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Social media meets sustainability May 8, 2014

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A great day at the fabulous GMex/Manchester Central (still full of memories of James’s 1990 Sit Down gig) with the @Be2Camp  crowd at GreenBuild Expo 2014 and hosted by LSI GreenVision.  This year Be2Camp took control of the main stage, complete with headsets and roadie tshirts!

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Highlights for me, were Alex Whitcroft’s rapidfire talk on how the Collaborative Economy is changing architecture and construction as well as the initial forays into immersive environments that look set to change how we collect and disseminate building information during user/public/client consultation (David Burden).  I was also intrigued by Claire Thirlwall’s possibilities for paperless project management.  I gave a brief presentation too – on ‘Social Studio’ which looks at the way social media could help in giving students (& industry, & practice) the best environment for discussing personal and collective values using a variety of interactive platforms – many of which we’ve already piloted at UCLan.  Here are my slides…..

Social Studio: Network learning/values-based education 

Feel free to share & if you would like to find out more, feel free to drop me a line.

Also, here’s a selective Storify of the event…


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

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

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.

Brutal Ethics (Part 2): Duty or Demolition? February 24, 2013

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Following on from the last post (Brutal Ethics Pt.1: The Virtues of Preston Bus Station), the second group offered their views based on a system of deontological ethics or decision-making based on rules or duties (further explanation of this…here). Here’s their transcript….

“The bus station’s focus is as an interchange for people going from London to Glasgow, for people from Manchester, so it is an interchange as well as for people using local bus routes. There’s 3,000 [CORRECTION: average of 56,000 ]people going in and out of the bus station on a weekday, not a weekend, a weekday. So, the duty of Preston Council is – could they make sure those voices been heard, because they want to replace the bus station with a smaller interchange near the train station, so it could be that it affects the amount of people coming in through Preston. It could affect the economy even though they could maybe refurbish the bus station and refurbish the area around the bus station, instead of having all the pound shops which are ruining the bus station area.

So, our main thoughts about it were regarding the national planning policy framework that has just been changed this year. One of the policies was about conserving and enhancing the historic environment and including heritage assets most at risk from neglect and decay, which the Preston Bus Station is. It also said to take into account the wider social, cultural and economic benefits of the conservation.

The desirability of new development can make a positive contribution to the local community and the character and distinctiveness. There are opportunities to draw a contribution made by the historic environment to the character of a place.

A lot of the new planning policy framework, it mentions over and over again about building a strong competitive community and trying to revitalise town centres. Now, the question is in terms of our decision is, are you enhancing that by knocking it down and rebuilding something or, if it was developed, or even just leaving it how it is, are you achieving those goals set in the framework? There’s figures that have been talked about, about how leaving the bus station would cost considerably more than just levelling it and starting again. But something that has also been mentioned in the framework is sustainability and nothing s talked about the embodied energy difference associated with the new build or a redevelopment of what’s already there.

Preston Council have actually changed the cost of what it will cost to have the bus station refurbished or rebuilt since 2010. Originally, they said the cost of refurbishment would cost about £4million and now, in 2013, they’ve changed the report to say it’s going to cost about 17 million, so it’s quite a big jump in the 3 years that they said where they said to knock it down and have it rebuilt it would cost 17-23 million and now on the website, they’ve changed it to say the refurbishment would cost 17-23 million so it seems a bit like they’re being a bit shady with the dealings, changing the figures to try and get people to say ‘oh, it’s going to cost more than it looks.’ They’re saying that it costs taxpayers £3,000 [CORRECTION: £300,000] a year to run the place as well. But they don’t mention the amount of people who are going through the bus station every day. And there’s shops in there that could be changed, and empty spaces. It just seems like they’re using people as a means to get a new bus station out of it – tricking people with the figures. So they don’t seem to be following the rules that they had set out themselves.

Again the framework mentions quite a few times about communities and aspects of bringing the community together. It could be said that even though a building isn’t used by the whole of the community, it still doesn’t holds a strong community value and is important to the people. The figures that are mentioned to do with how many people in Preston use it – I say, that’s irrelevant. Just because it’s not used by the whole of the community doesn’t mean it’s not iconic or of importance to the community.

