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One to Watch: TedWood


Words by Emily Martin

Ted Jefferis set up TedWood as he found it difficult getting a job after graduating in interior architecture from Oxford Brookes in 2009. 'It was the deepest moment of the credit crunch.I was looking for a job in furniture design and didn't have a lot of luck,' he says. 'A boat-building workshop my family had was unused; I made some bespoke furniture for friends and family and really enjoyed the mix of designing and making.' In 2013 Jefferis launched his first collection at the London Design Festival.

Locating TedWood in the 'Woods' in rural Sussex, Jefferis exhibited during this year's CDW and last month at TENT during LDF showcasing among other pieces the new TipToe Desk. 'It would be nice to have a small space in London to showcase our work,' he says.

'I think it is really important to see and touch handmade goods to appreciate the beauty of them. But for now we are happy in Sussex.' Last year TedWood completed its first commercial interior for Story Coffee in Clapham, London.

1. The HangUp Lamp: Made from British saddle leather, it has a turned oak top and is accented with solid-brass hardware. The pendant lamp has a choice of colours, sizes and there is a wall lamp option. Jefferis says: 'I am currently in talks with one of the best lighting retailers about stocking them.'

2. The TipToe Desk: Derived from the leg design on a bench, the desk is available in a choice of British hardwoods: oak, brown oak, elm and ash. The legs are spray-painted in TedWood's 'signature' colours or are available as a hardwood option. It features a dovetail key drawer with an innovative mechanism to make it visually lightweight and smooth to open.

3. Story Coffee, Clapham: Completed last year, the independent coffee shop celebrates the story behind its suppliers and produce. 'With that in mind we sourced a beautiful English elm tree and from this one tree we made all of the table tops, counter, stools and benches,' says Jefferis.



Psychology of a Happy Office

To help you survive the winter, a happy positive office is imperative. As the clocks have changed, the nights will begin to draw in and sunshine becomes a distant memory, it becomes ever more important to keep the energy flowing in the office. It's all too easy for productivity and motivation to become impacted by the seasonally adjusted issues of a cold, dark, damp commute, leaden skies and winter malaise.

A happy office doesn't necessarily mean more holidays, bonuses or table tennis tables. A combination of empowerment, rewards and personal fulfilment demonstrate companies nurture and value their staff. Companies need to go that extra mile to make people feel at home in their work environment where they can thrive and socialise too. It's essential to interrogate how each office can generate and maximise space, lighting, soft features and sociability to create an environment that promotes a positive energy across every square metre.


The key factors to a happy office include:

Provide varied work spaces and break-out areas to choose from according to the work your staff are doing. Providing the technology they need to work from these areas is also imperative - new technology has helped bring about an era of trust and freed people from their desks which businesses must embrace. JustGiving and Essence are great recent examples of this.

It's important that people don't feel isolated in the office, so companies must consider communication and collaboration in their office design. There shouldn't be any zones within the office which are separated or isolated from everywhere else. The space needs to consider everyone, both extroverts and introverts, but facilitating and encouraging face to face contact wherever possible.

Naturally, people want to feel appreciated by the company. A great way of doing this is giving them the services and facilities they'd have at home - bananas, biscuits, somewhere to make fresh meals, somewhere to relax and find some peace and quiet, and somewhere to support wellbeing (such as showers and bike storage). Leveraging homes comforts help staff bond and positively connect.


Ergonomics & wellbeing
Looking after people's wellbeing promotes happiness. Sit-stand desks and standing meeting tables get people off their feet and breaks the monotony of sitting down all day. Also consider facilities which encourage people to be fitter, be that yoga classes, Pilates, gym memberships or a lunchtime running club.

Companies rarely use their office space efficiently or effectively. Don't give everyone a desk if they're hardly in the office - it'll create virtual ghettos for the few people who are left behind. Instead, create shared working zones with hot desks and agile working areas so no matter who's in the office, there'll always be people around so no one feels alone or isolated.

Amanda Godwin-Jones is Head of Design for office interior design experts Peldon Rose. The company has been delivering London office refurbishment and relocation projects for almost thirty years of between 2,000 and over 200,000 sq ft. They employ over 70 staff and are based in Wimbledon. For more information visit their website.

Read more:

Blueprint Awards 2015: The winners

3D-printed high heels: When fashion and high-tech collide

Our future is cast in lava - the progression to Mars


Blueprint Awards 2015: The winners

The Blueprint Awards's reputation has preceded it this year with an evening bigger and better than 2014's debut event.

Entries flooded in from all corners of the globe from six of seven continents and winners prevailed from five. The international response was incredible, even outing the UK from 10 of 12 possible awards.

The ceremony was held at Village Underground in Shoreditch, London, Thursday 22nd October 2015.

In line with the 2014 event, the awards present winners across 12 categories - nine that are chosen by a panel of esteemed judges and three that are peer-nominated and voted on.

The judges for the event included Rosario Hurtado and Roberto Feo of El Ultimo Grito; Thomas Heatherwick of his eponymous studio; Lyndon Neri of Neri & Hu; Chris Wilkinson of Wilkinson Eyre and more. For the full list of judges and more about their accolades, follow the link under the winners.

One feature at the awards was the famed Number 10 Downing Street door created by James Bruges Studio and Benchmark, which held court in the entrance. This playful door is a digital double of the original on Downing Street and captures movements from the inside, translating them as silhouettes and low-resolutions animations to the other side.

