Friday, 4 July 2014

Soft landings are more radical than I thought



We all know that new buildings don’t work as we expect them to and good money is being spent investigating ‘the performance gap’; but we do have a solution.


Yesterday I went to a monthly CBx breakfast seminar at the UCL Energy Institute for what I thought would be a timely catch-up but which turned out to be a brilliant wake-up call.  ‘Mr Soft Landings’ Rod Bunn of BSRIA rattled through the story with some key do’s and don’t’s in how to define and then deliver the client’s desired outcomes.  However like other innovative tools such as the Design Quality Indicator, unless we are vigilant our industry will spare no effort in turning Soft Landings into a tick-box exercise, thereby destroying its value.  


‘Soft Landings is the graduated handover of a new or refurbished building, where a period of professional aftercare by the project team is a client requirement – planned for and carried out from inception onwards – and lasting for up to three years post-completion.’


In discussion we agreed that although it does cost the client money to procure this additional service, it is much cheaper than the cost of operating an underperforming building for a hundred + years.  


Tamsin Tweddell (Max Fordham and Partners) and Alasdair Donn (Wilmott Dixon Construction) described the Soft Landing approach for Keynsham Town Hall, where the public sector client decided they wanted an office with an ‘A’-rated DEC (note: not an ‘A’-rated EPC). This  includes operational energy and forced the design team, the construction team and the client to work out where the energy risks lay at each stage of the process and who would manage them.


Rod had explained that it is difficult but just about possible to use soft landings in a D&B contract because soft landings demands effective collaboration.  I don’t quite know who is responsible for the industry getting itself into the current impossible situation where lawyers and project managers fruitlessly endeavour to satisfy clients’ risk aversion with customised contracts.  Having been the client for our own office with top engineers and an excellent contractor, the dysfunction of the controls defies belief.


And if you think Soft Landings will just go away, then the variant Government Soft Landings will be mandatory for public buildings from 2016 and it is said that a number of local authorities are insisting on it now.


Having been involved in the creation of soft landings through our Cambridge Maths building, I cannot wait for us to do a full soft landings project, starting on day one with client commitment and expectation and all round collaboration – what a delight that would be!   So we had better start by joining the Softlandings User Group.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The story of Ready Mix Concrete HQ drawn by Ted Cullinan

Ted Cullinan's drawing  from the C20 Society event describing the RMC HQ

On 2nd June 2014 the Twentieth Century Society organised an event in support of the application for Ready Mix Concrete (RMC) HQ to be listed.

RMC (now Cemex house), completed by Cullinans in 1990, is threatened with demolition having been declared surplus to requirements. The Twentieth Century Society, along with a number of highly regarded architects, engineers and designers, is backing our application to list the building in order to save it.

Film of Ted Cullinan drawing the story of RMC HQ  
The event was introduced by C20 Society Director, Catherine Croft, after which Ted Cullinan drew the story of the design of the building. He presented the story in three chapters:        

  • Working with our inheritance
  • Working with the climate
  • Work, rest and play   
First he described the existing building; listed 17th century Eastley End House, a stable block known as Meadlake House, a late 19th century Surrey style Arts and Crafts house known as The Grange, a lake, protected trees and a number of listed walls. Ted showed how he created a courtyard of roof gardens over offices to satisfy the planners’ interest in the view from St Ann’s Hill beyond the lake and M25.

The second chapter explained how a metre of soil was put on top of the offices with a trough around the edge with a hedge for sun-shading. The underfloor plenum allowed cooled air to be circulated for night purging of the exposed RMC concrete slab. Ted described how the roof vents for the labs and the kitchens were designed as chess pieces.

Ventilation disguised as chess pieces

In the final chapter Ted explained how the buildings supported recreation as well as workspace - the gardens can be walked across and enjoyed.

The RMC's roof garden was the largest in Europe at the time of completion
             
Catherine then opened up the discussion to the audience, which included many members of the original design team, on why the building should be saved.

Former member of Cullinans, job architect Richard Gooden of 4orm, said that RMC was important for its innovative use of thermal mass and the novel linking of landscape, place and building. It feels that it has always been there.

Miriam Fitzpatrick of Dublin University, who did her Part 3 on RMC explained how the marriage of the landscape and the making of place didn’t seem to be high on the agenda in the 1980s, but everyboby loves a garden.

Greg Penoyre of Penoyre & Prasad suggested RMC’s range of work environments was cleverer than Google’s LA office he had recenly visited because it creates a unique range of places for reflection. As a workplace RMC is special and hard to repeat.

