Posts tagged with "United Kingdom":

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The U.K. launches a National Design Guide—but why?

The U.K. has released a National Design Guide to help “create beautiful, enduring and successful places.” The guide was published at the start of the month and unveiled by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, however, for all the “good design" the guide preaches, it is at odds with Jenrick’s actual policies. To architects and designers, the principles outlined in the document will seem run-of-the-mill, even perhaps a little patronizing. But the guide is not for them; rather, it intends to ensure that all those involved in a project are on the same page. The focus of this design guide is on good design in the planning system, so it is primarily for:
  • Local authority planning officers, who prepare local planning policy and guidance and assess the quality of planning applications;
  • Councilors who make planning decisions;
  • Applicants and their design teams, who prepare applications for planning permission; and
  • People in local communities and their representatives.
A cursory scroll through the guide reveals a lot of images—almost all houses, with pitched roofs and brick facades along with a surprising amount of churches. A design guide issued by a Conservative politician seemingly calling for Victorian and Georgian villages a does incur a momentary feeling of dread (Poundbury is featured) but thankfully the guide is much more nuanced and ultimately offers some good advice. Ten “characteristics” for design are introduced in the guide, paying special attention to character, community and the climate:
Context – Enhances the surroundings. Identity – Attractive and distinctive. Built form – A coherent pattern of development. Movement – Accessible and easy to move around. Nature – Enhanced and optimised. Public spaces – Safe, social and inclusive. Uses – Mixed and integrated. Homes and buildings – Functional, healthy and sustainable. Resources – Efficient and resilient. Lifespan – Made to last.
The guide also takes into account the contemporary context we find ourselves in and looks to the future: “We expect continuing change as a consequence of climate change, changing homeownership models and technological changes. It is likely to emerge and embed in society rapidly.” Furthermore, there is an added focus on inclusion and community cohesion, defined respectfully as: “Making sure that all individuals have equal access, opportunity and dignity in the use of the built environment;” and “A sense of belonging for all communities, with connections and trust between them. Diversity is valued and people of different backgrounds have the opportunity to develop positive relationships with one another.” However, for all this positive rhetoric—which will hopefully make some impact—the guide is undermined by Jenrick’s latest policy to allow homeowners to add up to two stories to their house without having to get planning permission. This is part of the Conservative party’s push to "build up not out," and essentially allows homeowners to do what they want irrespective of their neighbors' objections, provided the building meets council guidelines and building regulations. Subsequently, it seems bizarre for the guide to talk about scale, height, relation to surroundings, and design quality, the latter of which will be most lacking as a result of such a policy. The guide also appears to feature mostly low-rise schemes and genuine examples of suburban sprawl with a straight face, the antithesis of building "up." “Publishing new design guidance alongside plans to extend permitted development rules, which allow projects to sidestep vital quality and environmental standards, just doesn’t make sense,” remarked RIBA President Alan Jones. “Although increasing permitted development rights is a step in the right direction, they will still be subject to heritage and conservation areas and viewing corridor type constraints,” Vaughn Horsman, design director at the British practice Farrells told AN. “And whilst it supports wider densification, by the time the tangle of other constraints get overlaid, there is still very little available land and air space available for growth in London. Meaning more still needs to be done.” Moreover, the design guide also seems to focus solely on housing. It has admittedly come from the Housing Secretary, but alternative typologies could at least be acknowledged, particularly as the industry moves towards adaptive re-use. Despite this, the guide has been for the most part warmly received by the profession. Teresa Borsuk, a senior adviser at the London-based Pollard Thomas Edwards, told the Architects’ Journal:
[The guide] is a sound piece of work aimed at planning officers, councillors, applicants and local communities. And a lot of it is not new. But what a difficult time for its launch – with everything else going on just now; climate change, affordability, targets, undersupply, Brexit…
Speaking in the same article, Richard Dudzicki, director of Richard Dudzicki Associates, meanwhile called for an “anarchic version of the National Design Guide”:
I started reading the National Design Guide thinking to myself this is not a bad idea, but I quickly thought of the successful places I love; Farringdon in the 90s or Peckham now. They do not fit in the government’s ‘10 simple rules to good design’. The truth is very little good design or successful placemaking will fit in this dull, grey, pragmatic framework. It is about interventions. Predefining spaces will lead to failure; failure of design, failure of place and failure to create a society. Architecture as a profession should be calling out for more. In this profession, we read the brief, rip it up and throw it out of the window and try to come up with a new idea. Let’s have an anarchic version of the National Design Guide.
Finally, the guide concludes by saying that it could be altered after the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission publishes its final report in December this year. This could likely cause groans in the profession: the Commission’s re-appointed cochair, Roger Scruton, has previously voiced his distaste of modernism, and in particular, architects Norman Foster and Mies van der Rohe. "The words 'beautiful' and 'ugly' are dangerous when referring to architecture — they expose personal bias, when our industry is more restricted than ever, by budgets, political and technical constraints," Horsman added. "Urban homes at the scale we need today will struggle to fit everyone’s view of ‘pretty’ –having our work, almost degraded, to such terms is frustrating. "How would ministers feel about a public vote on whether they’re too ugly for the job?” The report can be found in full online, here.
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Preservationists rally to save the prison where Oscar Wilde was persecuted