Johnny Tucker, editor of Blueprint magazine, commented on the awards:

'In just the second year of the awards we found our international reputation has gone before us and the quantity and quality of the projects we received from all over the globe were nothing short of stunning.'

'However even though the quality was really high certain projects clearly jumped out at the judges, who all went for very similar projects. In fact, in three categories we had a tie and had to bring in more judges to make the final decisions. It was very difficult to separate the cream at the top!'

Congratulations to the winners and the shortlisted practices on their inspirational work. Blueprint magazine sends a big thank you to the judges, all of the sponsors, especially headline sponsor Turkishceramics, without which the event would not be possible.

It's safe to say everyone involved is looking forward to another successful event next year!

Here are the winners of the second Blueprint Awards for architecture and design:


Blueprint Award for Architecture 2015

Winner: Rotor

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Konstantin Grcic

Blueprint Award for Design 2015

Winner: Konstantin Grcic

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Yona Friedman

Blueprint Award for Critical Thinking 2015

Winner: Yona Friedman

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Wolfgang Buttress

Best Public Use Project with Public Funding

Winner: WolfgangButtress, Nottingham, UK

by UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015, Milan, Italy

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Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York, US

Best Public Use Project Privately Funded

Winner:Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York, US

by The Broad, Los Angeles, US

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CHROFI, Sydney, Australia

Best Non-Public Use Project - Commercial

Winner: CHROFI, Sydney, Australia

by Lune de Sang, New South Wales, Australia

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Studio Odile Decq, Paris, France

Best Non-Public Use Project - Residential

Winner: Studio Odile Decq, Paris, France

by Saint-Ange Residency, Grenoble, France

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Department of Architecture co., ltd, Bangkok, Thailand

Best Project by a Small Practice

Winner: Department of Architecture co., ltd,
Bangkok, Thailand

by The Flow, Saen Suk, Thailand

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Clive WilkinsonArchitects, Culver City, US

Best Interior Design Project or Product -- Work

Winner: Clive WilkinsonArchitects, Culver City, US

by The Barbarian Group, New York, US

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Studio mk27, São Paulo, Brazil

Best Interior Design Project or Product -- Leisure

Winner: Studio mk27, São Paulo, Brazil

by Cultura Bookstore, São Paulo, Brazil

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LY N Atelier, London, UK

Best Sustainable Project or Product

Winner: LY N Atelier, London, UK

by Hub 67, London, UK

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Dean Skira for iGuzzini, Recanati, Italy

Best Design Innovation Project or Product

Winner: Dean Skira for iGuzzini, Recanati, Italy

by Trick light

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Case Study: Park and revive


Words by Cathy Hayward

Photography by David Churchill

For more than 80 years NCP car parks have been the bastion of the British town centre, the familiar yellow and black signs indicating the entrance to the industrial grey concrete, often subterranean, structures. But in recent years NCP car parks have been put to other purposes: fashion brand House of Holland booked out London's Brewer Street NCP to host its catwalk shows for London Fashion Week, while Evans Cycles took over Cardiff's Dumfries Place NCP to host Urban Duel, a BMX racing event. And Art Drive exhibited its collection of classic BMWs at Shoreditch's Great Eastern Street NCP. But nobody had chosen an NCP car park as an office. Until now.

Make Architects, the studio founded by Ken Shuttleworth in 2004, was looking for a new home when it was offered a lease on a 1,300 sq m NCP basement car park in Middlesex House, Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia. Unusually the ceiling was high - 3.5m-3.7m - and Make immediately saw the potential for a subterranean studio, says the practice's Sean Affleck.

Park Revive

The design of the main open-plan area has maintained the utilitarian, industrial look and feel of the car park - with exposed services, pipework and timeworn columns. Many of the original features have been retained, such as the exposed concrete (now sealed), various redundant piping, metalwork and the original Thirties' Crittal windows along the ramp edge, now restored. Images of the original car park and the project in progress are displayed around the loos to help to connect the designers to the building's origins.

The 171 Make staff and visitors to this unique space walk down the old car park ramp, still visible beneath stepped platforms, to the studio. This 'outdoors' space also provides ample break-out space for meetings and presentations and is used as a gallery to showcase creative talent. A lightweight, translucent ETFE canopy spans the ramp from the street down to the studio, creating a light, bright and welcoming enclosed space, but with a real feeling of being outside.

Inside the main office, the open-plan desking reflects the non-hierarchical company structure. The numerous concrete pillars presented a design dilemma, says Affleck. If desks were grouped away from the pillars the space would be limited, so circular desks are positioned around each pillar, creating a collaborative and unique environment that also makes best use of the space.

The structure did provide certain constraints, which resulted in some interesting design elements. A raised floor would have reduced the ceiling height, so the power had to come from the ceiling. The circular desks are fed with power from the pillars, while hanging power sockets on extendable cables mean that people can work collaboratively and flexibly, moving the breakout furniture to suit their needs.

Park Revive

The old NCP ticket office has been transformed into one of four meeting rooms. It leads out into another lightwell, this time a space for the air-con plant for the entire building. This not only matches the industrial feel of the studio but also means the room is flooded with light.

The studio is inherently sustainable thanks to the retention of much of the original car park structure together with the installation of an underfloor heating/cooling system that regulates the temperature of the studio and LED lights. Affleck is already a passionate advocate of the car park-turned-office with projects in development of two other car-park spaces in London.


