Last week the UK Government appointed a new housing design panel, intended to “ensure that new homes are not only lower-cost but also high-quality and well-designed.” The panel will be led by Terry Farrell, classical architect Quinlan Terry and aesthetics philosopher Roger Scruton, as well as representatives from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), the UK Design Council and lobby group Create Streets. However, the profession was quick to criticize the selection of the three lead members of the panel.
London Mayor Boris Johnson has approved plans for the Thomas Heatherwick-designed Garden Bridge. The approval from the mayor is the third and final green light for the bridge, having previously been accepted by both Lambeth and Westminster councils. The project is now likely to begin construction within a year – in line with a self-imposed deadline by the Garden Bridge Trust that will allow them to complete the project before works on the proposed Thames Tideway Tunnel cause disruption on the site.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)’s Future Trends Survey for November showed that confidence in workload among UK architects fell back slightly with the workload index returning back to +29. This is compared to +37 in October, which was the second highest ever balance figure. The highest balance figures were in Northern Ireland (+50) and the North of England (+46), areas with the RIBA state “were initially the slowest to indicate a return to growth.” In addition, the percentage of respondents reporting that they had personally been under-employed remained at 12% for the second month running – the lowest figure since the survey began in January 2009. Practices report that they are currently employing 6% more year-out and post Part II students than they were twelve months ago.
In the UK, the commissioning of buildings is in crisis. The government and the industry as a whole is short-sighted, putting too much emphasis on function and too little thought into what makes for a long-lasting, and in that respect sustainable, building.
What is it that prompts a person to own a classic car or a family to continue to use old silver when both involve so much hard work? Why not buy a new car or use stainless steel cutlery? By convention these possessions have reached the end of their natural life, they require careful maintenance and in many cases they don’t function as well they might – they are obsolete. Their continued use requires a conscious commitment – time and money – on the part of their owner. But then, in time, this responsibility stops being a burden and instead becomes a cause for satisfaction and enjoyment.
It is a question that could be asked of those who commission and use buildings.
In an article for The Observer Rowan Moore examines ‘Second Home’, a newly opened “creative hub” in London designed by Spanish practice SelgasCano, who were recently announced as the designers of the 2015 Serpentine Pavilion. For Moore the project, which is the practice’s first building in the UK, offers a “lightness and grace as well as invention, and an awareness of when to stop.” The building is designed to be fluid, allowing start-up creative businesses to move in and move out as and when their business model dictates. Heavy tables can emerge from the floor, and ‘roaming zones’ facilitate creative thought. According to Moore’s review, there “are no water-coolers, no kitchenettes, [and] no microwaves.”
The London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is set to pass new legislation aimed at curbing the spate of large basement extensions in the area. The trend for these “mega-basements” is a result of the strict planning guidelines applied to the borough’s many historic buildings, forcing the area’s wealthy and space-hungry residents to extend downwards instead of upwards or outwards. However, with a ten-fold increase in the number of basement extension plans since 2001, work on these complex underground projects was becoming a nuisance, causing Kensington and Chelsea Council to freeze the planning applications of 220 basement proposals while it sought a resolution.
Crossrail, “the largest infrastructure project in Europe (costing more than the 2012 London Olympics) has been slowly winding it’s way beneath London‘s streets for years. Now, as the tunneling efforts begin to draw to a close, Crossrail have released a series of fascinating photographs demonstrating just how complex this latest London subterranean labyrinth is. There are currently more than 10,000 people working directly on Crossrail at around forty separate construction sites, who have now completed 90% of the total tunneling. This brings the entire project to two thirds of the way there.
See the complete set of photographs after the break.
Stephen Hodder, the current President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), has spoken out about a “U-turn” following the proposal of March 19th (passed under past President Angela Brady) condemning the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) for its failure to “resist projects on illegally-occupied land” in the West Bank and Gaza. According to BDOnline, the RIBA has “been forced to abandon its policy [...] after an internal report said it should never have been put to a vote in the first place.”
This highly controversial episode, which has overshadowed Hodder’s presidency, has also garnered criticism both in the UK and as far afield as the USA. Architects such as Richard Meier and Daniel Libeskind have stated that the RIBA’s actions have been “short-sighted and appear to be an attempt to simplify a very complex issue.” In the UK, Paul Finch writing in the AJ asked whether there would “be a rush to suspend the Russians because of what is happening in Ukraine? Were the Chinese suspended when they were destroying much of their magnificent built heritage, or invading Tibet?” “Certainly not”, he concluded.
The London Borough of Wandsworth has launched an international call for architects and engineers interested in envisioning what could be the second pedestrian bridge to rise near the Battersea Power Station development. The two-stage ideas competition, whose announcement comes shortly after the recent approval of Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge, believes that the bridge could potentially become “one of the most expressive and visible landmarks in London.”
Though the competition cannot guarantee that the winning design will be built, partial funding has already been budgeted for the bridge’s future construction and it is hoped that the winning design can be used to attract further interest and funding. Continue reading to learn more.
