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· Amy Glover

Inspiring Design Futures 2015

Video of the Inspiring Design Futures 2015 keynote talk, given by Roddy Langmuir at the University of Idaho.

On 26th March 2015, Roddy Langmuir gave the keynote talk at the Inspiring Design Futures symposium at the University of Idaho. In his presentation, with the theme of 'Skin and Bone', Roddy talks about the use of timber in architecture and its role in our projects. 


· Amy Glover

Green Sky Thinking Week

MIND THE GAP: People and Building Performance - 22nd April 2015

Our Green Sky Thinking Week event this year: 

MIND THE GAP: People and Building Performance

Time: 5.30pm - 7.30pm
Date: Wednesday 22nd April 2015
Venue: Cullinan Studio, 5 Baldwin Terrace, London N1 7RU
RSVP: amy.glover@cullinanstudio.com

Two years on, is Cullinan Studio's retrofit office building performing as predicted? Join the architects Cullinan Studio, environmental engineers Max Fordham and BuroHappold Research Engineer Trevor Keeling, for a discussion centred on how we engage with building performance data.

The event, hosted in this case study building, aims to explore the question: how do we understand the relationship between design and construction alongside user experience? And, more importantly, how can use these two forms of information to improve the performance of our buildings? 

The energy data from the office's Building Management System will be presented alongside measured data of the end users, juxtaposing quantitative data output with a more qualitative, and subjective, human perspective.


  • Johnny Winter, Cullinan Studio
  • Phil Armitage, Max Fordham
  • Trevor Keeling, University of Reading/BuroHappold

The evening will be chaired by Jon Bootland of the Sustainable Development Foundation.

Special Guest: The Woodpecker - following this drawing machine's debut during our Open House London event in September last year, we are celebrating the permanent return of the Woodpecker at our Green Sky Thinking Week event.

Cullinan Studio and Max Fordham collaborate with BuroHappold Research Engineer Trevor Keeling for Green Sky Thinking Week

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· Amy Glover

NAIC Foundation Stone Unveiled

The foundation stone for the National Automotive Innovation Centre was unveiled today at the University of Warwick.

The foundation stone for the National Automotive Innovation Centre (NAIC) designed by Cullinan Studio, was unveiled today by Mr Ratan Tata (Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons), Mr Cyrus Mistry (Chairman of Tata Group), Dr Ralf Speth (Jaguar Land Rover Chief Executive Officer), and Professor Lord Bhattacharyya (Chairman and Founder of WMG).

(left to right) Dr Ralf Speth (Jaguar Land Rover), Mr Cyrus Mistry (Tata Group), Prof. Lord Bhattacharyya (WMG) and Mr Ratan Tata (Tata Group).

The £150m building will be a centre for world-leading research on developing new automotive technologies aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and dependency on fossil fuels. It will create opportunities for applied academic research by researchers and industry and become a focus for research by two major automotive companies with strong links to Coventry.

Cullinan Studio has worked closely with the project stakeholders, Rider Levett Bucknall, Arup and Buro Four to create a building that will gather a complex amalgamation of activities around a collaborative hub, providing each specific activity with the environment it needs.  

The single building of over 33,000sqm across four levels will provide space for over 1,000 research and development engineers, and includes an engineering hall, design studios, engine testing areas and virtual reality suites amongst its diverse range of facilities. 

Roddy Langmuir, Project Director at Cullinan Studio said: 

“This project brings together car designers, research engineers, industrial specialists, and students to collaborate under one roof, in the knowledge that their complementary skills will spark new ideas. It has been a privilege to work with the innovators that are inspiring a resurgence in UK manufacturing. The new building has been shaped to their needs and to challenge the traditional environment of their workplace.”

The Chairman of Tata Group, Mr Cyrus Mistry, said:

“This unique resource will provide state-of-the-art engineering and technology labs that will greatly enhance the ability of academia and industry to work side by side on leading edge research to deliver exciting new innovative products and meet the widely held ambition to deliver automotive technology and products that will be smarter, lighter, and greener. The Tata group shares these objectives to achieve greater sustainability, and is delighted to support their realisation.”

Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, Chairman of WMG, said:

“The automotive industry in the UK has seen a recent resurgence, but for the UK to remain internationally competitive we must create urgently a critical mass in research excellence. Our vision is to create the National Automotive Innovation Centre where we link people, research and world-leading infrastructure to create and develop novel technologies. NAIC will be an ‘engine’ for economic growth, with wide economic benefit, and sustained growth from the creation of world-leading technologies. It will enable academic and industry teams to work together in state of the art buildings, with tailored equipment and digital solutions to create and integrate breakthrough technologies with a whole system approach crossing multiple disciplines.”