Conference: Call to action


Words by Cathy Hayward

Academics, workplace designers, FMs and HR professionals told the third Leesman Index conference that the workplace has to be seen by companies as an asset.

Company leaders, workplace designers and managers need to start seeing the workplace as an asset -- a tool to improve recruitment and retention, to increase morale and productivity -- and not as a liability to be calculated on a balance sheet. That was the message from the third workplace conference organised by the Leesman Index, the world's largest independent measure of workplace effectiveness, in partnership with HOK and Veldhoen + Company, held in London this summer.

The event, which heard from academics, workplace designers, HR professionals and facilities managers, was interspersed with the latest statistics from the 100,000 respondent Leesman database, including the dispiriting news that just 54 per cent of those questioned agreed that the design of their workplace enables them to work productively.

Perry Timms

Founder and director of PTHR Perry Timms was surprised that it was that high, describing most offices as 'concrete-encrusted sarcophaguses'. People go to work, 'sit in a cubicle for eight hours and die. They only become themselves when they leave at 5.30pm.' He urged HR and workplace professionals to rethink the workplace and 'take a wrecking ball to some office carbuncles'. He argued that workplaces should be places of solace, safety, comfort and belonging. Instead they are places focused on getting too much out of people - 'mechanised hedonism' - a place where overwork is celebrated. 'We need to make the c-suite understand that happy people are productive and profitable.

We should create places for people to be happy, and celebrate human endeavour, creativity, joy and laughter.'

Rather than bringing in workplace designers and HR consultants, Timms urged organisations to ask staff to create their own space. 'We have "bring your own device", we also need "bring your own design". Why don't we say to people, here's a blank space, invent your own design. Nobody ever asked me if I like beanbags. We need to get people interested in the physical design of their space because that will have a major impact on how they interact with that space, and the organisation.'

Ian Ellison

Much of Timms' focus is around creating a collaborative environment, which he believes is fundamental to innovation in all industries. He urged the audience, which featured HR leaders and heads of estates from a host of different sectors, to create environments that 'promote conversation, human exchange and proximity. We need collisions of people'.

Asked afterwards by a delegate whether the workplace is that important, as people rarely state in exit interviews they are leaving because of the poor quality of the working environment, Timms questioned whether HR teams actually ask people what they think of the workplace.

Part of the challenge in the way we manage the workplace is that we're not taking lessons from the right people, said Ian Ellison, senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. He presented the initial findings of his research: a critical study of knowledge workspaces exploring provider and user perspectives. 'We spend too much time rehashing old arguments, such as new ways of working, multiple generations in the workplace and productivity. This is stuff we've debated since the Seventies,' he said.

Tim Oldman

There has been no ripple from philosophers, human geographers, critical management theorists and sociologists into workplace thought. 'This feels like a disconnect,' he said. 'We know that space is a social beast; you cannot create social interactions without space and vice versa.' The interim results of Ellison's study indicate the importance of themes: such as the value of coffee, cake and social interaction; access to nature through the sky, trees and fresh air; the symbolic value of the building entrance sequence; and the encroachment of work into life that contributes to the erosion of self.

'We must change the workplace's asset/liability equation,' urged Tim Oldman, founder and CEO of the Leesman Index. 'Let's move from conversation to action and engage with everyone involved in the workplace.'


Opinion: Partners in sublime


Words by Guy Stallard, Head of Facilities, KPMG

People may think that awards are given purely for what a building looks like, but the long-term accolades from users come when a building has been designed and run with their needs in mind. From an employer's point of view the role of the physical workplace in employment is imperative to staff recruitment, motivation and retention.

Some organisations take the impact of the built environment seriously, although many are still not doing enough to improve their employees' surroundings despite demand. Forward-thinking organisations have realised that clean, comfortable and inspiring spaces make for more engaged employees at a time when flexible working is becoming the norm, adding to a company's overall value. But many facilities professionals have experienced a disconnect between the design and operational aspects of new building projects. Pitfalls such as poorly planned service routes, storage rooms not fit for purpose, or atria impossible to clean can be minimised by getting those who will operate the building on board early on. Utilising the knowledge of those operating the buildings results not only in better performance, but in a better experience for all building users.

For many years at KPMG the integration of our operational team into the project design team has been a key aspect of our capital projects. This expanded team collaborates to build a workplace which is both aesthetically pleasing and operationally efficient. When we designed our London HQ several years ago our service partners were able to offer practical input on what design elements had worked well in their experience elsewhere -- and equally what hadn't.

We have felt the benefits of this collaborative approach when running the building day-to-day. The involvement of our operational team in the design process, from layout through to materials used, makes financial sense too, as it keeps planned maintenance and cleaning costs manageable, and extends the life of the assets if they can be properly cared for.

In our newest offices it has meant we have the appropriate capabilities and budgets to care for assets, and that the materials used match the space's operational use. Furniture provides an example which hits the type of balance between design, aesthetics and practicalities that we aim to achieve -- does it fulfil its purpose as well as look the part?

It is not just financial and efficiency benefits that can be leveraged. In our experience the environmental performance of buildings can be improved by involving operational teams.

When designing our HQ a third of the fit-out materials, such as plasterboard, aluminium, carpets and pipework, had been recycled. Even simple design elements such as motion-sensor taps and a greywater recycling system have reduced the environmental impact without compromising aesthetics.

