KSA End of Year Exhibition

11cOn the Friday 19th of June 2015 at 5:30pm, the Kent School of Architecture hosted its 10th End of Year Exhibition. The show comprised work of all 5 years as well as additional work from foundation and postgraduate years. The Marlowe building on the University of Kent campus (marked using an enormous pink X to symbolise the number 10) was unsurprisingly bursting at the seams with high quality work and scores of people who had travelled to see it.

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The exhibition was officially opened by special guest and Architects Journal Editor Rory  Olcayto who spoke shortly about the need for high quality schools of architecture and about the nature of architectural education itself.

The evening then progressed to the presentation of prizes including the Eliot Cloister design competition winners prize for Prinka Anandawardhani and Tracy Hulley, presented by Eliot College Master Stephen Burke. There were many other prizes awarded by the school and also sponsors including an award from Guy Holloway for Stage 2’s module Form and Structure. Guests who were in attendance commented on the richness and quality of the work on show, and their delight at how quickly the young school is progressing.

Also on show were the schools latest technological advancements including 3D printers, scanners and a drone in the foyer.

The Kent School of Architecture is in a constant state of progression, in both reputation and therefore quality of work, which means that future end of year exhibitions will continue to rise in quality. We look forward to seeing you all there next year!

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

Billhook Nook Theatre by SHED

There are few opportunities when studying architecture to translate your designs into built projects, except if you actively seek those projects which allow you to do so. This extracurricular project gave us an opportunity to put our design skills to the test and produce a multifunctional events space for use by both staff and future students. The theatre took about 2-3 weeks to complete and has inspired many of us to seek future projects with which we can develop our skills further. The difference between working as a team on an academic project compared to an active, built project is significant, and we have all learnt valuable lessons about both team work and designing as a result.

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The theatre concept originated from the study of popular natural artist Andy Goldsworthy and his technique of ‘ordering’ nature using materials found on site. Billhook Nook Theatre consists of a large sculptural roof structure designed to represent the ‘ordered’ interpretation of the surrounding woodland. This ‘birds nest’ form is built around a triangular structural frame which is then supported using chains by the surrounding trees. The benefit of securing the structure to the trees is that the roof, although static, moves gentle with the trees in the wind adding a dynamic character to the theatre (unlike many traditional theatres). The theatre is also intended to not only draw your attention to the focal point (in this case the stage area), but to draw your eye up to the canopy of leaves above.

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The SHED (Studio for Hands-on Experimental Design) team, led by myself currently includes second year students Benjamin Nourse, Aut Angpanitcharoen, Luisa Pires, Andrew Warwick and Prinka Anandawardhani Choesin. We all look forward to experiencing Billhook Nook Theatre throughout the seasons, and we encourage everyone else to do the same as it will soon be available as a bookable education space on campus. The theatre can be found below the new business school development near parkwood on campus, just look for the door.

This project would not have been possible without the help of Creative Campus and Ian Bride, and we look forward to future projects together.

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

 

The Render Paradigm

As architecture students, we are entering into an extremely competitive working profession, one which is benefiting, or some would say suffering, from an increasing variety of channels through which architectural designs can be represented. The days of pencil and drawing board are numbered, and are being replaced instead by photo-realistic, idealised renders which in some cases deceive the client to buy into a proposal based on the quality of the graphic, rather than the quality of the design. So are these renders good or bad for the profession, or should we go back to the days of the pencil?

At university, speaking from personal experience, I have found that in order to get attention from other students and visitors to the school, your designs must stand out, either through striking visuals and colour or through quirky presentation techniques, ie video etc. Even the most exquisitely designed proposals can easily be lost under a smokescreen of artistic flair when students work is displayed together, as it usually is. This paradigm is worrying as it forces young architects to focus on graphic design and architectural design is often neglected. Time and time again, there is always a student who spend days producing exquisite presentation sheets and is reassured by other students that they are guaranteed a good grade. The issue comes when the student receives a lower design mark than a student whose presentation sheets were not quite as exquisite but were backed up by a solid design process. This student is then left feeling confused due to a misunderstanding of where his presentation lacked, after all, how could such a beautifully presented design receive such a low grade?

