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

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

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)

      http://www.ribablogs.com/?p=9385 
      http://www.ribablogs.com/?p=9362 

– 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.

Architecture @ Kent Day

architecture @ kent

On Saturday 24th January KSA held its first Architecture @ Kent event. The action packed day offered students a chance to visit the School of Architecture and the opportunity to gain an insight into what being a student here is like.
As well as meeting fellow prospective students, those who attended were also acquainted with tutors and current students who were well equipped to answer any questions about university life at Kent.

The day was kicked off with a welcome from the Head of School Prof. Don Gray followed by a lecture from Tim Brittain-Catlin concerning the differences between Classical and Gothic Architectural principles. The theme of the lecture was to pose a question to the prospective students;

Are you Classical or are you Gothic?

After a refreshment break, the first workshop of the day was run by our very own Fine Artist Patrick Crouch and encouraged creative, artistic thinking in order to construct a tower out of a selection of relatively flimsy materials. One group amazingly managed to reach a hight of around 5m, although it did not last very long! The students then were asked to name and present their towers to a panel of tutors, who commented on their styles, structure and creative flair.

Then came a banquet of pizza which went down well with both students and staff, followed by a tour of the campus to visit the universities many facilities and work some of the lunch off!

architecture @ kent lunch

 The afternoon session gave the students a taste of the practical design seminars they will encounter when studying architecture. They were each asked to think of a client with a specific profession, and design the ideal house for them made entirely of shipping containers. The design tutors and student ambassadors then taught about the basics of orthographic drawing (Plans, Sections and Elevations) and were on hand to assist with design queries.

architecture @ kent siminar

The aim of the day was to give each prospective student a better understanding of what an architectural degree entails. We hope that those who attended the event enjoyed it as much as we did, and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture

Open Day rakes in a crowd for KSA

On Saturday 12th July the University of Kent held a General Open Day at the Canterbury Campus. The event was fully booked and KSA were looking forward to meeting lots of prospective students. After setting up a stall in the main sports hall on campus, visitors from across the country, as well as some international individuals, came to meet staff and students from the school and to find out what KSA had to offer them.

web

Two tours were given later in the day, with a total of approximately 200 people getting familiar with the department situated in the Marlowe building. A talk in the main Marlowe lecture theatre was delivered by both the Head of School, Professor Don Gray, and Deputy Head of School, Professor Gerald Adler. Three student ambassadors were also present to give more personal experiences of the courses and general student perspectives. Copies of the 2014 End of Year catalogue were available to purchase, so applicants could grasp a flavour of the quality of work KSA students produce.

dontalk

We hope everyone who visited the Open Day found it useful, if you do have any further questions, then please feel free to contact us: architecture@kent.ac.uk. The next Open Day will be held on Wednesday 17th September and you can book your place here.

End of Year Exhibition: A School’s Triumph

In its 9th year of running, Kent School of Architecture has gone from strength to strength through its dedication and hard work of both staff and students. The End of Year Show 2014 certainly was a spectacular culmination of the projects the students had been working on during the academic year, leaving staff humble with pride after the amount of support they had been giving the students throughout the year. And what better way to make a statement than the BFA (‘Big Friendly Arrow’) hanging from one of the cranes originally being used during the current construction of the Templeman Library extension! Anyone else around campus who would approach the arrow outside the Marlowe Building would definitely then brace themselves for an exhibition that opens its doors with brimming confidence and finesse. An initial thank you must be extended to the workshop team, Kevin Smith and Colin Cresser, and any volunteers who helped assemble the BFA. It should also be noted that Kevin and Colin had worked tirelessly to put together many of the plinths and other woodwork that made up a lot of the exhibition layouts. The students are certainly grateful for their contribution.

