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, 17 March 2014

UK Shelter Forum Pecha Kucha 2014

"Ready? Ok, GO!"

And off I went, trying not to stumble over my words for the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds while I spoke about my work in Haiti over the last 4 years. The crowd was a warm but intimidating mix of PHD candidates, masters students and shelter professionals. It was over before I knew it, it seemed to go well enough, people understood what I said and maybe even agreed with some of it. I managed to navigate the 20 slides without too many hiccups - aside from being handed a very squeaky microphone early on - and I even got a couple of laughs! It was about time for a beer.

A few moments earlier the organiser of the UK Shelter Forum Pecha Kucha had plucked my name at random from a hat. I was the first of 10 speakers presenting a wide range of research and findings. Subjects ranged from archaeology in the Antilles to retrofitting in Peru and the Philippines.

The shelter forum is an annual event which brings together various researchers, educational institutions, NGOs, professionals and government bodies who are involved shelter and settlement reconstruction after disasters. The Pecha Kucha, which is held the evening before the main event, is where researchers, recent graduates and people working in the field are selected to present. The list of presenters and their subjects were as follows:

- Avery Doninger, Oxford Brookes University - ‘Transition to What?’Evaluating the transitional shelter process in Leogane, Haiti

- Pedro Clarke, Oxford Brookes University - Learning from Disasters: Lisbon 1755

- Aditya Aachi, Architectural Association - Haiti - Simbi Hubs, IDP camps and Bamboo

- Vicente Sandoval, UCL - Questioning disaster risk and reconstruction: A multi-scalar inquiry

- Martin Dolan, Oxford Brookes University - How was the 'social urbanism' of Medellin made possible?

- Ryan Sommerville, University of Westminster - Preparing for post-disaster recovery: Open Data, Community and Built Environment Professionals

- Julia Hansen, UCL - Capabilities in post-disaster housing

- Josh Macabuag, UCL - Seismic Retrofitting in Rural Communities

- Kate Crawford, UCL and Alice Samson, Cambridge University - Dialogue between archaeology and humanitarian shelter: resilience in pre-Columbian house-building and repair

- Elizabeth Wagemann, Cambridge University - Implementing academic research: a pathway for impact

- Ana Gatoo, Cambridge University - The Philippines Sheltering Response: three months after typhoon Haiyan


Joseph Ashmore, who was the informal host for the night rounded up by saying that he was very impressed with both the content and visual standard of presentations and I have to say I agree. It was particularly good to see that presenters hadn't shied away from showing what they had found when probing deeper into certain situations. Martin Dolan's presentation showed some of the darker aspects of positive interventions which were a result of the regeneration of Medellin, Colombia - though all we see in the media are the success stories and glossy images.

Though these events are primarily a platform for students to discuss their research in public, they can be an important tool to hold a mirror up to the sector and open up the discussion on how to improve in the future.  After all these interventions can be a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the states in which they are implemented and hence there is a responsibility to make sure they are the best they can be.

The event overall was both mentally stimulating and enjoyable. I look forward to it becoming an annual booking in my diary. A big thanks to Victoria Maynard and Bernadette Devilat who organised the event.  Videos and posters from the evening will be posted here once they become available.


Friday, 7 March 2014

A day in Prague

Having never been in the Czech Republic, I just had to spend a day in Prague on my way to give two talks in Olomouc, a day of contrasting delights.  I had asked for some guidance from the director of the programme I was teaching on; so having arrived mid-morning, I left my luggage in the hotel and set off by tram for the House of the Black Madonna armed with Veronika Klusakova’s list of other recommendations. 

Although the Czech Cubist collection has been moved to the museum, the building (Josef Gočár 1911-12) is formidably Kubist and upstairs in 2005 they recreated the splendid Grand Café Orient. A beer and sandwich in this atmospheric interior was just what I needed but what was that smell – the cigarette smoke sort of belonged there, despite the EU!

Then off to the Zizkov TV tower (Václav Oulický 1985-1992); surely the Czech communists didn’t actually build a piece of Archigram?  It manages to be both modern high-tech and so old-fashioned at the same time. Not only is it still open but it has a posh restaurant and bar and a one-bedroom hotel, all with great views.  Being mid-afternoon on a weekday there were only a couple of visitors and I didn’t fancy a drink but I understand it is extremely popular.

