Posts tagged with "United Kingdom":

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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.
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British artist unzips a derelict office in southeast England

In the southeast of England, a derelict building appears to be falling apart in the most unusual way: It's getting unzipped. This piece of architectural trickery is the work of British sculptor Alex Chinneck who this month unveiled his latest installation, Open to the Public. Comprising an oversized double zip, Open to the Public looks as if it is peeling away the walls of a 1960s office building in Ashford, Kent. Running 26 feet along the walls of the building, the zip reveals a dilapidated and abandoned interior. The building is due to be demolished, something that gave Chinneck "huge creative freedom and a license for ambition." Although the project took two months, the artwork appeared in zippy fashion, going up overnight. How the piece is made is not entirely clear. The Architect's Newspaper asked Chinneck what the work was made from, however, the artist was coy about his methods. "How the work is created is part of the magic, and I prefer not to spoil the illusion. All I will say is that we started by casting the facade of the building," he said. The surreal artwork is typical of Chinneck who has bemused passers-by in London and Kent before. In the past five years, he has slid the brick facade off a three-story property in Margate, constructed a full-size melting house from 7,500 wax bricks on London Bridge, 'floated' a stone building above London's Covent Garden plaza, and inverted an electricity pylon to stand on its tip. Chinneck said that he had wanted to "unzip a building for some time." He went on:
It had to be the right one, with the right set of circumstances. It’s often the case that the idea is there, in sketch form in my mind, waiting to be fully realized. It can take years for those ideas to find a home, and there are hundreds more still waiting. In this case, the site was originally a tannery and wool processing factory so there is a historical association with textiles. I like the fact that the building is so archetypal. I had school lessons in a building just like it and that sense of familiarity is one of the things that I like to subvert. I think we’ve all got a relationship with a building like this, somewhere in our past, so that imbues the work with personal meaning. Its position, right by the road, close to the post office, the council offices, the probation center and the leisure center means that people of all ages and from all walks of life will see it.

According to the artist, Open to the Public will remain 'open' until the end of August, "at least."

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New Architecture Writers program raises underrepresented voices

New Architecture Writers (NAW), a London-based program for emerging journalists and curators, was established last year to produce new critical voices within the industry. Dedicated to enhancing the skills of black and minority ethnic (BAME) writers and diversifying the field of design journalism, it’s helped educate its inaugural members through a year-long series of free evening workshops, talks, assignments, and one-on-one mentoring. As NAW reaches the end of its first year in October, The Architect’s Newspaper spoke with founder Phineas Harper on the lessons the members have learned so far, what’s next for the program, and why there’s a newfound sense of urgency to build a more equitable profession within architecture writing. The Architect's Newspaper: Can you reflect on a few key learnings NAW members have been exposed to?  Phineas Harper: The program has packed a lot into a fairly small time. It’s been a crash course in various forms of architectural writing from straight-up journalism to interview technique and writing opinion columns. There is no single way to write, but through testing out some basic principles and practice we’re hoping to build up the skills of all the NAW members. What have you personally learned from creating this program? A key lesson that I’ve learned through the project is that the industry of architectural writing is far from a meritocracy. It’s a cliche but it’s true—in this world, who you know counts for more than what you know. When we’re talking about widening access to architecture or design journalism, we need to frankly acknowledge the reality that personal networks count for a lot, and work within that reality rather than pretending we are capable of being truly meritocratic. NAW, therefore, is not just about expanding the skills of our members but expanding their constellation of connections. How are you approaching the second year now that the first year is nearly complete? NAW is currently possible because of the generosity of some key partners and the incredible contribution of all our workshop leaders, lecturers, and tutors. The course is free to attend but obviously requires a great deal of time, energy, and space to run. I’m actively seeking ways to make the course self-sustaining such as grants, sponsorship, and patrons. We hope there will be future years that will build on the successes of year one and take the program to another level in year two, but to make that dream a reality we need architects and editors to step-up and help us. Why do you think it’s important to help educate minority writers in design and architecture? Design writing in the U.K. has made some awesome strides in recent decades. It is highly diverse in its mix of straight and LGBT writers and until recently almost all the editors of the major architecture magazines were women. Yet, like many professions, design writing in the U.K. remains largely white with very few critics, graphic designers, editors, publishers, or journalists from BAME backgrounds. Systemic racism in the distribution of wealth, education, and opportunities inhibits new voices from a wider variety of backgrounds breaking through and depletes architectural publishing in the process with a knock-on impact on the culture of architecture itself. Addressing this situation is not a question of just ticking boxes to hit quotas. The question of diversity is a means, rather than an end. Currently, we are cutting out a huge proportion of the population from contributing to architectural discourse and in doing so locking out critical perspectives. It is not simply about who has access to platforms, but how those platforms will fundamentally change once they are no longer controlled by a self-selecting elite. To learn more about the New Architecture Writers program, apply, volunteer as an editor or teacher, email Phineas Harper at admin@newarchitecturewriters.org.  
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Charles Holland lands a 30-foot-tall parrot building in U.K.'s Fountains Abbey

