Thursday, December 01, 2016

Urban Planning Controversy Stalks Architecture Festival

Not Patrik Schumacher
I was looking at posting something about architectural 3D printing but instead was lured to post about the recent comments of Patrik Schumacher, director of Zaha Hadid Architects, at the World Architecture Festival. This is the most excitement the World Architecture Festival has had in years! And though I don't often post about urban planning nor court controversy on the blog now that some time has past and dust settled we can return to ask: what was he thinking?!?!?

Schumacher has since walked back his statements on slashing public housing and privatizing public spaces. He retreated to the common position others have taken that he was just trying to raise awareness of the issue. I will take him at his word on that. But a lot can be perceived from other's reactions to his statement about the forces which shaped what he said and why people supported it. U.K. developers, for instance, seem to be siding with Schumacher that there is too much regulation. I feel safe in assuming Schumacher has never need avail himself of subsidized housing which, at least in part, explains why he was so dismissive of a whole group of people in coming to his conclusion. In walking his statements back he continued to suggest too much regulation is hurting the development of low income housing. I'm sympathetic toward this argument since I sit next to a copy of the National Building Code and it's a beast to build with. That said, if less regulations were a panacea for better social housing, non-profits were non-existent in their support if it. Public housing advocates knew he was out to lunch; economists as well. The free market does many things well but it's a mistake to think it's perfect and low-income housing is one of those pragmatic necessities for a city that defies an easy market solution. I actually don't think I'm saying anything particularly controversial in the field of economics but in many ways this breaks down to a classic Marxist analysis and many do not like mixing politics and architecture.

Schumacher will live to design another day but apparently he has taken a position only he himself will be able to resolve the contradictions of. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Lists and Lists and Lists of Sustainable Sports Stadiums

I was doing some research on an unrelated project and stumbled across the fact there seems to be little content addressing the overall state of enviromental sustainability in sports stadiums. Definitely there were a lot of lists. But no one seems to have taken the time to draw any conclusions about the field. 

Stadium architecture is interesting for a couple of reasons: They are often high-profile and have big budgets; there are a couple of challenges enforced by the high occupancy load that can affect the form of the building. Industrial scale HVAC systems and the necessity of strong exit patterns etc. limit design options in certain ways and aren't a lot of fun to deal with. That said, stadiums like Texas' AT&T Stadium do take advantage of the freedom to explore radical design options. In the picture accompanying this post notice the HUGE depressed arches which at once are structural solution and architectural feature.

Texas AT&T Stadium. 

Not to diminish HKS Architects and Walter P Moore Engineers accomplishment we probably shouldn't leave the topic without noting that despite many sustainability measures being implemented across the site, Texas AT&T Stadium and others like it still use the same amount of electricity as a small city. Recycling programs; solid waste reduction; natural light. Across the sector sport stadiums have barely made a dent in electricity consumption. Some of this is reasonable given that a large stadium can be compared to condensing a small city into one place. However, efficiencies should arise due to the increased density and yet these savings don't seem to be realizable in the current state-of-the-art stadium architecture.  

Shrinking in scale somewhat, I think recreation centres offer a much more interesting design challenge. Here one is faced with the true integration of multiple functions (how to get squash players to play nicely with badminton players) and here some of the limitations of occupancy load and HVAC systems discussed earlier can be treated more flexibly. A recreation center which continues to set an example for the sector is the Auburn University's Recreation and Wellness Center in Alabama. HOK did an excellent job creating some really interesting interior spaces and as a runner I thought it was a nice touch to include a 1/3-mile figure-8 running track. (The cherry on top would have been if one of these awesome augmented reality climbing walls had been included!) I wish the project had tried to pushed past LEED Silver but we'll take what we can get. I also have some questions about the exterior styling but this might be a factor of not having a more detailed sense of its surroundings.  

Auburn University's Recreation and Wellness Center

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Applications of Floor-to-Ceiling Windows In Sustainable Architecture

I've been caught in a dilemma for the last couple of years. Being proficient in REVIT allows many to create dramatic glass facades with ease. And there are real-world examples where this is nearly executed as such by curtain wall suppliers through BIM. In any case, the imaginative possibilities of bold forms containing light-filled interiors is attractive to many. That said, unfortunately from a sustainability standpoint this type of building enclosure is flawed. In northern latitudes this proposal becomes very energy inefficient. I've enjoy reading the work architect and writer Lloyd Alter of Toronto who constantly pokes the industry to action on this point. 

