Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Helpful Advice On Collaborative Design With Millennials

Recently, Archispeak podcast 107 addressed the millennial question as it relates to the profession of architecture. If you’re like myself, you might have a great interest in the topic because the shift in demographics and resulting changes in behaviour are 1) inevitable and 2) have potential. Predicting that a demographic shift will occur is the easy part. I doubt anyone is reading this to learn millennials will soon occupy the majority of their workforce and marketplace. Predicting the resulting changes in human behaviour, on the other hand, is extremely complex, and I cast suspicion on anyone claiming they have special insight into human nature.

This puts speaker Simon Sinek, optimist and founder at Simon Sinek, Inc., in a somewhat tough position when he continues to popup in my various social media news feeds. Maybe you've seen his video about millennials circulating around Linkedin recently? Many of his statements are completely detached from my long-term and close work leading Millennials. There’s a lot at stake for firms that don't adapt. It seems reasonable firms in the AEC industry would want to understand in great detail the behaviour and point-of-view of the young adults joining their teams, slowly taking on more responsibility, and eventually making important and critical business decisions. Several things make me wonder if Simon really is the best champion for this cause.

This writing, however, is about extending the knowledge of building design, not tearing something unrelated down, so I move directly to describing a point Simon and other commenters often miss by introducing a short anecdote that happened on Linkedin. First, I should add Linkedin itself is rather neutral in this story. It’s just where I saw it happen. I’m actually somewhat confident that many of the answers we need in the world today are already on Linkedin.

Now for my part I did derail this comment section by being the first to suggest teamwork was the most ingredient in BIM workflows. This produced an immediate change in topic. Not a backlash mind you, but there was an amazing amount of self-assurance that it’s important “everyone know their role” and “make sure everyone knows their role”. What a digital native hears is, “Know your place. You are a cog,” to which they reflexively ask: "Isn't there a way we can collaborate?”

We end by considering the spirit of collaboration that is everywhere growing these days, extending far past generational boundaries. People who can spark this quality within groups will be valuable indeed. Technology does play a role in all this because in many ways that is what is facilitating the ability to collaborate so freely. Projects in the AEC industry will always need some type of a hierarchy. The projects are too big to be effectively managed without some centralized distribution of resources over time; but otherwise there’s no reason collaboration can’t be practiced in the office and field. Millennials and digital natives certainly have a challenge in front of them. But there are examples right in front of us to follow: It’s the teamwork of sports teams, the teamwork of volunteers, of hackerspaces, online collaboration, and open-source software.

The above is only an introduction of my thoughts on the issue. To keep this line of thought going at high quality requires resources I currently don’t have (but desperately want) and so will ask to be excused for stopping here.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Master Planning Inviting Airports

Put me in the school of thought airports should be showcases for the cities and countries they become points of entry to. Furthermore, it's notable they tend to be engines of economic activity in the regions they're located in. Certainly in the last decade some excellent examples have opened for airport follow. The Midfield Concourse at the Hong Kong International Airport has won numerous awards and seems to be well-liked by the local residences as well (see below). Kutaisi, Georgia, might have an airport worth remote travelling to. Dutch firm UNStudio completed an amazing structure for a smaller municipality. I find its red accents appealing and the intricate interior wood ceiling is well executed (see below).

This leads me to express concern about some of the early reports about Calgary's latest $2 billion airport expansion. I will necessarily keep some of the details vague because we really do try to be as positive as possible about architecture but at the same time – as I was wrestling with myself to even say anything at all – some of the early conclusions about the design do offer some insights about designing excellent architecture. Being in the same city as the airport in question I had heard descriptions of how proud the local design team was of the proposal. It incorporated some very new ideas about queuing science and airport building services. Initially none of their self-congratulations raised alarm because I like celebrating architecture and architectural challenges as much as the next person so nothing seemed out of place – yet.

The project suddenly had my full attention when I heard, as a result of some post-occupancy reviews, something like 900 extra seats were added by the airport authority. This struck me as odd because that's a pretty major thing to underestimate by a lot. Mind you I don't think these are the worse architectural crimes a building can commit and it seems to have been caught and corrected through a wisely implemented post-occupancy review. At the same time, however, I knew this sort of problem can have its roots in the architectural programming stage. Another consideration is reports from airlines with operations in Calgary that because of long travel times within the airport it has increased their operational costs. Misperceptions of these types can develop at the architectural programming stage because the airlines are the airport's clients, and the airport is the architect's client. It's a very non-trivial thing to accurately interpret the needs of the client's clients. Even retailers can miss the mark sometimes. Above I said missing seating was not the most grievous sin (it was caught; it is fixable). Increasing operational costs for users right off the bat is a whole other thing entirely. It's not fixable one. And two, it undermines the economic value of the building the design team has worked so hard to construct from the conceptual stage right to construction drawings. This is not the sort of thing I want Calgary to be known for nor should good design represent.

