Thursday, December 29, 2016

Celebrating Contemporary Latin American Architecture

My interest in contemporary Latin American architecture has grown over the last couple of years because of some of the strong colourful examples coming from the continent are so refreshing. I've kept on top of it all year and plan to hit two of 2016's highlights by the end of the post. 

The San Pedro Garza García community looks like just a wonderful setting for a hotel. Tall green hedges border the roads, which in turn wind up into the hills, the whole neighbourhood being nestled right under Cumbres de Monterrey National Park which it settles a tranquil atmosphere over area. The Hotel Habita in Monterrey, Mexico is an attractive example of a radically organized building. I find its street views hold up very well and want to add the firm of Landa Architects seems to be absolutely crushing it in the region with a very strong portfolio. Just to be through, double checking the reviews on Tripadvisor the hotel doesn't seem that bad either.  

Explora Park is science museum in Medellin, Mexico. Many readers will have grown up in an era where most municipalities recognize the importance of STEM subjects and at least attempt to engage the topic through public architecture. The obvious connections here are with San Francisco's Exploratorium and California Academy of Sciences (which I blogged about previously). Had to brush up on what a "vivarium" was and wish I had more details on its sustainability measures. Another interesting angle to this building is the strong support the structure received from the local publicly owned utilities. They showed a lot of leadership in establishing technological innovation and high-profile design projects as public priorities. Architect Alejandro Echeverri's firm is doing all sorts of interesting things with parametric design and modular construction but, alas, most of it appears conceptual. The four red boxes are bold exclamation marks to the building's presence but are configured to allow lots of natural light into the interior. 

Also in the past year I've come across the wonderful work of Brazilian architectural photographer Leonardo Finotti. He's working all over the world these days but his collection of South American work shows great creativity and colour and therefore I am embolden to recommend him here.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

6 Qualities of a Building Information Modelling Mandate

I've held a deep interest in the mechanisms which help us design and build for a long time simply because it contributes to the final goal of supporting all who design and build as well. My surveillance of the subject came to an arresting stop last week when I came across the claim some rather exotic research regarding BIM implementation in Australia was "equally well known". What drew me to reread the article instead of ranting against its assumptions was that the author was right; as BIM standards become stronger it will be possible to increase the benefits of collaboration. There were some problems with the article however; the text is dense and dry; and by the time the piece gets to describing what type of BIM mandate should be implemented in North America only the bravest BIM fanboys and fangirls will have lasted to the final page. Therefore, to help spread a good idea, we're going to breakdown the article's six qualities of a BIM mandate here in a more digestible format so that readers can take that information forward into the new year and hopefully build with it. 

The mandate should:
  • Have a clearly defined scope. 
  • Describe all relevant requirements, outcomes, and deliverables.
  • Reference international standards (ISOs, IFCs, etc.) whenever possible. 
  • Work like a national BIM standard building code. 
  • Be scalable to cover various types and levels of implementation. 
  • Evolve as industry implementation matures.  
A shared characteristic of the above suggestions is that they all foster interoperability. If one is looking for a model to follow, one need look no further than the U.K. who – annoyingly for someone who loves to build – continue to advance digital manufacturing techniques beyond Canada. I find the jurisdictional reactions to BIM in Europe comforting, especially as issues of sustainability continue to dominate the design process, because it seems like building information modelling might finally offer an excellent entrance into applying performance based building codes through the analysis of building models.

Not directly addressed in the article but hinted at by the website hosting the piece, the construction industry is really relying on designers to implement the technology first. When using a BIM workflow to design a complex structure, a significant amount of the resulting productivity and quality come from considering the construction phase much earlier in the design process (through the use of manufacturer models etc.).  