It is important for us to have a clear vision of what we want to achieve before designing new buildings.

Considering our property projects, involving our operational teams has delivered benefits financially, environmentally, in efficiencies and in user experience, and has become an integral part of the way we plan projects.


The eagle has landed


Words by Stephen Hitchins

The billboards went up in Hong Kong in August, ads for flats in London. The promotional literature promises buyers a 'global symbol of opulence'. Whether the extension to the Northern Line will be of much interest to them is a moot point. The developers are also holding Feng Shui seminars in Singapore to attract buyers to the same flats, in glazed apartment blocks similar to those that line urban waterfronts across the world these days.

That invisible Chinese force that shapes the positioning of buildings may or may not have been applied to the 80ha wasteland that will be the largest redevelopment in central London since 1666 and the Great Fire. Ten minutes' walk from Parliament is a vast and unknown area, a triangle between Lambeth Bridge, Battersea Power Station and Wandsworth Road.

It will be the future home of the American Embassy, a revitalised New Covent Garden Market, a new business district, and a new gated world of those non-dom apartments being marketed around the world, the clusters of high-rise residential towers that are financing most of Nine Elms. There is no formal plan: too many separate landowners for that. London's history teaches us that even if plans are commissioned they are largely ignored - starting post-Great Fire with the Versailles inspired scheme by Christopher Wren. At Nine Elms, the so-called creative mix is certainly mixed and not very creative.

Embassy Gardens, part of the Nine Elms development on South Bank, London
Embassy Gardens, part of the Nine Elms development on South Bank, London

Translating a largely unknown area into a hot property, one that estate agent Knight Frank forecasts will see the highest short-term increase in property values in the whole of London by 2016 at 140 per cent, is the aim of Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership - local authorities, landowners, developers, and transport authorities brought together in 2010 to coordinate the ambitious transformation. The mayor was not overstating it when he said this is 'possibly the most important regeneration story in London and in the UK over the next 20 years'.

As to whether a vibrant new community will also appear we shall have to wait and see. If most of the properties go to occasional visitors from overseas then the area will struggle to come to life. But giving a new lease of life to the vast, derelict power station site with shops, restaurants and offices may just be enough to pull it off. Yet more homes, 4,000 of them, are to be built along with 325,000 sq m of commercial development, as part of an £8bn masterplan by Rafael Viñoly on behalf of a Malaysian consortium. The Electric Boulevard linking the Northern Line extension to the Power Station features buildings by Foster and Frank Gehry.

It will be Gehry's first building in London and the first in the UK since his vision for Brighton's seafront was called off in 2008. As the designs prompt the inevitable question as to whether starchitecture is all it is cracked up to be, we must hope that Gehry's Battersea towers go as smoothly as its proposed titanium facades.

Among the individual buildings that prominent practices have been commissioned to design for the Nine Elms development is the rectangular Bondway tower (pictured centre left), by KPF
Among the individual buildings that prominent practices have been commissioned to design for the Nine Elms development is the rectangular Bondway tower, by KPF

In a city of a chronic shortage in housing, rising rents, housing waiting lists, right-to-buy and welfare cuts, the whole thing seems insensitive. And as Nine Elms is architecturally uninspiring we appear to be heading for disappointment. As for the rest, the FT reported in July that as many as a third of homes for sale in Nine Elms were resales of unbuilt, high-rise, apartments as speculative investors, the original off-plan buyers, were heading for the exit.

The site's Vauxhall Tower was nominated for the Carbuncle Cup in 2014 (and then renamed St George Wharf Tower). With offices just upriver from the site, Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners is responsible for Riverlight, 98,015 sq m of residential towers at a building cost of £200m; a scheme not dissimilar to the practice's One Hyde Park and NEO Bankside -- enclaves for the internationally rich. The cheapest flats in Riverside go from £550,000.

There is very little public money going into this project. Wandsworth Council will gain more than £40m from the profit-sharing deal it struck from the Embassy Gardens development alone. Ballymore, developer of this 6ha part of the site, hired a roster of names for its part of the project, including Terry Farrell and Partners for its masterplan, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, Fielden Clegg Bradley, and FLACQ for buildings 'strongly influenced by the architectural style of New York's Meatpacking District and London's Victorian and Edwardian mansion blocks', according to the Nine Elms' website.

Embassy Gardens is planned to be a mix of high-end apartments, shops restaurants and offices
Embassy Gardens is planned to be a mix of high-end apartments, shops restaurants and offices

In one of the first reviews done by CABE after its merger with the Design Council, concerns were raised over the scheme's appearance for which amendments were called. Yet, sadly, in terms of design, Embassy Gardens will just about be a suitable match for the Legoland architecture of MI6 down river.

Embassy Gardens effectively encircles the new American Embassy. Its relocation was the key to unlocking the potential for development of the whole site, but its design was described by the Economist as 'a hedgehog crossed with a fortress and surrounded by a moat'. Designed according to the USA State Department to 'reflect the values of the American people', it is far from subtle.

But then, it is impossible to miss the present American Embassy, hulking menacingly in genteel Mayfair with all the subtlety of a man wearing sunglasses and body armour to tea at the Ritz. It is the only building in the immediate area surrounded by chain-link fences, patrolled by armed guards and protected by concrete barriers. The siege mentality has made it into an armed camp. Was it really only five years ago that the American chargé told anyone who complained that the lease expired in 2953 and 'we plan to stay until the end of that lease'. Well, things have turned out differently.

