Saturday, 31 May 2014

Trees in the air 3: you can see the forest!

Bosco Verticale Milan
I reported a year ago on early news of the Bosco Verticale project in Milan, by Italian architect Stefano Boeri.  At the time, it was tempting to be dismissive of what appeared to be just another architectural rendering with gratuitous vegetation, and my blog post put more emphasis on Tim De Chant's cririque, unfavourably comparing the idea to the preservation of 'real' forest.

It’s hard to be cynical now that the project is nearing completion, and the vertical forest already has a compelling presence in its neighbourhood.  As seen in Dezeen's extensive coverage, the aerial forest looks lush and healthy.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Scandinavian modern and slow architecture

I have said before that sometimes it feels like the comments are much better than the original post. It’s happened again. This time, my original Slow Architecture post inspired Tim Elliott to a response which deserves to stand in its own right. Tim writes:

Brian Lockyear has drawn a relationship between built form and light that the Scandinavian architects have always tried to capture. He talks about the movement and magic of sunlight in architecture, and I feel his suggestion of a “slow” design approach synergising computational simulation and traditional technique parallels the move from Scandinavian tradition to Nordic modernism.

This is the introduction to one of my favourite books, Nordic Light by Henry Plummer:
“Extreme variations of climate and sun have produced unique conditions of light throughout Scandinavia. The seasons present astonishing swings of illumination. The long, cold winter is dark and gloomy, with the sun barely appearing at all, and when it does, rising and setting for the briefest of times. Night-time permeates into the day to cloak the land in perpetual shade. And during the ecstatic yet fleeting summer nights are pervaded by midnight sun, producing almost too much light and concentrating the annual light-fall in several months.”

I argue that far northern people faced with such a variable and unforgiving climate, once introduced to the opportunities of modern construction and technology, intuitively established their built environment on passive solar design - they weren’t taught or told, but organically evolved through necessity and surpassed the stylistic/aesthetic aims of the International Style. I think that there are aspects of Lockyear’s passive-aggressive solar design in traditional Scandinavian architecture, and that these aspects became foundational in Nordic modernism facilitated by technological advances in construction.

 Traditional Scandinavian construction methods allowed only small apertures as any hole in a load bearing wall weakened the entire structure. This meant that the placement of a window had to be carefully considered to bring the maximal amount of daylight and heat into the most useful location. Early Nordic architecture relied on skylights to achieve daylighting and structural stability like this farmhouse preserved in Copenhagen, while later vernacular half-timber construction allowed longer openings to run along the south wall to a garden of deciduous trees for midnight sun shading, and winter solar access. Lockyear’s magic element can be seen in these romantic designs – the skylight providing a cool light to contrast with the warmth of the interior, while the southern view into the garden tames the Scandinavian wilds into shadows.

With the advent of modernism, Nordic architects could harness the new technology and construction to capitalise on the thermal and lighting properties of the sun. Many of these architects had trained in the era of Nordic romanticism, and the cultural and climactic affiliation with nature shaped a design sensibility disconnected from the clean line aesthetic of Continental modernism.

Perhaps the most renowned and magical of spaces is that of the living area of Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea , which draws in the forest light through frameworks of wood, filtering, dispersing and directing the light through the space. The grand openings on the ground floor capture the most light possible during the day, but use a cover of deciduous ivy to shade during the nightless summers. The vertical elements emphasise the diurnal and seasonal movement of light and realises in shadow the continuity of time. Aalto did what Lockyear impels us to do – to use the technology of the day, with the traditional sensibilities of architects. The internal forest, and deciduous garden are not new ideas, but they are reimagined and developed in the Villa Mairea.
The new frontier is computation and parametric design. If we can harness this technology, and like the Nordic modernists, look to tradition and vernacular architecture compelled by climate to incorporated “passive-aggressive” solar design, we can create spaces that are not only comfortable, but magical.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Cave Calatrava

Santiago Calatrava wins legal battle against "insulting and degrading" website
trumpets The Guardian newspaper, parroted by the archipop sites like Dezeen.

I've been keeping a draft post on architects and court cases for a while, but it probably won't see the light of day.  Not because I am scared of being sued.  Rather, I keep putting off publishing because it genuinely is difficult to research the status and the outcomes of litigation so that one fairly reports who is at fault for what.

There is no such difficulty here.  Santiago Calatrava sued the left wing opposition party sponsored website, which has carried on a relentless, barefisted campaign against the wastefullness of the Valencia city government - as exemplified by the extremely expensive Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias de Valencia (City of Arts and Sciences) complex.  The web site claimed Calatrava had billed the local government €100 million in fees alone, adding that he was "bleeding Valencia dry".  

Calatrava won. 