The RMC environmental engineer, Max Fordham, explained the building, being in the greenbelt, had had to meet strict conditions to get planning and those conditions should still apply - making it difficult for anyone else to replace what is there. He explained an advantage of the single-storey office building is its ability to create a natural rooflight down the middle, saving on energy in lighting. RMC has all the attributes of a smart office building but was one of the first not to need air-conditioning. The swimming pool was separated by an air curtain and a heat pump - now very fashionable but at the time, novel.

Ted's drawing from the C20 Society event describing the sustainable environmental elements of the building

Chris Twinn, of Twinn Sustainability Innovation, recalled how he had been working at Arup for five years at the time RMC was completed. He was not involved in the project but saw it as an eye-opener: suddenly you didn’t need air-conditioning. He has was able to draw from those ideas in subsequent projects - Hopkins’ Nottingham Inland Revenue which was to be entirely passively cooled, Portcullis House and BedZED.

Ian Craig, engineer on RMC, thought of RMC as 100 projects in one, describing every detail as great fun and totally original.

Former RIBA President, Sunand Prasad of Penoyre & Prasad, was struck at how the engineers in the room had spoken up. If there is a third industrial revolution based on natural systems, the RMC is an early essay in how we can solve the problems of the future. It has inspired.

The discussion progressed to other possible uses for the building, which included a boutique hotel and an academic workplace, but it is widely seen as a great place to go on working in.

The RMC offices create a formal court for Eastley End House


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Fitzwilliam College, Central Building Phase 1 Opening Ceremony


On Monday 13th May I attended the official opening of Phases 1 and 1A of the refurbishment to the central building at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

The team

This forms the first part of a five year staged renovation project to upgrade the function and fabric of the building, designed by Denys Lasdun in 1959, to provide more opportunities for student use, conferences and events. This went hand in hand with upgrading the services and environmental performance to reduce energy consumption and improve the internal conditions. We completed the feasibility study to suggest the packages of work in early 2013.

Enjoying a drink with the Bursar, Andrew Powell and engineers Adrian Mudge and Phil Hutchins

Phase 1 began on site in July 2013 and Phase 1A In the New Year 2014.


Phase 1 involved the building of a new extension to the north corner of the central building. This provides two new offices to the ground floor and a new servery to the first, linked by a new stair and service lift from the kitchen. This opens up the opportunity, (to be completed as part of a later phase), for a new circulation route around the Hall at first floor. This will unlock many of the major rooms on this level, some of which currently can only be accessed by passing through an adjacent room.




Phase 1A renovated the Old Library adjacent to the servery. This room had become available following the construction of the new Olisa Library in the College grounds, completed by Cullinan Studio in 2009.


The brief was to provide a sub-dividable suite of rooms that could be used for dining conferences, lectures, large meetings and events such as Wedding receptions for up to 160 people.


Because the room is over 30m long we sought to break its scale down by removing the relatively low original tile grid ceiling. We then created curved coffers aligned to the eight large windows, with lower sections of ceiling where down stand beams dictated the level. The lower sections house radiant ceiling panels, acoustic render and spot and track lighting to illuminate the College’s collection of paintings, mounted on the walls to great effect. The curved coffers are fitted with adjustable mood lighting for evening events.

We also upgraded the roof with insulation where there had been none and replaced the roof lights with new opening types. The existing sash windows were renovated to incorporate double glazing and air seals, which in combination with the roof lights provide a naturally ventilated approach to cooling the space.


The Master of the College, Nicola Padfield ceremonially “gunned in” the commemorative slate plaque to a rousing round of applause from the team; Fitzwilliam College, (Client), Cullinan Studio (Architect), SEH French (Main Contractor), Roger Parker Associates (M&E engineer) and Peter Dann ltd (Structural Engineer).

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Clever Energy: People Power

In May we hosted a talk - 'Clever Energy: People Power' - as part of Open-City's Green Sky Thinking Week 2014 - and filmed it too...



Speakers: Mark Hewitt of ICAX on inter-seasonal heat transfer, Rokiah Yaman of LEAP on developing micro-anaerobic digestion in central London, and Agamemnon Otero of Repowering London on creating community-owned local energy.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Edge Commission begins to get some definition

The Panel

The Commission



Last evening the Edge  held the third session of the Commission of Inquiry into Future Professionalism focussing on ‘Society’ with the President of the Landscape Institute, the Immediate Past Presidents of ICE and RTPI and Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA and formerly Head of Tony Blair’s Policy Unit at No 10.    The Commission is sponsored by the Ove Arup Trust and is chaired by Paul Morrell, the first UK Government Chief Construction Adviser (2009-12); he is supported by


•    Isabel MacAllister, Director of Sustainability at Mace,
•    Barrister Jenny Baster, Arup,
•    Architect Karen Rogers, currently acting as a major client
•    QS Tony Burton, incoming Chairman of CIC and
•    Prof Alan Penn, Bartlett Dean (unable to attend this session)

We will need to wait for Denise Chevin’s write-up to be posted alongside the first two on the Edge website and for the final deliberations of the Commission, hopefully before the summer.   The over-riding concern of the Edge is how to promote inter-disciplinary behaviour and collaboration between the institutions.  They of course all have histories, some long and distinguished, and they have members who often disagree, making the development of policies difficult and shared policies more difficult.