The Reading Prison in Berkshire, England, has been put on the market and cultural figures are rallying to save the building where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated between 1895 and 1897. The Grade II-listed building closed in 2013 and is under threat of redevelopment after the U.K. Minister of Justice put it up for sale earlier this month. The local council and Reading’s member of parliament, as well as other cultural figures, are working to develop a bid for the site.  “Sadly the Ministry of Justice put the gaol on the market and hopes to sell it to the highest bidder," said Matt Rodda, the Labor MP for Reading East, according to The Art Newspaper. "This decision risks this wonderful Victorian building being gutted and turned into luxury flats." The building’s association with Wilde makes it irrevokably an important site of LGBTQ+ history and heritage. Wilde was arrested in 1895 for “gross indecency,” a crime enforced by the Labouchere Amendment and largely used to prosecute men for homosexuality. Because sodomy laws were so difficult to enforce, the amendment instead enforced a blanket term that made such arrests much easier. The amendment wasn’t fully repealed until 1967, a time when widespread LGBT rights and advocacy were just beginning to gain traction. The prison has been described as a “Mecca for LGBT people wordwide" by the Reading Borough Council. A 2016 exhibition Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison, exemplified the building’s importance through a showcase of art by Ai Weiwei, Marlene Dumas, and Wolfgang Tillmans. A well-known admirer of Wilde, Patti Smith, paid homage by reading De Profundis, a 50,000-word letter Wilde wrote to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, while he was incarcerated in Reading.  “It’s a hugely significant space,” said Joseph Galliano, CEO and co-founder of Queer Britain, the national LGBTQ+ museum. “We are losing heritage and cultural spaces to commercial redevelopment which will never be recovered,” he told Euronews. The Ministry of Justice promised in a statement that they would “seek the best outcome for the taxpayer.”  Illustrating the artistic legacy produced under unfortunate circumstances, the following is an excerpt from Wilde’s De Profundis:

“When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else - the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver - would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”

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Super energy-efficient social housing claims the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize

The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize has gone to a collection of 100 houses in Norwich, U.K. The low-energy homes on Goldsmith Street were designed by London-based studio Mikhail Riches and British architect Cathy Hawley for Norwich Council. It seems housing crises are everywhere at the moment and Britain is no exception, and the problems are compounded when you add in a "climate emergency," which the U.K.'s leading practices have formally acknowledged. The 100 homes commissioned by the Norwich Council were designed to PassivHaus standards—the gold standard when it comes to energy efficiency—in an attempt combat both problems. That means a 70 percent reduction in energy bills for residents. Better still, these are genuine council homes and not "affordable housing," able to be rented from the council directly, thus boasting fixed rents and providing tenants with extra security. Beyond this, the homes have been beautifully designed, too. Goldsmith Street takes cues from the nearby Victorian streets of the Golden Triangle district. The architects, though, do not succumb to producing another Poundbury, despite maintaining the same Victorian street widths and heavy use of brick, which has been wonderfully detailed to create a series of balconies. Garbage stores have been neatly tucked away behind bronze screens, and homes, despite being priced at social rent, aren't tight on space and provide lobby room for prams and bikes. Rooftops angle to ensure sunlight is able to enter houses in the row behind each other, and every home has its own front door and separate letterbox. Two-story houses are aligned in rows, with three-story flats situated either side. In addition to this, central terraces share a landscaped, communal walkway, meanwhile, parking facilities have been pushed to the site's periphery. Together, the homes form seven terraced blocks and compose a calm, pedestrian-friendly, low-rise estate. Mikhail Riches and Hawley were awarded the project after winning a competition back in 2008. The original plan was to sell the site to a local housing provider; however the financial crisis stalled the project and forced municipal authorities to press ahead on the development themselves. Unlike last year, when Foster + Partner's hulking Bloomberg HQ won, this year's winner is likely to be welcome, perhaps unexpected news to those in the profession. Goldsmith Street is a far cry from a glitzy office for a multinational corporation in central London, and its claim for being the best new work of architecture in Britain will hopefully spur on other councils to emulate Norwich's accomplishments. In winning the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize, Goldsmith Street fended off competition from five other projects: Cork House: in Berkshire by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton; London Bridge Station by Grimshaw; Nevill Holt Opera in Leicestershire by Witherford Watson Mann Architects; The Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience in Moray, Scotland, by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, and The Weston in Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Feilden Fowles Architects. In a press release, The 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize judges, chaired by Julia Barfield, said: “Goldsmith Street is a modest masterpiece. It is high-quality architecture in its purest most environmentally and socially-conscious form. Behind restrained creamy facades are impeccably-detailed, highly sustainable homes – an incredible achievement for a development of this scale. This is proper social housing, over ten years in the making, delivered by an ambitious and thoughtful council. These desirable, spacious, low-energy properties should be the norm for all council housing." David Mikhail of Mikhail Riches added: “Goldsmith Street’s success is a testimony to the vision and leadership of Norwich City Council. We thank them for their commitment and support. They believe that council housing tenants deserve great design. It is not often we are appointed to work on a project so closely aligned with what we believe matters; buildings people love which are low impact. We hope other Local Authorities will be inspired to deliver beautiful homes for people who need them the most, and at an affordable price. To all the residents – thank you for sharing your enthusiasm, and your homes, with everyone who has visited.”
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Boris Johnson calls for feasibility study of bridge from Northern Ireland to Scotland

Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has requested a feasibility report to determine if a bridge could be built between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Great Britain’s Channel 4 News reportedly caught wind of Johnson’s request to the Treasury and Department for Transport asking officials to look into building the link over the Irish Sea, an idea he first began seriously touting last year. The idea was initially circulated in early 2018 by architect Alan Dunlop, a well-known Glasgow-based academic-practitioner, historian, and author, when Johnson was first talking about building a 22-mile-long bridge across the English Channel to France. That discussion with French president Emmanuel Macron began as a way to potentially relieve post-Brexit transportation problems. Dunlop studied the possible connection and unveiled an image to go along with his findings at an architecture conference in Scotland last September.  Based on his studies, Dunlop believes it’s definitely possible to create a roadway and rail link from the island to Scotland, even though past attempts have never gone anywhere. Dunlop estimates such a project—nicknamed the Celtic Crossing—would cost about $13.2 billion if it spanned the North Irish Sea from the Mull of Kintyre in Campbeltown, Scotland to Torr Head in Northern Ireland, the closest points between the neighboring islands.  Right now it takes almost nine hours to get from the northeastern tip in Northern Ireland to the southern tip of the U.K.’s Kintyre Peninsula by car and drivers have to take a ferry. The space between the sites is actually only 12 miles apart. Dunlop has also vocalized the notion that a bridge from Larne, Northern Ireland, to Portpatrick, Scotland, could be an even better location, though it would cost a few billion dollars more and be substantially longer at 21 miles.  Johnson has long been known as a supporter of large-scale infrastructure upgrades around the U.K. As mayor of London, he was particularly excited about the now-abandoned scheme designed by Heatherwick Studio to build a Garden Bridge across the Thames river. The proposal quickly became defunct because it proved to be too expensive, and the city’s current Mayor Sadiq Khan cut the program after being elected following Johnson’s exit.  A spokesperson told Channel 4 News that it’s no secret that the PM is interested in projects like these that “increase connectivity for people” and “strengthen the union.” At one point during his mayorship, Johnson wanted to build an estuary airport as well.  Johnson’s call to conduct a feasibility study for a new Celtic Crossing includes finding out how much it might cost and what risks might be associated with building there—it’s been reported that World War 2 munitions still exist in the Irish Sea. As for Dunlop, he’s fully behind the idea, telling the News Letter that it’s time this project gets a deeper exploration by the U.K. government, but doesn’t want to get too involved with the politics of it all.  “There are naysayers who, for whatever reason, don’t like Boris Johnson or they think it would cost too much money,” he admitted to the paper. “The comments are aimed at Boris Johnson and what is happening with Brexit. They don’t have anything to do with the possibility of connecting Scotland and Ireland... I’m trying my very best to stay clear of the politics and look at it from a straightforward architectural and engineering possibility.”
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Man faces fines after falsely claiming to be an architect