Though I'm at pains to stress the cooperative nature of the technology, the process still has a direction to the flow. For the construction industry to see the full benefits of BIM; architects, engineers, and designers will have to bare designing the digital model first. I, for one, am up to the challenge because the world definitely needs more architecture. A good example of this digital collaboration between architects and contractors on a complex project is Calatrava's Oculus World Trade Center Transportation Hub, a fun short video of which sits below. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Architectural Statement Recognized For Global Excellence

We're going to be looking at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens today. I've known of this building for while but the idea to post about it was sparked by President Obama's recent visit to the center. Some coverage of the event showcased the venue and it's spectacular; combining a theater, library and park into a single structure. Central to the mission of this blog is to identify patterns of good design. Renzo Piano's Workshop again distinguishes itself by designing a building that is 1) sustainable and 2) extremely well-thought out in its details.

This architectural jewel presents something of a contrast with Greece's current situation. In the larger context, Greece has always led the way in establishing culture and this project shows strong reserves of architectural confidence. It was hard to find a good perspective describing all that's going on in this site. The large green roof of the library which creates the hill is kind of woven into the urban fabric at the bottom which builds toward the west before opening up onto high views of the harbour beyond. In preparing materials for this post I couldn't find reference to what I assume must be one of the structures' antecedents: the Acropolis. Its planes and columns also situated grandly on a hill in the city.

There are more cool details inside the building than I can possibly cover in one post but with limited space wanted to feature a topic we don't often cover on the blog: Landscape architecture. Needless to say, the project thoroughly researched and executed a sustainable landscape design on a high level. I think what the park captures especially well, and what I wish was more often replicated else where, is that exploratory attitude of curiosity and adventure. The park's many paths, playgrounds, pools, and open spaces combine to give each visitor a unique experience. On an urban planning note, the center's park offers much needed green space to Athens which currently has one of the lowest per capita green space rates in Europe. To info dump the good stuff for the horticultural fans:
"Greece’s strong horticultural tradition is celebrated in the open, sunlit Mediterranean Garden. The plant palette alone will make the garden a destination: evergreen and other endemic plants such as boxwood, coronilla, cistus, and lentisc, salvia, oregano, thyme, lavender, rosemary, roses and euphorbias – all add to the sensual pleasure of a visit. Each month will bring a new color, and each season will introduce a different combination of flowers or foliage."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mini-Review: Postmodern Residential Design

This article about postmodern residential architecture is the result of my most up-voted Reddit comment of last week. Hadaway House in Whistler B.C., certainly deserves some critical inspection because there's lots we can learn to make good architecture better. It's a striking house – both inside and out – and from the pictures in the linked article there's lots of details to absorb like custom glazing and carpentry which can translate in more average homes as very nice architectural features.

The interior styling is a bit Zen and people are going to fall where they may on whether they like it or not. I like it. The architectural field is so visual somehow it feels appropriate after coming home from the art gallery to feel relaxed around white walls with no clutter. On the other hand, there are the practicalities of daily life to consider and some high-quality high-design built-in shelving would go along way toward making living in an architectural statement more liveable. The third option is that this was just for the photoshoot anyways and after the photographer left all the smartphone cables etc. came out again.

The real genius of the structure, and characteristic my comment captured, is that the interior is very well conceived. As I wrote this post I struggled with exactly how to expand on this characteristic. It's very subtle. A commenter on the Dezeen article noted that the interior was "sympathetically" modelled and I somehow find myself agreeing with this sentiment. To try to nail down a more precise description of why I'd paid Patkau Architects big bucks to design my house (with whom I have absolutely no connection with by the way) I would please draw the reader's attention to how the edges of the walls and ceiling form neat vertices like true facets of a crystal. Headroom and dead space are each maximized and minimized in turn. This is a completely non-trivial mental exercise and one which I'd be very curious to know what, if any, methodologies were behind it. I mean, I have my approach but I'm far from knowing if it's optimal or not. Unfortunately, in reviewing materials for this piece I did not come across exactly from whose mind this design dropped out of but maybe this is because it was a collaborative effort anyways.