arrowweb2

As the numbers of guests gathered in bulks on the opening evening held on Friday 20th June, Professor Don Gray, Head of School, conducted his introductory speech and distribution of special awards given to students. Amongst these announcements, it is with pleasure to announce that Dr. Timothy Brittain-Catlin (Senior Lecturer & Director of Graduate Studies) has been promoted to Reader, especially after the success of his recently released book ‘Bleak Houses: Towards a Theory of Failure, Architectural History and its Losers’. The student awards are as follows; for which KSA extends their congratulations:

  • Most Innovative Undergraduate Work: Hannah Rozenberg
  • Head of School Prize (BA Hons) : Gulce Onganer
  • Head of School Prizes (MArch): Peter Evans and Rosie Seaman
  • Portfolio Prizes (MArch): Rosie Seaman and Jennifer Bull
  • Hays Prize for Written Work (MArch): Jennifer Bull
  • Stage 3 Architecture Portfolio Prize: Natasha Ho
  • RIBA Kent Prize for Part 1: Zuzana Sojkova
  • RIBA Kent Prize for Part 2: (M.Arch): Sam Ashdown
  • Stage 1 Article Prize: Themba Mtwazi
  • Purcell Prizes for Passivhaus Research led by Henrik Schoenefeldt: Adam Nightingale, Jessica Ringrose, Rosie Seaman, Sam Ashdown, Karl Bowers, Natasha Gandhi, Tim Waterson, Katarzyna Kwiatek, Thomas Hayward, Miguel Peluffo-Navarro, Cordelia Hill and Sam Fleming
Jennifer Bull
Jennifer Bull

The Undergraduate exhibition (Stage 1 in part of Studio C downstairs, Stage 2 in the Marlowe Foyer & Stage 3 in the Digitial Crit Space upstairs) was an impressive display of students starting out their journey in architecture and a pleasing reflection on what they had achieved so far, in terms of acquiring new skills and taking on challenging projects. The Stage 3 projects included Modular (Canterbury student accommodation masterplans) and Urban (School of Arts building proposals based in Rochester). The combination of physical models, drawings and utilisation of 3D BIM software was a perfect example of how the students were making the most of the development of their projects and help prepare their first professional architectural portfolios.

eoysweb

The MArch exhibition was held in Studio C downstairs and immediately paved the setting for a unit system that created sheer diversity via the range of projects. Unit 1 (led by Michael Richards & Michael Holms Coats) looked at ‘Cinque Ports’: the coastal cities of Kent and it was this space where visitors were greeted by a sea (no pun intended) of delicate, intricate models in the middle of the space, to show these students had thought carefully about how they physically built up their schemes. Unit 2 (led by Ed Holloway & Peter Ayres) looked at the Isle of Portland and the importance of Portland stone. It was interesting to see how the students could take one material and use it to tell a story within their schemes. Unit 3 (led by Corinna Dean & Diana Cochrane) looked at the urban infrastructure and cultural language of Istanbul, Turkey. There was a real burst of culture in the space with a video showreel of observations in Istanbul, as well as a lot of rapid documentation on how the schemes could help the Turkish community. Finally, Unit 4 (led by Shaun Murray & Yorgos Liozos) looked at Canvey Island near Leigh-on-Sea, before designing pioneering villages that reformulate environmental issues. The technical approaches by the students were so bold and complex, very large areas of landscape and topography were shaped and reformed too.

Kent School of Architecture are privileged and grateful for everyone who has been involved with arranging the exhibition; all students who selected work and curated the spaces, as well as academic, administration and workshop staff who all provided exceptional help to the students during the course of the year and leading up to the end of term. The success of the exhibition and the beautifully put together catalogue would not all have been possible without the main co-ordinators, Stage 5 students Rosie Seaman and Peter Evans. Many thanks to the committee and helpers who assisted Rosie and Peter with all the arrangements.

Peter and Rosie
Peter and Rosie

Until next academic year, we wish everyone a wonderful summer and we look forward to our upcoming 10th Year Anniversary, as well as the University of Kent’s 50th Anniversary in 2015.

