Thursday, 24 October 2013

London's 'Walkie Talkie' skyscraper reflects light hot enough to fry an egg

A new building on London's skyline nicknamed the Walkie Talkie has been blamed for melted car parts due to the intense sunlight reflected from its glass exterior. In a broadcast for Sky News one reporter proves that it is possible to fry an egg in the reflected sunlight. Developers say they are working to rectify the problem.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Printing architecture

Two ETH researchers from the Institute for Technology in Architecture have created an immersive space from artificial sandstone with a 3D printer. The work is currently on display in Orléans,France
Franziska Schmid

A visitor to the space created with the 3D printer. (Image: Hansmeyer / Dillenburger / ETH Zurich)

The immersive space created by the two ETH researchers covers a surface of 16 m2 and is more than three metres high, and its organic, decorative design gives it the semblance of a gothic cathedral’s façade. So it is no coincidence then that the developers decided to call their project Digital Grotesque. “Anyone printing architectural elements does not want to merely copy an existing idea; with these delicate structures, we show that the scope for designing a digitally developed wall is almost limitless,” explains Dillenburger. Digital Grotesque combines technology and nature in a very novel way: first, the project shows how computational design and additive manufacturing can work together, and, second, it draws on nature when it comes to material and form. This means that the project fits perfectly into the Archilab 2013 exhibition currently running at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France, which is dedicated to the “Naturaliser l’architecture” theme.


Complex geometry with millions of facets

The project appears playful and weightless, but is neither on closer inspection. The design, which cannot be drawn by hand or generated by computer software such as CAD, was created from highly complex customised algorithms developed by the ETH researchers behind Digital Grotesque. A simple starting shape was mathematically refined and geometrically enhanced until a complex geometry with more than 260 million facets emerged. The surface details push the boundaries of human perception as the intricate shapes evolved organically with micrometric precision.
Whereas assembly took only a day and printing just a month, the development of the design required more than a year. “The difficult part was keeping track of the emerging shapes by using the algorithms, and designing creative and surprising effects,” says Dillenburger.
Furthermore, Digital Grotesque is not light by any means – the special large-scale 3D printer produced more than 11 tonnes of artificial sandstone for the work. The printer is normally used to manufacture casting moulds for large, complex metal parts such as engine blocks, which are then grouted with metal. The ETH architects came up with the idea of using this technology to build architectonic parts. The printer applies a layer of sand which is subsequently fixed in the places where the shape should emerge. Thus, the printer applies the sand layer by layer until the entire printing space is filled with sand. Any excess sand is then vacuumed off and the finished sandstone element cleaned.


Countering standardisation

The ETH architects used the process to produce 64 individual blocks that they then joined together to form the space. Although this – yet experimental – production process still requires quite some effort and expenses, Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger believe strongly in its future. Dillenburger is convinced that it has crucial advantages over the industrial mass production that is the norm today: “The project counters standardisation in modern architecture with a new architectural language that is very specific. 3D printing is very precise and efficient, but it also enables building parts to be individually designed.”
Digital Grotesque can be seen at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France, until 2 February 2014.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Spain's economic crash brings architecture dreams back to earth

With the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona that turned the world's attention to Spain, famed buildings throughout the country gave an architectural degree cachet and allure. Norman Foster’s Torre de Collserola and I.M. Pei's World Trade Center, both in Barcelona, and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao gave aspiring architects hope for lucrative salaries and the potential for rock-star status.

But alongside dreams came a glut of architects, and a country that went on a building spending spree – both on iconic public works and private apartment complexes.
As the country remains mired in economic crisis, in no small part because of a popped housing bubble, Spain faces an unemployment rate of over 25 percent. It’s not a bright job market for any Spaniard, but perhaps no one has been more impacted than the nation's architects, who have scrambled for Plan B or left the country all together.

