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House of the Rising Sun Gets Passive Solar Heating December 17, 2013

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Interim Rhino model
Joe Cook

MArch students at UCLan in the #landscape futures atelier are making great progress in their responses to the complex brief for Midge Hole Mill.

Students presented their initial ideas at an interim review last week.  Their work demonstrated a diverse response to a difficult site with form and concepts derived from an interrogation of future domestic living in an architecture that seeks to go beyond current sustainable thinking which seeks to minimise harm, towards a restorative solution where architecture can create and solve the physical, social and aesthetic relationships between building, landscape and environment.

interim 3d
Keith Tasker

With the valued support of Martin Brown and his international colleagues at the Living Building Challenge (LBC), students have reconsidered indolent notions of sustainability, instead tackling the difficult LBC values and standards whilst upholding creative expression in their architectural form.  So far, the Challenge is presenting interesting debates relating to the role of sustainable technology to architectural form and its role and position in the design process.  In interpreting the LBC standards, we are also noting how the US perspective presents some dissonance with the UK opportunities, so we’re noting differences and hope to work with LBC to hone the standards for the UK landscape, climate and palate. For some, the LBC is even incompatible with the architectural discipline.  The project is for a live client and, should it reach construction, will be the first UK building to be constructed to the LBC ideal (see CSD reblog).

Examples of work so far…..

Becky Lovell
 Becky Lovell
Chris Thomas
Chris Thomas
interim models
Emma McQuillan
interim model
Josh Allington

Is this the UK First Living Building Challenge project? December 17, 2013

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Centre for Sustainable Development

In what may well become the UK’s first Living Building Challenge Project, the Lancashire based Midge Hole project is currently an architectural student design competition at the Grenfell-Baines School of Architecture, Construction and Environment at UCLAN (University of Central Lancashire), within the Landscape Futures design studio, led by Jenni Barrett.

mdige holeThe client is seeking designs which offer innovative energy solutions for a domestic property on the site of a former textile mill.

Although the topography of the site is challenging, the watercourse that once provided energy to former mill operations will present opportunities for zero energy and even zero water solutions

Supported by the UK LBC Collaborative, Martin Brown introduced the students to the Challenge recently. Ongoing support with petal seminars, live links to other LBC projects and studio work will continue throughout the competition. The winning student design will be selected following presentations to a panel in January. It is then hoped the project will move into the formal planning…

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Drawing Diversity October 4, 2013

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Architects draw.

By hand or using technology tools, they make representations of a world they propose.  Architects are also embracing site, context and landscape as essential parts of the architectural palette.  Yet, despite artistic skills, well-honed in architecture school, there remains a divide between representation of buildings and the spaces that connect them.  I remain unconvinced by out-of-scale, acid-green trees set in deeper-green, grass floor blankets.


Grand Central Terminal, New York (Foster&Partners)
Source:  http://www.dezeen.com/2012/10/19/foster-partners-present-vision-for-grand-central-terminal/ 

There is an ancient skill of deriving understanding of the natural world through artistic endeavour and we may be in danger of losing it.  The great scientific contributions of Linnaeus and Darwin would not have been possible without drawing.


Vienna Dioscurides, A.D.515
Source:  Design Squish

It’s through the art of diagram that we understand the temporal and dynamic relationships between flora and their ecosystems.


Phylogenetic Tree
A phylogeny-driven genomic encyclopaedia of bacteria and archaea
Source:  Nature

And the spiritual and aesthetic human relationships with their built environment has been a repetitive theme in the literal and figurative fine arts for centuries.


Wanluan Thatched Hall, Dong Qichang, 1597
Source:  Wikipedia


Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia, Claude Lorrain, 1682
Source:  Wikipedia Commons


Cityscape I (Landscape No.1), Richard Diebenkorn, 1963
Source:  Wikipedia Commons

How do we define our relationship with the natural world, today?  This is a daily question in architectural discussion, but there is little evidence of interrogating it through pen, pencil or mouse.

Masters students in architecture at UCLan, however, are interrogating landscape – looking at ways that architecture can understand the natural world a little better and engage with it in a little more depth.  Their work will be exhibited next week and I’ll aim to pin up some inspiring images…….