A U.K. man and his firm have been ordered to pay hefty fines after being found guilty of impersonating a licensed architect. Paul Lyon and his company, Lyson Architecture of Warwickshire, Coventry, and London, were served with a $5,111 (£4,222) fine for misrepresenting himself as an architect on the firm's website and Twitter (there were no architects are employed by his business, either). The conviction didn't come out of nowhere. The Architects Registration Board (ARB), the body that regulates architects in the U.K., had ordered Lyon and his firm to refrain from using the "architect" to describe themselves on their website and social media pages. The Birmingham Magistrates’ Court District Judge described Lyon's approach to removing the term from his online presence as "slow and ineffective."
According to a release from the ARB, the judge added that the public should not be deceived about the type of services they are purchasing and that architects are "entitled not to be in competition or undercut by those who are not architects." Lyon and Lyson Architecture have a little under a month (28 days) to strike "architect" from their web pages and other materials—and to clarify, Lyson's is run by Lyon, it's not a misspelling. The ARB said it "will continue to monitor their trading style and take further appropriate action as necessary." The British case is eerily similar to that of the fake architect who scandalized the profession stateside. In 2017, an upstate New York man by the name of Paul Newman pleaded guilty to felony charges for providing architectural services when he was not a registered architect. Newman admitted to using a fake stamp to sign off on plans and to defrauding businesses and government agencies. Then–New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office brought the charges under "Operation Vandelay Industries," a reference to the ersatz company George Costanza establishes on Seinfeld to score unemployment benefits.
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Roger Scruton reinstated as chair of U.K. housing commission

Controversial conservative philosopher Roger Scruton is back in as the chair of the U.K.’s Building Better Building Beautiful housing commission. He was fired from this position in April for what appeared to be racist and islamophobic comments, which the interviewing outlet now admit were taken out of context. In an April interview, Scruton called Chinese people “replicas” and “robots” who were all the same and being manipulated by their government.  The comments were made in an interview with the UK newspaper the New Statesman (NS), which has since issued a lengthy statement clarifying some of the comments. Most notably, the paper pointed out that Scruton was not denigrating the Chinese people, but rather specifically criticizing their authoritarian government. They also admitted to editing out part of a comment about Hungary in which Scruton mentions the “Soros empire in Hungary.” This statement was reported by many media outlets as anti-semitic, however, the entire next line “it’s not necessarily an empire of Jews; that’s such nonsense” was edited out of the NS article. Theresa May, in one of her final acts as Prime Minister, offered Scruton his job back. It is seen as a victory for conservatives, and incoming PM Boris Johnson is an outspoken supporter of Scruton. Scruton is a vocal critic of modernists such as Mies and Norman Foster, and has expressed disdain for large-scale, utopian schemes to improve the world in general. He will now continue to head the BBBB, which is responsible for issuing guidelines on how the U.K. can promote the use of "high-quality design" in new developments. Scruton's aesthetic judgments are considered conservative and populist, typically leaning towards heavily-ornamented facades and tightly-knit streetscapes. Here is the New Statesman apology in full:
“The New Statesman interview with Sir Roger Scruton (“Cameron's resignation was the death knell of the Conservative Party”, 10 April) generated substantial media comment and will be readily recalled by most readers. We have now met with Sir Roger and we have agreed jointly to publish this statement. In the interview, Sir Roger said of China: “They’re creating robots of their own people … each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.” We would like to clarify that Sir Roger’s criticism was not of the Chinese people but of the restrictive regime of the Chinese Communist Party. Sir Roger is quoted accurately in the article: “Anybody who doesn’t think there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts.” However, the article did not include the rest of Sir Roger’s statement that “it’s not necessarily an empire of Jews; that’s such nonsense”. We would like to clarify that elsewhere in the interview Sir Roger recognised the existence of anti-Semitism in Hungarian society." After its publication online, links to the article were tweeted out together with partial quotations from the interview – including a truncated version of the quotation regarding China above.  We acknowledge that the views of Professor Scruton were not accurately represented in the tweets to his disadvantage. We apologise for this and regret any distress that this has caused Sir Roger. By way of rectification, we provide here a link to a transcript of the interview and the original article so that readers can learn for themselves what Professor Scruton actually said in full.  
 