No one wants to compromise on design. How can one balance the desire for lots of natural light and beautiful views with some sort of moral conscience that architecture needs to do its part reducing North America's carbon footprint? There are a couple technological solutions, one of which is triple-glazing. Certainly triple-glazed curtain wall systems exist but it's hard to find any really innovative examples of their use. Certainly if one is sticking to orthogonal surfaces it might be possible to be satisfied with this state of affairs. But in reality it would seem designers think of radical approaches all the time and satisfying these demands might require every panel in a window system have a slightly different shape. Building information modelling on many levels can reduce the effort needed to track such a design program. However, adding another pane of glass can only increase complexity during the manufacturing process so as one can see we are left with a bit of a dilemma. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Burn it all down! Build Sustainable Post-Modern Architecture

I guess it might come as good news to some net-zero homes can now be designed and built to look exactly like normal suburban homes. And while that might be worth a bit of celebration what we aim for at The Perfect Architecture Company is to encourage design which pushes far past the average. Having only a blog at my disposal to encourage demand that means we highlight:

In the 21st century there is no better bearer of environmental excellent than the California Academy of Science Museum in San Francisco (completed in 2008). The whole building gives the impression they are trying to say, the future has arrived – and were not going backwards. Renzo Piano can be credited with again applying his genius to create a stunning form and wonderful interior spaces. What I really like about this building is that many of its sustainability technologies were transformed into architectural features.
  • Living Roof
  • Natural Light
  • Automated Ventilation
  • Renewable Energy Use
  • Energy Efficient Building Design
  • Sustainable Materials
Execute that list well and you might get double LEED too. They even managed to work in some of the old exterior facade as an architectural feature inside! Overall the design really speaks volumes about Renzo Piano's studio's skill and creativity. Arup is here again, putting another excellent accomplishment on their resume. As for Stantec, they were somehow involved but it will be hard to celebrate their participation because unfortunately I could not easily find further details about their involvement. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Build The World! 2016 Structural Engineering Awards

The Institution of Structural Engineers did such a good job last year curating a list of interesting and inspiring architectural projects that when the 2016 winners were recently announced I again wanted to take some time to highlight some of the winners. More buildings were included in the formal list than can be included in this post but one of my long-held curiosities in the field is how to make structural engineering more sustainable in the sense the field is transitioning into a low-carbon economy in regards to its main construction materials. Be that as it may, their choice for accomplishment in sustainability was London's 5 Broadgate which while having some strong points might not have fully addressed the environment aesthetically – my apologies if a deeper description of this has to wait for a future blog because of this blog's policy to only speak positivity of architecture and the building endeavour. Therefore we should be thankful for BuroHappold's effort to drastically reduce and quantify this building's carbon footprint. Arup was again recognized along side BuroHappold for taking on daring engineering challenges in 2016. I also discovered a great little practice Pell Frischmann (which is really not so little and based in London) who was recognized for their effort toward educational architecture with their completion of The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. 

Lastly we touch on the double award winning Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre of Surrey, B.C., which was recognized for achievement in Community or Residential Structures and Supreme Engineering Excellence. There's lots to like about this building but I'll only point out my favourite little detail: The roof of this building is amazing! Hats off to HCMA Architecture + Design who specified these wonderful wooden beams with the curvature derived from the catenary function to give the structure this wonderfully light appearance. The roof line is so thin and just sort of floats draped there. Really really cool. The project included Fast & Epp of Vancouver as the structural consultants. Hopefully they're taking a much deserved break after their win to fortify themselves against the many many building projects waiting to be challenged. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

Discrete Brick-by-Brick Architectural 3D Printing Technology

It's interesting how quickly architectural 3D printing is advancing. Take, for instance, my previous post about an Australian brick laying robot compared to the recently revealed Archi-Union of Shanghai's additive construction technology (via The earlier example looks quite primitive compared to the artistry and grace of the Chinese model. A couple of things to point out: Firstly, the surface which was to be faced with brick is quite unorthodox and a challenge to attempt by hand. I immediately recognized the surface as being computationally derived though by which method I can not tell. I would of course be attracted to defining such a surface with differential equations but for all I can tell maybe the studio just played around with symmetrical NURBS curves. In any case, the end result is certainly more visually stimulating than a plain flat brick wall. This brings us to our second point: completing such a complex surface in brick by hand to the tolerances needed to express the pattern is the main benefit offered by architectural 3D printing in these situations. The subtle gradations required to express the pattern work against the traditional tolerances allowed for when laying brick by hand. Without precision the pattern becomes murky.

