Why is it So Expensive to Build in London?

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London is the world’s most expensive city to build in, but the reasons may surprise you. The city is well known for its high cost of living despite being far less crowded than cities such as Tokyo and New York. In fact, commercial real estate in ’s West End costs nearly twice as much as similarly sized spaces on New York’s Madison Avenue.

This video from the Economist reveals how these high costs arise thanks to the city’s historic infrastructure. Vast networks of underground tunnels, unexploded World War II bombs, ancient Roman ruins, and narrow medieval roads all make in the city a highly specialized endeavor. These difficulties, combined with strict historical preservation regulations drive up costs even more. However, architects and developers are not deterred, and are willing to pay high prices for the privilege of building in London. 

CurrentSet: A Digital Drawing App That Fosters Collaboration

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CurrentSet, one of a number of cloud-based digital apps for managing drawings on the go, seeks to foster collaboration among architects, project managers and on-site professionals. Uniquely, the is offered free of charge before allowing users to add features as and when they require them.

PlanGrid Launches Educational Offering

Courtesy of

PlanGrid, touted as “the fastest blueprint viewer” available, is one of the most mature apps for viewing, amending and discussing construction drawings on a collaborative cloud-based platform. This week they launched PlanGrid for , allowing students full and uninhibited access to every feature of the app free of charge. According to the company, they currently have “40,000 blueprints being uploaded to PlanGrid daily and over 9 million blueprints stored digitally”, making the platform one of the fastest growing in its market.

Ten Buildings Pushing The Boundaries of Wood

Perkins + Will UBC Earth Sciences Building. Image © Martin Tessler

Wood is the ultimate material - it’s renewable, sequesters carbon and more importantly, it’s buildable. Nevertheless wood is rarely used in tall, vertical construction. Now reThink wood has come out with their Tall Wood Survey (available in full on their website), which surveyed over 50 wood experts to explore three main areas in which wood is usually questioned: financing, insurance and performance. But beyond discussing the pros and cons of wood, the survey also highlights 10 projects that show how wood products are being used in ways you never thought existed. See all ten innovative projects, after the break. 

Metamorphosis in Hong Kong Documented in ‘Cocoon’ Photo Series

© Peter Steinhauer

In 1994, a routine construction technique that has been practiced in Hong Kong for over 100 years caught the attention of photographer Peter Steinhauer - and led him to put almost a decade of work into capturing this unique urban phenomenon. The bamboo scaffolding and fabric wrappings he photographs serve the simple purpose of catching construction debris, but at a glance they look more like works by Christo and Jeanne Claude, the artists that have made their name wrapping buildings like the Reichstag in Berlin.

The resulting photos showcase the colossal towers of wrapped in brightly-colored fabric; their usually varied facades are made monolithic, like a plastic massing model rendered full-size. Steinhauer named his photo series “Cocoons” due to the effect they create over time: the buildings metamorphose under cover and emerge transformed.

Read on for more photos of these urban cocoons

The Steel Age Is Over. Has The Next Age Begun?

As of now, carbon fiber has only been applied to small scale applications, such as the Textile Room by P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S. Image © Monica Nouwens

Andrew Carnegie once said, “Aim for the highest.” He followed his own advice. The powerful 19th century magnate had the foresight to build a bridge spanning the Mississippi river, a total of 6442 feet. In 1874, the primary structural material was iron — was the new kid on the block. People were wary of , scared of it even. It was an unproven alloy.

Nevertheless, after the completion of Eads Bridge in St. Louis, Andrew Carnegie generated a publicity stunt to prove steel was in fact a viable building material. A popular superstition of the day stated that an elephant would not cross an unstable bridge. On opening day, a confident Carnegie, the people of St. Louis and a four-ton elephant proceeded to cross the bridge. The elephant was met on the other side with pompous fanfare. What ensued was the greatest vertical building boom in American history, with Chicago and New York pioneering the cause. That’s right people; you can thank an adrenaline-junkie elephant for changing American opinion on the safety of steel construction.

So if steel replaced iron – as iron replaced bronze and bronze, copper –  what will replace steel? Carbon Fiber.

Wood Encouragement Policy Coming To Australia

Cross Stitch House; Melbourne / FMD Architects. Image © Peter Bennetts

Latrobe City Council is pushing an initiative that would put “wood first.” If implemented, the “Wood Encouragement Policy” would educate architects and industry professionals about the structural and environmental benefits of wood in an effort to promote the local timber industry and use of sustainable building materials. Following the lead of the United States and New Zealand, both of which recently established “wood encouragement” policies, the council hopes that this will set a precedent that can be applied throughout the rest of Australia. 

Archibot to Print CAD Data “Error Free” onto Construction Sites

Visualisation. Image Courtesy of Han Seok Nam

Archibot, a project currently being developed by South Korean architectural designer Han Seok Nam, aims to “revolutionize” how architects and contractors work on construction sites by printing digital CAD plans onto the ground “error free.” Having recently been granted a patent, the robot seeks to avoid the human errors associated with interpreting information from construction documents. 

According to Nam, a contractor “will be able to grasp exactly where the door and the wall needs to be constructed by having the construction documents be printed directly onto the site without measurements. Errors will be easily detectable since the construction document can be directly compared to a life-size print out directly on the construction site.” It would be “just like following a map and driving towards a destination.”