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RIBA announces the 2019 Stirling Prize shortlist

Today, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced their six projects shortlisted for the 2019 Stirling Prize, an annual award given to the U.K.'s most stellar new structure. The nominated schemes include two residential projects: the Cork House, an adaptive reuse of a historic mill building designed by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton for themselves, that, as its name suggests, is made almost entirely of cork (pictured below). The other is Goldsmith Street in Norwich, England, a seven-block development of row houses with traditional massing and Passivhaus certification. The project, pictured below, was executed by architect Mikhail Riches with Cathy Hawley, while MPH Architects (along with a team that included The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL and Arup) completed Cork House.   On the public-facing side, three cultural projects made the list this year. London's Feilden Fowles Architects delivered the Weston, a new visitor center and gallery for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, an open-air museum founded in 1977 on an 18th-century estate. The stretched-out structure's facade is made of concrete mixed from local aggregates and banded out to create a sedimentary rock–like effect. Meanwhile, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners dreamed up a visitor center for a very different client, pictured above and at top. Macallan, the scotch producer, received a distillery tour facility in Moray, Scotland, with a wild timber gridshell roof that connects to the property's 18th-century laird's home. At a smaller scale, London's Witherford Watson Mann Architects hid the Nevill Holt Opera in the yard between existing historic stables. On the inside, the arrangement of the hall's cladding dialogues with the stable joists behind the structure, and the pattern reinforces a scheme to make young singers' voices more resonant. Rounding out the list is the largest project, Grimshaw's almost 930,000-square-foot London Bridge regional rail station, which enlarged the main concourse but preserved original Victorian arches elsewhere in the building. Last year, the Stirling Prize went to Foster + Partners' Bloomberg project, the London headquarters for the American financial and media company founded by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Like in years prior, this year's shortlist will be, according to RIBA " judged against a range of criteria including design vision; innovation and originality; capacity to stimulate, engage and delight occupants and visitors; accessibility and sustainability; how fit the building is for its purpose and the level of client satisfaction." The 2019 winners will be announced at a ceremony on October 8.
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How the U.K. forged a path to global BIM standards

During my days as a technology vendor, I chafed at the idea of introducing government standards for technology developed by a polyglot group of stakeholders. Users, software companies, and bureaucrats often sought a “lowest common denominator” between various software, sacrificing innovation and progress for vague notions like “open access.” In the early days of Building Information Modeling (BIM), several such efforts emerged, the most prominent of which were the General Services Administration (GSA) attempts to create a standard and the development of BIM-derived digital permitting submissions in Singapore. Both projects garnered much attention but gained little traction in the form of implemented technologies or operating protocols—at least in their early forms. But they had one important effect: In the loosely organized, disparate network of the building industry supply chain, government could provide a galvanizing influence. At least when government spoke, the industry listened.

In 2011, however, we witnessed a welcome change with the publication of the United Kingdom’s “Government Construction Strategy.” Much of the early theory about industry productivity and need for process integration had long emerged from that side of the Atlantic—for example, Sir Roger Egan’s seminal “Rethinking Construction” report—but there was little action. The David Cameron government, however, saw construction as a critical economic engine, concluding that improving the cost and carbon impacts of building while bolstering U.K. capabilities as a global building leader would drive growth. One pillar of the resulting government policy document was BIM, and the following requirement: “2.32. Government will require fully collaborative 3-D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation, and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016. A staged plan will be published with mandated milestones showing measurable progress at the end of each year.”

