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Environmental alliance

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Architecture, Engineering and Environment By Dean Hawkes and Wayne Forster. Laurence King, 2002. 240pp. £50

This is the first in a series of books which seek to explore the relationship between architecture and engineering. It is a topic that several other publications have recently examined, but Dean Hawkes and Wayne Forster have done so with more clarity and insight than most of their predecessors.

The principal achievement of the book is to introduce a new classification in conceiving and describing architecture. The book itself follows the now established format of an overview, in the form of an introductory essay, followed by a series of case studies of recent buildings. Its stated aim is to examine the relationship between architecture and engineering in transforming the environmental function and performance of buildings, and to illustrate the best of contemporary practice.

The introduction gives a concise but thorough summary of the previous 200 years of this relationship. It then introduces Hawkes and Forster's new taxonomy of architecture, classifying all buildings as either 'selective' or 'exclusive'.

The 'selective mode' is defined as combining form and fabric to operate in a calculated way to mediate the extremes of the external climate and to minimise the use of mechanical plant.The 'exclusive mode' separates the internal and external environment by means of a sealed building envelope, and relies on mechanical systems to provide the internal environment. Such a distinction may at first seem prosaic, but it proves particularly apt.

The authors also borrow Reyner Banham's distinction of how services are incorporated into a building as either 'concealed power' or 'exposed power'. Together, these two complementary ideas allow the authors to categorise their case studies, and identify the lineage of precedents from which they draw experience and inspiration.

The book is produced in association with Arup, with the unsurprising consequence that all 20 case studies feature Arup in one capacity or another. This is not substantially to the detriment of the book, although several of the less interesting buildings could have been replaced by more worthy examples. Where the joint production does appear problematic is in the glaringly uncritical nature of the evaluations. In projects characterised by innovation and experimentation, it seems improbable that no mistakes were made. Nothing even appears to have performed below expectations - the shortcomings, from which one can learn as much as the successes, are conspicuously absent.

Of the case studies, Bill Dunster's BedZED stands out as being the most holistically conceived and executed, innovative project.Many of the others, including Arup's own campus development, have a more selective environmental agenda. Some, notably Jourda and Perraudin's Mont Cenis Training Centre, demand a more critical architectural evaluation than is provided.

Along with well-known examples examined from an environmental perspective, such as Tate Modern and the Walsall New Art Gallery, there are less celebrated buildings which catch the attention - Francois de Menil's Byzantine Fresco Museum, designed with Peter Rice, is the most impressive.

At £50, this is not an impulse buy, and collecting the series could prove an expensive hobby. But for those interested in the subject, it is an informative and well-illustrated read. For those not interested, it could be essential.

Alex Wright is an architect in Bath

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