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The Architects' Journal welcomes your letters, which should preferably be typed double-spaced. Please address them to the editor at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4GB, fax them on 0207 505 6701, or e-mail them to Victorian@ construct.emap.co.uk to arriv

EH supports CABE

over Foster City scheme

English Heritage shares the concern and disappointment of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (cabe) about Foster and Partners' design for Minerva's 40,000m2 development scheme for the site bounded by Walbrook and Cannon Street as reported in last week's aj.

Contrary to the suggestion made in your report, we played no part in influencing the basic design of the scheme submitted to the City Corporation for planning permission, which was firmly set before we were drawn into pre-application discussions with the corporation and the architects.

Like cabe, we look forward to fundamental reappraisal of the scheme leading not only to a solution that establishes a successful relationship with Wren's church of nearby St Stephen Walbrook, but also to a new development that will achieve the architectural quality this prominent site in the city deserves.

Philip Davies, director, London Region, English Heritage

Asking questions on the sunny side of the street

Your building study (aj 7.10.99) shows another wonderful building by Bennetts Associates in Edinburgh. However, I note that it is of east/west orientation with a highly glazed east elevation. Does this edge space labelled 'internal street' reduce glare and, by stack effect, remove unwanted heat? The article concentrates on the drum, but I would like to know more about how the building works.

Chris Clarke

Bligh Voller Nield

Australia, via e-mail

Rab Bennetts replies:

In response to Chris Clarke's e-mailed query from Australia, I am happy to explain the design strategy for the bt building in Edinburgh a little further.

As with our earlier building for John Menzies nearby, morning sunshine is a welcome source of 'free' warming for much of the year in a climate which is significantly cooler than, say, the south of England. The internal street and its upper-level balconies act as a buffer zone in terms of temperature and glare, although electronically operated internal blinds are available to cut out direct sun up to mid-day. There is the additional bonus that, with no external shading to the east elevation, the spectacular views towards Edinburgh Castle are maximised for all.

Any solar gains in the street are allowed to drift upwards and into the atrium spaces at high level, with heat recovery via the plantroom recirculation system.

Initial indications are that the top floors appear to be about 15 degrees warmer than the lower floors, so minor adjustments are being made to the displacement ventilation system to even things out. A detailed account of the services strategy appears in this month's Building Services Journal; for details, send e-mail to nick_huxsted@tbg.focusnet.co.uk.

Benchmarking survey results should be shared

The benchmarking survey which was announced by architectural management consultancy Colander (aj 18.10.99) is to be welcomed. It is, of course, extremely difficult to measure some aspects of a 'service' provider and particularly when this is related to something so subjective as 'design'.

The results of the survey will obviously benefit the practices involved, but it is hoped that the results are shared within the profession generally. This initiative should be extended to include the other building professions to provide much-needed information to the service sector of the industry. Similar initiatives from the riba, Institution of Structural Engineers and Institution of Civil Engineers etc would be welcomed. It is hoped that the results of this sort of research will encourage increasing numbers of architects to the more general 'Egan' debate which is currently led by many more clients and the larger consortia of national contractors and multi-disciplinary consultants. This is illustrated by the membership of the excellent ciria-sponsored Construction Productivity Network, with membership throughout the industry in excess of 150 firms, but with only five firms with an architectural interest and even fewer from a sole architectural background. We do need the key member of the design team to join the discussions. Telephone enquiries to 0171 222 0445, ciria's Events Hotline.

Simon Pole, structural engineer, (no address supplied)

Praise for AHMM's serene slice of Canada

All praise to Allford Hall Monaghan Morris for the elegant Great Notley Primary School. The environs of Braintree are magically transported to Northern Canada with a school that tips its hat to John Patkau's architecture of sweeping roofs, serene geometry and natural timber cladding.

There is great value in tracking the design process - although this does not seem to have established anything new, as the team has apparently worked in the patient and professional fashion typical of the better construction projects. The rather dry summary of the tracking process does not properly commend the commitment and trust shown by that modest contributor to the design process - the client.