Following a limited architectural competition the building, designed by Eero Saarinen & Associates/YRM, was completed in 1960. With mullions in gold anodized aluminium and clad primarily in Portland Stone, the building is topped off by an 11.27m-wide eagle created by Theodore Roszak. The artist's most controversial work, it was criticised by the press and parliamentarians alike as 'too big, too gaudy, and too modernistic' when it was installed. 'Heroic-sized' was Saarinen's term for it: 'the focal point of the building'.

As the first major American building erected after the Second World War it was expected to be a showcase of the latest in modernism. The disappointment was widespread, the sense of anti-climax overshadowing the structural innovations and well-crafted details. Criticism of the fortified impact of its classical monumentality was the inevitable outcome of recent experience with totalitarian states. Architect Peter Smithson for one commented: 'Now monuments are out of favour in Europe... and there is some puzzlement why America - the idea of which we admire without reservation - should have produced such things.' Walter Gropius had spoken on the same theme. JM Richards, the Times architecture correspondent, failed to appreciate the honest structural expression in the building, causing Saarinen to tell him that 'the facade one sees is the bones of the building'.

Symbolic of arrogance and excess , it became the focal point of anti-Vietnam war protest in London in 1968. When 8,000 people marched from a rally in Trafalgar Square to be met by 1,000 policemen, it resulted in many being arrested, 86 injured and 50 taken to hospital.

The siege mentality of half a century ago is a reminder of the constant need to protect embassies, while sadly acknowledging that today all foreigners are regarded with suspicion.

The building in Grosvenor Square has been sold to Qatar, and the competition for the new building was won by American practice Kieran Timberlake beating the internationally famous Morphosis, Richard Meier and Pei Cobb Freed. It is said, and was reported at the time, that Richard Rogers and Peter Palumbo both argued against the selection in favour of more sophisticated designs. They appear to have considered the proposal by Thom Mayne of Morphosis to be 'touched by genius'. And this at a time when American Secretary of State John Kerry has said he 'cringed at the sight of some recent embassies'.

Due to be finished in 2017, it raises all sorts of questions about how can we build embassies that reflect the core values of democracy - transparency, openness, and equality, and at the same time create buildings that are welcoming, secure, and highly sustainable. How can we do it with energy efficiency and how do we accept that we cannot please everyone all the time when faced with such a project? How, for example, does this compare to ABK's embassy for the UK in Moscow that slots comfortably in between some Stalinist structures along the riverbank, or Michael Wilford's effort on the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin for the UK that is just great for parties, but the triangular offices made space planning a tad difficult.

In the light of the 'war on terror' and its repercussions, with the continuing impact of the invasion of Iraq, American embassies have become well and truly fortified, nowhere more so than the new embassy in Baghdad. The old building was designed by Josep Lluís Sert, he of the Fundació Miró in Barcelona, the Fondation Maeght in the South of France, and the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Expo of 1937. The new building in Baghdad is set to be the most lavish, least-welcoming compound in the world.

Fresh from the Schlitterbahn Village in Kansas (a 'vacation destination resort'), and the First Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas (whose master plan included a sports pavilion, camping ground, auditorium and prayer garden) comes architecture practice Berger Devine Yaeger, part of the Louis Berger Group.

This will be the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, costing around $1bn to build and $1bn a year to run. It is on a site as large as the Vatican City, and will be home to a mere 5,500 staff. The 42ha site includes some 20 buildings, 600 apartments, a bomb-resistant recreation centre, and a food court that would not look too small in a shopping mall.

There is a total disconnect between this massive exercise in New American Bunker-Modern and the streets outside in the real world. The difference between the world as it was in the planning stage and the world as it is now, appears to have passed by everyone concerned. Is a luxurious compound in a country in the middle of a civil war at all appropriate? As to whether the country appreciates the message that this sends to the local population is also unclear.

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations is building Fortress America around the world. These embassies really are bunkers, they are not inviting, if anything they appear hostile. They are enclaves shored up against the communities in which they are located. But the staff are targets and the American State Department has a duty to protect them. The needs of protection inevitably limit their horizons at a time when globalisation has diminished their role. Meanwhile, British embassies have become little more than permanent trade delegations.

Security is a requirement and a curse. If you have a worldwide role you need to be able to service it, and have the tools to pursue your aims. In Baghdad, flak jackets and helmets are required when moving between buildings within the compound. There are 151 shelters dotted around the site should the need arise. Interaction with the locals is not easily facilitated in such an atmosphere.

Never let it be said that the Sate Department does not learn from history. The helipad installed in Baghdad is a reminder of the exit of embassy staff following the American defeat in Vietnam. The embassy construction programme of the Fifties, when no country was deemed too small or insignificant to have an American embassy, as it matched the Soviet projects brick for brick, is being matched today as facilities around the world are being replaced or upgraded. For upgraded, read set back. The greater the setback, the greater the State Department's level of happiness. (That said, the old embassy in Tehran is well set back, but it is still covered in Farsi graffiti along the lines of 'Death to America'.)

A generous, open and progressive country is, however, finding a building that equates with its outgoing philosophy and optimism difficult to match. Today, they reflect a darker world and different set of priorities. The bombing of embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 set the ball rolling for the fortification of 140 compounds within 10 years.

