Newcastle Sixth Form College building tour

24/07/2013 by

Newcastle Sixth Form College moves into the only purpose-built sixth form college in the city this month, providing a world-class learning environment for its students. Below is the college’s 3D building tour – it was designed by RMJM.

The 11,000m2 inspirational building will provide 16 to 18 year olds across the region with specialised facilities in classrooms, performance studios and laboratories. Each room has been fitted to the highest standards and is well equipped to allow the delivery of high quality teaching that will stimulate student learning. Each floor will also have open access IT areas to allow for private study.

In the college’s fine arts studio, Hunter Douglas met the challenge of the sloping ceiling details in the design with bespoke systems that also conceal services and provide acoustic control, as well as offering aesthetic value and long-term solution.

acoustic sloping ceiling

Hunter Douglas on


GEZE UK’s evening with Professor Eun Young Yi

02/07/2013 by

Door & window control manufacturer GEZE celebrates the 150th anniversary of its German parent company.

To celebrate, the company organised an evening with the Korean-born, German-based architect Professor Eun Young Yi on 25th April.

GEZE invited around 50 architects from practices to HMS President, just downstream of Tower Bridge, to see Eun Young Yi present his cultural philosophy.

“That architecture is supposed to be a consumer product is an invention of modern society. Architecture that is programmed according to the law of function… or destructive architecture without responsibility, or even architecture that is only designed for modern taste cannot replace the key values of classical architecture.”

Eun Young Yi is designer of many significant buildings, including the Stuttgart library.

GEZE UK - An evening with Professor Eun Young Yi

Time lapse: Q-Railing staircase at The Building Centre

27/06/2013 by

Time lapse videos are a great way to show how a project progresses to completion at the installation stage. Q-Railing have used this method to showcase a staircase that they installed at The Building Centre in London.

You can read all of the project details, from the design brief and technical constraints, to the creative solutions Q-Railing used to comply with building controls, through to the final implementation.

Glass balustrade Building Centre staircase

The road to perfection: Trollstigen Visitor Centre

10/02/2013 by


I made a point of visiting Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter’s Trollstigen visitor centre last summer. I suppose it is a peculiar byproduct of architectural tourism, that a visitor centre itself can become as much of an attraction as the natural feature it was set up to serve.

It is tempting to talk about the challenges of imposing contemporary architecture onto settings that are literally as old as the hills. How to marry the old with the new without creating discord; how to create an impact that is big enough to impress and subtle enough not to spoil or overwhelm the surroundings.

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However, for a Scandinavian practice to meet those challenges successfully isn’t actually all that remarkable. It seems to happen all the time. The National Tourist Route project (of which RRA’s Trollstigen centre and the surrounding hard landscaping form a part) gives plenty of textbook examples of how it should be done.

This project also presented a slightly different challenge, though. Trollstigen (“the troll ladder”) is a road rather than a destination. Opened in 1936 and winding steeply between the Geiranger fjord and the highlands, its 11 hairpin bends are breathtaking – but still form a stretch of road from A to B.

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What Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter have achieved is to create a destination out of a piece of land that was essentially a thoroughfare. This is as much down to the landscaping as to the actual buildings (restaurant, gallery and tasteful-troll-tat gift shop) themselves. The buildings cover 1200 m2, whilst the surrounding 150,000 m2 of landscaping encompass cascading pools of icy-clear water, carefully designed paths, and viewing platforms edged with weathered steel balustrade panels that jut out over the dizzying precipices. The effect of the finished landscaping work is to look as if it, too, belongs here – moulding into and meandering through the ancient landscape.

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Along these paths – true to Scandinavian tradition – visitors had built hundreds of little cairns, piling stone upon stone in order to leave something behind other than their holiday budget. In an environment where everything is breathtakingly and record-breakingly big (the nearby Trollveggen is the 2nd largest expanse of vertical rock in the world), we bucked the trend and built the world’s smallest cairn… We think.

world's smalles cairn

I will leave you with a few more of my images from Trollstigen: the smooth concrete side of the visitor centre contrasting with the rough hillside above, and the imposing Trollveggen (“troll wall”) crags.