As upwards of 40 percent of construction dollars in the U.K. are spent by the government, the industry snapped to attention, formed cross-industry collaborations, and established and implemented BIM requirements for all their projects (with logistical and financial support from the government). BIM adoption shot up from 10 percent in 2012 to 70 percent by 2018, and savings on the first prototype projects were estimated at as much as 2.5 percent of the total lifetime cost of designing, building, and operating the project. By my own estimate, that’s as much as five times the fees likely paid to the design team and 25 percent of original construction cost. Not bad for a first effort. And, in typical British fashion, the resulting standards (search online for “PAS 1192”) were clear, rigorous, and implementable.

The success of the U.K. effort has spread across Europe, and EU government leaders have taken similar roles (at least until Brexit) in developing standards for the entire European Union, while also establishing footholds with other global networks, most notably in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Singapore, in collaboration with the U.K. team, has spurred a multiyear effort to create a standards collaboration there. As we approach the end of the second decade of BIM, one can see the slow emergence of a global network of BIM standards leading to a single market BIM, catalyzed by what may be the only cohering force in the building universe: the long arm of the law.

Now that the technology is mature and its use stable, global BIM standards are a good thing. The U.K. effort rightly became the basis of a worldwide standard created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO; see ISO Standard 19650) and released in early 2019. Based on the now viral PAS 1192, ISO describes its work as “recommended concepts and principles for business processes across the built environment sector in support of the management and production of information during the life cycle of built assets (referred to as 'information management’) when using building information modelling (BIM).” Note the emphasis on business process driving the technology standard; precisely the right relationship for creating a stable platform for the otherwise disparate players in the global building industry.

And there’s an even larger idea here. What’s most powerful about the U.K.’s trailblazing work on BIM standards is the origin point: Rather than start with the prosaic, bottom-up question of lowest common denominator tech standards, they chose a broad organizing principle—improving building through technology is good for the economy and the environment, and doing this in a way that is agnostic to specific technologies or proprietary software drives competitive innovation that helps the entire market.

Driving BIM standards has further benefits to government, not the least of which is transactional transparency. State-run construction is rife with overbidding, conflicts of interest, and corruption. A bedrock principle of “collaborative 3-D BIM” is information clarity—all members of the building team can see and understand the physical and technical characteristics of the project in parametric three dimensions, along with the resulting arithmetic of cost projection—which makes it that much harder to manipulate a bid.

In the early days of the U.K. project there was an appointed Chief Government Construction Advisor with a direct line to high-level policy makers in the Cabinet. The United States’ construction market, roughly five times the size of the U.K.’s, could surely benefit from some policy-driven federal leadership, something that is certainly hard to imagine in today’s administration and go-go economy. But when the inevitable downturn does occur, we’ll know which way to look for inspiration for industry improvement.

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Roger Scruton fired from U.K. housing commission over inflammatory comments

Controversial conservative scholar Roger Scruton has been removed from his position as the chair of the U.K.’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission over inflammatory comments on George Soros, Muslims, and Chinese people. Scruton, an outspoken opponent of modernism, is no stranger to drawing criticism for his views. The thinker, most well-known for his writing on ornamentation and aesthetics, has been called out in the past over his comments on Islam, anti-Semitism, date rape, race, and for comparing being gay to smoking. This time, Scruton’s comments in the political journal New Statesman appear to have pushed things too far, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government removed him from his position. In the interview, released earlier today, Scruton said that the Chinese government was “creating robots out of their own people…each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.” He also reiterated that “anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts,” and alleged that the Hungarian-born billionaire had been “importing” Muslims from “the Middle East” into Hungary for nefarious purposes. Scruton has long been personal friends with far-right Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who has frequently been accused of anti-Semitism and strong-arm tactics. Scruton then went on to complain that the concept of Islamophobia was “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue.” The rebuke was swift, and Scruton was shown the door only hours after the interview went live. "Professor Sir Roger Scruton has been dismissed as Chairman of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission with immediate effect following his unacceptable comments," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told New Statesman. "A new chair will be appointed by the Secretary of State, to take this important work forward, in due course.” The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is a fairly new body. The group’s purpose is to provide housing policy recommendations to beautify new developments and promote a sense of cohesive community, but the commission’s output has thus far has been overshadowed by Scruton’s frequent media mentions. While Secretary of State for Housing James Brokenshire defended Scruton’s appointment to the commission five months ago, it appears that the unanimous outrage from the Labor and Tory parties, the Muslim Council of Britain, and 10 Downing Street, proved too much this time.
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Nonprofit to document publicly-owned sculptures in the U.K.