A one-eyed spy bird doesn't exactly sound like a child-friendly installation, but that's exactly what Polly is. Designed by British firm Charles Holland Architects (CHA) for the National Trust as part of  Folly! 2018, Polly is a colorful, parrot-like addition to the Studley Royal Water Gardens at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. To those outside the U.K., the idea of parrots and other exotic birds populating Britain’s parks may sound farcical. However, during the age of Empire, many foreign imports flew in (or rather, were shipped in) to landscape parks across the country to demonstrate Imperial prowess. "In a less cuddly way, it addresses the issues of power, territory and wealth that underpin them," said Charles Holland, founder of CHA, speaking to The Architect's Newspaper (AN).  Some birds, namely Parakeets, have become a pest since coming over, but Polly is no such nuisance. Standing 30 feet tall and dressed in rounded timber shingles, the steel-framed folly is topped with a camera obscura capable of rotating 360 degrees. This is operated by a wheel at ground level, and vistas of the park looking across the River Skell are projected down onto a white disc inside. The back of the folly has a cantilevered tail and a double rubber curtain forms the entrance while the rest of Polly's perimeter sports mirrored trim at the base. As much Polly is a device for seeing, with its singular lens a nod to the ancient Greek cyclops Polyphemus, Polly is also meant to be looked at. Resting at the apex of Tent Hill, Polly occupies a spot that many visitors to the park will visually encounter. Across the River Skell, which bends round and almost encircles Tent Hill, is a location known as The Surprise View. This spot dates back to the 18th Century when John Aislabie, creator of the Studley Royal Water Gardens, constructed a view of the ruinous Fountain Abbey. Frustrated by his inability to purchase the abbey, Aislabie instead decided to own a view of it. "[Polly] playfully interacts with the whole mechanics of viewing within the garden," Holland told AN. "I wanted to maintain that set of relationships." Move over Cistercian abbey, now Polly has center stage. Holland also explained how the folly drew from previous ephemeral structures that once inhabited the site, such as a tent which once hosted parties and which CHA's folly exhibits the angular forms of. Polly is also light on its feet, a requirement demanded due to the archaeological remains of a temple below, thus meaning the folly has a wide, shallow foundation. Furthermore, the architect also cited the 18th century painting Parrots and a Lizard in a Picturesque Garden by Jakab Bogdany, as well as a frieze featuring parrots in foliage, the latter found at William Burges’ St. Mary’s Church in the Studley Royal grounds. Polly will be installed at Fountains Abbey until November 4, 2018. There it is joined by The Gazing Ball from French artists Lucy and Jorge Orta, and The Cloud by Foster Carter, an 11-year-old schoolboy who won a competition for Folly! 2018.
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Ian Ritchie advocates for subtlety and organic geometries in glass architecture

On April 19, for the afternoon keynote of The Architects Newspapers Facades+ conference in New York, architect Ian Ritchie discussed his decades-long involvement in forward-looking glass architecture. Beginning with the tongue-in-cheek statement, “Glass is the answer; what was the question? the British architect detailed the technological specifications and design considerations behind his projects. Ranging in size from personal residences to convention centers, the projects convey his expertise with manufactured materials.

As head of his own practice, Ian Ritchie Architects, Ritchie’s process is influenced by a range of fields, from neuroscience to poetry.

Ritchie began with one of his earliest projects, the self-constructed Fluy House (1976). Composed of a prefabricated set of materials, including a lightweight steel frame and pre-cast concrete floor slabs, Ritchie described his early curtain wall as glass acting as a windbreaker, a thin protective barrier between shelter and the sites surrounding countryside.

Ritchie also described projects he worked on as a founding partner of the engineering firm, RFR Engineers. For example, he talked about unique projects such as engineering I.M Peis Louvre Pyramids, which entailed the creation of a full-scale Kevlar mockup and the use of "phantom fixing to insure the transparency of the glass structures final design.

Next, in talking about the design of Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Arts circulation towers and the Messe-Leipzig Glass Hall, Ritchie described how unique engineering devices such as externally suspended and grid-worked glass panels bring the tectonics of design and engineering into public view while creating open and accessible spaces.

