amin taha's comments
Apologies again if you've been hauled over the coals with it all, I know what that feels like and certainly didn't mean you to be the focus of attention. Poorly expressed frustration that what are logical, inexpensive, ultimately better structural solutions aren't shared enough. We're often in the same situation, something appears unusual or a new mix of structural typology has to be proven. Sometimes we're asked to undertake desk top studies of others too. Wholly contrite and will word such comments more carefully in future.
Wouldn't it be good to share what we learn on load-bearing CLT and other timber, stone and brick structures, self-supporting so on? Helpful to clients, architects and consultant groups if we had access to proven structural typologies that meet regs, are cheaper, CO2 negative or reduce embodied CO2 by 90% today, not in ten or twenty years time. They are only the structural starting points to the architecture and not a style dogma. We're forever grateful to other architects and consultants who have often been sitting on ideas for years with little opportunity to share. The AJ could bring back their details publication as a free online resource, perhaps as a sort of "robust structural/sustainable/cost proven" set. Demonstrating how less material can achieve the same outcome, whether it is later further elaborated or not. I better step off the hobby horse now, sincere apologies again for the insensitivity and good luck with it.
Hopefully my words weren't accusatory more "if criteria change are there alternatives the AJ could help present to us all", not leave a question mark hanging there? These situations are never really binary, I think we all know you, as with so many other architects are doing the best possible. Perhaps an independent website where everyone can upload ideas to share but the AJ does have the immediate and wider audience. Good luck with the project in any case.
On the DRMM building having to, perhaps undergo a speedy if not expedient rethink against new client personnel and criteria. Many years ago the AJ used to publish typical/latest construction details which I think was a collation of the preceding year's featured projects?
You could rethink these as a series of "typical" CLT details (other materials too) for small and tall buildings, office and residential spaces? Building a database for sustainable and cost effective/attractive construction methods. The AJ has the qualified staff, readers, building industry consultants and suppliers to volunteer information which could exceed the CO2 reduction targets. With such a wide audience, you could/should be key in that process. Let us know if we can all help?
You wrote previously on the position of stone columns setting an unwanted precedent for landowners, architecture and its setting. The precedent set by Soane in "Ugliness and Judgement" by Timothy Hyde (Princeton University Press) may, therefore, be of interest. On completing the remodelling of his home at Lincoln's Inn Fields a letter was sent to the press and magistrates demanding the "new-fangled eyesore of a stone projection" be pulled down as it destroyed the uniformity and building line of its neighbours. The objector, a self-described "ambulator" campaigned until the matter ended in the courts in Soane's favour. Anything up to the property boundary line (pavement side of the lightwell) is a property owner's right to build up to. On the matter of design, it is correct he does not conform to the uniformity with neighbours but should he? Are they of such merit or is it desirous to do so, who is to decide? Judges sensibly decided it should be the choice of the private property owner, not an ambulator nor a group of them especially as his neighbours had no objection.
Fitting in, conforming to perceived norms is a perennial topic. Do walk Clerkenwell Close and its adjacent streets. You'll find our basement (property boundary) projects beyond the columns and adjacent building lines dating from the medieval to C20th step in and out creating a norm of misalignment in plan and roofline that gives and maintains Clerkenwell's character of incremental growth and change. A celebration of diversity not a fixed master-planned set of streets with well-intentioned but perhaps questionable Byelaws demanding maintained conformity (such restrictions do exist).
On a more technical level, the columns being peristyle not engaged will inevitably be proud of the building/enclosure line. This is an architectural standard with practical purposes to create clear environmental separation. Here, the party-wall part is the edge of thermal and weathering enclosure line, stone columns are disengaged, projected and tied back to support the floor slabs with thermal isolators at the envelope line; eliminating window reveals, sills and the need for cavity walls. Reducing material and construction cost and in turn lowering the carbon footprint of the superstructure, envelope and lowering the risk of detail junction failures for weathering and heat loss. Using contemporary technologies (structural nylon bar, glue and steel composite fixings across this line) with stone columns that are essentially a millennia-old construction and architectural compositional method. As old as the continuing arguments on how to integrate and fit in.
In answer to the points you raise. There is no new under pavement encroachment line setting a new precedent for development as the basement is located where it was within the previous building. A ceramic tiled slab built over the light-well and modern railings having marked the boundary and replaced with 65mm thick glazing, pebble mosaic and the fallen column. The internal stair is as MLM, the approved building regulation inspector would advise for all office use only conditions, general public or residential use would require the expected balustrade subdivision.
It's a very good and the first question we asked as its the reason why as a whole we stopped using trabeated structures. Thankfully we have Webb Yates as structural engineers, so please allow them the credit. At the rear of every column and lintel mortared joint is a pocket within which the male section of the steel connecting boss is bedded. It in turn is bolted to its female section with a solid nylon bar for thermal isolation. The female section is cast into the concrete slab and threaded into its reinforcement or where CLT is used onto an edge plate spanning multiple column points. Which, ultimately for the purposes of disproportionate collapse is specified and strengthened to allow the slab to span across potential gaps in the column grid should they be knocked out. Columns and lintels are sized after a four point load test of the particular quarry's stone. If found under requirement by a percentage the stone sizes are increased accordingly. Inevitably, their sizes are larger than steel or reinforced concrete but as per the previous comment and reply the advantages are if you like multivalent, aesthetic, cost, structural and somewhere towards as low a carbon footprint as possible when we need to build. Where architecture is an expression of allowing a material or two to perform a number of these purposes not just a two dimension facade behind which engineers and the QS drive structure, thermal performance with the architect if fortunate reappearing internally to specify plasterboard and floor finish. That isn't meant to come across as proselytising just an explaination how with some good consultants we work to simplify material details so they can in combination give more legible meaning.