If it’s a sustainable development option to retain it, if according to the new planning policy, it should be retained, so why did Preston councillors decide last December to demolish it?
I think the new planning policy guidelines, because they used to be thousands of pages long and now they’ve been changed to something like 60 pages, everything is written in a way that can be adapted to any situation and I think depending on the way that you want to read them, you could make the point either way. You could say, that in demolishing it and having a new building, it’s going to attract more people, and it would be possibly a better design and that will be better for the economy and revitalise the town or you could look at it as the other way that it’s important to the community and it would be a better option to work with what’s already there.

Also, they’d already planned to demolish it. It’s been planned for almost 10years, they’ve been wanting to demolish it. And when the Tithebarn fell through, that was going to be a £700million shopping and living space. And that was going to be where the bus station is, but they’ve kept it as being demolished and building a smaller one. I’m assuming that won’t cost as much money for them.

And that’s the main reason it wasn’t listed, because it was part of the Tithebarn project and they refused to list it because obviously it would impede the new development. And now, that hasn’t happened potentially it could be relisted.

Well, they applied for it in 2000 to be listed which was when I think the Tithebarn development was meant to have started and then they tried again in 2010 and 2011 and the Council opposed it, each and every time.

And they’ve just resubmitted it.

Now people are more aware of the situation and how immediate it could be, that it could be knocked down, there could be a few more people for keeping it and lobbying to keep it. It’s interesting the national policy framework. It goes on a lot about communal values. There needs to be some kind of community consultation about it. It shouldn’t just be up to the councillors. We should have a choice because that’s what builds a sustainable community, isn’t it. It’s the community involvement.

When they knock it down, all it’s going to be is a flat car park. And it’s got a multi-storey car park there. What’s the point of knocking down a car park to leave a car park?

That’s the issue with the figures isn’t it. What they’re proposing to build – the rebuild costs – is that like for like? Are you going to get the same level of income from a flat car park than you are from the existing car park? You’re not going to match the number of spaces for your £17million or whatever it is. So, are they comparing costs like for like?

Well, they’re going to reduce the size of the bus station

So the refurb costs, what you get for your money there, you’re getting more for your money than you would in the rebuild.

I suppose with the car park, they could lower the fees on the car park to get more use out of it, it’s not used as much as they’d like. They’re pretty expensive in the town centre.
It’s all well and good talking about it all, but it would be really nice to see something on paper, an actual design. I’d like the provision for greenspace. If they’re proposing to knock it down and replace it with something that’s useful – connects the rest of the town together. It’s only connected at the moment with subways and a road and the massive bus apron. It’d be nice if they were to knock it down and put some greenspace there and maybe some more retail units and parking. They’re affecting the skyline if they’re knocking it down. Preston doesn’t have the greatest skyline. It’s got a very mixed architecture and it’s not a massively built place. I like Preston skyline as it is.

Do you know what those figures actually relate to? Are they just numbers? Is it a scheme that they’ve actually costed?

No, they’ve just said that they’d originally done a figure without plans that cost £14-17million. When they’ve produced plans that aren’t detailed at all, it’s come to £17-23million.

Do you think those figures are manipulated?

It seems like they are. The refurbishments changed from £4million in 2010 to £17million in 2013 so it’s a big jump.

Who publishes these figures?

It’s the City Council.

But when you say Council, there’s the City Council and there’s the County Council. And one is necessarily supporting the other at the moment because Preston City Council are wanting to knock down the bus station but they’re relying on the County Council for the funds to rebuild the new one. Now there’s not actually been any integration there – no agreement on what’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen. So, potentially, the bus station could be knocked down and a big pile of rubble sits there for 5 years before anyone decides to build or do anything with the site.

Another thing with the communal value – we’ve already said that enough people come from London and Glasgow, and there’s enough value there for people who use it as an interchange but apparently it was publicly funded when it was built. So, it could be that they consider that when they knock it down. Consider the duty to the people who paid for it originally.

You talked about the listing process. As a rule based system that’s there to protect our built heritage, do you think that this is working?

It’s been seen to work on other buildings, but my view with Preston Bus Station is that its an iconic piece of Brutalist architecture, but other people may not see it the same way. Whether it’s because of money, enabling the development preventing it from being listed or they plain don’t like it and just want to knock it down.