Dr Ralf Speth, Jaguar Land Rover’s Chief Executive Officer, said:

“The National Automotive Innovation Centre will serve as a generator of new skills and new thinking, providing a pefect, collaborative environment in which to learn, research and develop the designs and technologies that will shape the vehicles and personal mobility solutions of the future. As well as helping Jaguar Land Rover create key technologies that will deliver new experiences for our customers; smarter, safer and more connected cars and a low-carbon future, the centre will deliver wider benefits to the UK automotive industry. The NAIC will have a significant role inspiring the engineers of tomorrow and will help develop the skills we need the UK to nurture and develop to ensure we remain globally competitive.”

Cullinan Studio has been working with WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) at the University of Warwick since 1992. NAIC is our fifth project with this world leading research group, following the International Manufacturing Centre (2002), the International Digital Laboratory (2008), the International Institute for Product and Service Innovation (2012) and the International Institute for Nanocomposite Manufacturing (2014).

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· Amy Glover

Camden Design Awards Shortlist

House in Hampstead shortlisted for a Camden Design Award

For this house in Hampstead we created a large bright living space which beautifully connects with the garden. The project did not simply add on more living space but rather improved the upper and lower ground floors of the house in a way that worked with the existing building both internally and externally.

We are delighted that the project has been shortlisted for a Camden Design Award. The Camden Design Awards recognise schemes that demonstrate high quality in design in the London Borough of Camden.

Ample living space is created which connects effortlessly to the garden

· Gwenaël Jerrett Kersulec

Too few units, even fewer homes!

Though the UK as a whole is experiencing a crisis, London’s housing problem is unique from the rest of the country. We invited four speakers to give their take on it and debated new ways in which it could be addressed.

Last Thursday we hosted a debate on the housing crisis here at Cullinan Studio, with CS’ Roddy Langmuir as chair, and four speakers representing different providers within the housing sector - the Greater London Authority, a developer (Golding Homes), a housing association (Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust) and custom/self build.  Roddy introduced the event, emphasising our aspiration to come out of the debate with positive solutions to an overwhelmingly large problem.  How do we provide accommodation across the spectrum of society, build new communities and strengthen existing ones, increase density and speed up supply whilst building enough new homes with enduring quality?

Film of the 'Too few units, even fewer homes!' debate

James Gleeson of the Greater London Authority (GLA) kicked things off, discussing why the housing problem exists and is worse in London than elsewhere in Britain, stating that it is not so much the foreign investors that are causing the housing crisis, but the 700,000 new jobs that have been created in the last five years, bringing 600,000 extra people while only 120,000 extra homes have been provided. Gleeson stated the need to address the fact that London is a relatively low-rise city in comparison to its equivalents – New York, Paris, Tokyo.  We need to look at high rise.  Second, and big on the GLA’s agenda, is the use of brownfield sites: GLA research has found that an estimated 42,000 homes per year can be built on brownfield sites.  The challenge here will be actually delivering them – many of these sites are large and require very long lead times, with considerable remediation or additional infrastructure.

Emphasising the need to try to reach the needs of this city within the bounds of Greater London while retaining sufficient green space, servicing and infrastructure, Chris Blundell (Golding Homes) challenged the design profession to turn the GLA’s Housing Zones into places that people aspire to live, and to learn from other megacities across the world to successfully create a denser city. Blundell was nevertheless sceptical as to whether Greater London in itself can house its growing population – of the GLA’s target 42,000 homes per year only 17,000 were created last year.  He questioned whether we should look at London within this boundary, or as a wider metropolitan economic area – a connected network of places all providing good quality of life.  Let’s seriously consider and start to action the suggestions made by Wei Yang and URBED, and in the Farrell Review and the Taylor Report.

John Hocking’s main points were based around the research that the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT) undertake around the question of affordability. While grants to housing associations are decreasing, research has shown that some form of subsidy is essential to provide affordable housing. There is no country that has managed to do it without.  Despite a fall in unemployment, there is a rising number of people in in-work poverty and at risk of falling into poverty, and all the while the cost of essentials (food, housing, transport and childcare) have risen.  In London, this is heightened, with people paying up to 60% of their wages on accommodation. Hocking believes we need to engineer a reduction in what people are paying for what they are living in.  The JRHT are undertaking research into marketing a living rent linked to income rather than property value. The GLA’s definition of affordable is 80% of market value (this includes dwellings targeted at those earning as much as £80,000 per year).  Hocking believes affordable should be defined as 28% of income – just like a mortgage.

Sam Brown introduced us to some new and alternative ways of providing affordable housing, in particular a project he is involved in.  RUSS (Rural Urban Synthesis Society, set up as community land trust), is a group of people in the process of designing, commissioning and building housing on a site in Lewisham to then occupy and manage it themselves - an update of the Segal model of affordable community-led self-build pioneered in the seventies and eighties, in which many councils (including Lewisham) were involved. He calls it a pilot, an attempt to identify something that could be replicated by other councils. However, the project has come up against many challenges: cross-subsidy without being dependent on grant, providing a capital receipt for land rather than being reliant on being given it, finding ways to maintain affordability in perpetuity…  Significantly, procurement has been an issue: should a local authority be actively enabling collaboration with its residents, or should all development opportunities be offered out on a competitive basis?  After five years of RUSS’ investment in the project, the LA have recently informed them that the project would go to OJEU tender.

