Posts Tagged ‘building’

Set in stone: time travel at BGS Keyworth

04/07/2012

The recently opened Geological Walk at British Geological Survey’s headquarters in Keyworth near Nottingham crams three billion years of the Earth’s history into a beautiful, 130m long stone concourse. Stephen Parry (Mineralogist and Petrologist at the BGS) and Michael Heap (Managing Director of expert natural stone suppliers CED Ltd) did the time-walk with me.

An ammonite-bearing block of Portland limestone

Each step on the Geological Walk takes you 25 million years closer to the present day. What can we learn from this ambitious project? (more…)

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Fractals in architecture: good for the soul?

20/02/2012

What comes into your mind when you hear the word ‘fractals’? Maths and geometry lessons? Swirly spirals in cosmic colour-schemes on student bedsit walls? Self-similar shapes in nature, like snowflakes, ferns and broccoli? The drip-paintings of Jackson Pollock?

Wikipedia says a fractal is “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole”.

Fractal architecture is generated by the application of fractal geometric principles to the design of facades and building forms. Here are some examples of fractal architectural facades.

Yannick Joye, from Belgium’s Ghent University, argues that this type of geometry has been used in architecture for two main reasons:

1. Fractal rhythms, created by midpoint displacement, are used as a creative tool to generate a variety of architectural components, such as planning grids, strip windows, noise abatements etc. Examples can be found throughout architectural history, from Doric entablatures to modern facades.

2. The typical measurement techniques of fractal geometry are used to analyse the structure of buildings. The box-counting dimension, for example, is a measure for the recursivity of detail on ever smaller scales. An extract from Joye’s Fractal Architecture Could Be Good for You:

Carl Bovill [1996] has applied this method to different building styles. He found that Wright’s organic architecture shows a ‘cascade of detail’ on different scales, while in Le Corbusier’s modernist architecture, the box counting dimension quickly drops to 1 for smaller scales. This finding is consistent with the fact that ‘Wright’s organic architecture called for materials to be used in a way that captured nature’s complexity and order … [while] Le Corbusier’s purism called for materials to be used in a more industrial way, always looking for efficiency and purity of use’.

In the following illustrations, forms like arches and domes reoccur on different hierarchical scales throughout a Hindu temple, the Stadhuis (Town Hall) in Bruges, and the Notre Dame de Paris.

Stadhuis, Bruges

Notre Dame de Paris

However, as satisfying as fractal geometry may be to mathematicians, Yannick Joye is more interested in a less visible side-effect of fractal architecture. From an aesthetic point of view, Joye (whose specialist field is philosophy) points to research showing that human beings are innately attracted to fractals, that fractal shapes and images have a calming effect on us, and that this affinity may be related to our long-ago habitat – the trees:

… as a result of evolution, the brain has a preference for fractal structures, and feels relaxed when surrounded by these. This means that one of the reasons why we like the fractals in Gothic and Hindu architecture is that they remind us of our ancient, natural habitats. Because our brains have not fundamentally changed since prehistory, these biofilic responses are still at work.

A classic example of fractals in nature: the fern (Freefoto.com)

Do you see fractal architecture as calming and harmonious, or do you have more of a Euclidean frame of mind? I would love to see examples of the buildings that appeal to you the most.

The relative sustainability of building materials – guides and sources

06/12/2011

The trade associations, enthusiasts and lobbyists for different building materials are busy telling us how sustainable their material of choice is, and how it out-performs all others. Amongst the myriad claims, facts and figures, how can we establish which material is the most environmentally friendly?  And is that even the right question to ask?

Timber is a natural material and absorbs CO2 while it grows, steel is eminently recyclable, concrete is ideal for thermal mass construction, whereas bricks are durable and can be reclaimed.

Even if we discover which has the lowest embodied carbon, for example, we may not agree on what sustainability actually means. Are we talking about cradle-to-grave lifespans, economic viability, wildlife considerations, energy performance, aesthetic impact, recyclability – or even taking a holistic view of the building’s use and social sustainability within a local community?

In the absence of a unified framework of assessment and an agreement on relevant metrics, the debate will continue.

At the end of the day, each project needs its own, tailored assessment. A good designer will select from all options and choose what is fit for purpose, rather than become too attached – by habit or preference – to one material or another.

But in order to make that choice, we need a level-headed view of the facts available for each material, accompanied by real-life case studies. We also need to consult with people who are in the know about the different accreditations and codes, and can give an unbiased overview. Below are some sources that make a good start.

Codes and certifications: consultancy

  • Mel Starrs, Associate Director at PRP Architects, specialises in sustainability and green buildings. Her Elemental blog is full of useful information.
  • The CodeStore.co.uk has a directory of CSH consultants and assessors. Materials is number 3 on the Code’s list of 9 sustainable design criteria.
  • Jennifer Hardi works for the BRE’s Low Carbon Future team and is also part of the technical support team for the Energy Saving Trust’s Best Practice Helpline.
  • Bruno Miglio is a Leader of Global Materials Science at Arup. The team offers advice on the use of materials in engineering and architecture – from design to reuse or demolition.
  • The BRE’s Green Guide to Specification assesses building materials and components in terms of their environmental impact across their entire life cycle.