It seems that if a building gets its heritage status, then it’s well protected. In that way it’s managed well but in terms of the process of deciding which buildings are to be judged as important, I’m not quite sure.

It seems to be subjective and political here. Nobody’s actually saying whether we need to preserve a Brutalist icon. What we’re discussing is that they’re protecting it only if it serves a political purpose. Not simply, purely for the simple value that it’s a good building. It’s becoming a political system rather than a simple function of conservation.

Are you yes or no as a group?

We are pro for it to stay. It should not be demolished

Please note that the comments here are based on an unedited record of student presentation. I have not verified the accuracy of their facts and figures except where corrections are shown.

The 3rd and final part to follow soon……In the meantime, feel free to post your comments.

Virtues, Rules & Consequences: The ethics of designing buildings February 15, 2013

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The everyday practice of design in the built environment is one of trade-offs and compromise. Quite frequently, these are presented as ethical dilemmas which challenge our ability to make easy judgements about how we should proceed in a way that will be defendable within law but also to the wider profession, the public, our clients but more importantly, to ourselves.   Typically, we do not set out to be ‘unethical‘ but find ourselves doubting the moral calibre of our work and its ability to withstand the test of reasonability made so famous by that man on the Clapham omnibus.
How do you justify your involvement in development that has long term environmental impacts?
Have you done enough to design out the possibilities of accidents caused by the construction of your proposal?
Whilst philosophers are usually only let loose in architectural history and theory lectures, they are quite handy here too.  The field of philosophy has distilled for us, three normative ethical responses.  These are really useful, because they essentially give us the three basic standpoints from which we can develop our argument with clarity and direction.  Given this grounding in accepted wisdom, the man on the Clapham omnibus should be pleased (and so will your insurers).  These three standpoints are:
1.  Virtue ethics
These relate to your personal character and emphasise your moral virtue.  Perhaps they are personal qualities that you have conciously set out to live by, such as fairness, generosity or honesty.  We might translate these into professional practice through equity, excellence and integrity.  We might also incorporate particular industry virtues into our practice ethos.  For example, a practice might focus its efforts on environmentally sustainable methods of building or principles of collaboration and co-operation.
The Virtuous Building?
Oundle School Science Technology Block
Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios
Source:  RIBA
2.  Utilitarianism
This is a system of ethics that is related to the normative ethical theory of consequentialism.  So, a utilitarianist would argue that the moral worth of an action is measured ultimately, by its consequences.  You consider your actions in the context of the likely outcomes.  In this case, the end justifies the means.  If you are faced with a choice of actions, you would select the action that satisfies the most people.  This is frequently the ethical system applied to justify acts of war, for example, but it’s also prevalent in Victorian social reform.  You may even go so far as arguing that the utilitarian ideal underpins the modern public sector and as such, any discussion of public sector building procurement needs to address this purpose.  Best not to get started on that one….
3.    Deontological ethics (rule-based ethics)
From the Greek, ‘deon’ meaning ‘obligation’ or ‘duty, this system of ethics’ may also be called ‘duty-based’ or ‘rule-based.’  We all live by some form of duties or rules.  We are all subject to the law of the land, and professionally we subscribe to the rules inherent in construction and contract law.  Some of us derive our code of behaviours from the ancient books associated with our religious faith.  And unless you have ever been described as a sociopath, you tend to follow the rules inherent in our society.  We frequently feel a sense of duty to ‘help people’, for example, and many successfully integrate this with their professional lives.
via Architecture for Humanity
As a professional, we follow the codes of conduct set out by our professional institution.  We also follow rules and codes published via statutory documents such as planning policy or building regulations.  There are non-statutory rules too.  A plethora of codes exist which we may use to justify our professional actions, such as the Code for Sustainable Homes or local design guides.  We don’t have to follow these, but a deontological response would advise us to recognise and follow the expertise they profess to extol.
Whichever ethical response feels more pertinent to your personal approach to life and work, there will always be a point where you find yourself between an ethical rock and a moral hard place.  You will be damned if you do and subject to a public inquiry if you don’t.  When this happens, note down the words of Albert Camus….
“Integrity has no need of rules.”