What followed the speakers was an engaging debate geared around creating a list of key things that collectively we feel can/should/must be done to make a real difference to the current situation in London. Rowan Moore of the Observer stressed that the state needs to find new ways to play a role as house builder – the only time housing targets have been close to being achieved was when large scale council housing was being built, and the market has never filled this gap. Chris Blundell then asked whether there are ‘productive, creative and imaginative ways’ in which we can capture subsidy?

The debate then moved from finding ways for land value capture at the point of planning approval, to pension funds as a way of ensuring quality housing, via regulation of the rental sector and more (more on all that to follow); Tom Dollard of PTE ended on a positive note with one potential answer to Chris Blundell’s question. He gave the example of a project in Barking where a foreign investor has partnered with the local authority to create 100% council housing.  At a time when grants are not forthcoming, this is an innovative funding model, however it is also the only one of its kind. While there is the glimmer of hope for a new era in housing with local authorities becoming empowered to start building again, it seems certain that this time it will be without the state funding of council housing’s heyday.  Moreover, it’s fair to say that in our current economic climate the investment market, for now, is here to stay. So how can we harness the market to create the right kind of housing?

NB: A film of the event will follow soon, our ten point summary of the debate listing ways which would take us towards solving London's housing crisis is available here.

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· Sahiba Chadha

Ten Ways to Address London’s Housing Crisis

Panellists and attendees of our recent Sustainability Talk collaborated to propose a list of ten strategies for dealing with the housing crisis.

1. Local Authorities must reclaim their role as Housebuilders.

The private sector has demonstrated that the market cannot meet the Mayor's targets, even when including the provision of unaffordable luxury homes.

2. Restructure subsidy for affordable and social housing.

Better for the state to invest in good quality housing that provides a long-term return, than subsidise rents that profit landlords through Housing Benefit. Provided for by rewriting Section 106 on the basis of land value capture rather than mitigation of unacceptable development.

3. Radical rethink of tax.

A Land Value Tax to capture value uplift following planning consent that would limit land-banking (or a time limit on holding land).  A steeper graduation on stamp duty. Reconsider Capital Gains Tax exemption on primary residences. Taxation of buy-to-let/leave without the tax benefits currently enjoyed.

4. Market regulation by the Government.

A clear land valuation procedure (including appropriate density and viability assessments guided by planners), with rental control and price caps to limit excessive price escalation.

5. Direct local action - make yourself heard!

Local Authorities should assign land for communities that want to build. Remove bureaucratic hurdles that frustrate self-build.

6. Place greater value in quality and longevity.

To be truly sustainable we need to build homes that will last a minimum of 100 years.

7. Attract a more diverse mix of investors.

Could Pension funds and the State help to re-balance the funding mix in house-building to ensure there is an interest in quality and long term value? Guiding foreign investment would be better than fighting it through taxation.

8. Training and Capacity Building for Local Authorities.

We need Local Authorities to rediscover their expertise as exemplary clients of Community Infrastructure and Housing, and to be the confident hand on the tiller of Masterplanning.

9. Open book Development Appraisals.

Clarity through an open-book approach to development appraisals by Local Authorities.

10. A confident bite out of the green belt.

Considered and regulated building on the brownfield and low quality areas of the green belt.


Read more about the original event "Too few units, even fewer homes!" here.

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· Robin Nicholson

Embodied Carbon As An Allowable Solution - Video

Our second Embodied Carbon evening was again in partnership with the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products.

Embodied Carbon As An Allowable Solution - Video

Leading on from the Allowable Solutions talk we hosted in the summer, Guy Battle and Simon Sturgis discussed the methods and policy wrangling over Allowable Solutions. An informed audience challenged aspects of the methodology, but the idea that triple glazing does not work on a whole-life carbon basis brought it sharply into focus for us all. We need to engage and watch this develop, possibly allied to BIM practice.


Guy Battle - Director of the Sustainable Business Partnership and coordinator of the Embodied Carbon Industry Task Force

Simon Sturgis - Sturgis Carbon Profiling

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· Aditya Aachi

AA Haiti Visiting School 2015 - Bamboo and the city

Dictators, great lectures and bamboo houses

Sitting having breakfast in our residence for the week on Rue Pacot, preparing for the final jury of the AA Haiti Visiting School 2015, we heard that the government had been dissolved and that President Michel Martelly was now ruling by decree. 

Later, I stood looking out over Port-au-Prince on the terrace of the Comité Interministériel d’Aménagement du Territoire (CIAT), with a couple of Visiting School alumni from last year.  In the distance you could see one plume black smoke from the burning tyres - not far from the part of downtown where the students had been mapping sites a week earlier. As I discussed the situation with them and asked if Martelly had become what he promised to dispel from the administration, they exclaimed in tandem as if it was habit, "Welcome, this is Haiti!" 