Green, green grass of home: Norwegian turf roofs

26/09/2012 by

For a moment, let’s leave aside the technical benefits (or otherwise) of green roofs, and just enjoy how they look in the landscape.

In an article for the forthcoming Expert Guide on facades, roof finishes and rainwater management, director of the Future Cities project Austin Williams writes:

Green roofs are now lauded for their biodiversity, carbon neutrality, pollution-busting, happiness-inducing, rainfall attenuating, energy-saving goodness. Putting grass on a roof has evolved into a moral agenda that almost brooks no challenge … Specifiers need to be aware that green roofs are not a miracle cure.

This turf roof blends almost seamlessly into its hillside surroundings. Spot the chimney and small skylight on the left!

Needless to say, green roofs alone won’t meet all the challenges involved in creating a built environment that really works… Sometimes it’s good to view them from a purely aesthetic angle.

That is just what I did last August in Norway. On many of our walks during those two weeks, there were turf-roofed cabins round every corner – although because of their camouflage tops, we often did not spot them until we were right up close.

Most of the pictures in this blog post were taken at or around Herdalssetra, an isolated hill-farm that has been in continuous operation for over 300 years. The 30-odd buildings here are generally small, old timber shacks. Their turf roofs are simply a part of that vernacular and a reflection of which materials were most readily to hand at the time. However, we often saw green roofs in new-build housing developments in major cities like Oslo and Trondheim.

This post, then, is intended as a low-tech visual feast and nothing more. I hope it conveys some of the beauty of the Herdalen valley. Look at these pictures and imagine the bleating of goats, the crunching sound of fjord horses grazing in juicy pastures, the smell of sun-warmed juniper and dwarf birch, all to a backdrop rush of snow-melt waterfalls – and you’re half-way there!

This slideshow requires JavaScript. does It’s a Knockout!

14/09/2012 by

Susan Sinclair, Publishing Executive at, is always on the look-out for a bit of fun and, where it raises a some cash for charity, all the better.

A few months ago I spotted in a magazine that came through my door that Strathcarron Hospice, a local charity, was looking for teams to take part in an It’s a Knockout challenge to help them raise funds. Being the right age to remember Stu Hall’s legendary commentary on TV I thought that it sounded like just the kind of thing my workmates would love to get involved in (well, I would anyway!). kindly agreed to pay the initial entry fee and then the search was on for willing participants who wouldn’t mind getting soaked, ridiculed, bruised and bumped! With that, Blood, Sweat & Beers (a mixture of sales, publishing, IT and research staff) was born!

Back row, from left: Martin Evans, Vito Canale, Chris Johnston, Bill Strachan, Ian McIntosh. Front row, from left: Susan Sinclair, Heather Ballantyne, Emma Garrell

On the afternoon of Sunday 2nd September we turned up to a lovely sunny King’s Park in Stirling, along with our supporters and another 9 other teams, for the last of 3 sessions of the day. There were a few anxious faces as we watched the earlier teams complete the course, and then our team trouped out piggyback-style, and already soaked from having buckets of water chucked at us.

Over the next couple of hours we had to throw ourselves, quite literally, up over and through various inflatable assault courses, whilst carrying buckets of water on our heads, pulling rubber rings with a ‘Bathing Belle’ and all her trophies through obstacles that just didn’t want to move (thanks to the mischievous ‘helpers’ from Graham Fisher’s It’s a Knockout team), amongst other things. Of course, the copious amounts of a certain washing up liquid being splashed over everything didn’t exactly help, or leave a pleasant taste in our mouths (it may be kind to hands, but not to tastebuds)!

Chris tries to squeeze the Bathing Belle through

The finale was the ‘Arc de Triomphe’ where we had to jump through a filthy pool of water that 16 teams of 8 had passed through already that day, run up/slide down foamy slopes with Vito up top to help pull us up with our various items (swag bags and the like), throw our items to Heather in the ‘Prison’ and do it all over again on the way back. Last over was Bill (on his second trip) who had to bring the ‘prisoner’ back with him. I totally struggled to get on it in the first place; Emma made a valiant attempt considering she’d had no glasses on for the full course; Chris got a complete soaking; Ian arrived back with a facefull of suds; and Martin was the team star when he sprinted over the whole thing in lighting-quick time without any need for Vito’s help.

