Underground Architecture

Many people believe that the origin of architecture has its roots in Marc-Antoine Laugier’s concept of the primitive hut. Two columns supporting a beam which in turn supports a pediment. However, in recent years, because of advances in sophisticated BIM software, I would argue that this is no longer the case as architects no longer have to restrict themselves to these basic construction techniques. As we progress forwards into the future, I believe that the forms that we construct should resemble a much earlier prehistoric concept, before the ‘caveman’ even built his primitive hut. Some of the most beautiful spaces in the world are only experienced by a select few who put in the effort to crawl on their bellies in order to reach them (believe me, I have done it), so why are these breathtaking forms not replicated in modern architecture? Well, you may be pleased to discover that as construction processes get more efficient, digging down is becoming more viable, and there are many current  projects which utilize this hidden world beneath our feet, which you may not even be aware of.

Much in the same way as a cave system, part of the joy of underground architecture is the relatively humble external appearance. Many famous caves are entered through a single door in the side of a hill, which gives nothing away about what lies behind, an example of this being Kents Cavern, otherwise known as Britain’s oldest home. This concept has been transferred into the built environment in buildings like the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt. Hidden below the perfectly maintained lawn of the museum, the existence of this extension by German architects Schneider+Schumacher is given away only by a slight bulge in the centre of the lawn and the circular skylights which provide light for the pristinely white gallery below.

Although the Staedel Museum is discreet with its connection with the earth, other architects are not so subtle. For example the proposal for the Wadi Resort by Oppenheim Architecture & Design in Wadi Rum, Jordan is described by Dezeen.com as ‘setting forth a future primitive experience for the avid globetrotter’. The elemental nature of these 47 desert lodges is influenced by the history of the nearby ancient city of Nebataeans in Petra, carved from the rock itself.

There are many benefits to living underground, the predominant one being the climatic regulation and thermal mass it provides, which is greatly needed in hotter countries such as Jordan. A growing percentage of the population are jumping on the sustainable housing bandwagon, with many of these people choosing to submerge their houses below ground, for these environmental reasons. A housing typology known as earth-ships are becoming increasing popular, where the building is literally built using the earth which is excavated from the site, talk about low carbon footprint! Together with recycled materials and a creative flair, these homes can begin to resemble a village, or should I say ‘Shire’ from a certain popular fantasy saga.

Closer to home, and still on the topic of environmental awareness, the architecture firm Gensler has recently revealed its plans for the conversion of derelict underground tunnels into pedestrian and cycle routes around London. The diversion of pedestrians and cyclists away from the already crowded surface streets of London is not only safer, but makes choosing to cycle rather than taking a car a more attractive option, thereby reducing emissions and increasing air quality. Other proposal for cycle links around London have been proposed, the floating cycleways by the River Cycleway Consortium Ltd being a prominent example. However, London still has a way to go in order to reach the standards of cities like Amsterdam which retains its title as the worlds most cycle-friendly city in the Copenhagenize Index. In my opinion, London is right to utilize these unused tube tunnels, and should be looking into more ways to develop the city centre as a multi-level, multi-purpose transportation and cultural hub.

Budapest in Hungary is also making use of its underground ‘world’ clearly displayed in the new underground station by Spora Architects, currently still under construction. This cavernous space is reminiscent of some of the vast cave chambers which I have personally visited. The extensive use of concrete creates the similar grounded feeling which these caves also have, naturally. The only difference being the huge architectural beams which piece the vast void, necessary for pedestrian connective links and structural purposes, reminding me of some of Louis Kahn’s work.

Although this idea of burrowing back into the earth may seem like a recent one, I personally see it as a step back to the true elementary origin of the human shelter, although I am sure Laugier would disagree.

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

Outdoor thermal comfort: part of the Cool Communities Webinar series

Professor Marialena Nikolopoulou, Director of CASE (Centre for Architecture and Sustainable Environment) and KSA Director of Research will be giving a webinar tomorrow as part of the Cool Communities Webinar series. Organised by Health Canada, the webinar topic for tomorrow is ‘Designing thermally comfortable outdoor spaces for summer and winter‘.

Marialena’s talk is entitled ‘Outdoor thermal comfort: What does it mean for the design of our cities’.

For more information about the event including how to register, please click here.