There have been a number of projects to digitize culture as of late. More and more museums are putting their collections online, and there are, of course, the many projects of Google Arts & Culture, including the company's recent experiments 3-D printing historic sites. Now, all of the United Kingdom's publicly-owned sculptures that have been made in the past millennium—some 150,000 of them—are going online. Art UK, which has previously worked to get oil paintings documented and accessible online, estimates that most of the country’s sculptures have not been previously photographed, at least in any systematic way, and that only around one percent of the country's public collections can currently be found online. With nearly £4 million in funding secured, the nonprofit's new project brings to light the many sculptures that stay tucked away in storage, as so many works are, exposing them to people across the world through a web platform. The nonprofit's staff, joined by photographers and volunteers, will be traveling across the U.K. to document sculptures from around the world, though they will only focus on those that were made over the past thousand years and are in the U.K.'s public collections or in significant private partner collections, such as those at Oxford and Cambridge. The documentation acts as a critical intervention in preserving and protecting cultural heritage, especially considering that the majority of these works are located outside and are subject to the elements and vandalism. To help organize all these works and all this information, Art UK invites users to join its Tagger platform, which was created along with Citizens Science Alliance, a group based in the astrophysics department at the University of Oxford, and with staff from the art history department at the University of Glasgow, to allow volunteers to help organize, describe, and make searchable hundreds of thousands of artworks. Part of Art UK’s mission is to show as much of the national art collection as possible, an objective that doesn’t end with the online index. Alongside the digitizing project, Art UK is embarking on  various engagement projects, including “60 sculpture-related films” being created “with and by young people.” The nonprofit will also be taking 125 sculptures into schools. You can now view the first 1,000 cataloged sculptures, including everything from outdoor modernist works by Henry Moore, a dollhouse by Yinka Shonibare, 19th-century buddhas, 15th-century bishops, and a wide array of public architectural fixtures.
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UK housing chair blasts modernism amid ire over alleged extremist views

Conservative intellectual and chair of the UK’s new Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, Sir Roger Scruton, has come out swinging against modernism. The commission’s goal is to provide housing policy recommendations that further the beautification of new developments and foster a sense of community. The controversial scholar, who has faced calls to resign over his views on race, date rape, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and more, derided modernism as destroying the urban fabric in a speech before London’s right-leaning Policy Exchange think tank. As Scruton delivered the inaugural Colin Amery Memorial Lecture on November 14, he railed against Norman Foster, Mies van der Rohe, and what Scruton described as a “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) backlash that precluded the building of new housing in dense urban areas. Calling the housing crisis an aesthetic issue, not an economic one, Scruton posited that “the degradation of our cities is the result of a modernist vernacular, whose principal device is the stack of horizontal layers, with jutting and obtrusive corners, built without consideration for the street, without a coherent facade, and without intelligible relation to its neighbors.” Scruton claims that as opponents of these non-contextual housing projects force their relocation to the outer edge of the city, it encourages an increasing amount of “void and sprawl.” The commission chair also got in his hits against the International Style Seagram Building, calling it and all of its imitators “lamentable.” Of the Foster-designed City Hall in London, he described it as an “alien object” at the center of a “growing moral void” that intentionally excluded human-scale interaction. Modernist vernacular in general, according to Scruton, is inherently inferior to the pre-modernist style of weaving together seamless street walls with heavy ornamentation, in particular those in Victorian and Georgian styles, a refrain also gathering in popularity among white ethno-nationalists. Scruton used the speech as a chance to dismiss his critics, saying that his work at the commission had been “interrupted by the half-educated having their say first.” He may have been referencing calls from architects and Labour MPs to resign over a long history of divisive comments. In a 2001 article for New York’s conservative City Journal magazine, Scruton claimed that being gay was just as bad as smoking and knocked 10 years off of the lives of LGBTQ individuals. Just this past April, Scruton suggested that one of the 9/11 hijackers, who had studied architecture in Hamburg, was “taking revenge on an architectural practice which had been introduced into the Middle East by Le Corbusier.” Scruton’s comments on Jews in Hungary forming a “[George] Soros empire” to undermine the country’s national sovereignty, and his close ties to Hungary’s Prime Minister and hardliner Viktor Orbán, have also drawn international scrutiny. Scruton, for his part, has brushed off these criticisms as wholly unfounded and a distraction from the important work he was hired to do.
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Limestone load-bearing exoskeleton spawns outrage in London