Any scorecard considering perfect architecture in the 21st century needs to account for sustainability. Giving the benefit of the doubt to the client all those windows are triple glazed, I'm more concerned with the exact type of wood used for the exterior. Looks good doesn't it? It has a diverse range of tones which adds great depth to the texture. It's a type of South American hardwood called Ipe. I'm not familiar with ipe at all but do know bulk lumber doesn't make it's way to the interior of B.C. without leaving one large carbon footprint behind. Hint: there's renewable pine and spruce out every window (well, not really, but you get the point). And that's just the thing, LEED Platinum or Living Building certification isn't necessary. But some evidence of an attempt in that direction; acknowledgement that it's an issue; would have gone a long way to blunting this criticism and turning this into a bit more of a celebration. That said, maybe we'll be surprised? Maybe this house was built carbon neutral? That would be enough for me to get the party started again, because really, my threshold to celebrate building and architecture is notoriously low.

To read more about the house, the original Reddit thread can be found here.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Annual Update 2016

The Birdsell Family & Friends Brain Cancer Research Fund has a lot to be grateful for in 2016. Past the halfway mark in our five year commitment, we're happy to report the fund is ahead of pace. This comes as a relief to the organizers but also represents an achievement the whole family can all be proud of this Christmas season. In September I held a successful DJ fundraiser in Calgary and my Mom supported the fund throughout the year by parting with many beautiful Chigiri-e pictures in exchange for donations (Chigiri-e is a Japanese art that my Mom does which uses high-quality paper to create images). Aunt Judy and Uncle Terry did yeoman's work raising awareness of the fund within their circle of friends and we wish to extend a warm thanks to all who contributed.

Donations to the BFFBCRF support the Impact Grant Program established by the Canadian Cancer Society which targets brain cancer research in Canada with a high probability of significant progress in the near future. As my knowledge of cancer research grows, it's intimidating how complex the challenge is: Post-graduate students hunch over lab benches investigating the most minute interactions of cancer and the brain; the interconnectedness of the human body is a constant source of mystery as to whether scientists are seeing a cause-and-effect relationship or simply a correlation in their data. But even if such challenges lay ahead it's time such attention was paid: firstly, survivorship rates of brain cancer continue to lag behind that of other types of cancer; and secondly, the late-term effects of brain cancer tend to be more severe and can include psychological or social problems, learning disabilities, growth and developmental issues, and hearing difficulties.

But here is the great thing if readers should wish to honour the BFFBCRF with a donation: Brain Canada, a national non-profit, will match our family's contribution meaning we as a group have the power to affect brain cancer research in Canada to a tune of $50 000! Amazing! We hope family and friends have a great 2017 and begin to fortify themselves against the final push to reach our goal in 2018 – a goal which now appears increasingly doable! 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Skyscrapers Effect on the Urban Fabric

Skyscrapers and high rise buildings represent large investments and therefore should demand the very best of architectural criticism. In a jarring experience last week I was reminded that sometimes websites rush to feed the content treadmill before considering the reader. All readers are of immense value and I'm grateful for each. Now more than ever tall structures need our scrutiny. London has something like 119 applications in the pipeline (thought it's expected not all will be built) and juggernauts like Gehry and Foster are facing off in downtown Toronto. Who's the one who's going to go out on a limb and pick favourites?

Below is a composite of several diagrid structures. I'll send you to writer and subject matter expert @TerriBoake for more specifics on that but the point which bares reflection is that urban planners negative reaction to skyscrapers appears to be somewhat justified. We've covered on the blog before the somewhat dubious thermal properties of high rise buildings clad in glass and current research in the urban design field is only starting to come to grips with some of the negative quality-of-life issues arising from letting the free market totally dictate the form of our cities. 

Skirting the economic issues we return to the aesthetic. It pains me greatly such a great symbol of human's propensity to create is so flawed. And specifically, if we must accept some flaws to just get anything built, then can't we at least push the design further? Foster's daigrid skyscrapers to the center and and right fair much better against Eric Parry Architects' 1 Undershaft. The pressure from the developers here is very evident. One can imagine design meetings where the developer, in this case representatives from Singapore property developers Aroland Holdings, is basically giving ultimatums to Eric Parry to maximize the floor plate no matter what. That's how we end up with a boring rectangular prism for our great expense. I guess staying positive there could be awesome interior design and retail architecture. Plus one can at least still implement some sustainable technology.