In line with his firm’s straightforward forms, Ritchie was critical of the contemporary trend of hyper-engineered glass facades with multiple curves and contortions, asking, "Is architecture intelligence or indulgence?" Instead, he emphasized the natural, biological forms that influence his creative process and, ultimately, his firms output.

Ritchies drive to bridge the highly technical, manufactured character of glass with natural objects and processes was also highlighted by his presentation of the firms recently completed, 150,000-square-foot Sainsbury Wellcome Center.

Located in Londons Fitzrovia, a central city district surrounded by architectural conservation areas predominantly comprised of Georgian architecture, Ritchie saw the Sainsbury Wellcome Center as a melting ice block spilling into the surrounding neighborhood." To fulfill this analogy, the firm opted for translucent cast glass with vertical, corduroy-like detailing that imitated the stone rustication and brick-and-mortar facades of the surrounding area.

Ritchie concluded with a call for architects to recognize that current glass design and architecture may be surpassing contemporary engineering capabilities. In his view, too many architects are acting as sculptors, an approach that will fail to make glass warm and haptically friendly to the public.

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Christo reveals his first major British work, to float on Serpentine Lake

On April 3, the world-renowned artist Christo began construction of his first major public work in the United Kingdom, The Mastaba. The stand-alone, pyramidal sculpture composed of 55-gallon oil barrels will be located in London’s Hyde Park, floating atop the park’s 40-acre Serpentine Lake. The temporary sculpture will be built by a team of engineers, and will consist of over 7,000 barrels placed over a floating platform. Rising at a 60-degree angle, the structure will reach a height of 65.5 feet with a 90-foot width at its base. The base’s floating platform will be constructed of weighted, high-density polyethylene cubes. These buoyant cubes will support a steel scaffolding frame serving as the structural core of the 500-ton sculpture. In terms of surface area, the footprint of the sculpture will be approximately one percent of the Serpentine. Barrels visible along the slopes and top of sculpture will be painted red and white, while those located on the two vertical walls will be a gradient of mauve, blue, and red. Following the project's decommissioning, materials such as the oil barrels will be recycled for industrial use within the United Kingdom. The project is influenced by Christo's decades-long effort to create The Mastaba in Dubai, a speculative concept utilizing 190,000 oil barrels to create the largest, permanent structure in the world. In a press release, Christo noted that the construction, maintenance and removal of his works is entirely funded by the artist through the sale of his original works of art, as well as philanthropic donations. In tandem with Christo’s unveiling of The Mastaba, the nearby Serpentine Galleries will present its first exhibition of Christo’s decades-long collaboration with his late wife, Jean-Claude. The artistic duo was known for their large-scale and public works. Past pieces such as Wall of Iron Barrels (1961) and The Wall (1998) similarly used oil barrels for massively scaled sculptures. Public parks and natural landscapes figured prominently in their partnership, with Running Fence (1976) and The Gates (2005) contrasting and drawing upon their surrounding environments. Weather permitting, construction of the sculpture will be complete by June 18, with dismantlement commencing on September 23.
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Grenfell Tower site is entrusted to victims for a memorial

The United Kingdom has announced that it will be turning over the future of the Grenfell Tower site in West London over to victims and families of those affected by the devastating fire in June of last year that ultimately claimed 72 lives. In a statement released this morning, the UK’s Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government outlined a set of principles for guiding decision-making at the site with those affected given majority control–it’s presumed that the site will be razed and become a memorial moving forwards. The agreement was jointly forged and signed by the government, the survivors, and the local Kensington and Chelsea council. While the burned-out remnants of the council-owned tower block are still standing, it’s expected that the gutted remains will be torn down at the end of 2018 following an in-depth forensic analysis. In a scathing interim report, Dame Judith Hackitt, part of a group evaluating the government’s failure in preventing the fire, placed the blame on cost cutting and the negligence of the regulatory system. It isn’t the first charge levied against the government for being complicit in the Grenfell disaster, and a debate on public housing has been roiling Britain since last summer. Public officials are hoping that handing over the fate of Grenfell Tower to the community will alleviate some of the blowback and have stressed that this agreement is meant to bring closure to the affected. The local Latimer Road Tube station may also be renamed to Grenfell at some point in the future. “Since day one of my leadership I have been clear,” said the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, Elizabeth Campbell. “The council will listen every step of the way to the survivors, the bereaved, and the wider community and assist in any way it can to ensure that a lasting memorial is put in place.” The full text of the principles can be found here. It’s uncertain whether the move will assuage anger at the government over the Grenfell fire, as the investigation has seemingly stalled out in recent months. It may also do little to combat claims that the flammable cladding was installed to improve views of the tower from the wealthier communities nearby.