The idea of a competition to find a team rather than a design came from the client and was part of a drive (supported by the Design Council) to find a way to introduce design quality into a routine procurement process. The client - in particular Gordon Powell, then Essex's energy adviser - was adamant that an overall team should be chosen and that we should actually interview the team members who would work on the project (this led to one team bringing 26 people along to interview).

Essex should be justly proud of what it has achieved here - it would be interesting to know if the process will be repeated across its educational estate.

Malcolm Reading (organiser of the competition for Great Notley Primary School), London NW1

Moneo's 'breakthrough' is not all that new

The little snippet on Rafael Moneo's Houston Museum of Fine Arts (aj 4.11.99) must have been intended to impress rather than inform, but it is not clear that Moneo's claimed 'breakthrough' has caught up with Smith & Brewer's gallery day-lighting design of the 1920s at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Smith & Brewer (see article on its famous Mary Ward Settlement, 'Masters of Building', aj 2.8.89) developed the 'top side- light' system put forward by Hurst Seager before World War I - the intention was to throw light on the gallery walls, not the floor or the viewers, to minimise distracting reflections. This was when day-lighting was the only light source, and indeed electric lighting was only introduced at the Fitzwilliam in the 1960s. Moneo's design may not be so successful - but, of course, we were not told what he was aiming for.

William Fawcett, Cambridge

Defending the work of the technologist

As a fully qualified architectural technologist and member of the British Institute of Architectural Technologists (biat), I feel I must respond to a letter written by a Mr Andrew Bailey of Barnsley (aj 4.11.99).

I too have my own practice and have certified self-build projects on numerous occasions with complete success. It is with outrage that I read of Mr Bailey's comments, which state that biat is 'an organisation for technologists who are not recognised as being suitably qualified to certify a self-build project'.

For your information, Mr Bailey, all financial institutions recognise the biat qualification as suitable for self-build, a list of such is available from biat headquarters in London.

Mr Bailey's pride also seems hurt because of the Nationwide Building Society's careful scrutinising. An increasing amount of financial institutions are stepping up their level of 'practice examination' for certifying projects and £500,000 personal indemnity insurance (pii) cover is a common requirement.

Come on, Bailey: answer those questions, and wake up to the fact that it is not only architects who are recognised to certify a self-build project!

Neil Dowlman

Alford, Lincolnshire

Blame RIBA for stifling surveying opportunities

Andrew Bailey's letter about building societies rings true with my experiences. I recently provided professional services to a builder constructing a one-off house which he has now sold. The purchaser's building society would not accept the architect's certificates I had furnished and in the end the builder had to obtain retrospective indemnity from Zurich on order to complete the sale. He, of course, wonders why he needed me on site at all, and no doubt next time he will dispense with the services ofan architect.

Some years ago (before the Party Wall Act) a local acquaintance of mine needed to repair a chimney which formed part of a party wall. The owner of the next-door house insisted that he obtain professional inspection of the work, so he came to me since I was local and known to him. On submitting my details to his neighbour's building society agent, he was told that an architect was not acceptable, and he must use either a building surveyor, or, failing that, a structural engineer, because 'they are one step up from a building surveyor'.

I am often asked by prospective purchasers if I can carry out a house- buyer's survey for them. I tell them that I most certainly can, but that before they engage me they should check with their building society that my report will be acceptable. They never come back. Usually it is a local structural engineer who benefits. Although I am entrusted with the care of many fine and important church buildings for which I am the inspecting architect, I am not deemed capable of surveying a humble terraced house.

There appears to be a perception in the housing business that architects are a lightweight 'styling' luxury who cannot be relied upon for nuts and bolts expertise. As a result, a huge market for which we are most ably qualified is not open to us. I blame the riba, which, despite expecting sole practitioners to pay a practice membership as well as a personal membership fee, clearly fails to promote the interests of its small-business members in these quarters as strongly as other professional bodies - if at all.

Roger Munday, Hebden Bridge

Erratum

The tables at Grimsby College Bar (aj 23.9.99) were designed and built by Illumineering.

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