Ruth Slavid talks architecture

Banish the bale

Posted in concrete, housing by ruthslavid on June 17, 2011

We are becoming used to buildings constructed from straw bales, but I just love this one which relies on absence of bales: It comes courtesy of that great website Dornob, and is of a house built by excavating a pit and then filling it with straw bales around which concrete was poured. Then a cow was imported to eat through the bales and hey presto, a new home – after clearing up somewhat I imagine.

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When is it right to demolish?

Posted in housing, planning by ruthslavid on February 22, 2011

Here is a tricky one. An appeal inspector in Islington has refused an appeal against the demolition of ‘Choudhury Mansions’, a block of flats that differed  substantially in execution to the scheme that had planning permission.

You can read about it on the website of the local labour councillors. Doubtless the flats were as unsatisfactory as the campaigners against them argue. But, in sustainability terms, is it right to demolish this building? And with a shortage of housing, is it right to take some away? The answer to both appears to be no. But an action like this is not just about the individual case but about the messages it sends out. If developers are allowed to get away with it, what then? Tricky indeed.

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Style over substance?

Posted in housing, wood by ruthslavid on October 26, 2010

A gorgeous looking stair in this house by Paul Cha architect, but it does raise a couple of questions.

Are they more flexible in the US than the UK about regulations? Would I dare go up it after a few drinks? Cha says he takes a Zen approach to his architecture, but not sure how Zen I would feel after a tumble down this.

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A glimpse of the future?

Posted in energy, housing by ruthslavid on July 31, 2010

Is this what the products of the next generation of architects will look like?It is a house in Byron Square, Trumpington, Cambridge, which PRP has refurbished as part of the government’s ‘Retrofit for the future’ initiative. The house, which is a steel-framed system building, has been overclad, and has solar and pv panels on the roof (note the care taken to ensure they look the same), as well as heat recovery, new windows etc.

It will be monitored carefully over the next two years. Exemplars like this should point the way to a mass of work that can be done – and needs to be done. But whereas this house involved a large effort from a large practice (at a large price) the idea will be to come up with a solution that is repeatable and affordable. And will offer a very different shape for architectural practice.

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Rat tales

Posted in housing, landscape design by ruthslavid on June 26, 2010

Noel Farrer of landscape architect Farrer Huxley was telling horrific stories, using a phrase that is new to me – ‘rat bloom’. This is what happens when conditions are so favourable, that the rat colony expands to occupy all the available space. When he worked on Broadwater Farm estate in north London, they poisoned all the rats which then filled several skips. And on Abbey Orchard Court development, a Peabody estate in Victoria, he opened a 10 foot deep inspection chamber to find it solid with rats – yuk.

But it was the need to redo the courtyard that led to Farrer persuading Peabody to banish the cars and create an entirely new and very successful environment.  He led a tour round the estate and its neighbours as part of the London Festival of Architecture, and I will be writing about it in Specification Magazine’s Hotels, Sport and Leisure supplement.

Ralph Erskine hit me

Posted in housing by ruthslavid on June 21, 2010
Ralph Erskine

Ralph Erskine - a bruiser?

I was talking to Ben Derbyshire of HTA about materials for house design, and he reckons brick will disappear pretty quickly. It won’t be used on new construction, and existing brick buildings will be ‘wrapped in overcoats of insulation and rendeer.’ The reason? Derbyshire said ‘You can’t build a zero-carbon house using brick.’ Then he thought for a minute, and added ‘Mind you Ralph Erskine hit me when I said that.’  Luckily, by the time the two were working together, on the Millennium Village at Greenwich, the hero of the Byker wall was past his first youth, so Derbyshire emerged unscathed. Erskine had the look of a man who could have packed a mean punch when he was younger.

Stadthaus on shortlist

Posted in housing, wood by ruthslavid on June 10, 2010

I was delighted to see that Andrew Waugh has been shortlisted for an RIBA research award for his innovative Stadthaus. This is what Andrew describes as ‘the tallest timber housing in the world’ built very fast and very effectively from cross-laminated timber. It would be great if they could get some more work like this – possibly with a client who is brave enough to expose the timber.

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Saving houses

Posted in heritage, housing, streets by ruthslavid on June 7, 2010

Coming out shortly is Mark Hines’ report for SAVE on ‘Life after Pathfinder’, a really imaginative approach to how to save back to back houses by adding additional, prefabricated elements.

Certainly a much greener solution than demolition. From the perspective of the overcrowded south in particular, it seems mad that any property is surplus to requirements. But I was in Birmingham last week, where Digbeth has an immense amount of unwanted industrial property – ready to become ‘free schools’ perhaps?

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Off your bike

Posted in housing by ruthslavid on April 15, 2010

When I saw Johnny Manns of Urbanest yesterday, he talked about the problems of cycle storage. Sadly little of this is as elegant as Ai Wei Wei’s art work, shown here:

Urbanest is a developer of student housing in London. Along with many other building providers, it is increasingly asked to provide cycle storage for one bike per user. Yet, says Manns, most of this expensive space stands empty. After all, his buildings are deliberately placed close to public transport. His solution, on his first building near Old Street, designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios? Give every student the chance to lease a folding bike, and cut down on storage.

Thermal mass is in the floor

Posted in housing by ruthslavid on November 29, 2009

Where do you put thermal mass in housing? The solutions that work in offices, such as exposed ceiling slabs, are too costly for houses, where frequently upper floors will be timber.

At Upton Site C, near Northampton, HTA Architects put the thermal mass in the floor of the double-height spaces. This is where the winter solar radiation would fall, and they laid stone tiles on top of concrete.

 There is an irony that this is usually a Mediterranean approach for summer cooling rather than winter heating, and one does wonder whether residents will be tempted to put down rugs to make it ‘cosier’.

But apparently the houses are sold with an info pack saying that it is vital not to cover up the floors – and the inclusion of underfloor heating may help.

Anyway, it’s a great looking scheme.

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