From Wild West to North West: Reconstituting agrarianism July 12, 2013

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illinoislands_rrposterSource:  Illinois State Museum

The agrarian ideal offers speculation relating to how we can propagate, feed and reap the rewards of new society.  It is unsurprising then, that this ideal stems from a Fenland vision, transplanted by pioneers and speculators to the New World.  Flourishing as the American Dream in a landscape of constitution, agrarianism became the fertile bract of the moral and ethical roots of the United States.  It was manifested in plan form in William Penn’s Philadelphia (1683) and progressed by visionaries such as Lloyd Wright (Broadacre City, 1934), Henry Dreyfuss (Democracity, 1939) and Ludwig Hilbersheimer (The New Regional Pattern, 1944-49).  The theme has been explored in the technological age by Branzi (Agronica, 1993-94) and MVRDV, notably Pig City (2001).  More contemporary dalliances with agrarianism deconstruct the ideal to mere visions of food production via urban agriculture, which, though valuable contributions to the ‘problem’ of urban landscape, dilute the politically and socially reformative capacity of the agrarian vision.  This is achieved at the local scale (e.g. Bronx Public Farm & Orchard, Alexondros Arlonitis, 2008) or as strategic approaches to productive use of urban landscape (Continuous Productive Urban Landscape, Bohm & Viljoen,2005).  Meanwhile, Duany Plater Zyberk have echoed Lloyd Wright’s US focussed, regional planning approach in their published advocacy of ‘agrarian urbanism,’ though economically, socially and aesthetically naïve in outcome.

Meanwhile, all is not quiet on the Preston front.  We struggle to reconcile a definition of ‘agrarianism’ and further to perceive it within an English rural arcadia which bears the weight of production to support a hungry urban reality.  Our kingdom was never united.  We represent a reconstitution of the Picts and the Punjabi; of empire and devolution; of gangs and ghettos.  From this arises a culture of the land with relict tribal rituals and diverse dialect – of spirit and memory.   Hence, the agrarian ideal can only ever impose uncomfortably upon British soil.  Instead, we need to grow our vision of the future from the landscape, the land that we have ‘scaped’ for ourselves over millennia.

Maiden Iron Age Hill Fort, Dorset
Source:  Dorset AONB

The term ‘landscape’ derives from the Dutch ‘landschap’, the suffix deriving from ‘ship,’  holding the same root as ‘partnership’ or ‘kinship’ suggested a living and layered state of being which causes us to be hefted to the land.  It is layers, not plans, that we must understand if we are to solve and envision a sustainable urbanism .  We have an exciting opportunity to welcome the new American settlers of ‘agrarianism,’new urbanism,’ecological urbanism’ and ‘landscape urbanism’ back home and reconstitute them to bear relevance here.  Architectural education must embed internationally transferable skills in understanding how ideas of landscape and place can contribute to a whole infrastructure which fuels and shapes architecture and urbanism, using their immediate regions; its metropolises and their hinterlands, as the field of operation.

Landscape Futures : Field Interventions July 2, 2013

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End of one academic year and headlong into the next……and the next one’s going to be a biggie.

The new Masters in Architecture course commences.  I’ll be teaching one of the design ateliers with Prof. Karim Hadjri and we’ve been busy working it all out.  So, now presenting in glorious RGB Technicolour……

Landscape Futures : Field Interventions

Landscape Futures Super-Workshop, Rina Kukaj

It’s an opportunity to expand our role and understanding of landscape within the architectural discipline as well as getting serious about the skills and knowledge we need to secure a sustainable urbanism and contextual architectural intervention.  We’re still working out the finer points, but here’s a taster of what’s to come….

“How can architecture engage with concepts of food scarcity and energy security in the context of increasing urbanisation and rural decline?

How can technology engage with landscape to define an architecture of the future?

How do issues of infrastructure and aesthetics combine to produce sustainable urban futures that respond to ‘place’ and ‘time’?

The Landscape Futures atelier commences with a rapid-fire series of projects which investigate the flow and stasis of elements which define and determine urban and rural metabolisms including food, energy, biodiversity and transport. These issues will be explored at global and local levels and communicated in a variety of visual and tactile forms.

Semester 1 continues with exploration of precedents in the Netherlands and the north-west of England  to establish temporal, spatial and aesthetic solutions and emerging challenges for architecture, focusing on the connectivity and symbiosis of urban existence with rural and agrarian productivity.  This research will be used to generate strategies for a new and plausible urbanism for the Lancashire region based upon a deep understanding of how landscape and place interact with and determine architectural interventions in spaces of uncertain futures.

fotograaf Hans Werleman

West8 Shell Project,
Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier, Zeeland

“We are never going to save the rural places or the agricultural places or the wild and scenic places (or the wild species that dwell there) unless we identify the human habitat and then strive to make it so good that humans will voluntarily inhabit it.”
James Howard Kunstler

If you are interested in studying on the MArch at UCLan and joining us in this atelier or if you have any questions, please feel free to email me or use the form below.

I would also be really keen to hear from those interested in contributing to the atelier, either as a guest tutor, keynote speaker or as a case study.