Read the full story here

Monday, 14 October 2013

Beijing Design Week

Sees architects launch 'micro-interventions' in one of the capital's oldest neighbourhoods. But are their good intentions having the right effect?
Mobile logos … an itinerant graphic design service is one of the projects launched in Beijing's historic Dashilar neighbourhood this week.
Mobile logos … an itinerant graphic design service is one of the projects launched in Beijing's historic Dashilar neighbourhood this week. Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian
A plastic fan whirrs above a mountain of tripe, keeping hungry flies away, while pancakes sizzle on a hotplate across the street. A tricycle cart laden with coal careers around a corner, narrowly missing an elderly resident taking his caged songbird out for a stroll, while a construction worker sits on the corner, slurping noodles from a bag. It could be any other day in the hutongs of Beijing's Dashilar neighbourhood, but this week something is different.
Down the lane, a cloud of golden discs erupts from the rooftop of one courtyard house, spilling out to form a canopy above the street. Coloured concrete stools dot the roadside, while giant cushions shaped like roast duck and fresh sushi fill a shop window. A taxi trike trundles down the road, providing not transport but a mobile logo-design service. Beijing Design Week (BJDW) has arrived, and it's brought the “pop-up” concept to one of the Chinese capital's oldest communities.
“We see these projects as a kind of urban acupuncture,” says Beatrice Leanza, the Italian director of this year's festival, who has worked in Beijing's contemporary art world for the last 10 years. “We are proposing micro-interventions in the area's empty buildings as tests for what could happen here.”
As part of the Dashilar programme – one of BJDW's three hubs across the city – two derelict courtyard houses have been taken over by Zhang Ke of Standard Architecture, who has built a clustered treehouse structure of glass-fronted rooms in the open courts, accessed by a series of ladders and ledges, that poke up above the rooftops. With crisp planes of plywood limboing between century-old beams, it is a prototype for how the site could be developed. Zhang describes it as “ultra-small scale social housing within the limitations of super-tight traditional hutong spaces,” which would be part of a mixed-use scheme with restaurants, bookstores and bars.
Parasitic pods … Micro-Hutong prototype by Standard Architecture.
Parasitic pods … Micro-Hutong prototype by Standard Architecture. Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian
A few doors down, the golden fabric discs signal a proposal by the young Beijing studio, People's Architecture Office, for a “courtyard plug-in” – a plan to insert prefabricated living units into existing houses, leaving the original structures intact. With plumbing, heating, insulation and wiring built-in, the modules would require minimal excavation to bring the leaky, draughty buildings up to habitable standards. The trial project on this site will see these pods bring a library for the local community and a startup business incubator.
In any other context, such installations might not be remarkable, part of the current trend for “meanwhile” uses on vacant sites. But what comes as a surprise is to learn that these projects have been initiated and endorsed by the municipal government – which only a few years ago had the entire district in the sights of its bulldozers.
“There has been a radical shift in the perception of how this neighbourhood should be developed,” says Neill Gaddes, a New Zealand architect who for the last three years has worked for Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited (BDI), a subsidiary of the state-owned Guang An Holding, tasked with upgrading the area. “There is a real push towards improvements and adaptive reuse, rather than wholesale demolition and rebuild.”
Plug-in hutong … a display of a proposal by the People's Architecture Office.
Plug-in hutong … a display of a proposal by the People's Architecture Office. Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian
The shift has been spurred in part by the disaster that is all too visible just a few blocks east. In the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games, a vast swathe of Qianmen, a thriving commercial district for the last 500 years, was razed and replaced by an inflated Disneyfied version of itself, a process that saw local businesses forcibly displaced by big-name brands dressed in pastiche facades.
Extending outside the old city walls, south of Qianmen gate, in a knotted delta of diagonal lanes, the area had been a lively centre of trade and illicit pleasures for centuries. From the 1500s, brothels clustered between restaurants and theatres, opium parlours lurked beneath lodging houses – a thrilling underworld that lured even incognito emperors here.
If party officials come today, it would be to stock up on Rolex and Zara, or maybe guzzle a Happy Meal. Extending south in a monumental ceremonial axis, just below Tiananmen Square, now stretches a polished open-air mall, where outlets of Nike and Starbucks, Costa and McDonalds, stand behind pantomime costumes of swooping roofs encrusted with gilded signs and lurid mouldings.