This student, like so many clients in the profession, has fallen prey to the deceptive nature of architectural renders, the only difference in the industry is that many clients are unable to see through this artistic smokescreen.

Many students look towards resources like precedents medals and top architectural universities for design inspiration, however many students, including myself, unknowingly find themselves taking away only graphic design inspiration rather than what we were searching for in the first place. I’m sure you can see how this vicious circle, encouraged by the current architecture education system and the industry itself can have a detrimental effect on the quality of building produced in the modern day.

Don’t get me wrong, artistic, realistic renders can be extremely useful in explaining complex concepts using only a few images, so long as they accurately represent the design which is to be built. As well as this, the emergence of sophisticated augmented reality software can greatly benefit firms trying to conveying a design to a client who is not likely to be able to interpret traditions orthographic drawings. What clients want to know is what the design is like to be in, and with this new software, they can be physically immersed into a realistic version of such a design.

Clearly there are major advantages which come with the use of realistic renders to convey a design, however, I feel that in order for their successful application, raw architectural design must be given greater attention, and not come as a byproduct of a graphic designers piece of art.

Please leave your opinion using the comments button below.

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

 

Immersive architecture

Imagine that in front of you stood a door, and I told you that on passing through this door you would be transported 160 million year into the past to the age of dinosaurs, you would say that I have lost my mind wouldn’t you? However, Renzo Piano would disagree with you, and so would I.

I have always been fascinated by immersive experiences, the Eden project in Cornwall being a fine example, and it would seem that one of the aspects which make them so enchanting is their collaboration with superlative architecture and interior design. The Eden project consist of two vast biomes designed using the concept of bio-mimicry which gives them their distinct bubble shape. This focus on bio-mimicry has facilitated a huge saving in weight and cost due to resource efficiency, in fact the resulting superstructure of the biomes weigh less than the air they contain. Because of the lightweight nature of the ETFE membrane used to create the hexagonal panels, the steel frame was therefore smaller meaning that the resulting structure as a whole let more light in. When viewed from the ground, amidst the dense rainforest and humid air, the relative ease in which your mind gets lost in this enchanting world is astonishing. The only reminder of the outside world coming when your eye is drawn upwards by the towering trees to a gap in the canopy which shows a fanciful hexagonal pattern soaring above you, for some reason the Hunger Games springs to mind.

When people ask me what form truly brilliant architecture comes in I tell them that for a piece of architecture to be truly brilliant, the form which it assumes is extraneous, more importantly therefore is a buildings ability to invoke emotion and feeling; something which when done well can have a profoundly personal effect on those who visit it. Which is partly the reason why I believe architects such as Daniel Libeskind have received so much recognition for buildings such as the Jewish museum in Berlin, a building which cannot possibly be understood from its external appearance, but by the ineluctable emotional connection with the buildings interior spaces. In my opinion a utilitarian building designed solely for either financial or practical reasons cannot possibly be classed as architecture, this distinction should be reserved for buildings which are designed with the primary intention of provoking feelings in those who visit them. This is the reason for my appreciation of immersive architecture.

JurassicaSaying this, due for completion in 2021 is what will be the worlds largest immersive Jurassic experience, known as ‘Jurassica’, designed by Renzo Piano. Unlike the Eden project, the environment contained within this space is not a replica of an already existing global ecosystem, but a replica of an ecosystem unfamiliar to the human race, that of the Jurassic period. A huge roof structure will cover a 250,000 cubic metre quarry in Portland England, and beneath this roof will exist a Jurassic world complete with animatronic moving replicas of the fauna from this period, on both land and in water. The location of Jurassica will be ideally located in close proximity to the Jurassic coastline, a place where much of the research and collection of prehistoric fossils currently operates, and will provide a much needed visual aid to assist in the education and experience of this fascinating period of time.

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The aim of the project is to not only to create the largest Jurassic experience, but to ensure that it is also the most accurate representation of this long lost time. The project has already attracted many distinguished figures in support such as Sir David Attenborough.