No doubt crowd and pedestrian prediction is tricky but there are whole segments of the AEC industry concerned with human-design and different approaches to architecture-human interfaces to address just these issues. I wouldn't be surprised if the design team had direct access to just this sort of expertise. I don't personally know what went wrong in the architectural programming phase to so badly misjudge human behaviour in this regard, but I definitely think all who are concerned their communities get architecture that functions as required should ask these questions of our very expensive public investments.

If you're an expert in the field or have some insights into the design, please feel free to reach out on social media to have your say! 

A photo posted by ASKDECO (@askdeco) on

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Really Awesome Renewable Wood Facades in Architecture

I think plain old fashion wood might be the sustainable product to keep an eye on in 2017. Addressing it's drawbacks first: Sources of quality sustainable wood are still very much constrained, especially since ideally the wood would be sourced locally to reduce its carbon footprint. Secondly, modern fire safety standards complicate the use of wood somewhat as its range of applications expand to which I have no good counter at the moment. It has one amazing quality though; it's renewable. And when your major building material is renewable (besides being sustainable) it triggers all sorts of positive economic feedback. Assuming a somewhat stable rate of building, one's main building material will be under deflationary pressures, which in turn can stimulate more building. Wonderful stuff.

Before readers need stumble into the archives of my blog I'll just come out and remind that I lived in Japan for four years. This greatly informed my appreciation of wood in architecture and that's probably how two Japanese architects ended up being focused on. Kengo Kuma's SunnyHills development in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo and Shigeru Ban's Aspen Art Museum each show this absolutely unhinged imagination in their approach to the material (refer to end of post). One might need to look at the interior shots of the Aspen Art Museum carefully to fully appreciate how deeply Shigeru Ban was able penetrate the design with wood. Amazing. If the Aspen Art Museum donors were trying say anything good about wood they certainly got their money's worth.

The Europa Building in Brussels where the European Council sits has some very unique features. Designed by the eccentric sounding Dr. Ir Philippe Samyn, also of Brussels, this amazing expansion definitely has a viewpoint to express. I never tire of the above view of the building. Some might say that in creating such a strong contrast with the existing building it limits the unity of the whole. But at the same time what the structure gives up in unity it makes up for in honesty. "It's the 21st. We're modern." The facade pattern is enchanting, somehow referencing mathematical fractals and millions of mismatched wooden framed windows – at least to my eye.

If you'd like to know more consider following @TheJoinery_jp. Some people might already be familiar with the account but essentially it's an absolutely top-notch encyclopedic twitter feed about Japanese wood joinery which is absolutely mesmerizing.

A photo posted by _sauerkraut (@_sauerkraut) on

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Non-Conformist Design Rules

The Wa Shan Guesthouse, completed in 2013 and located in east coast city of Hangzhou, China, is the sort of building that has always fueled my advocacy for architecture being the highest art. This Pritzker-winning structure again came to my attention the other day in the strangest of ways: an architecture video. Maybe that isn't so surprising but it's the video's approach that fell flat. Where was the celebration of architecture? The approach was so reserved and conservative; and while I'm each conservative, boring, and mediocre; celebrating architecture, on the other hand, is something I try to do to excess.

The architect Wang Shu is a really interesting guy. He's actually Dean of the School of Architecture and has had a hand in designing the entire China Academy of Art's Xiangshan campus whose construction has unfolded in several phases under his supervision during the last decade. One of the qualities I most respect about Wang Shu is that he is an admitted non-conformist. Japanese game creator Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo) also shares this characteristic. I know from experience that taking an unconventional position, though perhaps prevailing in the end, often produces strong head winds. But one doesn't produce this type of architecture – just so off the charts excellent – without zagging when others zigged. (There's always a time-and-place for probability modelling and value-engineering in the AEC industry; it just happens to be in another post.)

Looking at the layout of the building and extending to its details notice everything is presented as united from one mind. There's not many signs of computational-optimization or value-engineering. This human touch does a great deal in creating the relaxing atmosphere of the complex. If I had more time and resources this is where I would elaborate on elements of Feng Shui I see benefiting the project but will instead skip to the architect's brilliant use of materials. Rammed earth, wood and ceramics are all natural materials which react to kindly to the human-touch. Bonus: super sustainable.