Billboards declare the project is “respecting the city texture and recasting the historical view,” as well as “restoring history's cultural pulse”. But walking the street today, it feels a vapid gauntlet through which replica trams now ferry tourists back and forth from H&M to Häagen-Dazs.
Beijing brandalism … The Rolex store towers above the remade Qianmen shopping street.
Beijingbrandalism … The Rolex store towers above the remade Qianmen shopping street. Photograph: Will Clayton/flickr
It is the most visible example of what has happened in numerous pockets of the old city over the last 10 years, as neighbourhoods have been demolished and rebuilt in the name of heritage preservation. From the shopping street of Nanluoguxiang near the Drum and Bell Tower in the north, to the alleys around the Sichahai lakes, the areas designated for historic conservation have been transformed into zombie recreations of themselves. Elsewhere, crumbling courtyard houses have been wrapped in neat jackets but their squalid innards left unchanged, adding a flimsy tourist-friendly veneer to give a picturesque backdrop for lucrative hutong tours.
But in Dashilar, things seem to be going in a different direction. Home to around 55,000 people over a square kilometre, it is one of the most densely populated parts of Beijing – six times the average density. It is also one of the most convoluted in terms of property ownership, with only around 10% of buildings in the possession of the state-owned developer, with the rest split between work units and private owners – a situation further confused by multiple sub-letting and the proliferation of illegally built structures within and on top of courtyard houses. This has seen the built fabric of the area rapidly decline, with little maintenance and upkeep of the properties due to both unclear ownership and ongoing uncertainty about demolition.
“I'm longing to move out,” one elderly resident who has lived here since the 1950s tells me. “But the amount of compensation they are offering is far too little for me to find anywhere else to go.” It sounds a familiar story, one that in the past would have ended with forced eviction. But changes to property laws since 2008 have made it harder for developers to expel residents, putting more power in the individual owners' hands to demand higher prices. As a result, residents now compete with their neighbours to be bought out at higher rates, which is making Dashilar an increasingly divided place. But the deadlock has a unexpected upside.
“This stalemate is providing an opportunity for the area to develop in a slower, more beneficial way,” says Gaddes. The initial failure of the Qianmen redevelopment – which was plagued with vacant units due to inflated rents – gave the government cold feet about rolling the same plan out across Dashilar. This hiatus gave BDI time to commission the “nodal” Dashilar pilot strategy, developed by local architect Liang Jingyu from 2011, which would facilitate several model projects in strategic locations across the area – and show existing owners how investing in their properties and businesses could help turn a profit and improve the area. “We're trying to change the conversation from people holding out for compensation, to wanting to invest and stay in their own community,” says Gaddes. As the leader of the local Xicheng municipality puts it, these pilot projects should be “like twinkling stars that grow by themselves”.
Beijing Design Week introduces the Dashilar neighbourhood
One such twinkling star comes in the form of Lin Lin, the director of Jellymon, a creative agency based in the neighbourhood, who recently sold her flat in London to buy a 10-year lease on an art deco factory across the street from her studio in Dashilar.
“I'm planning a holistic up-cycling experience,” she beams as she leads me through her building site and up a ladder, in sequin-studded platform heels, to the first floor, which she wants to transform into a cocktail bar. Down below will be an organic supermarket and restaurant themed around re-use. She is presenting the concept at BJDW by hosting a performance banquet, in which every piece of a pig is used in what she calls a “fusion of fine dining, taxidermy and product design."
Many locals turn up to watch the surreal occasion, happily stuffing chunks of the pig into bags to take back home. It is hard, however, to imagine how many of them will frequent Lin Lin's organic food shop when there is a heaving farmer's market around the corner selling food for a fraction of the price.
A project that looks a little more sensitively calibrated to the needs of locals is proposed by French designer Matali Crasset a few streets away. Dressed in a red harlequin outfit and sharp bowl haircut that gives her the look of a children's entertainer, she has taken over a factory building for the week to run workshops with local schoolchildren to imagine what the space might become.
French designer Matali Crasset plans to transform a disused factory building into a community play space.
French designer Matali Crasset plans to transform a disused factory building into a community play space. Photograph: Matali Crasset