Vito watches as Martin shows how it’s done!

Finally, it was time for the cool-down conga, presentation of souvenir medals, and burgers courtesy of Cumbernauld Rotary Club.

All in all, Blood, Sweat & Beers showed great team spirit and we had a fantastic time before heading off full of smiles – and foaming trainers!

In total, we collected over £650 in sponsorship for Strathcarron Hospice and it was well worth every aching muscle, bruise and graze!

Could there be a Blood, Sweat & Beers II: The Return? Wait and see…

Strathcarron Hospice provides specialist palliative care, free of charge, to people in central Scotland suffering from incurable illnesses such as cancer, respiratory and heart conditions, and neurological diseases.

Care is provided wherever it’s needed, either in the hospice itself, or in patients’ homes, Forth Valley Royal Hospital, care homes and community hospital settings. Care is also extended to families and carers. To keep delivering care to those that need it the most, Strathcarron has to raise around £3.5 million each year.

Norwegian stave churches: 1000 years old and still standing

11/09/2012 by

A stave church, or stavkirke, is a timber church with a structural framework of timber staves (beams) resting on timber sleepers and carrying timber wall plates. The wall frames are infilled with vertical planks.

Borgund stave church

The exterior varies from simple and rough-hewn to painstakingly ornate, and in size the churches range from small, shed-like structures – such as Haltdalen stavkirke – to the more imposing Heddal stavkirke, which is the largest of its kind still standing. (At the end of this post, you will find the legend of how the latter was built in only three days.*)

In medieval Norway, the stave frame was the prevalent construction method for churches. There were at least a thousand of them – some sources say as many as two thousand – the length and breadth of the country, built in the 12th and 13th centuries. But by 1650, most of them had disappeared. Following the devastation wrought by the Black Death, many churches fell into disrepair, whilst the Reformation brought a change in the construction, style and use of churches.

Tarred pine shingles clad the steep roof sections

Today, only 28 of the original stave churches remain. Set on stone foundations, the rest of the buildings are entirely made from wood; from the dowels to the roof shingles. It is amazing to see how well some of them have lasted.

The best preserved is Borgund stavkirke in the county of  Sogn og Fjordane, in which most of the existing structure consists of original timbers.

Built from pinewood between 1180 and 1200, it is a striking, darkly ornate structure at the heart of a lush valley. I took the pictures in this post when I visited Borgund last August.

From the interior. In places, rune inscriptions can still be seen.

The intricate carvings, small-format shingles, and black dragons’ heads craning their necks from projecting gable apexes, are miles away from the simple, neutral style we tend to associate with Scandinavian architecture.

Through the centuries, stave churches were preserved by covering the timber in tar. When I visited this summer, the church had just been freshly tarred, making the external wood even darker than normal and lending it a rich, warm scent in the sun.

The external gallery, freshly tarred

The magnificent detailing and impressive longevity of it all made me think of the immense contrast between the church itself and the bleak, sparse living conditions of the people who built it. For farmers and craftsmen eking out a living in a remote Norwegian valley, building such a structure must have been an immense undertaking.

Medieval carvings, beautifully preserved

* There is an old legend about the building of Heddal stave church.

A local farmer, Raud Rygi, wanted to have a new church built. A mysterious stranger came along and offered to do the impossible: to build the church in only three days. His fee for this task was one of three things: either the farmer would have to fetch him the sun and the moon out of the sky, hand him his own heart on a plate, or guess the stranger’s name. Unsurprisingly, Raud chose the third option. He thought he would have plenty of time for name-guessing, as surely nobody could build a church in three days…

However, on the first night, the materials were already in place. On the second night, the steeple was raised. Despairing, and with only one day left before the church would be complete, Raud wandered round the building site at dusk. Suddenly, he heard a haunting voice rising out of the mountain, singing a lullaby: “Hush now, little one, tomorrow Finn will bring you the moon, the sun, and Raud’s heart for you to play with…”

Riddle solved: the builder was Finn, the troll. Raud Rygi’s life was saved, and Heddal had its new stave church.