View from the terrace at CIAT

If you were to see the photo on the BBC news website that morning - an image of violent riots and tyres burning in the streets - you would not imagine that we were still planning to hold the jury. You might think that we were going to pack our bags and head straight to the airport. It is important not to trivialise the situation, but it would be an understatement to say that the media have a knack for hyper-exaggeration.  

The student projects this year were based in the urban context of Port-au-Prince's downtown - a few blocks around John McAslan's Iron Market. Although the destroyed iron market was rebuilt and opened on the first anniversary of the quake, in stark contrast the rest of downtown remains largely unchanged.  The area is still mostly used as an open air market where thousands of Haitians earn their living. One of the sites was in fact the spot I had chosen to represent my own project in 2011, it was very unfortunate to see that students had made the same observations which led to a somewhat similar proposal 4 years on.

The students were able to spend some time mapping their sites, making observations and collecting data that would inform their proposals. The data was analysed for correlations and used to make the first moves on the site. There was a struggle to make proposals due to the enormity and complexity of the situation while also having to grapple with a somewhat abstract method. Slowly, the connections were made and the realisation that they weren't going to solve every problem in the 11 days available gave them some freedom. The proposals were then tested and refined using open source environmental software.

Students mapping their site in downtown Port-au-Prince

The 4 groups consisted of a mix of foreign students and local civil engineering students who were introduced through NGO Help. The projects were a very direct response to the 4 distinct sites and existing conditions: a car wash – where the cleanest water is used to wash cars and then dirty water is used by those who need it most – became a public baths.  The area used by text book vendors became a public teaching space and an extension to the directly adjacent iron market.  A largely empty site with formal stalls surrounding it, currently used as a shortcut and temporary dumping area was reimagined as a recycling and sorting centre.  An informal bus station - the main crossroads in PaP was formalised and combined with other local art markets.

Student project - Public Baths

This year the school was held the government offices of CIAT.  Our host Rose-May Guignard kindly gave us her time and expertise throughout the course - one of the highlights being her candid lecture.  The quality and range of lectures was without doubt one of the strongest aspects of the programme. Farah Hyppolite of FOKAL (Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty) explained the history of the local colonial gingerbread style, Rose-May spoke about urban planning and the roles of legislation in Port-au-Prince. Our key note speaker and newest member of tutoring team Sebastian Kaminski of Arup gave lectures on bamboo and seismic design.  These were supplemented by his extensive day long workshop on production, treatment and construction using bamboo. His input into making the projects structurally viable and responding to the environmental testing was also invaluable.

Sebastian Kaminski during the bamboo workshop.

Our annual visit to the Oloffson hotel to watch celebrated Haitian band RAM and let the students unwind from the rigorous programme was preceded by a visit to Haiti's first bamboo house designed by architect Gary Pierre-Charles. Built using Colombian guadua by Gary and a few of his colleagues – the beautifully detailed yet resilient design is a strong argument for the wider use of bamboo in Haiti.

The Visiting School in its current format is about creating excitement around the potential for the use of bamboo. More importantly it aims to introduce methods of contextually driven testing into local working methods. The results, though quite fantastical, raised some real questions of what is needed in downtown PaP.  These needs are somewhat at odds with what is currently proposed by any of the stakeholders involved. The conceptual projects were presented to the association of downtown landowners and will hopefully open up a discourse about what could be possible in the area in the future. 

Though the school has a scope to produce excitement for the material and promote collaboration, the fact that it is a short workshop mean's it is unlikely to produce real change on the ground.  It also became frustratingly clear this year that the format of the course, though greatly improved, may not be the best way to disseminate knowledge effectively in Haiti. For these reasons our ambition is to push our research further outside the workshops in order to determine the viability of developing a new local lightweight typology.

Environmental testing - hurricane force wind loadings.

So in this vein, how are we planning to improve and progress future visiting schools? The next workshop aims encompass a programme in designing and building located within a bamboo plantation.  The building aspect of the course will finally give us the level of direct exposure to the material we have been looking for. Detaching the workshop from the influence of the complex situation on the ground may also be a key aspect of the programme. This comes as a reaction to students being stifled by the seemingly insurmountable problems and informal systems that govern Port-au-Prince. By designing building an intervention in a plantation these issues will hopefully become a way to enrich the programme and its rhetoric rather than becoming an obstacle. 

Updates on our progress will be posted in the near future.  You can find more information regarding the course at the AA Haiti Visiting School website.

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· Amy Glover

Planning approval for Maitland Park Estate

The London Borough of Camden's Planning Committee unanimously approved our designs for the redevelopment of Maitland Park Estate in north London.

On Thursday 22nd January 2015, The London Borough of Camden’s Planning Committee unanimously approved Cullinan Studio’s designs for the redevelopment of Maitland Park Estate, Gospel Oak, to provide 112 dwellings, a new Tenants’ and Residents’ Association (TRA) Hall and landscaping improvements to the central park.

The Estate, built in the 1930s with successive waves of development until the 1980s, is set within a mature landscape.