“I was attracted to this building because it has the potential to act as a public route, linking the two streets either side,” she says as we walk through the building where she plans to install a “forest crossing playground,” an undulating ramp dotted with cabins and greenhouse spaces. For now, she has daubed bright graphic patterns on the walls and built some temporary furniture, but if the plans go ahead, it could be a useful social space for parents to bring their children in an area that lacks such community facilities.
While well-meaning, many of the projects in the area seem to have mis-fired. Italian designer Luca Nichetto has installed a number of coloured benches, designed to be moved and flipped to act as stools or tables, inspired by watching locals move their stools into shady spots along the streets. Yet their heavy concrete construction means they can barely be lifted – instead, some clever residents have taken them apart and are using their cylindrical legs as plant pots.
Hong Kong-based designer Michael Young has been commissioned to design a new public toilet, with a curvaceous white-tiled shell that will arch over the new loos like a space-age pod. It looks nice enough, but inside it will house four conventional western cubicles, negating the fact that the current open squat-toilets serve a key social role, where people chat between knee-high partitions.
A Dashilar resident looks on at Luca Nichetto's concrete stools from the comfort of her own chair.
A Dashilar resident looks on at Luca Nichetto's concrete stools from the comfort of her own chair. Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian
Speaking to residents who have witnessed the Dashilar project evolve over the last three years, there remains an understandable suspicion about the developer's motives – with the precedent of Qianmen all too fresh in the memory. Some question why they would be seeding designers and new businesses in the area, if not as a form of cultural-led gentrification, with the ultimate aim of attracting a more upmarket resident. Others are more hard-nosed: the incremental improvement of the neighbourhood makes demolition less likely, and thus threatens their chances of being bought out. Many would happily see the place razed if given the means to move on to better conditions – and they are not blind to the fact that these crumbling lanes represent some of the most expensive real-estate in Beijing.
He Shuzhong, founder of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre – which recently wrote a furious letter to the RIBA condemning Zaha Hadid's Galaxy Soho mega-mall for destroying an area of hutongs – has little time for the Dashilar plans, seeing the nodal strategy as no different to what happens elsewhere, only disguised in more palatable rhetoric.
"The developers want to be seen as gentlemen who understand the local history very well," he says. "But at the same time, they are trying to make Dashilar high-end, with new, bigger, brighter buildings. They despise local residents and the non-wealthy and want to move them all out."
"It is also difficult to distinguish who is the development businessman and who the local government officer," he adds. "They are almost a compound body – they are developers when they need to make money, and they are government officials when they need the power."
Out in the cold … Taiwanese architects Open Union Studio are camping on the rooftop after local residents refused them access.
Out in the cold … Taiwanese architects Open Union Studio are camping on the rooftop after local residents refused them access. Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian
The conflict between the project's ambition and the reality on the ground is brought into no sharper focus than at No 30 Yaowu Hutong, where Taiwanese practice Open Union Studio has set up camp.
“We wanted to create a social space that the community could share,” says architect Hai Teng, showing me around a series of wooden house-like frames he has erected on the rooftop, overlooking a courtyard filled with a jumble of jerry-built out-buildings, where six families totalling 15 people currently live. “The neighbours here are not so friendly to each other, so we wanted to make a space that they could use together.”
The architects were originally intended to occupy the empty first floor level of the building, which extends along the streetfront in a long glazed gallery, for up to two years. But when the downstairs residents caught wind of the fact this space was going to be unlocked, they said they would move in themselves and stop the practice from taking up residence. As a result, the designers are now on the rooftop in two temporary tents. “If we stay here and get to know them, we hope they will change their minds,” says Hai. “Most architecture and design exhibitions waste so much money, so we wanted to do something useful.”
Bert de Muynck, a Belgian architect who has carried out extensive research on the Dashilar initiative with Mónica Carriço at the Moving Cities think-tank, has mixed feelings about the outcome so far. “It is a brave attempt to do something different after the failures of places like Qianmen,” he says. “People criticise those developments for creating twee stage-sets for tourists – but we have to be careful Dashilar is not just creating another kind of 'authentic' stage set for designers.”
Full story click here

