboctahedron.
Keeping the same arrangement throughout creates a variation on the cuboctahedron.
Because the layer arrangements can be changed, there is an infinate variety of ways space-filling spheres can be stacked.
Reference: The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Geometry, David Wells, 1991.
The cuboctahedron is one of the key geometries of Buckminster Fuller's Jitterbug. 

The economic stacking of these space filling polyhedra could inform the assembly of units in buildings.

Polyhedra and Architecture
Space-filling polyhedra have been investigated in architecture, art and science fiction as a conceptual link between nature, technology, society and culture.