The redevelopment focuses on two key sites: Grafton Terrace consisting of the existing TRA Hall with adjacent garages; and the Aspen House site containing Aspen House, a gym and garages.

Extensive consultation was undertaken with the residents of the estate, the wider community and the Planning department, to arrive at the current proposals.

Our scheme repairs the Victorian street frontage to Grafton Terrace with a combination of a four-storey town house and four to five-storey flats. A new TRA hall is located to the corner to overlook the park and provide a gateway to the estate. The centre, with a dedicated community garden, will be run as an enterprise by the TRA and will house a large sub-dividable function room, bookable meeting/teaching spaces and a café at its heart – providing a hub for locals.

View of the new street frontage along Grafton Terrace. CGI image courtesy of Ninety90.

At the suggestion of residents, we pursued a proposal that replaces Aspen House, a nine-storey 1970’s slab block, as well as the gym and garages, to allow better density on the site. They will be replaced by a five-storey courtyard building (Aspen House), fronted with a five to six-storey mansion block to the park. The courtyard, taking its cue from surrounding precedents, will provide a communal landscape of flowering trees and areas to sit and play, for the benefit of all the Estate.

The new developments form part of Camden’s Community Investment Programme. Based on floor area, they will offer 53% private/47% social rented units in a mix of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 bedroom properties, meeting an identified housing need within Camden

New boundary treatments to gardens that back onto the park, landscape improvements to the area adjacent to the Grafton Terrace site, as well as a new multi-use games area will enhance the Estate’s parkland setting.

The new developments are principally a series of highly insulated brick buildings sharing common details and forms across the two sites. Cullinan Studio is exploring the use of cross-laminated timber for the main structure.

View looking through The Glade to the new TRA Hall in the Grafton Terrace development. CGI image courtesy of Ninety90.

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· Aditya Aachi

Returning to Haiti

Looking back over the last year and at what the future holds for the AA Haiti Visiting School 2015.

The second Architectural Association Visiting School to Haiti is fast approaching, so I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the past year and also look ahead.

The first year of the School proved to be hugely exciting and productive, while sometimes being logistically challenging – luckily I only found myself in the back of a pizza delivery van being driven down a mountain once. 

The Haiti Visiting School's course aims to explore the potential for a new light-weight building typology based on an economically sustainable model for bamboo farming. The School brought together local students from Port-au-Prince’s Quisqueya University with local architects, Dominican students from UNIBE (Santo Domingo) and international students from France and the UK. The largely software based course took mixed groups of three through an intensive programme of mapping a site and designing a proposal driven by the raw data collected on site.  Set amongst the beauty of Wynne Foundation’s mountain-top reserve in Kenskoff, the students were pushed to explore methods that, though openly available to them, are very rarely used.  The designs were then analytically tested using open-source environmental testing software and modified to be more hurricane and earthquake resistant. This was supplemented with an evening lecture series, a tour of colonial style gingerbread houses and an evening watching RAM perform at the Oloffson Hotel. The school culminated on the 4th anniversary of the quake with a critique attended by the guardians of the Wynne Foundation, a J/P HRO representative and a local bamboo expert.  The final presentations exhibited brilliantly creative proposals which quashed any suggestion that bamboo is a poor-man’s material – though this is still potentially the largest battle faced by the School.  Moreover the day showcased how well the students of varied backgrounds had worked together – despite preconceptions they may have grown up with across the borders of Hispaniola and further afield.

View from the Wynne Foundation's land in Kenskoff.

Although the school successfully disseminated information to some of the local students and architects who will be responsible for the country’s future, there were some things we hoped to improve on:  the site was remote and didn’t represent the largely urban problems faced.  The lack of physical work with bamboo also greatly limits the scope of the school – something that is currently exacerbated by the lack of existing infrastructure and not being able to get our hands on enough bamboo to do anything useful.

This year we hope to tackle some of these issues head on; the school is based in Port-au-Prince proper – and the urban site is in the vicinity of Quisqueya University.  We are joined by ARUP and Engage for Development’s Sebastian Kaminski who will be both lecturing about and advising on the use of bamboo.  We will also be visiting one of the local bamboo projects in Croix-de-Bouquets, just outside the city. While building substantial structures with local students and alumni is still our goal, current political unrest and slow (but steady) progress in infrastructural development means this is still a goal for the future.

On return from the last school, I was tasked with spreading the word about the school and our work in general to those who were interested and had helped it become a reality. The most enjoyable of these occasions were at John McAslan+Partners office and the UK Shelter Forum Pecha Kucha. 

The link for the short presentation at the Pecha Kucha can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZaEPVX4_AQ

You can visit the official website and apply at the following location:  http://haiti.aaschool.ac.uk/

Guest critics, students and tutors at the end of the 2014 School.

· Colin Rice

Reflections on lighthouses

Outputs and outcomes

The most beautiful image of a building I saw last week was of Smalls Lighthouse, 21 miles off the Pembrokeshire coast. It was built in the 1850s of interlocking Welsh granite in the most challenging circumstances. In the 1970s a helicopter landing pad was built on the top: a hair-tinglingly exquisite silhouette. I've not seen it in the flesh but Happisburgh lighthouse on the Norfolk coast is an old companion. Until 1997 both lighthouses shared distinctive red and white bands.