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Tube of the future?

The next generation of Tube train could be made in Britain, its German makers suggested today.
Siemens unveiled the Inspiro train - costing £1m per carriage - with a hint to the mayor that if he placed an order for one of the new trains for the Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central lines it would be fulfilled in the UK.
It comes after Transport for London secured its Government funding for the Tube based on the claim that it could give new orders to British based firms.


Spacious: a mock-up of the interior of the new trains (Picture: Lucy Young) Siemens controversially manufactured the £1bn-plus Thameslink train order from the Government in its native Germany.
The Inspiro will feature in a new exhibition making the 150th anniversary of the Tube and giving Londoners a glimpse of the future of London Underground travel.
The Inspiro may appeal to the mayor as it is equipped to be driverless - a facility that would weaken union strike powers.


Innovation: the proposed new trains will look considerably different to anything Tube users have seen before (Picture: Lucy Young) Compared to much existing rolling stock, it weighs a third less is brighter and more spacious.
It will also be fully air conditioned and create more room for passengers by dispensing doors linking carriages with gangways.
The new exhibition marking the Tube’s 150th anniversary opens next week at the Crystal exhibition centre in the Royal Victoria Docks.
It also features innovations in electronic ticketing and passengers information boards.

New era: the new design features in an exhibition marking the Tube’s 150th anniversary (Picture: Lucy Young)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

John Pardey Architects and Strom Architects

              The Hurst House in Buckinghamshire, England.

          Description from the architects
The Hurst House is a new build one-off contemporary house located on the edge of the village of Bourne End in Buckinghamshire. The site forms part of a garden of a substantial house located on the edge of Bourne End in Buckinghamshire, directly fronting an area of open fields that form part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding National Beauty (There are currently 33 AONB designations within England).
The clients’ brief was to build a very sustainable and contemporary family home that would have the flexibility to successfully cope with changing family conditions as their children grow up and leave the nest.  This lead to a house where they can live in one extended space while family bedrooms can be shut down and left on tick-over.
A masonry rectangular volume on the ground floor, contains bedrooms, and is slightly sunken into the ground to reduce the height of the building towards the AONB. A lightweight steel and timber volume at the first floor is set perpendicular to the ground floor volume and contains living, kitchen and dining spaces, as well as the master bedroom suite. It rests on top of the ground floor volume and spans across to a masonry wall that defines the southern edge of the house. A rectangular service element underneath the first floor sleeve – separated by a clere-storey – defines an entrance lobby with vertical circulation to one side as well as a carport to the other.
This arrangement of space allows for a self-contained bedroom wing for children (teenagers) that opens up to a south-facing courtyard, whilst the first floor volume allows living spaces and master bedroom to make the most of the site with its incredible views of the rolling landscape of the AONB to the west.
A linear balcony along the length of the first floor allows the facade to open up, and the recessed floor to ceiling glazed sliding panels to be shaded in the summer. At the southern end of the first floor volume the glazing is pulled back to create an outdoor living area which is open to both the east and the west allowing the sun to reach it at different times of day.
The environmental impact of the house was considered from the outset, and we were aiming to get very close to being a zero carbon home.
The building utilises very high levels of insulation. A small highly efficient gas boiler, together with heat recovery ventilation, rainwater recycling, solar water heating, a 10kW wood burner and a 9.9kWp photovoltaic installation, and low energy fittings throughout, ensure the property has an overall near zero CO2 impact rating. (We are yet to carry out the as built environmental performance calculations, to establish the exact CO2 impact of the property.) Since the building was connected to services, it has generated 25% more electricity than has been used.
We employed high quality natural materials that enhances and harmonises with the site; local Weston Underwood coursed stone to ground floor walls, and the upper floor element is clad in British Sweet Chestnut, which weathers to a natural silver colour and will last for many centuries without further maintenance. To the garden side, panels of pre-weathered zinc, set within the timber sleeve are employed. These materials will all weather naturally and blend harmoniously with the site and surroundings.
John Pardey Architects and Strom Architects worked in collaboration to see this building completed. When Magnus Strom left his job as a Director of JPA in 2010 to set up his own practice, John and Magnus decided that it would be beneficial for the project, if Magnus continued working with the detail and construction side of the project as well as overseeing it on site. This collaboration ensured a continuity of the project and has resulted in a strong design that has been detailed with great care and finished to an extraordinary quality