Another point which readers might doubt is whether this technology really deserves to be called 3D printing or not. Sometimes we view 3D printing as strictly an extrusion process. I'm comfortable shifting the whole topic to additive construction if that reduces anyone's consternation. I much rather design and build with this technology than fight about its label. In so many ways, but especially when designing, this technology and 3D extrusion are similar in how the design is computationally derived and how tolerances are moved into the software domain. That's why I feel it's worthy of inclusion under the title or architectural 3D printing. Here one can imagine the bricks are just larger discrete elements instead of the fine particulate matter normally associated with 3D printing.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Green Building Facades in Post-Modern Architecture
Arup was spamming my news feed in September about green urban facades, and while apathetic toward the spamming, the aesthetic potential of green facades ignites the imagination and so I've finally found time to write about this excellent sustainable design option. The example linked above comes to us from Milan and is nearing the end of construction (to the best of my knowledge). The random arrangement of balconies with their rectilinear presentation lends the project a modern slant and one can only imagine that once the tree canopies fill-in the balconies will become an inviting place to visit in a crowded city. Found at the end of this post is the work of architect Jean Nouvel of Paris whose building One Central Park in Sydney, Australia, won the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s award for ‘Best Tall Building – Worldwide’ in 2014. From what I can tell from the details online the design is sharp sharp sharp. I love the strong square stance and radical approach to vertically. The building is also notable for its broad approach to sustainability, throwing everything at the problem, including the kitchen sink, to reduce its carbon footprint. I had to look up what a heliostat was – and this building has many – and in combination here the heliostats counter the creation of any dark void which might be created by the overhang and give extra support to the green canopy underneath.

Now if one is excited as me to use a green building envelope in a project one word must brightly flash as warning before starting: Complicated! I mean, firstly there is the issue that not all plants tolerate confined spaces equally well. I'm not a botanist nor landscape architect nor really a green thumb so this would necessitate inviting a plant consultant onto the team for sure. Then secondly, it's well-known that plants held near the surface of a building also holds in the moisture as well. And though it's possible to navigate these risks on smaller projects, once a certain scale is reached the need for a building science specialist to detail the green facade will be an important step in mitigating any long-term deterioration of the structure due to moisture. Lastly, the weight of the soil needs to be accounted for structurally. It imposes loads on the structure not typically found in generic buildings and therefore how these loads are transferred to the ground without ruining the design takes engineering expertise.

The advantages of green building envelopes are many and the same group who fought through the problems of green facades have also kindly cataloged their benefits: Foresight, Arup's R&D arm, first stresses human's fundamental connection to nature and plants, contrasting that with how urban environs have developed. Green infrastructure reduces our carbon footprint and reduces local pollution. Furthermore, green building envelopes cool the surrounding areas and makes them quieter. All these characteristics together make our cities much more walkable, another sustainable policy I might be even more passionate about to which Arup has also contributed research.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Notable New York Building Reviewed for Archtober

To celebrate @Archtober - an architecture festival just winding down in New York - I wanted to highlight a New York project of supreme architectural merit. Sadly the building in question was demolished in 2014 after only 12 years of use: I am of course talking about the celebrated American Folk Art Museum designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien completed in 2001. There’s no point in re-litigating the causes of its demise, rather I will use this time remembering a New York architectural jewel. Though the facade of the building was excellent on its own merits – it’s rare bronze alloy panels making a significant visual impact on the street ­­– it was the material selection and careful design that brought the building to my attention. The floorplan, with its many nooks and crannies, reminds many visitors of a domestic interior which is well-intended since the details are craftsmen-like as well, all reflecting the museum’s folk art roots. The budget for this building must have been astronomical to be able to source such fine materials like Douglas Fir and Cherry woods in large amounts and Pietra Piesentina, a hard stone from north Italy, to say nothing of the specialization it took to create the façade. What a dream to be able to design with such materials. And then to be able to specify such fine tolerances and highly customized building details - a feature contractors hate but which good design demands - is what raises the building to a fine example of post-modern architecture. The arcspace blog has pictures and a rundown of some of this great building’s notable details. For those interested in what architects replaced the Folk Art Museum: Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York were awarded the expansion of the Modern Museum of Art which brought down the building in question but supposedly the American Folk Art Museum’s façade was saved.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

French Architectural 3D Printing Technology Update

Published two days before my blog post this online article can claim to have beaten me to the story. The article also addresses LafargeHolcim’s work in architectural 3D printing with XtreeE in Europe. However, it adds one tantalizing piece of information I’d like to share with my readers in which I might have been ahead of the curve. The article goes on to describe LafargeHolcim’s goals in architectural 3D printing thusly: “LafargeHolcim has initially pegged three 3D-printed concrete targets: high value-added architecture, affordable housing, and robotics-enabled, precast building element fabrication.” Interestingly I had actually already identified the first two points in some writing on the subject from 2015 (an example of which can be found on my Linkedin profile). The third point referred to in the quote I’m a bit wishy-washy on since I see this factor as facilitating the first two but can see how this can become its own business goal depending on one’s position in the AEC Industry. Anyways, just wanted to say that if one wants to be not just days ahead of the curve, but years, please follow the blog and we’ll try to help build and design as much as possible!