Smalls Lighthouse

Then on Thursday I see the lighthouse at Burnham in Somerset is 'named as one of the ten most beautiful in the world by the Huffinghton Post'.

Burnham on Sea lighthouse

We seem to be constantly told that successful outcomes are the purpose of our buildings: it's not what they look like but what they achieve that matters. For example, the 2011 James Review of  capital investment in schools concluded 'there is very little evidence that a school building that goes beyond being fit-for-purpose has the potential to drive educational transformation'.

How ironic then that a purely functional building type (desired outcome: no shipwrecks) can be so beautiful, even where most of us have little direct interest in its particular purpose. Yes we do need evidence of good outcomes but also should not be afraid to state the obvious - that inherent beauty touches and sustains us.

· Amy Glover

Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre

Feasibility study for a new centre focused on the creation of innovative very light rail vehicles.

Cullinan Studio has prepared a feasibility study for the Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre (VLRNIC), for Dudley Council and WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group), University of Warwick.

External view of the proposed Innovation Centre, facing north

The £20m VLRNIC will provide a world class research, development and educational centre focused on the creation of innovative very light rail vehicles, infrastructure and skilled personnel for the next generation of public transport solutions.

Very Light Rail could put the old rail routes in our towns and cities back into service at a fraction of the cost of heavier rail alternatives.

Facilities will include a triple-height engineering hall, research laboratories, conference and seminar rooms, and offices for 45 people, alongside more public areas, including exhibition spaces, a café and an auditorium.

A disused track that previously served Dudley Station – closed to passengers in 1964 - will be reactivated to test the concept of light rail for what could potentially lead to a national network.

The VLRNIC will be one of the stops along the new VLR route connecting commuters and visitors to and from Birmingham to Dudley town centre, Dudley Zoo and Black County museums.

Roddy Langmuir of Cullinan Studio said:

“We are delighted to be helping to put high technology research into the heart of Dudley. It will be great for the town and a great opportunity for the UK to take a lead in lightweight rail technology. The building will also help create new pedestrian links and frame a new public space together with the relocated Dudley zoo entrance”

Internal view of the proposed triple-height engineering hall

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· Sahiba Chadha

Social sustainability please! With a side of housing…

Social sustainability was the order of the day at the AJ's FootprintLive

At last week’s AJ Footprint Live event social sustainability was touted as the latest vogue focus of today's construction industry problems. Vogue maybe, but many architects have been championing this as the foundation of holistic, sustainable design for many years.

Indignance aside, it was great to see this vital issue given a spotlight over green bolt-ons, certifications, regulations and fabric performance – still important, but only relevant if we develop an architecture that enables its end user to maximise its green potential. To paraphrase speaker Greg Penoyre, how do we make buildings that genuinely affect how people operate them? Buildings capable of almost high performance but with minimal effort.

These sort of psychological questions are just some of the multiple facets and interpretations of social sustainability. Gavin Elliot from the Manchester studio of BDP took a wider view: true sustainability is less building, more educating and engaging communities - see Manchester's Carbon Literacy initiative.

Indeed a common developer view emerged, as put forward by Andre Gibbs from Argent and Anna Devlet of British Land, that engagement of existing local community is now viewed as a means of reducing risk. A part of this is driven by programming community space but is also, in its purest form, designing longevity into the public realm whether that be robust infrastructure or well-designed public space.

This is easier said than done: best practice often comes from a single land owner, such as a council or university (see Nine Elms and North West Cambridge respectively). The GLA's Stuart Murray noted that securing cohesive public realm through commercial means is difficult. In the case of Nine Elms creative mechanisms were needed, in the form of a new governance model for connecting into energy infrastructure, necessitating the setting up of a mayoral led energy company.

Of course, as the conference went on, the housing crisis provided a hot topic on which to hinge debate. Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party, posited one way of dealing with housing crisis in London - don't build HS2! Is there too much focus on London? Too many economic eggs in one metropolitan basket? Perhaps. Bennett sees this as an economic inequality that housing policy could and should address. Lengthening standard designed lifespan of buildings was another topic of note: Bennett suggested we should be building for a 100 years and not a bare minimum of 30 - perhaps another demand on housing policy?

However Chris Brown and Mark Hallett from igloo presented my favourite housing provocation of the day (as demonstrated in their Bermondsey Square scheme): if you want a socially sustainable community, don't allow buy-to-let investors!

Hattie Hartman and co put together a great line-up – a shame more delegates did not attend!

(Cover picture: Alexandra & Ainsworth Housing Estate in London)

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· Amy Glover

Auction for Maggie’s

Ted Cullinan has donated a drawing to the Anise Gallery Charity Christmas Auction

Ted Cullinan is among a number of architects who have donated work to the Anise Gallery Charity Christmas Auction. The money raised will be donated to Maggie's Cancer Care Centres. Maggie's Centres provide emotional and practical support to people with cancer, their families and friends in a calm environment surrounded by nature. 