For full story and more photos click here

Friday, 4 October 2013

Architect Daniel Libeskind says Maze peace centre will go ahead

Daniel Libeskind speaks to the BBC's Mark Carruthers  

 The architect who designed the peace building and reconciliation centre on the site of the former Maze Prison has said he is convinced the scheme will go ahead.

In August, First Minister Peter Robinson sent a letter to his party members announcing that he was halting the project.

He said there needed to be a broad consensus on how it would operate and what it would contain - and that is currently absent, in his view. But the New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind believes Mr Robinson's intervention is simply part of the process.

Mr Libeskind masterminded the Ground Zero project in New York and the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Berlin.
"I've seen that pause button in every project," he said.
"I think that every building (I've worked on) had a similar process; initial impetus then: 'How do we get consensus? How do we bring people together?'
"But in every one of those instances the building was able to forge a path towards the future. So I think it will happen. I think that people will understand that it's not a shrine to terrorism. I have full confidence that it will happen."

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson suggested many people in Northern Ireland felt the site was not the proper place for a peace centre because of its association with the past and because of its retained buildings.

"I think that if those buildings had been removed from the site, and we were looking at a green field I think people could have lived with that but not with the retained buildings on the site, and I think that in essence has been the problem here," he said.
I travelled to Studio Daniel Libeskind in downtown Manhattan to speak to the architect about his hopes as part of my forthcoming Radio Ulster documentary, Building on the Past.

Daniel Libeskind  
The renowned architect Daniel Libeskind pictured during a visit to the Maze site last year
The centre is part of a £300m site redevelopment, but the DUP had been criticised for supporting it.

In his letter of last month, Mr Robinson ruled out any public use of the retained buildings - the one existing H-Block, where paramilitaries were held - and the hospital where Bobby Sands and other republican hunger strikers died.
He also said the prospects for building any peace centre at the site near Lisburn must be linked to building a wider consensus, and cannot just be about securing support from within the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation has promised 5,000 permanent jobs on the site and the peace centre was seen as the key to unlocking the full jobs and economic potential of the wider 347-acre site near Lisburn.

Over the years, the scheme to redevelop the former prison site has been controversial.
The Maze housed paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles from 1971 to 2000. Ten republican prisoners died on hunger strike there.
But Daniel Libeskind told me that those who believed the site would glorify terrorists had got it wrong.

'It's a complete falsehood. I was born in Poland, my parents were Holocaust survivors. I was born in a Communist country and dreaded going to school there," he said.
"How can I, who embrace democracy and open society, be involved in something as evil as celebrating terrorism? Who in their right mind would do that? I would never be involved in this project if I did not consider it something important - to bring people to Belfast to that site."

For full story click here

Thursday, 3 October 2013

China's brand-new abandoned cities

China's building boom has created a ton of abandoned cities and massive ruins — most of which are brand new, and have never had people living in them. Here are the deserted Chinese cities, mostly built in the last 10 years, which could be sets for your next dystopian movie.

Kangbashi New Area, a district of Ordos, Inner Mongolia, Northern China

In 2003, Ordos officials started the planning a new 1 million person city district. Thanks to a $161 billion investment in 2010, the "Dubai of Northern China" has the capacity for 300,000 people — but only 20,000-30,000 residents. It isn't a ghost town due to economic issues — the government simply can't convince people to move there.

China's brand-new abandoned cities could be dystopian movie sets

China's brand-new abandoned cities could be dystopian movie sets 

China's brand-new abandoned cities could be dystopian movie sets