This was brought to a head in a remarkably joined up and rapid response to the flooding in the Somerset Levels earlier this year.  Sue Illman led the response from the Landscape Institute with an open letter to David Cameron with support from 16 Institutions but sadly not including the RIBA or RTPI!  Her letter hit the magic spot of the first story on the Today programme and thus achieved wide coverage.  Matthew Taylor pointed out collaborative action is essential but speed is not always a virtue as Chris Smith demonstrated by choosing the precise moment as Chair of the Environment Agency to intervene and shut up the red-meat politicians calling for the abolition of his Agency.

Matthew described a three tier theoretical framework within which our Institutions operate:
•    Leadership/followship that can control or can convene opinions
•    Solidarity through membership that can be exclusive or inclusive
•    Individualism/enterprise that could promote creativity or commercialism

And much else besides – read Denise to find out more  including what to do about the surplus of architects and the shortage of engineers; my long-standing position has been to reduce the architecture training to four years (+ practice) the first of which is a cross-disciplinary Foundation Year, so that more of us end up in the right place.  Interestingly this hovered within the Farrell Review if not in the final Report.  The Chairman had the best quote of the evening “architects are the nurses of the construction industry; it doesn’t matter how badly you treat them, there will always be more waiting to become one!"

Monday, 14 April 2014

'Retrofit for purpose' by Penoyre and Prasad



Judging by there being over 10m hits on Google, ‘Retrofit for Purpose’ is a title that resonates. Penoyre and Prasad’s book of that title, subtitled ‘Low energy Renewal of Non-Domestic Buildings’ and launched by RIBA Publishing at Ecobuild, is essential reading especially for those teaching architecture as solely the art of building new buildings.
The reality is that we need to make much better use of the buildings we have already got rather than pulling them down before they have even been paid for; and of course expecting new buildings to last for at least 200 years.  This book tells you how, with 11 case studies preceded by 6 classic essays including ones by Sunand Prasad and three heroes of Building Performance Evaluation - Bill Bordass, Roderic Bunn and Rajat Gupta with Matt Gregg.  I was less familiar with the experience in Germany and USA presented by Mark Siddall and it was interesting to learn that in the Sates it was private sector commercial that pulled the transformation not legislation. But the show-stopper for me was Richard Francis’ economic and management arguments in ‘Spend to make: financing commercial retrofits.’  Francis of The Monomoy Company spells it out so clearly and suggests ‘there are signs that a fundamental shift is under way’ and not before time.
Assembling the data for the case studies must have been a battle of wills, a battle well worth fighting as we have good comparable energy and carbon data, plans and sections and before and after photographs.  There are 5 offices, 2 university buildings, 1 visitor centre, 1 leisure centre, 1 school and Penoyre and Prasad’s own heroic transformation of the Guy’s Hospital tower.  I should probably declare an interest as one of the offices is our own transformation of a Victorian Foundry into a really comfortable BREEAM Excellent office, showing off our own work.  
Looking south towards the canal before and after retrofitting


Siddall suggests that to comply with the ‘EU Energy Efficient Directive, a 33-year programme will be required necessitating the refurbishment of 492,350m² of the total estate per year.  At say between £500 and £1,000 per m², the annual expenditure would be some £250m to £500m per annum; and that is just for the public estate leaving aside over 3m privately owned non-domestic buildings’.  And that will require top architects, engineers and construction managers with new skills, working collaboratively.  LETS GO!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Eastfields Regeneration

We have been appointed with Levitt Bernstein and Proctor Matthews to explore options for the regeneration of Eastfields estate in the London Borough of Merton.

Circle Housing Merton Priory selected teams of architects to support the proposed regeneration of three areas in the Borough. They have been consulting residents since last summer about the possible demolition and redevelopment of over 1,200 homes. Proposals for this major regeneration scheme include the provision of new homes, public open space and community facilities.

Our team, led by Levitt Bernstein Associates, will work with local residents throughout the year to create masterplans for a new neighbourhood for Eastfields in Mitcham.

Barry McCullough at Levitt Bernstein said: "Despite being close to the Academy and some well-loved leisure facilities, the Eastfields neighbourhood doesn't feel linked to its surroundings. We want to work with residents and the Circle Housing Merton Priory team to connect it with the local area by creating an attractive layout including safe streets and open spaces that are used by all at all hours of the day."

The design work begins in May and will include a series of exhibitions, workshops, site visits and public events through the year.

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