GreenBuild on film! June 12, 2013

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Be2Camp have kindly done what they do best – used some techy wizardry to promote collaboration and information sharing by posting the presentation videos and slides from their recent meet & tweet at the GreenBuild Expo on 8th May, 2013.  I did post after the session here.  The full set of videos & slides is available on the Be2Camp website.

Video streaming by Ustream

Using social media in sustainability education from Be2camp Admin

What did social psychologists ever do for us? May 29, 2013

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If you’re an avid reader of the Journal of Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, (which I’m sure you are), you’ll have spotted my recent article publication:

The Social Life of the Novel Idea:
What did social psychologists ever do for us?

This paper is a first step in rescuing the study of the design process as a solitary activity towards an understanding of its social aspects.  Understanding how social behaviour influences the design process is crucial if we are to improve our collaborative skills and embed effective interdisciplinary design techniques into design and construction project processes.

many small light bulbs equal big one
Source:  picstopin

So, the paper looks at the key theories in the field of social psychology and interrogates literature from the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector to see if there is any evidence of a link between social behaviour and design team creativity.  It turns out that there is a HUGE body of work identifying a link between social behaviour and group creativity but this has yet to be meaningfully supplanted in our own field.  There’s a lot of work still to do….

Following this extensive trawl through stacks of peer reviewed documentation in the psychology and AEC fields, I managed to identify three broad areas which have particular relevance to collaborative design in the built environment.  These are:

1.  The Social Climate:  Group cohesiveness can either enhance our ability to navigate a shared idea or it can also present barriers via ‘groupthink.’

2.  Motivation & Reward:  Are teams being procured and motivated in the direction of individual quick wins (proself) or towards decisions that will benefit the group or the shared designed outcome (prosocial)?

3.  Risk Attitudes:  The way that risk is perceived, valued and shared amongst the team will have significant impacts on design outcomes.

There’s a lot of work to do to connect the established social psychology theory with our own practice, but hopefully a clearer picture of the collaborative design process will emerge.  The next stage of research aims to test this theoretical analysis against the perceptions and experiences of built environment practitioners and I’ll be circulating an online survey soon.

For those with an Emerald subscription (usually via your institution), you can access the full article here.

If you don’t have a subscription, but would like to see a copy, drop me line….

The Social Life of the Novel Idea May 16, 2013

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The Idea So Far….

I recently presented my current research project at an architectural research seminar at the School of Built & Natural Environment, UCLan.  The research project aims to link social behaviour to design outcomes, deriving a social model of the design process.

You can view the Prezi slides here….


Ecology AND Technology May 9, 2013

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Yesterday, I had the privilege of being invited to speak with the BE2Camp at the Greenbuild Expo at Manchester Central.

BE2Camp is is a place, a gathering and a learning environment set up by four web 2.0 enthusiasts who also share a vision of building a more sustainable environment.  Their egalitarian and collaborative ethos was evidenced by the structure of the event which invited speakers to share knowledge in a punchy Pecha Kucha style and inviting the audience to present their ideas in free slots.


Speakers included:
Hattie Hartman, Sustainability Editor of the Architect’s Journal
Claire Bowles, Project Director, Construction Knowledge Exchange
Martin Brown (FairSnape)
Paul Wilkinson, PR, Social Media & Sustainability
Prof. Angus McIntosh, Oxford Brookes University
Paul Toyne, Global Head of Sustainability at WSP
Duncan Reed, Design Manager at Balfour Beatty

Being prone to labouring a point, I was challenged by the Pecha Kucha style but managed to give a summary of the social media I’ve been using as part of architectural management teaching for developing reflective and collaborative learning as well as the #twittercritter events.  These experiences of using social media in learning can be directly supplanted into industry environments and specifically into project processes, to facilitate more effective collaboration, foster innovation and promote knowledge sharing – as long as certain guidelines are followed.  I’ll go into that in more detail in a future post.

There was no agenda, no title and no specific focus for the presentation beyond sharing something that could contribute to the improvement of visionary sustainability thinking.  This allowed some serendipity in the coming together of seemingly different subjects, but deriving a common message.  It was all streamed live and suitable snippets tweeted (#be2gbe).

Duncan presented the vision of the Living Building Challenge, which offered the usual in relation to responsible material sourcing and performance but I was pleased to see the inclusion of nature, beauty and place as key elements of a sustainable building.  Paul Toyne gave a more global view emphasising the need to nurture and safeguard biodiversity and implement ecosystem management as this natural capital may be critical in our increasingly urbanised and climate altered future.  Prof. Angus Mackintosh also gave a well-illustrated comparison of Bournville (a liveable environment) and Cumbernauld (a not so liveable environment) to demonstrate the need for place and identity to be high priorities when defining sustainable cities.