In the running for best daigird high rise is Hearst Tower out of New York. I've always felt a bit iffy about the structure's connection to the historic base but at least above there is a lot going on. At least there trying something here. In case you'd like to see more urban high rise architecture, please check out the excellent feed of @tectonicphoto!

A photo posted by Tectonic (@tectonicphoto) on

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Very Best Architectural Model Making

A wonderful new museum in Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo makes me want to return again as soon as possible. Reminiscing about my old life in Japan I need not feel guilty about missing this highlight last time since the museum wasn't established until this year. Archi-Depot's goal is to try to restore and display architectural models from some of Japan's leading architects; architects I've been studying for quite a long time actually. International artists are also being included as the collection develops. Lots of different types of architectural model are represented; massing models, site models, architectural features, conceptual etc. The museum, run by Yuta Tokunaga, is apparently soliciting for financial support as well which is something I will definitely look into doing in the future because it's somewhere I'd definitely want to visit. These small pieces are wonderful!

Competing with these stunning handmade models in the 21st century is a new technology and it's time we highlight a studio doing all the right things with 3D printing. MATT Architecture of London has done an excellent job leveraging the rapid prototyping capabilities of 3D printing to design better. Daniel Lauand, architect at MATT Architecture, hits the nail on the head when he explains in the article:

“Whilst architects have always constructed physical models to test and evaluate design decisions, 3D printing opened up the possibility of increasing the frequency and complexity of this iterative process between digital model and physical artefact.”

Increasing the frequency and complexity of the iterations has a significant impact on improving the quality of a design. Or another way of looking at it; making more mistakes in the design process allows more mistakes to be fixed. I always thank the Mythbusters for championing the claim "failure is always an option" and that goes to the heart of why physical massing models etc. are so helpful whether 3D printed or handmade. The complexities are grasped more quickly and problems identified. But only with a 3D printing workflow can that iteration cycle be compressed and costs reduced. The included video narrates MATT Architecture's 3D printing process and features an upcoming project. Props to @all3dp for releasing their article under CC4.0. 

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!

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Mini-Review of the University of Manchester’s new Engineering Building

Currently rising up on the University of Manchester’s historic campus is the new Manchester Engineering Campus Development. I really love the look of this building. Encompassing approximately. 870 000 sq. ft. it will provide expanded research and teaching space to the university. During the 1970s it seemed like many tech companies were attempting this same sort of sleek black aesthetic but coming away with an ominous and foreboding black blob instead. Credit goes to architecture firm Mecanoo of London for their light and sleek design that reminds me of lace but with a hyper-technical edge suitable for engineering. The whole rhythm of the façade says, “Hey, some important science is going on in here.” The project is striving for BREEM “Excellent” status with the help of Burohappold Engineering and props to Arup for their civil, mechanical, electrical and structural expertise on the project as each of those factors contribute to the building’s overall sustainability and here are executed to the highest degree. I think the University of Manchester will be very happy with their new building, though with the caveat this is a mini-review with little insight into the building’s layout. I suppose it’s possible the floorplan is a dog’s breakfast of lonely corridors and windowless classrooms but I doubt it considering the outlined project team. I love seeing wide public support for buildings with ambitious architectural goals. It means they will stand a chance to get the resources they need to state, loudly, in architectural terms, that these are our values are as a city and university.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mini-Review of French Architectural 3D Printing Project