Concrete

This is Concrete showcases sustainable construction projects and encourages project-based feedback, presenting case study evidence to support the sustainability credentials of concrete.

Sustainable Concrete has information on concrete production, performance and end-use, and provides indicators on materials efficiency.

MPA (Mineral Products Association) runs the Concrete Centre, which contains news, publications, webcasts, online services, advice and design tools.

Steel

The BCSA is the national organisation for the steel construction industry. Its website, SteelConstruction.org, has a section dedicated to sustainability. The BCSA’s Target Zero project “will generate costed solutions for structural steel framed construction that achieves highest BREEAM ratings and changes to Part L of the Building Regulations, meeting emissions reduction targets towards zero carbon by 2019.”

Timber

TRADA has a library of downloads that detail the sustainability of timber. The Association’s Technology Assessed scheme also helps establish whether a company’s literature gives a fair representation of the benefits and characteristics of a product or service – a useful tool against greenwash.

The Forestry Commission also provides comprehensive facts and figures on the timber trade.

Stone

All members of the Stone Federation of Great Britain have to comply with this Sustainability Statement. The Federation provides a Technical Advice Service for the commercial and domestic use of natural stone.

Stephen Critchley – a Master Stonemason in Central London – is a font of knowledge on ancient and modern uses of natural stone, giving talks, workshops and demonstrations.

The simplest view of the sustainability of natural stone – there is tonnes of it about and it lasts for a very long time – is outlined here by CED.

Bricks and blocks

Bricks, in the words of the Brick Development Association, are “a versatile and durable building material, with excellent life cycle performance, energy efficiency, high thermal mass and responsible manufacturing.” Its publications on the sustainability issues of bricks and brickwork are listed here.

Sustainable Build details the manufacture and use of bricks as a sustainable building material in this article, and also comments on stone vs brick.

What other sources have you found useful for determining the sustainability of specific building materials? Please leave a comment and let me know!

This post was inspired by an interesting conversation on Twitter with structural engineers David Sharpe and James Thomson.

Compare and select building materials on ESI.info

Glasgow’s Riverside Museum & the Museum of Liverpool: money well spent?

26/07/2011

History is now being housed in the most modern of buildings, but architectural excellence comes at a price. June saw the opening of internationally renowned architect Zaha Hadid’s first major public building in the UK, the Riverside Museum: Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel. And just last week, Tuesday 19th July, The Museum of Liverpool, the largest newly built museum in the UK for over 100 years, opened its doors to the public.

I spent many an afternoon at Glasgow’s old and dilapidated transport museum with its brick industrial-style exterior and 1970s-inspired interior. The new building located on Pointhouse Quay at Glasgow Harbour retains that industrial warehouse feel, but with a much more contemporary aesthetic.

Riverside Museum (Flickr: Culture & Sport Glasgow)

Riverside Museum (Flickr: Culture & Sport Glasgow)

The tunnel-like structure opens at each end, making it “porous to its context on either side”, and connecting the city of Glasgow with the River Clyde. Historically, the site has been a ferry crossing since the middle ages, making it a fitting tribute to the transport relics housed inside. (more…)

Glasgow 2014 Velodrome

18/03/2011

I recently did a post on the unveiling of the velodrome for the 2012 Olympics, and it’s a great way to incorporate my interest in cycling with architecture and construction.

The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and National Indoor Sports Arena, currently under construction in a regeneration area in Glasgow’s east end, is named in honour of Scotland’s most successful gold medal winning Olympian and Commonwealth Games champion.

image by Mark Young, Scottish Cycling coach

(more…)

Architecture & movement

28/02/2011

Movement in buildings

The other day, I was reminded of the Nationale-Nederlanden building in Prague, Czech Republic, which was designed back in 1992 and finished in 1996.

One of the architects who worked on this project was Frank Gehry. Known for his deconstructivist architecture, Gehry was last year described described by Vanity Fair as “the most important architect of our age.” His controversial building was originally named Fred and Ginger, after dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but is nowadays known as The Dancing House (and even The Drunk House). The words ‘drunk’ and ‘dancing’ effectively describe this building; it is full of unpredictable movement. Sat amongst its historic neighbors the building looks as though it might at any time take off and dance along the Vltava river.


But there are buildings that move, and there are buildings that really move.

Buildings in motion

Designed by architect David Fisher, the world’s first ‘building in motion’ is expected to reach a staggering 420 metres. Comprising 80 floors, each floor will be capable of rotating independently from all other floors, so that externally, the building will appear to twirl seamlessly. Apart from looking spectacular, the building will also be self-sufficient; wind turbines will be placed between each floor, utilising the wind to produce enough electricity to power the entire building. It will also be the first skyscraper to be built in a factory from prefabricated parts, reducing the required workforce by over a half.

Unsurprisingly, the Rotating Tower (or Dynamic Tower, as it is also known) is to be first built in Dubai; the land of all things grand, ambitious, and expensive (and that’s just the architecture). (more…)