See a video of the robot at work, after the break…

VIDEO: In Boston, Reclaiming the Craft of Brick

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Our friends at Mecanoo have shared a fascinating mini-documentary exploring the complex brickwork on display in their latest project in Boston’s Dudley Square, the Dudley Municipal Center(nearing completion). Called “Boston Bricks with a Dutch Touch,” this documentary features interviews with everyone involved in the project – from workers to architects – and focuses on the difficulty of using brick in this elaborate manner. Enjoy the video above and check out some fantastic images after the break.

TERMES: A Robotic Swarm That Collectively Constructs Modular Structures

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Termite mounds offer a fascinating architectural quandary: how is it possible that these towering structures (which include complex systems of openings, passages, large volumetric spaces, and even active ventilation systems and humidity regulation) are constructed with no centralised control or planning? The spatial complexity that these thousands of insects can collectively achieve has inspired a Harvard team to create TERMES, a project focused on programming an artificial robotic swarm to build modular structures.

Zahner Launches Software for Design and Fabrication

Original by Crawford Architects on the Zahner Headquarters in North America / Mike Sinclair. Image © Zahner

Zahner, one of the world’s foremost fabricators of façades, have launched new to assist in design, fabrication, costing and delivery. CloudWall, part of Zahner’s ShopFloor platform, is a web based programme which provides an interface for users to design and fabricate curving facades in metal. It is a tool that uses Zahner’s ”factory floor like a massive rapid prototype machine”.

AIA Focuses on Neighborhood and Community Growth for Q3/2013

Americans are indicating that they prefer higher-density, more walkable neighborhoods. Image Courtesy of AIA

The AIA just released its third quarter Design Trends Survey for 2013. Key findings have been made since the previous survey, specifically on neighborhood and community trends.

Tips: How to Archive Projects

Courtesy of lineshapespace.com

Archiving documents is serious business, though it often becomes a headache for those involved. When a project is finished, where do the specifications, drawings, and the rest of the data go? Luckily, Shaun Bryant, in his article for Lineshapespace, has tips for designers and architects on how to effectively go about the archiving process – giving insight on everything from the security of storage spaces to the legal demands of archiving. Check out his archiving tips here.

MIT Researchers Propose Self-Assembling Robots as Future of Construction

An exposed prototype of the M-Block, a new modular robotic system . Image © M. Scott Brauer

Picture this: self-assembling blocks that, when given a task, have the ability to reorganize themselves into new geometries.

This is precisely what research scientist, John Romanishin, at MIT‘s (CSAIL) has long envisioned for a near future — robotic modules known as M-Blocks. Romanishin has teamed with his professor, Daniela Rus, and colleague, postdoc Kyle Gilpin, to prototype robotic cubes with no external moving parts, able to climb over, around and even leap onto each other.

Till now, robots have depended on arms or attachments to move themselves. “We wanted a simpler approach,” says Romanishin, that uses fewer moving parts. Inside each M-Block is a flywheel that spins at 20,000 revolutions per minute, creating enough angular momentum when it brakes that the blocks assemble themselves in new configurations. On each face and edge of the cubes are magnets, naturally connecting the cubes when spurred by the flywheel.

Learn more after the break…

Hong Kong Tops Charts as World’s Most Expensive Construction Market

© Flickr User Chris Lee

EC Harris’ 2013 International Costs Report has named Hong Kong as the most expensive city in the world to build in. The annual study, which benchmarks building costs in 47 countries across the globe, found that relative costs have been affected by substantial fluctuations in currency throughout the year. Despite a stagnant economy, Europe has six of the top ten most expensive markets in this year’s report, reflecting the competitive challenge faced by the Eurozone. 

The top ten most expensive countries to build in are:

How Shoddily Constructed Buildings Become Weapons of Mass Destruction

Maria Auxiliadora School / Architecture for Humanity

Why is it that the Bay Area can suffer a 6.9 earthquake and lose just 63 people, while Haiti suffers a slightly stronger quake and loses about 100,000? The answer: shoddy . As Bryan Walsh of TIME points out, “We tend to focus on the size of an earthquake, but death toll has more to do with the quality of buildings. [...] Poverty — and even more, poor governance and corruption — is the multiplier of natural disasters. [...] That’s why one of the most vulnerable places in the world is south-central Asia.” Learn more about the dangers of poorly constructed buildings here and see what the “true value” of architecture is here.

Projected Increase for Nonresidential Construction in 2013

AIA Consensus Forecast

Late last month, the AIA released a report indicating that nonresidential construction is projected to increase by approximately 5% this year.  While the recovery of both residential and nonresidential construction markets continues to grow slowly, the indication that it is steadily increasing marks a sense of security or stability that owners are beginning to identify in the economy.  In the commercial and industrial sectors, hotels are seeing the largest projected growth at 15.7%, with retail and office buildings hovering between a 7 to 8% growth rate.  In the institutional sector, construction growth is projected to be highest in health care facilities, which is expected to rise by 4.4%, while public safety spending is expected to decline in 2013.

More on the report after the break.

Vietnam Heats Up: New Developments

Green Tech City, Courtesy .

As billings continue to decline in the US, the nation of Vietnam is quickly emerging as a hot spot for Western architecture firms seeking new work. About two dozen North American and European firms now have projects in the Southeast Asian country, including Foster + Partners, HOK, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Some are even reportedly opening permanent offices there.