Source:  Innovation Management

So, to synthesise these seemingly different subjects, a message that appears worthy of discussion is one of education.  Do any architecture courses have dedicated modules that focus on ecology, biodiversity, ecosystem management, landscape or place/identity?  I don’t know of any.  If our built environment students do not graduate with a deep understanding of the science of environment that matches their understanding of building technologies, then surely all we can ever hope for is a superficial greenwash when it comes to built environment sustainability.            Discuss.

Preston Bus Station: Ethics not aesthetics March 4, 2013

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It is, by now, a widely accepted premise that Preston Bus Station is a building of architectural significance (see current article in RIBA Journal).  The consensus on its significance is given further weight by the support given by Angela Brady PRIBA and the RIBA President Elect, Stephen Hodder and the recommendations of the 20th Century Society.  Whether it is indeed aesthetically beautiful or not is a separate and more philosophical discussion – possibly one for a future post.
But its beauty and architectural significance is only one facet of the issue.
There’s the question of value.   What is it that we value in our city and how do we assess this?

Do we truly value our buildings of architectural significance, our contemporary architectural heritage?  Do we value them enough to prioritise their conservation more highly than the crude outcome of a profit and loss calculation?
Are we comfortable with this commodification of our heritage?

There are many fabulous buildings in Preston.  Let’s look at another.  This building was built in a style which caused much consternation at the time of its construction.  It was built in a Gothic Revival style.  The term ‘gothic,’  originally described a building that was crude, barbaric – ‘brutal.’  Despite the architectural adjective being a term of derision, it eventually  took its place in our stylistic vocabulary.
This Gothic building, despite being disliked by some, was originally built to signify city confidence and social progress.  But now, it’s going to cost over  £1million to renovate and it doesn’t even produce any revenue.
The building I’m referring to is the Grade 1 Listed St. Walburge’s Church, less than a mile from Preston Bus Station.  Its story echoes the plight of the ‘Brutalist’ bus station, another monument described by an architectural adjective that incorrectly infers something fearful and unsympathetic.  I’ve never never met anyone who would dare to suggest getting rid of the bus station’s gothic neighbour & those trusted with its care seek creative approaches to investment and widely promote its renovation to its former glory.  It’s value that transcends  any fiscal analysis and this is confirmed by those who use it as well as those who admire it from afar.


Source:  Paul Melling/Blog Preston


Urban value also embraces the spaces between the buildings.  Do we value our public spaces, our streetlife?  Preston Bus Station  is in public ownership; is used by the public and a unique and people-centric activity happens within it (however socially unacceptable this can sometimes be!).  In a sense, then, it’s not a building at all.  It’s a public space.  It’s a street that happens to have a structure built around it.
If we were debating whether to build on one of Preston’s key public spaces – the Market Square or Miller Park  – spaces which require expensive maintenance; are unlikely to generate much in the way of revenue, yet significant in Preston’s urban life, it would be acknowledged that something is being taken away from the people of Preston – certainly, not without launching some kind of competition to see how the spaces could be improved or to discover a more creative, forward thinking business model.

But this is what’s proposed here.  One of the main ‘streets’ in Preston, one which is iconic, renowned, busy and vibrant is proposed to be condensed, converted and downgraded to something that will be, well,  catastrophically ordinary.

So, back to the subject of value.  To use the procurement  terminology, is it ‘best value’ to remove something that is perceived to be successful in every other way, except monetarily,  without measuring the value of its less tangible assets via full transparent discussion or meaningful consultation with those who use it, or appreciate it from further afield?  Is that even ethical?  And until a full, collaborative, rigorous, creative and forward thinking decision making process has been seen through – and Gate 81 is a brilliant example of that – then ethically speaking, a decision can’t be made.


Source:  Amazon


Brutalism refers not to the imposing form of this style of building, but rather to the resulting aesthetic  linked to a  béton brut, a particular way of using and finishing raw concrete  which was adopted by a group of architects from a particular social and ethical standpoint, who used the béton brut as tool for their structural expressionism.   And  then the term also kind of stuck, thanks primarily to the publication of Reyner Banham’s 1966 book, “The New Brutalism:  Ethic or Aesthetic?”   Brutalism is an architectural style from recent history.  We may not like it now, but perhaps we will miss it in the future.

The debate about the future:death of Preston Bus Station, however,  is not a question of whether the building  is subjectively beautiful or not, but whether we truly value Preston’s future heritage and  how we transparently assess this without getting hung up on its financial commoditisation.  In that sense, this is a replay of 1966 (“they think it’s all over?”).  No, not football.  I’m referring again to Reyner Banham’s significant work.  This decision is a one of ethics, not aesthetics.