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In a time when stone is primarily used in facades as screen walls or purely decorative cladding, London’s 15 Clerkenwell Close by Groupwork + Amin Taha Architects (ATA) brings structure to the fore with a load-bearing masonry exoskeleton. Since construction in November 2017, the mixed-use development, which is the home of Taha and his practice, has proved contentious between critics and local authorities. While the firm was awarded the 2017 RIBA Award, the Islington Council has ordered the architect to demolish the structure for a perceived incongruity with the surrounding historical context—albeit a significant portion of Islington's architectural stock was built in the mid-20th century with half brick facades—a major complaint being the rustic quality of the limestone slabs.
  • Facade Manufacturer & Installer Stonemasonry Company Ltd, Ace Sheet Metal Ltd, Glasstec Ltd
  • Architects Groupwork + Amin Taha Architects
  • Facade Consultants Webb Yates Engineers Ltd
  • Location London, United Kingdom
  • Date of Completion November 2017
  • System Concrete floor slabs fastened to load-bearing masonry with unitized glass-and-wood curtain wall
  • Products Limestone blocks, double glazing bonded through nylon thermal isolators to bronze finished metal curtain wall system
To source the limestone facade, ATA went across the English Channel to a quarry outside of Lyons-la-Forêt in Northern France. According to Project Architect Dominic Kacinskas, "the region is noted for its continued use of strength certificates with a generations-old workforce well trained in extracting stone and splitting it accordingly." In contrast to historic and contemporary stone construction that is polished, chiseled, or hammered into a relatively smooth surface, the project’s columns and lintels are left in their semi-unfinished state. Striped indentations formed from the splitting process and fossilized remains track across the facade along with the smooth faces of bedding planes. Columns and lintels, all roughly measuring 10 feet by 1.5 feet by 1.5 feet, are stacked atop each other in a six-story square grid. Each block is bonded to the next with just under an inch of mortar and gravitational force. In total, the limestone exoskeleton weighs just under 250 tons. The reinforced concrete floor slabs, measuring nearly eight inches thick, are embedded with a series of steel plate casts that are bolted to external metal bosses through thermal isolator nylon plates. The metal bosses are in turn grouted into a system of galvanized steel I-beams placed at the meeting point of horizontal and vertical stone elements. Groupwork + Amin Taha Architects were able to execute a continuous bespoke curtain wall inches behind the load-bearing masonry effectively disengaged from the structure through the use of pinpointed metal fastenings. Window openings, composed of double-glazed units with metal brass finished frames, follow the equal subdivision of the exterior's stone structural grid. The design team placed solid oak timber panels where outward views are not permitted by the columns, which are grafted atop a solid oak sub-frame. Along the side elevations of 15 Clerkenwell Close, the design team elected to keep intact the original red brick party walls abutting adjacent structures. This decision is most apparent on the northwest elevation where a new grid of limestone, and infill grey brick, is cut into the party wall to support the insertion of new floor and roof slabs. Why the controversy? The Islington Council contends that Groupwork + Amin Taha Architects did not accurately display the finish of each stone component of the facade. According to the firm, the rough finish of the limestone, formed by millions of years of fossilized marine organisms, quartz pockets, and other sedimentary products, "is only discoverable weeks before installation on site as the stonemasons sub-divide the extracted stone into sizes set by the structural engineer." An appeal against the motion of demolition will occur in April 2019.