Cost + sustainability - as a control we have to use the contractor who already priced not too high not too low. Ask what would the extra or reduced cost be if instead we had; steel or concrete superstructure, associated intermediate supporting sub-structure per floor, fire proofing that, insulatimgbit, waterproofing it, adding stainless steel support rails, dressing stone tiles with their counter brackets, the time and specialist trades involved in each against simply extracting a stone block, cuttymgbit to an engineered size, transporting and erecting it on site. In short it's quicker, cheaper and in turn lowers the embodied energy of the buildings materials and its construction. This approach is followed through internally with the eliminating the need for further insulation and plasterboard lining to walls and indeed ceilings. We do this because we believe the simpler architectonic aesthetic celebrates the inherent quality of each of the limited pallet of materials. It's also much more enjoyable to design and draw but does require full attendance of structural, m&e, fire, sustainability engineers with an approved inspector as well as regular cost checks with specialist suppliers and contractors before you ask a QS to integrate it into their cost plan book.
Finishes - Some decorative carving has been agreed with councillors at ground level next to the new public footpath. With areas vanishing and others climbing upward like ivy, otherwise the stone is as it comes split from the quarry bed. Known as Ambrato initially like all stone seams across Europe they don't respect borders and are quarried elswhere with a different name bit perhaps with a slightly different colour mixture within the seam, we are yet to decide with client and planners.
As a news item, not an in-depth study, it isn't possible to publish the full design and access statement within which you'd find an approval had already been gained for a taller building than its neighbours but which didn't break its mass on the skyline nor contribute to the public realm adjacent to the station. It also illustrates the town planning rationale with further photos highlighting larger structures and specifically a tower further up the street. It currently acts as a visual 'node' within the mental map of the area, but really leading the eye and pedestrian to nowhere. Too infrequently do we now build church spires, grander bank and institutional buildings on our high streets. When the opportunity for improving the roofline and public realm does arise it is left for architects to persuade their clients and planning departments to contribute. It wouldn't make sense on the adjacent site southward but perhaps northward of the rail line and entrance. As the site does sit adjacent to the station bridge entrance it provides such an opportunity for enlargement of the usable public space which would otherwise have been retained for private rentable retail area. With some more efficient working of the floor plans, the building's bulk/line can also be broken up into three slender parts of varying heights which must be better than one large inefficient mass. Together these aim to combine a client's needs with those of the broader urban realm.
I’ll aim to be succinct but clear and perhaps nuanced. Answering your questions in reverse order;
- Planning departments are on the whole poorly funded and staffed with itinerant geography graduates or similar who will read and apply planning policy as if it were the Bible. There is little to no understanding of urban design aesthetics let alone procurement and its potential for altering what is a legally binding approval. Those in planning departments that do appreciate all aspects of the process will also understand their authority and will create very tight conditions and more often nowadays even write the architect into the Section 106 Agreement so that if the property (and approval) is sold, the purchaser inherits the architect. Camden, Lambeth, Hackney and Westminster have done so in the past and gradually so are other boroughs.
- Architects on the whole are businesses needing to function on cash flow, appreciating their growth with their clients. Some client only live off value added by planning gains, some mix that with full development. To allow the client that flexibility and avoid irritating one's client very few architects will insist their client is bound and restricted with construction and fee costs through ‘over specification’ and the original architect conditioned into the approval. Some do, we have, no client has thanked us for it but planning departments, the neighbourhood and their councillors have, though they don’t give us regular work.
- Development has an industry standard risk probability of 20% on invested costs including site purchase, construction, fees, interest etc. this allows sale values to drop by 20% (a recession) and the funding bank to be assured the client is not in negative equity. Purchasing land with an approval is the product of such a calculation, namely calculate the overall sales value, take away 20% and an estimated investment cost and that gives you the land value. You can quickly see that in a recovering to rising market developers will be bidding higher to purchase the site while the banks are using yesterday’s values to maintain the overall value. Developers will very quickly need to make savings by ‘dumbing down’ the specification and appointing cheaper architects/consultants via their D+B contractor. As you can see it isn’t just a matter of greed but a structural issue with a moving property market, something not at all easy to ameliorate.
- The Design and Build Contract is not per se the root of ‘dumbing down’, this could just as well occur with a Traditional form of contract. It’s the information contained within the contract and the intention of the two signatories, client and contractor that produce the buildings. An architect can produce exactly the same level of information for a D+B contract as for Traditional, specifying absolutely every detail, screw and nail. The client will gain a fixed price to a fixed date and assuming the client has engaged the design team to produce that level of information because they are interested in maintaining the quality, they with their Employer’s Agent (who can be another architect within the same original practice now novated to the contractor) will ensure the binding contract is maintained. If the client has little interest in maintaining the quality promised to the planning department and believes there is enough room for manoeuvre because the planning documents are loose enough they could hand over the approval stage drawings to the contractor as part of the D+B contract and leave the latter responsible for its delivery. Which is effectively how almost all speculative housing development are undertaken.
In conclusion, few developers are financially and philosophically mature enough in their outlook to step outside the structure of the short-term market. You cannot expect them to change. Similarly as architects are mostly the tick-eating birds on the hippopotamus, symbiotic, able to fly from one to the other but with little to no effect on its partner's direction, you can’t expect them to change much. Lastly, planning departments have all the control and as they are fortunately not yet privatised as Mr Schumacher believes they should be, they are wholly independent and able to quite frankly dictate the terms.
If you really intend for the AJ to be an agent of change I would suggest you organise a series of lectures with say Charles Rose of Camden’s planning department. Invite key figures from each borough to teach them the power they have for ensuring quality at application, approval and delivery.