The next day it was off to Olomouc on the Leo Express; with the help of Google translate I had been able to buy my ticket online in London for what was a breeze – 157 miles non-stop in 133 minutes, in clean comfort with refreshments and  an airline type screen telling us where we were, all for £6.00 – get that HSII!  The interesting thing is that the National Railways are challenged by Leo and one other private company using the same tracks!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Emerging Trends in School Design

Last week a bunch of Cullinans keen beans attended ‘Shaping the Future: Spaces for Education’ talk at the Geological Society  - part of this season’s ‘Emerging Trends’ series by the Royal Academy.  The speakers were Philip Marsh (drMM), John Whiles (Jestico Whiles), and Simon Allford (AHMM).

In the current era of parent-led grass roots initiatives a wide spectrum of school types is cropping up from Free Schools to Academies and beyond.  The time is ripe to ask: how can school design attitudes evolve to meet these new challenges?

Simon Allford conveyed energy in his interrogation of the problem at hand, calling for designers to reconsider the brief for schools.  He argued that architects should ignore overly specific briefs and instead conceive schools as part of the city fabric, rather than allowing the design to be driven by a programme that changes as often as educational policy.  Allford’s plea for ‘highly bespoke yet inherently adaptable design’ cited the Uffizi Galleries in Florence as an example of a building which goes beyond its brief to form lasting public space.

View of the river Arno framed by the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Piazzale degli Uffizi
Most of the evening covered well publicised past projects such as the Kingsdale Secondary School Sports Hall by drMM which, whilst admirable for its creative use of ETFE and glulam structure, can hardly be considered as an ‘emerging trend’ as it was completed ten years ago.

I left disappointed by the lack of emerging school design philosophies shown, but motivated to continue the debate on the subject (those of us who attended stayed behind for an animated discussion)!  Hopefully others had a similar reaction and will be inspired to join a more focused debate on design for the next generation of schools.  Overseas inspiration is easy to come by - for example, the climate-sensitive and cost-effective DPS Kindergarten School in Bangalore, conceived by architects Kholsa Associates as a prototype school for South India.

Terracotta jaalis and colourful corrugated sheets provide playful shading and a nod towards the vernacular architecture of the region, set within the rigorous framework of a modular concrete typology.  Natural ventilation, light and local materials harmonise in this project, which came top of the education category at the 2013 Inside Festival awards and is a delight to read about.  Could such an approach begin to answer the call for innovative ‘highly bespoke yet inherently adaptable design’ for schools and if so, what would the British equivalent be?

The central courtyard at the DPS Kindergarten

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What housing crisis?

On Monday the rising star Shadow Minister of Housing, Emma Reynolds, enthusiastically briefed a full-house at NHBC about emerging Labour Party plans to deal with the housing crisis.  She talked about ‘Build First’ to encourage SMEs to make up the numbers to 200,000 homes a year using smaller public sector sites which they paid for later, hence Build First.  Little definite beyond that as Sir Michael Lyons’ Housing Commission is not due to report till later in the year and the election isn’t till 2015. But she went some way to answer some of the questions raised by James Meek’s excellent review of the recent past ‘Where will we live?’published in the London Review of Books. 

For Reynolds the issues are numbers, affordability and quality, including size, none of which is helped by the Coalition’s ‘Help to Buy’ programme supporting re-mortgaging and houses up to £600k, unaffordable to most first time buyers.  Garden Cities are part of the programme as trailed by the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls at the NHBC Annual Lunch in November but the question is where?  She batted aside the idea that these would be warmed-up eco-towns but declined to name any locations; the difficulties to be overcome include the free market price of land and the difficulty many Local Authority planners now have finding the necessary resource for strategic planning.

I asked her about this since the Coalition has abolished Regional Planning, encouraged  nimbyism in the South-East through the National Planning Policy Framework and seen the Local Authority planning community decimated by financial cuts; I suggested that, as a result, planners were back to (battling the lawyers with) development control.  In reply to another question she talked about the ‘Right to Grow’ (beyond the Authority’s boundaries) for towns like Stevenage, Luton and Oxford and the ability to swap green belt land.  This is like the expansion of Cambridge redrawing the City boundaries, following extensive community engagement.

She was warmly received, answering most questions confidently but I felt that her reliance on homes ‘being more attractive’ as a means of winning over the nimbies was a tad optimistic!

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