UK start-up company The Photon Project has announced its plan to launch the Photon Space, the world’s first intelligent all-glass living unit. Motivated by the major positive benefits that natural light can have on our energy levels, sleep pattern and overall health, the goal of the Photon Space is to create a dwelling that allows its occupants a maximum connection to the outside world.
Posited as an ideal addition to hotels, spas, health retreats, medical centres, and other resorts, the skin of the Photon Space is made of smart glass supported by curving glass beams, switching from transparent to opaque in seconds with the help of an iPhone app.
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) have announced the President’s Medals Student Awards at a special event today in London. The awards, recognised as the world’s most prestigious set of awards in architectural education, were inaugurated in 1836 (making them the institutes oldest award, including the RIBA Gold Medal). Three medals in particular – the Bronze for a Part I student, the Silver for a Part II student, and the Dissertation Medal – are awarded to “promote excellence in the study of architecture [and] to reward talent and to encourage architectural debate worldwide.” In addition to these, the winners of the Serjeant Award for Excellence in Drawing and the SOM Foundation Fellowships are also announced.
317 schools of architecture from over 61 countries were invited to nominate design projects and dissertations by their students. This year saw the majority of winners come from London schools, including the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL), Kingston University, the University of Westminster, London Metropolitan University (the CASS), the Royal College of Art, the University of East London, and the University of Greenwich. University College Dublin (Ireland) and the University of Brighton (UK) also saw their students commended, alongside the University of Sydney (two students) and the University of Hong Kong (one student).
See drawings from all the winning and commended students after the break.
Speaking to The Guardian, David Chipperfield has stated that he regards the hold of private investment over new architecture in London as an ”absolutely terrible” means of building a city. He argues that Berlin – where he spends considerable amounts of time and runs a large office – “is a much more reflective society than ours” because the UK has sunk into ”a success-based culture.”
[In Berlin] there is still an idea of the public realm. We have given that up in London. We have declared the public realm dead; the question is how to get stuff out of the private sector. We are unbelievably sophisticated at that.
BIG has unveiled the design for their addition to the development at Battersea Power Station, a public square that will link the power station itself with the Electric Boulevard development designed by Norman Foster and Frank Gehry. Called Malaysia Square after the Malaysian development consortium behind the plans, the design features cascading steps that link the main public space at the lower level with the entrance to the power station above. The split-level design also provides for two pedestrian bridges and a road bridge that cross above the ”urban canyon” of the public square.
The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) have revealed the unfortunate series of events that led to the school’s iconic Mackintosh library, alongside a large collection of student work and archives, devastated in a fire in May of this year. According to BDOnline, who have spoken with Tom Inns (Director of the GSA), “final-year students were setting up their degree show projects in the basement and holes in some pre-built foam panels were being filled with the spray foam.”
The flammable gas used as a propellant in the canister was sucked into [a nearby] projector’s cooling fan, setting it alight. A foam panel directly behind the projector then quickly also caught light. “The flames quickly spread to timber panelling and through voids around the basement studio and then into the library two floors above and up through the rest of Mackintosh’s 1909 masterpiece.” To add insult to injury, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) reported that “a fire suppression system was in the latter stages of installation at the time of the fire but was not operational.”
After a fortnight of highs and lows for Thomas Heatherwick and British celebrity Joanna Lumley’s campaign for a garden bridge stretching across London’s River Thames, Rowan Moore of The Observer has meticulously described the project as “nothing but a wasteful blight.” Although he acknowledges that support for the bridge “has been overwhelming,” he argues that Heatherwick – though an “inventive and talented product designer” – has a past record in large scale design which “raises reasonable doubts about whether his bridge will be everything now promised.”
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)’s Future Trends Survey for October showed that confidence is very high among UK architects, with the workload index up rising substantially to +37 from +29 in September - the second highest ever workload forecast balance figure. This positive figure was spread right across the country with the most optimistic reports coming from Scotland, with a workload index figures of +80, and Wales, which reported a figure of +28. In addition, the percentage of respondents reporting that they had personally been under-employed was down “considerably” to 12% – the lowest since the survey began in January 2009.
The question of whether the traditional museum survive in the digital age has been bounced around since the dawn of digital art and archiving. In an article for The Independent, Christopher Beanland examines the issue of a global “museum boom” (especially in China where a new one opens every day), and how this is having an undoubtedly positive impact on people’s quality of life. For Beanland, it’s curious that “we don’t splash out on council houses or universities or hospitals any more – but we do build museums and galleries.” Perhaps it’s because they are “a reliquary for our collective memories” and “a triumph of our collective will” or, in most cases, because they employ excellent PR and branding strategies. He notes that “despite being swamped by possessions, we’ve changed our views towards those things. In the second half of the 20th century, people defined themselves by what they had. But today people increasingly define themselves by what they do.”