Then came 9/11. A new architectural footprint emerged in three sizes with superficial variations of colour and landscaping. The results are no longer the product of hope, they are the product of fear. There is nothing at all inviting about these places to people who do not work there. Yet at Nine Elms, fresh from Kansas, Kieran Timberlake has the message. The practice is building 'a new paradigm in embassy design, termed Design Excellence, which emphasises the role of architecture in diplomacy.

This new model seeks buildings that represent the ideals of the American government - giving priority to transparency, openness, and equality, and drawing on the best of American architecture, engineering, technology, art, and culture. Our challenge for the embassy was to encompass these values, creating a strong sense of welcome for the community.'

A new skyline and revitalised railway arches for Vauxhall is envisaged
A new skyline and revitalised railway arches for Vauxhall is envisaged

With this building suggestive of a medieval keep with a moat-like ditch, lead architect James Timberlake has spoken of being inspired by 'European castles' no less, and that he had 'tried to use the landscape to provide a defence against terror attacks, there would be no fences and no walls... We hope the message everyone will see is that it is open and welcoming.

It is a beacon of democracy -- light-filled and light-emitting.'

He also denies the moat: 'It's a pond'. Tough, budget-driven stuff, secure but expressive, 'I'd like people to think it has a gravitas and a sense of beauty... I don't expect people to love the embassy...but I'd want them to understand it through the lens of modern American architecture and how it expresses itself abroad'.

Thus, the potential terrorist target is moving south of the Thames. The residents group in Mayfair are relieved and happy. The developers of Nine Elms are happy. The mayor's happy. The boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth are happy. And erstwhile locals? What locals?

The blastproof architecture of diplomacy will have a break from previous embassy designs with 'pillow-like panels of ethylenetetrafluoroethylene'. Timberlake thinks the post 9/11 discourse has moved on. Transparent? Even superficially? The cube? Paul Finch of CABE called it 'sophisticated', Timberlake has spoken of its 'timeless, civic qualities'.

You cannot please everyone!

The American connection to Grosvenor Square dates back to 1785-87, when John Adams, the first American envoy to the royal court, lived a few blocks away. The facade of the building in Grosvenor Square was given landmark status in 2009. The eagle will remain.


Our future is cast in lava

NASA's goal to reach Mars is one step closer after announcing the winner of the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge that took place 26-27 September, 2015.

The competition was held at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York, and coincided with NASA's Centennial Challenge Program. The program is designed to seek out and develop the technology required to put humans on Mars.

Team LavaHive took third place with its 3D-printed Mars habitat that uses a technique called 'lava-casting'. The habitat is comprised of one inflatable dome brought from Earth, which will provide the large crew areas, and is connected to a series of smaller domes for housing laboratory space and working areas. What's unique about LavaHive is that it has incorporated salvaged components as a key design element. For example, parts from the entry vehicle have been used to act as the inflatable habitat roof.


Team LaveHive's 3D-printed Mars habitat uses a technique called 'lava-casting'. Photo credit: René Waclavicek / LIQUIFER Systems Group

Team leader Dr. Aidan Cowley speaks about what inspired the project:

'It is important that when we go to Mars we use what's already there to build and sustain a base.
We envisage using Martian regolith as a building material, and take this a step further by recycling spacecraft parts that are usually crashed into the planet's surface - for example as the roof to the main habitat.'
Through harnessing the abundant materials already found on Mars, this will significantly decrease the amount of effort required to construct a habitat.

The LavaHive team is made up of experts from nine European nations in a collaboration between the European Space Agency's (ESA) European Astronaut Centre in Cologne and LIQUIFER Systems Group in Vienna. The multidisciplinary team has backgrounds in the fields of Engineering, Materials Science, Astrophysics and Space Architecture.

The idea is that we will reach a level where we don't need to be restricted by only using material launched from Earth, and can achieve the philosophy 'In-situ Resource Utilisation' for human exploration into space.

First prize for the NASA 3D-printed habitat challenge went to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office for their design, Mars Ice House, and second place was awarded to Team Gamma.

All images courtesy of René Waclavicek / LIQUIFER Systems Group


Super sun day


Words by Jill Entwistle

Sky Reflector-Net, Fulton Center, New York

As part of the regeneration of the World Trade Center site and its environs in the aftermath of 9/11, 2001, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has redeveloped one of New York's transit hubs. A convergence of 11 city subway lines carrying more than 300,000 people daily, it sits on the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway, one block east of the World Trade Center site.

Transforming what had devolved into a dense tangle of inefficient connections, the aim was to create a spacious multi-storey pavilion structure, incorporating retail, that would crown the new underground pedestrian network and form a landmark gateway to Lower Manhattan.

Grimshaw Architects designed a three-storey glazed pavilion set around a central eight-storey dome structure.