Runic inscriptions on a church wall

The Old King’s Road, leading up to Borgund stave church

Finding construction products online: how do we make it easier?

30/08/2012 by

In this video, social strategist Su Butcher talks to architect Matt Franklin of mbf DESIGN about how he used to find a balustrade product for a specific project:

Finding construction products online can be a challenge for architects. There is certainly no shortage of information: trawling Google for the most common building product phrases will return massive amounts of data. But the chances are you will end up with a trawl-full of irrelevant information mixed in with the things you were actually looking for, and sifting through it all can be incredibly time-consuming.

Add to that the fact that manufacturers’ own websites range in quality and structure from the excellent to the downright appalling, and that you have to keep navigating backwards and forwards between websites in an attempt to compare similar products side-by-side.

Whilst it’s good to have a variety to choose from, sometimes all you want is to arrive quickly at a sensible shortlist of relevant products. Too much choice, and information presented in non-standard ways, can be a hindrance. So how do we take the pain out of construction product searches?

A dedicated website can make this process so much easier. You can search, compare and select products using filters that are specific to that product type. You can contact multiple manufacturers in one go, asking for quotes or further information. You can save products into project folders and share them with your team.

Why not register for free with and use the site as a handy tool next time you set out to trawl for construction products?

I’d love to hear about how you usually search for building products online. How does it work for you? What do you find frustrating? How could it be made easier? Comment on this blog, or join the discussion on Twitter (hashtag #ESIinfoTV)!

If you’re a manufacturer or supplier of construction products and you want to get listed on, follow this link or give us a ring on 01786 407000!

Fire sprinklers in the movies

23/08/2012 by

After debunking the myths surrounding ventilation ducts in Hollywood, we take a quick look at the frequent faux pas that are made with fire sprinklers. observes:

When someone needs to create chaos in a building or just get everyone to leave, they trip the sprinkler system. Just apply a lighter flame, or perhaps a bullet, to one fire sprinkler, and all of the sprinklers on that floor — or even in the entire building – will suddenly kick off. Everyone gets drenched, and there’s a mass exodus from the building.

The only problem with this is that sprinklers do not work that way. Practically all sprinkler systems are of the “wet pipe” type, where the pipe to all of the sprinklers is full of water under pressure, and the only thing stopping it coming out is a heat-sensitive valve in the sprinkler head. Heat it up enough, and the valve pops — out comes the water…read more

Day 25: Fire Sprinkler
Fire safety systems – UK suppliers –

Apparently this trope is so prevalent in the media that people now expect sprinklers to go off all at once. This must be a source of real frustration to building services engineers and sprinkler suppliers – has anyone experienced businesses being reluctant to install sprinkler systems because they think even the smallest fire will cause enormous water damage?

Building on Fire! image: Bjorn J on flickr

This idea is corroborated by lo-fi movie mistakes website, which issues this plea to scriptwriters:

It may be a bit inconvenient when trying to write a plot, but really, you’ve managed OK without airships being a dreadful fire risk (they’re full of non-inflammable helium), and if a car goes off the edge of a cliff, it’s acceptable for it to burst into flames after it hits the ground rather than in anticipation just after leaving the cliff edge. So, for a quality story writer, it should be reasonably easy to factor in the truth about automatic fire extinguishing sprinklers!

Day 23: Exit
Emergency exit signage suppliers –

Building Services engineering products –

Why aren’t we all enjoying a quiet night’s sleep?

31/07/2012 by

The introduction of Building Regulations Part E in July 2003 represented a big step by which all residential developments in England and Wales had to undergo pre-completion acoustic tests and meet certain airborne and impact sound performance figures. In 2004, building to Robust Details was added to this, providing an alternative method to pre-completion testing to show compliance with the Part E of the Building Regulations. So – nine years on, is everything as quiet as a mouse?