I don't want to move on without noting one use of computational design in the structure: those amazing wood trusses! I actually don't know much about them, but that might not be a good standard since I want to know everything about them. They certainly are unique and guests of the China Academy of Arts will, on the whole, certainly be in for a treat if they get to stay here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Super Good Commercial Office Design

The ongoing Toronto Design Offsite Festival (and upcoming Toronto Interior Design Show) has me thinking about interiors. In the commercial office especially, the subject represents a fascinating intersection of creativity and productivity and I'm sorry to have missed an opportunity to tour some of the coolest design studios in Toronto. Contributing to the celebration of architecture, today we look outward from Toronto toward some of the best, most comfortable, sustainable offices in the world. The thread connecting them all is the expertise of Burohappold Engineering (who I have absolutely no connection to whatsoever, other than my pattern of highlighting excellent architecture).

The first building we visit is the Q22 in Warsaw designed by Architect Kurylowicz and Associates. Management consultants Deloitte – a company I have always liked but has little connection to the architectural field – show excellent design taste, or at least a smart brand strategy, by choosing to locate their Polish headquarters in Q22. The interiors of their office show the excellent potential of the interior spaces. All building services were super-charged to provide world-class efficiency, including waste water and elevators, to achieve a BREEAM rating of excellence. A nice touch was the use of triple-glazed glass in the project, a feature I've called out for before on the blog, and therefore deserves credit here.  

The next example is the dramatic new Emerson College building sitting on Sunset Blvd. where they hope it will become a permanent home for their internship program. If I didn't already know Emerson College was a film school there is scant info available about what internship programs are offered here. Certainly not animal husbandry. The form of this building is as extreme as it is creative and no doubt caused the structural engineers some head scratching at points. Beyond being notable for winning many awards the year it was completed (2016) there was quite a lot of energy modelling, both solar and thermal, which informed the designed. And again, because the form is so unconventional, so too is the challenge of modelling it.

The ambitious architects of the above project, Morphosis Architects, also have a cute connection to Burohappold Engineering in that they were consulted when the firm opened a new studio in Culver City, CA. From the images it looks like a great place to work and I'm always somewhat surprised when other companies don't take such a proactive approach to the health and happiness of their workers. Lots of fresh air and sunlight flood the interior but it's all been executed with great care to limit drafts and annoying high-contrast areas of sunlight throughout the day.

This leads us to Burohappold Engineering's own self-designed offices in L.A. (800 Wilshire Boulevard) which, while perhaps being slightly less ambitious than some of the designs they contribute to, nonetheless shows a strong commitment to the health, wellness and social equity issues the firm represents. The space was also granted a Sustainable Innovation Award in 2016 which recognizes facilities in L.A. that develop and push sustainable design without necessarily strictly adhering to the standardized LEED checklist. While high-profile design might not be available, or even a goal, to everyone, making inviting, comfortable, and healthy work spaces is achievable for any firm.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Engineering 3D Printed Architecture

Last month a small milestone was reached with the erection of a 3D printed concrete bridge over a polite stream in a civic park of Alcobendas, Spain. It caught my attention because it was one of only a few projects I've come across whose engineering was rigorously studied and recorded during the design and construction process, here undertaken by The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. The bridge is composed of a 40-foot span made in eight sections, made of recycled materials, which I assume is concrete, but what is the glue? Dear goodness to make a bridge out of this product what on earth is holding it together? So as the reader can see I still have questions despite my best internet sleuthing.

Moving to its design, I was a bit underwhelmed compared to what's coming out of the modern Catalonia region. Reports suggest the design was meant to be reminiscence and twigs and branches, which does relate to its civic setting. And though I think there are some amazingly cool applications of biomimicry in architectural 3D printing this was not what I was expecting; then I saw all the happy people on the bridge in the below attached Spanish-language news report and knew we needed to celebrate this piece on the blog.

This project is an important step in studying the engineering characteristics of 3D printed structures. Jurisdictions need evidenced-based data to judge the suitability and safety of these new structures. One important step is dynamic and static analysis of the bridge, which is actually pretty standard stuff in the industry to the best of my knowledge, but specialized. Where we often fly into the unknown are 3D printed structures' long-term behaviour. The worse case scenario is that the bridge starts to decompose in the first rain. Barring that, municipalities and owners want to know what their maintenance responsibilities will be over the life of the structure. Arriving at a narrow topic from the broad probably makes this a good place to stop and I will keep my more detailed thoughts for the major motion picture.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Retail Design Has Changed

The architecture, engineering, and construction sector is particularly susceptible to the type of anxiety and instability remarked on by nearly everyone these days. What client boldly looks at an uncertain future and answers "let's build!"? Hoping 2017 is better, one bright spot to report is the retail sector. Not only is the sector undergoing fascinating changes but people are building, with hints the sector is set to grow in the next year.