An eight-storey-high conical dome is an exterior focal point of the new Fulton Center transit hub, part of the World Trade Center site regeneration. But a unique lighting system sits below the dome
An eight-storey-high conical dome is an exterior focal point of the new Fulton Center transit hub, part of the World Trade Center site regeneration. But a unique lighting system sits below the dome

Forming the project's focal point is a canted 16m-diameter circular skylight known as the oculus, which brings sunlight and daylight through the building to the subterranean levels beneath. The effect of the natural light is magnified by an integrated artwork, the Sky Reflector-Net, a steel cable-net structure that forms an independent reflective lining, offset from the dome's interior and directing sunlight downwards. The concept was created by James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA), and its design and development was down to an engineer/architect/artist collaboration between Arup, Grimshaw and JCDA. The oculus and reflector-net together provide sufficient illumination to the building interior to allow electric lighting to be turned off during the day. 'From the inception of the project, light and daylight played a critical role in this re-envisioning of the transit hub by acting as a key wayfinding element,' says Arup lighting associate Matt Franks.

To determine the best location for the oculus, the design team first studied the solar geometry of the site to find out to what degree the surrounding buildings would overshadow it. Daylight studies influenced the location, height and angle of the skylight. As a result, the structure is located towards the northern corner of the site and tilted gently towards the south to allow more direct sunlight to enter. During summer months this penetrates as far as two levels below ground, so that passengers step off subterranean platforms into daylight. The skylight is also open to diffuse light so that adequate natural light is provided when the sun is obscured by clouds.

The reflector-net structure features nearly 1,000 perforated reflective panels made from a custom-designed semi-specular aluminium coating. This dynamically reflects both the direct sun and diffuse light as both exterior conditions and viewer position change. The coating has been specially designed to avoid dirt and dust accumulating so that the visual quality of the installation can be maintained.

Inside the Fulton Center a 16m circular skylight, called the oculus, intersects the dome. Its Sky Reflector-Net skirt (above), an artwork and independent reflective lining, catches and amplifies incoming light and daylight enough for it to penetrate two levels below ground
Inside the Fulton Center a 16m circular skylight, called the oculus, intersects the dome. Its Sky Reflector-Net skirt (above), an artwork and independent reflective lining, catches and amplifies incoming light and daylight enough for it to penetrate two levels below ground

The surface finish of the panels also allows for subtle direct reflections without direct glare from reflected sunlight.

Perforations in the panels vary from 30 per cent open at the top of the structure to 70 per cent open at the bottom, designed to optimise reflectance where it's needed most. The perforations also ensure heat and smoke can pass through the structure, for the comfort and safety of people in the space.

Additionally, glass panels, called parasols, reflect small amounts of direct sunlight on to the interior of the reflector-net structure, adding a dynamic sparkle of movement during the times when sunlight enters the oculus.

Where the artificial lighting was concerned, the positioning of the fittings had to be very precise. Computer modelling determined the aiming of luminaires for the reflector-net structure and revealed how the qualities of the material affected illumination. The azimuth and altitude angles of each fixture were recorded directly into construction documents to ensure an accurate and more straightforward installation process.

To help with the fixture aiming, the design team created custom-designed brackets with multiple points of adjustment.

'The result is an even illumination of the interior of the reflector-net, which in turn illuminates the interior of the space with indirect light, which provides all of the illumination required in the centre of the space at night,' says Franks. The metal halide light sources can easily be changed from a catwalk that runs continuously around the top of the reflector-net structure, allowing for easy access to each fixture from behind. Metal halide was chosen over LEDs partly because of the protracted nature of the project, says Franks. 'But had it been a quicker project we probably would still have used metal halide since it is much easier to maintain.

If we used LED, failed fixtures would likely need to be completely replaced - with what's available on the market today - rather than just replacing the lamp.'

Another striking element of the building is the transparent vertical exterior facade, which provides a visual connection to the exterior at street level and the city beyond. 'Subtle illumination on the dome exterior at night hints at the key feature of the space,' says Franks. 'The transparent facade allows the interior to blend with the exterior in a seamless experience.'

Daylight Analysis
The design team began with a three-dimensional model of the site to determine solar access. Investigating the sun-path geometry around the site using inverted sun-path diagrams allowed the team to determine at what times the sun could potentially be blocked by surrounding buildings.

The team produced solar animations for three key days - 21 March (equinox), 21 June (summer solstice), and 21 December (winter solstice). These provided an understanding of the shadow patterns on the site throughout the day and year, and led to the location of the oculus towards the north of the site, where it would be least obstructed and literally overshadowed by surrounding buildings. This analysis was further developed by looking at an annual analysis of potential solar exposure, which confirmed that the northern edge of the roof was best for a skylight location.

Once the location of the skylight was determined, the next step was to understand the solar exposure on the inside of the building, as well as exposure to diffuse daylight when no direct sunlight was available. This confirmed that daylight alone would be adequate on most days without the need for supplemental artificial lighting.

'A key driver of the design was to illuminate as far down below in the station as possible with daylight and direct sunlight,' says Franks.

'Further daylight analysis confirmed that for portions of the summer months direct sunlight would reach down to the concourse level of the station - two stories below street level - reinforcing a key wayfinding element in the space.'


Project Info

Client: New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)
Architect: Grimshaw Architects
Artist: James Carpenter Design Associates
Structural engineer and daylight analysis: Arup
Contractor: PSJV
Specialist sub-contractors: Enclos; TriPyramid Structures; Durlum; STS Steel


Al Bahr Towers, Abu Dhabi

The Al Bahr office development in the financial centre of Abu Dhabi comprises two near-identical, 26-storey, 145m-tall towers with striking Islamic geometric patterning. Sustainability and solar control were important drivers of the design.