Ted's drawing, called 'Inspiration and Dreams of an Urban Designer', illustrates how sun and rain and growing things inspire the designer.

Lot 14 - Ted Cullinan's drawing: 'Inspiration and Dreams of an Urban Designer'

We were honoured to become part of the Maggie's story when Ted Cullinan was invited to design a Maggie's Centre in Newcastle, which we completed in May 2013. A photograph of Maggie's Newcastle is also part of the Anise Gallery Auction, donated by the photographer Paul Raftery.

Paul Raftery's photograph of Maggie's Newcastle

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· Brendan Sexton

Immersive Visualisation

is the future of design here?

The time saving and coordination benefits of BIM are well known in the UK, hence the government’s heavy promotion of its use. Over the last 18th months we have invested a lot of  effort along with our TSB research project (IVIC) partners Hyde Housing, WMG, and Holovis into optimising the outputs from our Building Information Models (BIM) and make it work harder as a design tool. 

We have investigated how the automotive industry has been using visualisation techniques at design stage, be that through the use of large format power walls or immersive CAVE environments. One of our early successes was the adoption of LumenRT. This piece of software allowed us to quickly export fully rendered walkthroughs direct from the BIM model. The output is freely navigable, akin to a video game, and allows us interrogate design options from various vantage points. We frequently use real time rendered walk throughs during design sessions with our consultants, our large format wrap around screens enable us to virtually markup the model and share the results.

Dialogue with our clients has greatly benefited from navigable models. Sharing the model allows them to explore our designs in their own time, hence they arrive at meetings better informed. To the uninitiated in construction traditional forms of communication such as 2D plans and sections are often illegible, a 3D tour in “first person” mode makes the building instantly understandable.

Clip of our navigable NAIC model

Our latest experiment is one step further going to the level of full immersion with the use of a virtual reality headset (Oculus Rift SDK2). This is still a development piece of hardware, and as such is not as user friendly in terms of content creation as retail products. Having said that the results far outstrip any of the other visualisation products we use. The sense of immersion is all encompassing and you feel you have left your desk once you don the headset. You can explore every corner of your building taking in the grand sense of space within a 4 story atrium to a moment later bending over to examine a handrail connection detail.

Testing the Oculus Rift

We still have a lot of work to do to limit the nausea some users can experience and to better integrate it into our workflow but the end goal makes the effort worth it. Facebook also agree after they forked out $2billion for Oculus Rift earlier this year despite the product not yet being on the market! VR is on its way, it’s up to us in the construction industry to be creative with the ways in which we use this new tool to both design and sell our ideas.

· Colin Rice

Leaves of aluminium

Queensland house comes to Norfolk

What is it about classic sinusoidal corrugated roofing that so appeals?

I'm not sure I know the answer but I love the soft corduroy lines on the roof plane, tight and strong.

For lovers of resource efficiency, making a flat sheet thinner than a millimetre span a metre or more was an idea of genius. It is a true product of the industrial revolution: standardised, lightweight, transportable, reusable, it played a major role in helping to build in the emerging countries.  First used on Gravesend Pier in 1845, the material remains a key part of the Australian vernacular, its status elevated from mere building to architecture in the hands of great architects like Glenn Murcutt. We used it with sparkling effect at the Cheltenham Media Centre and student houses.

Aluminium roofs at Cheltenham

Deteriorating felt roofing on my seaside shack this summer gave a perfect excuse to evoke the Queensland House. Next to the sea, galvanised iron would soon be red with rust so we used (as at Cheltenham) simple mill finished aluminium. On a plot of rough grass there is no need for gutters, so the sharp edges throw off the water straight to the ground. It's lovely to read the sheetiness of the material as Murcutt manages - which makes hips a challenge. At Cheltenham we did this by secret gutters at the hips - more abstract but just a bit too hard for a local builder. At the end of the day, shedding the water remains top priority.

Inspiration - an old Queenslander

A sparkling new roof


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· Joseph Frame

Growing Underground

What lies beneath the streets of London is a constant source of interest to tourists and residents alike.

Unlocking the potential of existing underground spaces are an exciting reaction to numerous issues affecting the city today. Just such a project is developing under the streets of Clapham, courtesy of Zero Carbon Food and their first project Growing Underground.

Growing Underground are in the process of setting up a 1 hectare urban farm in a disused air raid shelter 12 stories underground in South London The farm will grow micro greens and herbs to supply London restaurants and markets. Having had a successful campaign for crowd funding earlier this year, the founders recently gave guided tours prior to its transformation into a highly controlled farm, and we were lucky enough to join them for a look at the first stages of the project.

From the unassuming entrance on Clapham Road we were led down 12 stories of spiral stair into the dark tunnels. With the aid of a few torches and mobile phones we were shown through the spaces, where you can still see the outlines of wartime bunk beds on the floor, whilst two of the co-founders gave us an overview of the future set up of the farm. It is to be a cutting edge installation of hydroponic plant production on an industrial scale, with a lift to the surface being the top priority.