MArch 5th Years: That final FINAL crit

Today marked the final university design crit the 5th Year MArch students had to face, before the professional stretch in the real world towards their careers in the architectural field. It does seem like pressure, but for many of the 5th Years, it was clear that they just wanted to end the course on a pleasant high and give it their best shot. The result of the work sprawled across Studio C downstairs in the Marlowe Building was clear: dedication, commitment and flawless effort had been put in.

web2

What stood out the most was the range of mixed media and vast construction approaches. From charcoal drawings and simple, rendered CAD to Photoshopped renders and structural models, the 5th Years had proved that they weren’t afraid to experiment and push the boundaries of design. Some introductory speeches were in more depth than usual, due to making sure that the thorough knowledge and finest technical detail that went into the process of the schemes were explained to the curious panellists.

web

It was all an example to be set for the 4th Years, who are expected to step into their shoes next academic year. While technical and structural requirements were crucial, the message that the MArch course gave after today is that students do have the opportunity to really express themselves and find out what personally interests them in architecture. The standard of work reflected, in some ways, personality and working methods that students each find most comfortable. Moreover, fantastic material for portfolios that the MArchers can show off to potential firms when looking for employment.

stage5web

Many congratulations to the finalists and have a well-deserved rest! Details of the upcoming KSA End of Year Show will be announced within the next couple of weeks.

British Council selects students for Venice Fellowship

Kent School of Architecture is pleased to announce that two of its MArch Part II students have been selected for a work-study fellowship at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Jasmine Davey (4th Year) and Jessica Ringrose (5th Year) will each spend a month in the beautiful city of Venice and right in the heart of the 2014 Biennale, directed by Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas. This year’s theme is ‘Absorbing Modernity: 1914 – 2014’, which will be subject to much debate, discussion and create a fresh understanding of the world’s take on the development of Modernist ideas. The British Pavilion will host ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’: how international influences of Modernism have mixed with long-standing British sensibilities. From around the UK and beyond, a total of 50 students from 12 architecture schools and institutions will each be supported by a financial grant to take on this work-study opportunity in the world’s most important architectural festival that will run from June to November this year.

Jasmine (who will be in Venice in September) and Jessica (who will be going in June) will spend four days a week invigilating the exhibition in the British Pavilion. Both have proved through the application process that they are reliable, organised and competent for the task of overseeing the day-to-day running of the pavilion and, in essence, become the public faces of the exhibition. In addition, Jasmine and Jessica will spend three days a week undertaking a research project focusing on ‘Absorbing Modernity’ and can stretch their investigations to cover a number of core sub-themes and evolving ideas. They will ultimately be producing a written piece that centres on individual conclusions, which will then be published.

Jasmine says: It is a rare, fortunate opportunity to get a chance to be a part of the Biennale. I am really grateful KSA have made this a possibility. The application had quite specific questions that got you thinking about the theme for the Biennale this year, so it will be interesting to see how the study I take on will develop from the interests I have about architectural developments from 1914-2014. At the moment, I think I would like to research what cultural gems we choose preserve (I see preservation as something that only became important after 1914 and is interesting to look at alongside the modernisation of design) or something to do with the avant guarde movement.”

Jessica says: “Almost every architecture CV has the same information; whether a person has done Part I, II, III etc. so this experience will add something else to my CV. I am very much interested in the National Identity of Architecture, but as I will be in Venice, I would probably look into the identities of other countries featured. I think Absorbing Modernity is how we present ourselves to others, how Britain is distinguished and do we actually export anything influential to other countries?”

This week, the two students will be attending a three day residential induction school in London, in order to network with other Biennale Fellows, staff and receive pre-departure information and advice. We at KSA wish Jessica and Jasmine the very best of luck in their preparations leading up to their fellowships and, of course, congratulate them in becoming suitable ambassadors for this unique event.

For more information about the Venice Biennale, click here.

-Srimathi Aiyer (Stage 4)