Patrick Dent, AMIOA MEng and Technical Director of Total Vibration Solutions Ltd, explores the issue of noise.

Image by Romana Klee on Flickr

Have these regulations meant that all new build dwellings and those formed from a material change of use are being constructed in a way that provides no noise issues and leaves each and every resident as happy as the proverbial Larry? Well, the simple answer is no. My weeks rarely go by without speaking to an individual who is having noise issues within their newly constructed apartment or house, yet when we investigate their complaint we find that the development met the requirements of Approved Document Part E of the Building Regulations.

So what’s going wrong? Do we need to revise Part E of the building regs? Are we overlooking certain things in the testing? Or do the regulations simply not give a result that the end client deems acceptable?

In truth, there are a wide variety of reasons why we are still encountering noise problems. One factor that caused a great deal of issues originally – although a lot of developers and specifiers are now aware of this trait of certain materials – was the problem of creep. Acoustic underlays and under-screed materials, which offered good acoustic performance initially, would continue to deflect under load over time and not recover to their original thickness. This would result in the resilience in the floor being lost, floors dropping, and floors that met the pre-completion testing initially, suddenly failing six months later.

This is quite an easily rectified problem that can be overcome by developers and specifiers ensuring that they do not use materials that are susceptible to creep. Foams are particularly prone to creep, so any foams used in this capacity should be closed-cell and cross-linked, however any reputable manufacturer or supplier should have test data available on the creep performance of their materials.

The more complex problems come when we investigate noise complaints where there clearly is a noise problem, and yet the development still passes the impact and airborne tests required to comply with Part E of the Building Regulations.

One such example I was made aware of recently involved some luxury apartments where the occupants had got together and complained that the sound insulation in the floors of their apartments were not good enough. An acoustic consultant was called in to independently test the floors. The results gave on average an airborne DnT,w+Ctr of 50dB (Part E requires a minimum of 45dB for new builds and 43dB for dwellings formed by material change of use, which the apartments actually were in this case) and an impact figure LnT,w of 52dB (Part E requires a maximum of 62dB for new builds and 64dB for material change of use). In other words, figures that any developers would be very happy with, and that were comfortably within the requirements of the building regulations.

However, what the acoustician did notice was the incredibly low background noise level. So although the noise levels caused by people walking above wouldn’t be noticed within a building with a more “normal” level of background noise, in these luxury flats, such dramatic but inconstant changes in noise level makes the sound very audible and quite disturbing.

A lack of background noise makes occasional sounds all the more noticeable

This brings us to the fact that an individual’s threshold of hearing and their perception of noise will change depending upon the environment that they are in. Part E of the Building Regulations doesn’t take the background noise level into account – so in this case, the occupants of these luxury flats are left feeling aggrieved at what they perceive as poor sound insulation in their building, whilst the builders would point to the testing that shows they have more than exceeded the requirements. So who is at fault?

Problems with background noise levels aren’t the only issues that we see on a regular basis. There is a widely accepted agreement that the tapping machine used in ISO 140 does not provide an accurate reproduction of the noise produced by footfall. Similarly, the test does not consider the low frequency performance and given that what you are hearing – particularly in dwellings formed by material change of use with timber floors – is caused by the deflection of the joists induced by the footfall, which produces sound at much lower frequencies than 100Hz, the ISO 140 calculation methods ignore it.

AcoustiCORK™ agglomerated cork underlay for impact noise and thermal insulation

So does this mean that the tests are useless and we should completely overturn them? Well, the simple answer is no. In the majority of cases, Part E provides a very good standard to ensure that the end occupant is not disturbed by noise. But here is where we need to be careful. It is a standard. It is the minimum requirements that a building needs to achieve. Certain circumstances, such as a low background noise level, a higher degree of luxury etc., will dictate that the builder needs to achieve a far greater level of sound insulation.

You wouldn’t fit out the furniture of a student hall of residence in the same way you would million pound apartments. Neither should you treat the sound insulation in the same way.