Sexy services

No, not an ad for a virtual massage parlour.  Just a pointer to the latest pleasurable read by Dan Hill, former futurist at Arup, peripatetic leadership person at SITRA Finland, Fabrica Italy and now Future Cities Catapult in Britain.  The only place the guy stays still is on the City of Sound, and that blog only exists as electrons milling around the world at the speed of light.

So it shouldn't be surprising that this time, his opinion piece on Dezeen, about architecture, is actually about the tangled web of building services - or about the well tempered environment that they could produce, if only we would untangle our preconceived ideas about an architecture that does stand still.

Monday, 19 May 2014

HA HA Hadid?

As reported on Inhabitat today, in the latest twist in the saga of Zaha Hadid's competition winning design for the main stadium of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 2013 Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito has proposed an alternative stadium plan that would slash the current expected price tag in half.
"Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Stadium has been embroiled in controversy ever since Zaha Hadid unveiled plans for the massive trilobite-like structure last fall. Japanese architects rallied against the design, taking issue with the high construction costs, proposed destruction of the landscape, and the potential forced relocation of residents housed in a nearby development. A group of architects even launched an online petition on to garner support–at the time of writing, the petition only needs another 1,200 signatures in order to launch an official challenge. Although the Japanese government eventually acquiesced last November and announced plans to downsize Hadid’s designs to save costs, many architects were still not satisfied with the proposed scale back."

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Architecture and Design get serious

For the sake of balance, I need to acknowledge that Architecture and Design, the Australian construction industry trade magazine whose article on speedy modular construction so offended me with its poor reporting, also carries some very informative, very well targeted articles.

Where robots and computers look set to take Australian construction jobs

takes a look at two reports which examine the future of occupations. The University of Oxford report ‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’ quantified the vulnerability of 702 occupations in terms of their likelihood to be replaced by various forms of computerisation, including robotics and increasingly sophisticated data exchange. The research considered factors such as the degree of manual dexterity, originality, social perceptiveness and negotiation skills required in the role. 

Too good to be true?

Nine storey Melbourne apartment goes up in just five days trumpets the headline in a recent Architecture and Design article by Geraldine Chua.

What follows is an article on the latest project by the Hickory Group, the One9 apartment tower in Melbourne, utilising their so-called Unitised Building (UB) System.  Developed and championed by Australian architect Nonda Katsalidis, the UB system relies on factory-based modular construction with high levels of external and internal finishes and fit out, making for fast on-site assembly.

The UB approach is distinguished from others in that it is an open system with neither prescribed module dimensions nor other particular constraints, except for those imposed by the necessity to transport the modules through city streets.
What’s this particular article does not make clear is what the exact part of the whole building is represented by the 36 modules delivered and assembled on site in 120 hours.  The accompanying images strongly suggest that the five days follow site establishment and the completion of a very substantial in-situ concrete service core.  Nor does the article mention or discuss the factory-based lead time culminating in the heroic five-day assembly of the modules on site.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Why do they do it?

I have had in the back of my mind to return one day to the Birdsnest Stadium, that white elephant icon of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Or more particularly in light of the contrast between the design approach of the Birdsnest, and that of the main stadium of the London Olympics, to the issue of ‘economy’ or ‘elegance’ as it might apply to architecture.
We might recall that the headline claim to the green credentials of the the Olympic Stadium in London was that only 10,000 tons of steel were used, making it over 75 percent lighter in terms of steel use than its predecessor.  Not only that, but some of that steel was recycled from unused gas pipes found on the site.  In comparison, during the design stage of the Birdsnest, Herzog & de Meuron, and their partners Arup, and China Architecture Design & Research Group, struggled with whether, once in place, the 42,000 tons of steel required to build the structure would be able to support its own weight.  The solution was to work with Chinese steel producers Baosteel and Wuhan Iron & Steel to develop new bespoke steel grades that would meet the strength and flexibility requirements of the project.

Why sustainability isn't just another 'ism' too

Federal Building, San Francisco by Pritzker winner Thom Mayne.  Rating in the bottom 15th percentile for user satisfaction, and barely able to raise a LEED rating.  But lauded as sustainable by the architects.

Occasionally, a comment on one of my posts is better than the post, resurrects an issue I should have followed up myself, and generally deserves better than to be buried where too few will read it.  And so it is with my original post Why sustainability isn't just another 'ism' from way back in 2012.  To bring it up to date, it would be hard for me to do better than splice on a comment received anonymously, but which I know to be from one of my students.
I wrote:

Something has bothered me for a long time: Why I have felt that issues of climate change, and especially serious issues of sustainability (as distinct from green tech-bling) are not just another of the contestable issues in architecture? I have been unwilling to engage in an impassioned debate about it, because I simply had not got to the heart of the matter.