Professor Marialena Nikolopoulou to give Open Lecture in Cyprus

Professor Marialena Nikolopoulou, Director of CASE (Centre for Architecture and Sustainable Environment) and KSA Director of Research will give an open lecture at the University of Neapolis, Pafos in Cyprus, on Friday 20th February.

Her talk is entitled “The Role of Open Spaces in Cities of the 21st Century: from Sensory Architecture to Climate Change”.

The event is organised by the  Masters’ Programme in Landscape Architecture and it is open to the whole University and the Professional Association of Architects.

For more information, please click here.

Women in Architecture

The architectural profession is lagging behind other professions when it comes to closing the gender deficit. The AJ’s Women in Architecture survey for 2015 found that although the ratio of men and women in architectural education is relatively equal, this balance is not being transferred into the workplace where there remains to be a much higher male representation. Some sources estimate that in the US, men make up 80 percent of the architectural profession. So why is this?

One of the most obvious reasons for this could be that women in architecture are indirectly forced to choose between child care and their careers. In fact the AJ’s survey found that 87 percent of women felt that having a child would put them at a disadvantage in their architectural careers, subsequently meaning that more and more women are pushed towards starting up their own practice in order to allow themselves more flexible working hours. Many of those who stay in larger practices are choosing part-time work over full time. This means that the perception many women have is that in order to be a successful architect, they must commit themselves to their career. It would seem however that it is not only women whose careers suffer from the birth of a child; 45 percent of men are of the opinion that childbirth would put them at a disadvantage in the workplace, although only 11 percent of women agree with this perception. It is clear then, that for female architects to feel motivated to achieve the higher level jobs, it is the industry which much change its perceptions, not women.

Women in architecture

The architectural profession is renowned for its competitive nature, leaving many people to believe that men, who are often arguably more inherently competitive, are better suited to prosper in such an aggressive environment. Could this then be the reason why 1/3 of male directors earn more than £75,000 annually compared with just 7 percent of female directors? Is this aggressively competitive nature the sole reason why 1/5 of all female architects surveyed by the AJ said that there were no women in the senior management of their workplace? Many women believe there is a much more baleful reason behind these statistics, one of a discriminatory nature.

76 percent of women surveyed by the AJ have experienced discrimination at some point in their career. 62 percent stated that they experienced this discrimination in the practice, a much higher figure than the 50 percent who experienced it on site. Again, the fault lies with the industry and its false perception of women, meaning that many men do not take them seriously in a business environment.

Amidst all of this doom and gloom, there is a glimmer of hope, as many pioneering female architects work to change the perceptions of the industry. The 2012 Olympic park in London was heavily influenced by women, the most iconic of which being Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre.

It is clear from these statistics that there is still a long way to go when it comes to closing this gender disparity, and a lot of male heads need to be knocked together to rectify this. If we do not act quickly we will be at risk, through our own social ignorance, of disregarding many extremely talented female architects, to the detriment of our own urban environment.

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

Should architecture schools favour a practical knowledge over a theoretical one?

The most recent AJ has revealed some interesting figures this week concerning the contradictory mindsets of students and employers when it comes to the need for certain practical skills. Recent surveys have found that only one third of architecture students deem hand drawing to be an important skill in the workplace, compared to 44 percent of employers. While a seven year architectural course does include a mandatory two years in industry, many employers argue that there are many topics not covered throughout this education which are fundamental to the success of a firm in industry. These include topics such as knowledge of the law, working in multi-disciplinary teams and a mature understanding of cost management.

With tuition fees this high, a broad knowledge of the construction industry is therefore expected of graduate students, but it would seem that many universities are favouring a theoretical knowledge over practical ability. But is this necessarily a bad thing?

DSC_0027 1

My response to these statistics is that architecture school is not and never will be like industry practice, and for good reason. It is a chance to explore ideas and hypothesise about solutions to future concerns without having the burden of politics, costs and laws to restrict you. If universities were to only teach practical ability and neglect theoretical knowledge, the architectural degree would be at risk of losing the one thing which draws many students towards it, that freedom to explore in an environment which encourages conceptual, broad, artistic ideas. Students may not be prepared for day to day working in an office, but they are well equipped and in the right mindset to question societal conventions and inspire innovation, which is arguably more significant to the long term success of a practice.