The picture included above caught my eye the other day: It’s a detail of an architecturally 3D printed project in France by Zurich-based LafargeHolcim and start up XtreeE. (I’ve previously done some architectural 3D printing research with Lafarge Canada when I was at SAIT.) The structure was produced for a kindergarten. If only Canadian school children were so lucky to have such forward thinking planners of educational spaces; alas, Canada rarely has the political will to create high-design, high-concept public buildings. In any case, returning to picture, it shows something very unique about the characteristics of architecturally 3D printed structures, namely, the similarities between architecturally 3D printed forms and organic forms. Architecturally 3D printed structures can be carefully engineered to optimize material – cutting away area that don’t transfer any internal forces – leaving the sort of organic form seen in the image. It’s incredible to think that state-of-the-art materials engineering, applied through architectural 3D printing, results in forms Nature already discovered, but also suggests the method might be on the right track to gaining new efficiencies. Another thing I really like about this sort of solid material engineering is that it's just so bloody difficult to do. Off the top of my head I think only the mighty @Arupgroup could take up the task at the drop of a hat. Though obviously the research arm of LafargeHolcim is not lacking engineering talent. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Play It Loud Fundraiser Wrap Up

On September 24th 2016 the Birdsell Family & Friends Brain Cancer Research Fund held the first of what is hopefully many fundraisers for brain cancer research in Canada. The initiative is part of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Impact Grant program we will see us as a family try to raise $25000 in 5 years. Though we as a family have been able to make a pretty good dent in the sum ourselves, it would be made just a tiny bit easier if there were also some additional fundraising from events as well; hence the "friends". To that end, I dusted off my DJ headphones and put together a playlist whose beats are so funky they’re actually banned in several counties. The occasion marked the resurrection of an old hobby I haven’t practiced since I lived in Japan and it brought back a lot of great memories to play music loudly again. Thanks again to all those who supported the event! 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Architectural 3D Printing’s Effect On the Real Estate Market

One of the most effective ways to analyze architecture is through its economics and I’ve found one of the best measures of this in particular is the real estate market. Forecasting architectural 3D printing’s effect on the real estate market is a complicated issue and I’m not sure the linked article exactly hits its mark. The uncertainty extends from predicting a technology’s effect – this time a new building system – on the real estate market. Not a lot of research has been done on this issue whereas how different regional pressures effect the real estate market is well understood. So what does the article say? Starting with price: “Three-dimensional printers don’t require labourers, produce much less waste (as materials are fed into the machines), and will be able to erect homes in days instead of months—making them substantially cheaper to build.” What the article hasn’t factored is the R&D costs of developing architectural 3D printing to the level we normally associate with modern building codes so these are all potential savings at the moment.

The article goes on to suggest another benefit of architectural 3D printing to the real estate market: buyers will be able to dream up their own innovative designs. And while A3DP does have some interesting cost implications for producing unique designs (which I have described elsewhere) the article does not identify a major hurdle consumers will face when designing their own house: 3D modelling a structure is a not a trivial matter. One will face challenges in meeting site tolerances, applying local building codes and using complex 3D modelling software; all of which seem beyond the commitment of the average homeowner necessary to drive the sector.

Lastly the article turns to questioning architectural 3D printing’s effect on cities by suggesting A3DP allows for building on previously “unbuildable” sites. This seems like a specious argument to me because this effect can only be marginal at best. There’s simply no glut of “unbuildable” sites in any city I know. That’s what makes them cities. Maybe it’s just my background in architectural history that shapes my view, but I look out at cities around the world and would argue there is evidence people have succeeded in applying every possible combination of structure to fit any site or space (Japanese cities in particular being a good example of this). I just don’t see architectural 3D printing’s main driver of growth being “unbuildable” sites compared to the technology’s labour and time savings.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Raising Structural Engineering’s Sustainability Game