In general, people's habits changed to purchase more goods online and old media's influence shrank. It's a credit to the magnitude of change in the retail sector that returns architecture to a relevant role in marketing a brand. I'm rather accepting of the idea clients might want to express their brand in architecture. Some want to express their brand more literally as a style, which I guess is alright – it gets stuff built – but what I rather see is clients trying connecting with the community through good design. I'm not alone in advocating this; whole online magazines are dedicated to this segment and we're going to touch on a few of the best of the best here to encourage more excellent design in our neighbourhoods.  

credit Ed Reeve
The archetype here is the Apple store, the hard work of setting the pace of innovation done by the now well-known firms of Eight Inc. and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. I'm not going to dwell too much on them because there's already been a tonne written about them and the world is big and filled with good design. Ultimately, this is sort of the mould of what a store redesigned as an experience looks like.

I'm a big fan of Herzog & de Meuron's Tate Modern extension and tucked inside is Amsterdam-based UXUS's museum gift shop. The interior looks great through a tall floor-to-ceiling windows even before entering. One inside customers can quickly tell the interior was extremely well-thought out. There's excellent visibility and space to move around; the store is logically laid out and designed to contrast the functions of different areas by using different materials; and the whole thing is flexible and can be rearranged on occasion to keep things fresh.

Overall, UXUS's portfolio impresses with their examples. Again and again there's a focus on the customer's experience which other designers either miss or is simply not appropriate for the type of commercial project to be undertaken. There's is a blindspot for the firm however, and that's sustainable design, which must be included on any scorecard these days to avoid an architectural retail catastrophe (like all the abandoned big ugly grey boxes built by one giant retailer who shall remain anonymous). Here the sustainable connection would seem rather obvious since Apple continues to march toward 100% renewable energy use while the UXUS website doesn't even use the colour green anywhere I could see (which of course we know really doesn't mean anything anyways).

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Playing Music Loudly in Architecture

I imagine many readers like myself love music. Music reproduction intersects with architecture exactly in the study of acoustics. The field is now extremely software driven but if we had more time to acquaint ourselves with the history of acoustics in architecture it would reveal traditional builders skillful balancing several contradictory functions. It's recognized the best materials for high and low frequencies require different qualities; the highs needing harder surfaces to keep the sound lively while some type of absorbent material helps tame the low end. There is also the matter of "standing waves", having to do with how sound reflects in the environment and is the exact point where the subject starts to become complex. A little reflection is natural, allowing the singer or instrument to be located in a defined space and melody to breath. Too much reflection and the room response becomes uneven.

Starting on the grandest level possible is MAD's Harbin Opera House. Surprisingly, I'm still introducing people to this amazing structure. The thing is completely radical and a tour-de-force inside and out. It looks good from every angle; which is not easy for a 850,000 sq. ft. building. The acoustic engineering was done by the East China Architectural Design & Research Institute which will probably make it difficult to get an appointment for your project.

Luckily there are other buildings on our list and now we come to an absolute technical tour-de-force: Herzog & de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie. The site in Hamburg is much more constricted than the Harbin Opera House site but the architects succeeded in creating a stunning building that stands out at a distance on the horizon. Once inside everything, including the kitchen sink, has been thrown at the venue's acoustics. One nice touch is the dramatic mechanical separation seen in section. The team was lead by acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota who seems to have singlehandedly modelled this entire hall himself from his sci-fi headquarters in Tokyo. A unique feature of this hall are its sound panels. I've never seen anything like them but they immediately reminded me of a natural material (specifically the rock scalloping erosion pattern seen in underground rivers, which has to do with the math turbulence, which gets us back to sound reproduction). It's also the first large scale example I can recall using random parametric design, which beyond the similarities to geometries found in nature also contributes acoustic benefits as well (by breaking up standing waves).

Getting a bit smaller still we come to the lovely interior of Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queens University, Kingston. Architects Snohetta from Norway are getting a lot of international projects and it's easy to see why. The wood paneling here is very well done and does an excellent job defining the forms of the interior. I can just imagine leaning over and listening to a solo piano recital here. The acoustic engineering credit here goes to those ever over-achievers at Arup.

To expand a bit on the software now driving the industry, Arup has been very proactive explaining their technology to the public and prospective clients. Arup calls their software approach "Sound Lab" and it goes way beyond concert halls. This is because our urban sonic environments have become much more complex and municipalities are calling for expertise in judging the sonic implications of civil engineering projects. Returning, however, to software; Aurp's in-house software does pretty much what you'd expect, model the proposed acoustic environment virtually. The size of the hall and aesthetics we demand of interiors means the only reasonable way to reduce the possibility of standing waves is to sonically model the interior. This presents an insurmountable obstacle to those hoping to enter the acoustic engineering market but I have to admit their results are compelling. If you're still interested in learning more about the state-of-the-art of concert hall design please check out the linked video below.