Each architectural school is different, some focusing more on construction and practical applications of design, and others taking a more theoretical approach. How is it then, that arguably the most highly sought after graduates come from the more theoretically minded schools such as the Bartlett and the Architects Association? This clearly shows that yes, employers do want a graduate who will settle into day to day office life quickly, but more so than this, they want a person who will be asset to their business in the long run and help the business’s success through innovation.

In the end of the day, at the heart of the architectural profession is creativity which comes from the exploration of theoretical problem solving. A knowledge of the law, which only 15 percent of part 3 students viewed to be important compared to 44 percent of employers, can be learnt on the job when working in industry; whereas creativity and a theoretical outlook can easily be clouded by numbers and politics. Therefore is it not far better to stimulate theoretical thinking early on in an effort to encourage its transfer into the construction industry?

If theoretical knowledge is lost, the architecture of today would revolve even more so around politics, costs and laws, meaning we might all end up living in tiny square rooms in enormous concrete tower blocks. I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer to live in an architecture students vision of a world.

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

Kent has 215 postgraduate busaries to award for study commencing in September 2015

The University is pleased to announce that it has been awarded 215 postgraduate bursaries of £10,000 each for students admitted to taught Master’s degree programmes at Kent in September 2015. This one-off scheme, announced by the Government in December 2014, is administered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The busaries are awarded to students based on eligibility criteria and does not need to be repaid. To find out more, please click here.

Any Kent students that are ineligible should still be able to access either the Graduate School Scholarship or the Alumni Loyalty discount.

Student Profile – Themba Mtwazi

Themba Mtwazi

Themba Ben Mtwazi

I’m a product of the 80s, born and bred in post independence Zimbabwe. My father was a small time, self taught screen printer, pop artist and a partisan of Andy Warhol and his movement. Growing up surrounded by bottles of ink and stencils; music and graffiti; third world norms and politics; these life encounters of craft and societal barriers somehow merged to become the design of infrastructure – Architecture

Why did you chose KSA?

KSA for me was a no-brainer; a fairly new school just over 5 years old at the time, already sitting at number 6 on the architecture league tables…… I had to find out what the secret was.

What are you working on at the moment? 

There are a few things which I am working on at the moment:

– Faversham creek revitalisation project, Faversham, Uk

– 39 Llewelyn road cottage design, Gweru, Zimbabwe

– Third article for the RIBA blogs (for the first two follow the links below)


– recently completed poster designs on HIV Criminalisation for the Denialism and Human    rights conference recently held at Maastritch University, Netherlands

10966538_928407660523976_231837343_nWhich building or architect has the greatest influence on your work?

I think architecture is a journey of discovery, it’s like a tour in a foreign town, with what’s lying round the bend totally unknown. I guess until I can say I have encountered ‘every’ architect’s/designer’s work in the world, shall I able to say I have found that ‘ONE’; but so far I am intrigued by Peter Zumthor, Santiago Calatrava and Renzo Piano’s work.

What advice would you give someone embarking on an architectural degree?

A drawing or a sketch is the picture of one’s latent thoughts.The trick to being a good design student lies in how you are able to express and manipulate an idea on a physical piece of paper.

MArch students visit London for a day of culture!

On Friday 30th January Stage 4 students visited London as part of their Cultural Context module led by Professor Gordana Fontana Giusti. The main aim of the trip was to look at the student Presidents Medals Award entries on show at RIBA, 66 Portland Place.IMAG2842

Also on the itinerary were visits to: Sir Denys Lasdun’s influential Royal College of Physician’s, a mosaic-clad and arrangement of cantilevering concrete masses, contrasted by the ground-level black brick lecture hall; various permanent exhibitions at New London Architecture (NLA), including a scale model of London showing the new Cross rail layout; and a visit to Nicholas Hawksmoor’s 18th C. St George’s Church, Bloomsbury.IMAG2827

Despite the first half of the day being very structured, spontaneity was factored in and students found themselves wondering around the streets, stumbling across the occasional architectural gem, or not, in some cases!

To finish the day off, the group popped into Southwark Cathedral and then visited The George, adjacent to the site of The Tabard Inn. This is where Chaucer’s pilgrims started their journey, before leaving for Canterbury in the Canterbury Tales (this book forms the basis for MArch’s Unit 1 brief).

All in all, the trip provided students with an insight to the calibre of work expected at Masters Level and a range of historic buildings and their siting in London’s distinctly diverse urban context.

Robert Allcoat – MArch Stage 4