Though constantly enthralled with my day job building with large beams – digitally at least – one thing always in the forefront of my mind is how structural engineering relates to one of the biggest drivers in the modern AEC industry: sustainable design. The steel and concrete which normally makes up a building’s superstructure do not lend themselves naturally to sexy sustainability measures. They’re energy intensive components to manufacture and transport and thereafter become inert and forgotten – ideally for the life of the building. Recently the 2016 Canadian Green Building Awards were announced highlighting some of structural engineering’s contribution to sustainable architecture. Basically what our firm does – or at least what I can contribute – is thoughtful material optimization. This is done by being as geometrically rigorous as possible delivering an efficient structure. Then we have beam design and selection etc. which is done by the engineers. This is mostly governed by local building codes but does have material and cost implications that better engineers will shift to the owners’ advantage. The projects in the article don’t stray too far from engineering’s traditional approach to sustainable structural design. Most of the efficiencies gleaned from their sustainability programme appear to come from high performance enclosures as opposed to novel recycled structural components or planting 20 trees for every steel beam. (Though I do like the sound of a solar-powered concrete pour.) Blackwell Structural Engineering had not previously been on my radar and it was nice to see Fast + Epp’s work acknowledged again but I wonder how they would fare against engineering juggernaut Arup.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

LIDAR Data in BIM Projects

LIDAR is the use of light instead of radio waves for radar applications. I’ve always just thought of it as “Laser-Radar” but some claim it stands for Light Detection and Ranging. LIDAR technology is quickly being developed for architectural applications. The big leap for the technology was reducing the difficulties of getting the spacial data into the model. BIM software is complex enough and architectural and engineering firms shouldn’t be fighting to post-process the spacial data when there is so much design and building to be done. They just want it there in the model to work with. REVIT’s point cloud system – while being far from simple – can be used with just a few clicks. The linked article highlights two main benefits of using LIDAR data in BIM design projects in the context of a UK-based renovation in a conservation area:

Firstly, old surveying techniques actually produce quite spare data sets when compared to the resolution of LIDAR scans. This increased resolution drives higher accuracy when responding to site conditions and constraints during the design process. A second benefit recognized in the article is the ability with the LIDAR data to align background images of the site within the model accurately for interior or exterior perspectives . I’m less enthused about this one; but only because digital renderings are not my passion. On the other hand, I’m always welcoming of ideas that can be applied to streamline BIM workflows. And here there is evidence BIM has slowly lowered the bar for digital  renderings: the alignment of site images with renderings, once a highly technical affair, is now automatic.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Brick Laying 3D Printing Robot For Architecture

It seems like the doldrums of summer have hit my news feed with very little in the way of architectural 3D printing news being released this week. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the most interesting robot video of the week comes from Australia, where it’s winter. The attached mesmerizing video is of the Fastbrick Robotics’ Hadrian 105 robot at work. Many assume 3D printing necessitates materials emerging from a nozzle but this is not the case. I guess there is an argument to be made the topic should be reframed as “construction robotics” but in this case the software used is directly related to architecture. I’ve written elsewhere that the development of quality software played an important role in the spread of architectural 3D printing. Here the Hadrian robot interprets already existing plugins for Solidworks 3D – a program I’ve used in the past to design of models for 3D printing – to calculate out the brick laying pattern. Mike Pivac, CEO, has this to say about the company’s expectation for the technology: “Fastbrick Robotics aims to make improvements in the areas of speed, accuracy, safety and waste” . I can’t blame him for wanting to get into the brick laying market; the brick laying market is worth a staggering $12 bil. globally.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hierarchical Metallic Metamaterial Invented For Use In Architectural 3D Printing

The following story was all over my news feed last week so I thought I’d break it down here for our readers: Researches at Virgina Tech have invented a new material with several interesting characteristics, combining stiffness, strength, low-weight, and high flexibility. These desirable characteristics are normally associated with the aerospace industry but are easily transferred when used architecturally. The notable behaviour results from the material reacting hierarchically depending on the forces applied. Nano-scale materials engineering allowed designers to print the material in such a way that regions of the lattice react differently depending on how the piece is intended to resist applied forces. Nature has already provided us with a versatile material that mirrors this behaviour in bone. Here 3D printing is really key to the development of this metallic metamaterial since rarely in the past have human-made materials allowed for such fine control of the nano- and macro-scale structure. The article goes on to stress that one of the major benefits of this process is its scalability. One of the major hurdles in the development of graphene was the fabrication of pieces useful on a human scale. Researches are confident this process can delivery much larger pieces. Will this a material help build the perfect architecture of the future?

Monday, July 25, 2016