We must conquer constraints to keep the lifeblood flowing
The day-to-day business of making architecture confronts ever more numerous constraints.How we respond to these will, to a large extent, determine the architecture of any project.
We must therefore identify the operational 'context' in which the project is created, defining the 'rules of engagement'.Once defined, constraints can then be perceived as either negative laws that stymie innovation, or as the lifeblood of the creative process.
Which view you take will determine whether the process of responding to constraint (design) destroys an idea or informs the opportunity. I am firmly in support of the latter view, because architecture is built on constraint and creative response.The greater the problem, the more the need to think laterally to solve it; the more the need to innovate and progress.
Having said all this, I am constantly astonished by the crass stupidity of the rules that confront us.We would do well to rethink the systems of measurement that, in an auditdriven era, dominate.The measurement of the easily quantifiable leads to eradication of the intangible qualities of 'delight', since the latter do not rest easily on the balance sheets of scheme appraisals.
So what new tools should we employ?
The system of finance, which has a formative impact, still uses an antiquated capital cost criterion when it should measure value - assessing capital cost, cost in use, environmental cost and the 'usefulness'of the product.Similarly, space standards are still assessed by a 50-year-old 'benchmark', Parker Morris, dating from an era of slum clearance, which they rarely achieve.We should measure the cubic volume of accommodation, not square footage; the ease with which space can be reconfigured and upgraded; the provision of private and public external space; the generosity and delight that we offer future inhabitants.
On an urban scale we measure plot ratios and habitable rooms per hectare; crude tools set by continuously outdated and reactive unitary development plans which imply that cities have no 'section'.We classify occupation in terms of 'use class orders' which deny the shifting nature of work and the distinction between occupation and building fabric.We should, in fact, measure 'occupation'over the cycle of a day, a weekend, a week; the quality and extent of transportation and communication links; the impact of new ways of working; and proximity to commerce, education and retail facilities.
In essence, the only measure is the ability of a location to service its occupants.
Building regulations correctly aspire to raise standards of construction and safety, but are similarly inflexible.The wit of a design is therefore often measured by the extent to which it overcomes regulations that preclude innovative models.We should measure the ecological efficiency of a scheme, not its U-values.We should assess the impact that desirability of location has on density and daylight, rather than applying a universal 'daylight factor'.We should consider the benefits to neighbouring occupants, site workers and the quality of build that off-site construction brings to the process of 'making', rather than only thinking about time.
It is for these reasons that I despair of the likely conclusion of current regulatory obsession with 'cold bridging'and its evil twin sister, 'interstitial condensation'. It is not that we cannot learn from a history of defects, but that we are confronted by a reaction of grotesque regulation rather than intelligent analysis.
The biggest cold bridge in any project is the glazing unit.The ultimate aim of the incessant waves of new building regulations seems to be its abolition.Glass, of course, is easily shattered and therefore 'dangerous'; it is also key to our enjoyment of buildings, so banning it would doubtless be fully supported by health-and-safety apparatchiks.
Absurd? Unprecedented? No.Window tax has a well-documented history.