Immersive architectural environments can be very easy to achieve on a small scale, it is however far more difficult to achieve on a larger scale. The Eden project is a fine example of how immersive environments can be extremely captivating places to experience because the architectural forms employed are intended to focus our attention on their contents, while producing an external appearance which draws us in. Jurassica certainly seems to tick all of the boxes in this sense, which promises that we may soon be experiencing a truly magnificent immersive space not only because of its educational nature, but also because of it’s fantastic architectural prowess.

I look forward to the day when we can all pass through the door standing in front of us, and immerse ourselves in history.

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

Image credit – Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Jurassica 2014 
http://www.jurassica.org/

Our 3D concrete future

A Chinese company recently  set a very high benchmark in the concrete 3D printing construction industry. The firm was able to print 10 houses in 24 hours, well more like glorified garden sheds. This rapid shift towards 3D concrete construction is undoubtedly making many people nervous about the future of architecture, however, it is obvious that there are major benefits to this method over conventional ones. So is concrete 3D printing the future of architecture, or will it bring more harm than good to our urban environment?

There is one undeniable benefit to rapid 3D printed house construction, and that is efficiency, and therefore cost reduction. Clearly a firm which can construct as many houses in one week as another one can in one year is at a major advantage when it comes to efficiency and profitability. So we are likely to see more and more construction companies jumping on the 3D printing bandwagon in the near future. More homes at cheaper prices which will reduce homeless statistics and greatly benefit society, sounds great right? Well, yes and no, although financially many people are better off, our environment, both urban and natural sadly may not be. 3D concrete printing is likely to rapidly increase global cement production, right at a time when we need to be reducing its use and shifting towards more sustainable materials and construction processes. The adverse effect that I believe 3D house printing will have on our urban environment is the creation of monotonous housing typologies which lack a character other than their distinctive 3D printed genesis.

The technology used to manufacture the Chinese firms 10 houses (known as contour crafting, similar to most small 3D printers) is not extremely sophisticated, on the contrary, the robotics required is far less complex than those used to manufacture cars. So why has it taken this long for concrete 3D printing to be utilized? The main reason I believe is that the cost of the robotics and training needed to create these enormous 3D printers has reduced quite drastically over the recent years as demand for automated robots grows globally, as well as an increase in the number of firms pioneering innovative construction approaches.

One issue I have with this new bread of building typology is its unique layered appearance, reminding me more of some of Anish Kapoor’s artwork using piles of piped concrete on the floor, great for artwork, not so much for living in. The layered texture these printers produce could be interpreted as a unique, sort-after architectural aesthetic but I’m sure as more and more of these buildings rapidly pop up in clusters, the novelty will soon wear off. Though I shouldn’t be too pessimistic as these textures can easily be covered up much in the same way breeze-block walls are in current construction. The one thing which is lost through the use of these printers is the ability to transfer texture from the form-work used to cast in-situ concrete, which is the reason why many architects favour exposed concrete walls over other wall surfaces.

There are however a few people determined to use this technique for more than just cube shaped buildings, Norman Foster of course leading the way. His efforts with 3D concrete printing are much more promising in terms of experimenting with more complex architectural forms, although don’t yet show signs of viable large scale building applications.

Another issue to consider is the same one which struck the construction industry when automation kicked in. It’s all very well concentrating on maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs to build cheap housing for the population, but if you are laying off workers in the process, is there any point? Construction is the largest industry in the UK, and the USA’s construction industry employs almost 6 million people. So does this advance in automated production put these jobs at risk in the future? The houses these printers produce will have to be very cheap in order for the people who are jobless as a result of them to be able to afford one. But that Problem is a long way off yet!

The houses which these early 3D concrete printers produce are very basic, many of them essentially consisting of a single room garden shed form. In order for this technology to enter the mainstream, there will need to be advancements in the variety of buildings which can be produced, which is exactly where Norman Foster is rightly focusing his attention.

It’s quite obvious that the arrival of industrial scale 3D printing in the UK’s construction industry is fast approaching and the benefits it brings seem to outweigh the disadvantages, certainly from a financial perspective. Therefore the firms who pioneer this technology and start setting industry benchmarks will be in the best position in years to come, furthermore if anyone can find a green alternative to concrete 3D printing, they will stand to gain even more.

 By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

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