'From the outset of the project it was acknowledged that two elements would be key to creating an innovative and sustainable building: heat and light,' says Arfon Davies, associate director at Arup.

'By carefully balancing these it was determined that significant reductions in energy consumption due to cooling and electric lighting could be achieved.'

The starting point was to examine approaches to facade design, specifically how daylight and heat could be controlled within high-rise buildings in the Middle East. Most use highly glazed facades with dark, reflective, or body-tinted, glass. 'This curtain-walling type of solution limits solar gain, but significantly reduces daylight and general internal comfort,' says Davies.

Fixed shading elements were considered, but while they provided improved daylight availability and glare control, the client's brief asked for something 'iconic and innovative'. The consensus was that some form of dynamic system was needed, responding to daylight availability and sun position.

Al Bahr towers
The traditional Islamic mashrabiya screened window was the inspiration for heat and glare control for the twin Al Bahr towers in Abu Dhabi, cladding all but their north-facing sides

'The dynamic system, and the geometry of the associated shading system, was also a perfect way to embrace the mashrabiya within the project,' says Davies.

Used extensively throughout the region and part of the vernacular of traditional Arabic architecture, the mashrabiya is a projecting oriel window that provides shade and visual comfort for building occupants. Characterised by an intricate lattice work screen - typically made of either wood or stone - it provides a view of and connection to the outside while offering protection from heat and glare. The mashribaya concept had appeared during the course of the extensive cultural research the team had felt was essential before starting the design process.

Developed specially for Al Bahr, the shape of this contemporary version was derived directly from historical references to the original Islamic shading device, as well as detailed studies that assessed all possible sun positions at the site location. This was used in conjunction with high-performance facade glazing and motorised interior blinds, to allow occupants more individual control.

The mashrabiya, made from a woven PTFE fabric, each weigh 1.5 tonnes and are motorized
The mashrabiya, made from a woven PTFE fabric, each weigh 1.5 tonnes and are motorized

Each tower has 1,049 mashrabiyas cladding the east, south and west facades, forming an adaptable skin. Made from a woven PTFE fabric, they each weigh around 1.5 tonnes. Part of a unitised system, each cantilevers 2.8m from the primary structure, while the supporting arms allow connection from the ends of six adjoining mashrabiya. The motor at the centre of each one moves outwards to open the shading device, and inwards to close the shading device. Grouped in sectors, they are controlled by sun-tracking software, with the control system linked to an anemometer at the top of the building.

Climate-based daylight modelling was used to assess performance, together with useful daylight index (UDI) calculations.

'A detailed assessment of the combined shading and glass performances meant that a correct balance between solar control and light penetration was achieved,' says Davies. 'The type of glass selected has a clear appearance, with high visible light transmittance enhancing the daylighting and the view through, while the external shading panels help reduce the solar radiation significantly -- and only where and when needed.'

Project Info

Architect: Aedas Architects
Owner/developer: Abu Dhabi Investment Council
Structural engineer and MEP: Arup
Project manager: Mace
Contractor: Al-Futtaim Carillion


Neocon: Home of the office


Words by Chris Fowler, Director of Design at Bisley

Held at the enormous Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Neocon is the largest commercial interiors show in North America, providing a forum for learning and networking on the grand scale of some 93,000 sq m of exhibition space.

Now in its 47th year NeoCon featured more than 700 leading exhibitors across key sectors including workplace, healthcare, hospitality, retail, education, public spaces and government.

A unique element of this show is that the majority of exhibitors occupy their showroom stand full time and put on more of a display. This year it attracted more than 50,000 attendees from around the world.

Although the concept of the office began in Chicago and the USA generally, in more recent years European working practices have been considered more advanced and in tune with the user. There are differences to be noted that have impacted on this. North America is a huge marketplace with scale, largely driven by commerce; office furniture therefore comprises a large element of the economy.

With a few exceptions, pressure on real-estate costs is not as significant when it comes to making decisions about office space and design, which obviously affects the way people work. But given the proven success of new ways of working, in terms of nurturing team work, communication and productivity, the American market is also gradually adopting these methods, driven by a desire to create a conducive environment to employee wellbeing and productivity as well as supporting a creative culture.

Humanscale’s IQ aims to ensure workers’ health and wellbeingHumanscale's IQ aims to ensure workers' health and wellbeing

From a product perspective, the American and UK markets are converging with a number of common design trends that I have also seen at European shows. Dark woods, particularly American walnut, is a very popular finish with saturated blues, greys and greens as accents. Tapered legs were everywhere; on tables, chairs and storage units. I would even say that there is a common appreciation of what represents the latest design trends or good taste in both market places.

Electric height-adjustable desking was prominent in many manufacturers' showrooms this year, with ergonomics company Humanscale taking this further with Office IQ, in collaboration with tech company Tome. Office IQ aims to ensure the health and wellbeing of office workers, through measuring movement, sitting, standing, calorific expenditure and time away from one's desk.

From a design perspective I found the shift in office furniture towards a softer, more domestic feel an interesting trend. The technical tools we now have allow the furniture in the modern office to focus more on form rather than function, resulting in neat and simple forms. What is clear is that everyone is making everything. Boundaries between what different manufacturers produce are eroding and customers in the future will go to their favoured brand to fulfil all their requirements from chairs and desks to storage. All of which means that design credentials, innovation and service levels are becoming the marketplace's key differentiators.


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Architect Mahmood Fallahian

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