Street level entrance to the air raid shelter

Tunnels for future expansion of the farm

From the tunnels we moved into the vivid light of the test area filled with plastic beds of herbs (of which we had a few tastes), pumping and ventilation systems. As we nibbled away we were given an overview of the ecological benefits of the growing underground system:

  • The products will have the lowest of food miles, being both grown and sold in London
  • Complete environment control allows for developing the optimum growing conditions to increase yields (and flavour)
  • The low energy LED allow for 24 hour activity, 365 days a year (with green electricity supplied by Good Energy)
  • Only the minimum amount of water is used to produce the crops, reducing the environmental impact

Test bed where the plants are grown on recycled carpet from the Athlete's Village

Thanks to these benefits, and no doubt the esoteric location, Growing Underground has garnered a lot of interest and Zero Carbon Food are in discussions to expand to other sites around London. The end of the tour was a strenuous walk back to the surface, which gave us sympathy for those who are currently doing this multiple times a day to get this project up and running.

It is fascinating to see an idea from many an architecture student project of recent times being made tangible, along with the opening of a new chapter in the continuing narrative of food’s influence over the urban landscape (eloquently charted in the excellent book Hungry City by Carolyn Steel)

Zero Carbon Food are a part of the burgeoning urban food production and distribution network in London that includes FARM, Cultivate London and The Food Assembly, amongst many others. Let’s hope that planning authorities will encourage this type of urban activity to help Londoners reconnect with their food and to bring new life to forgotten spaces.

Original test bed from which Zero Carbon Food developed their business and growing model

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· Amy Glover

Embodied Carbon: Allowable Solutions

Even before a building is occupied, between 30% and 70% of lifetime carbon emissions has already been accounted for.

In July we jointly hosted a debate with the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) on 'Embodied Carbon: Allowable Solutions - How and When?'

Guy Battle, Director of the Sustainable Business Partnership, presented the key findings of the Embodied Carbon Industry Task Force. This was followed by a panel discussion asking 'how' and 'when' would Embodied Carbon be taken forward as an Allowable Solution. 

Film of the Embodied Carbon: Allowable Solutions event

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· Colin Rice

Circular Economy

More fun with thrift

Over 30 million microwave cookers are sold annually throughout the world. Let's say they last five years - probably optimistic. What happens to all those toughened glass microwave plates that cannot go in with the normal glass recycling?

Here's one idea. Enjoying the 'nautical metaphor' of bathrooms as ships' cabins, I cut and trimmed a circular hole in a bathroom door and fixed an old microwave plate over it.  The lip round the outside matches perfectly some cut down 2.5mm2 cable clips.

The light transmission leaves something to be desired but the dimples are perfect for modesty.

· Colin Rice

Drip-dry walls and windows

Low-cost DIY refurb

I've just about finished the first phase of my latest project exploring low maintenance cladding and windows. This to overclad my seaside shack, upgrading the thermal performance of the walls and renewing the existing casement windows. 

'Going with the flow', the whole building section is gently reconfigured so that the roof drips over the wall, the cladding drips over the glass and the glass drips over the cladding below. The result is a layered facade in two senses: the three layers of overhangs across the height of the wall, and the layering of the individual wall components to achieve this. 

The windows are home-made simple box frames of 25mm marine ply, with glazing directly fixed to the front, 220mm deep so they make a wall lining too. Vapour control barrier and insulation are fixed to the existing wall and an air barrier aligns neatly with the front of the box frame window. The rough sawn Douglas Fir rain screen cladding hides the fixings of the  windows so they appear frameless and just so. A painted shutter made of the same 25mm plywood provides ventilation. This sits in the same line as the glass, overhanging the cladding below, and closes against a hardwood mullion with an aluminium flat glued into a slot to form a water baffle. I've reused the ironmongery from the casements. Hardly original - think of Corb's aerators at Maison Jaoul etc - but you do get a lovely variety of light with an opening flap.

After years of reputtying and painting and still losing the battle against rot this solution is economical, elegant and cosy. For a price beyond my budget you can get double glazed stepped section units that would even meet the Building Regulations.

Rather than chasing the abstraction of the primitive hut as pure geometric volume, which seems to be the current fashion in spite of its costly failures, this is a game of abstracting window and wall, enjoying the play of light and shade, solid and void that comes from expressing what a wall must do.

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· Amy Glover

Cullinan Animations

To celebrate the launch of our new website we created three 10 second animations of our architectural ethos.

Cullinan Animation 1: #Climate

The John Hope Gateway at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is an archetypal example of how sustainability can help to enhance a building's design.


Cullinan Animation 2: #Collaboration

The National Automotive Innovation Centre (NAIC) at the University of Warwick is a great example of how we have consulted with the users to create a place for successful collaboration betwen design, research and industry.


Cullinan Animation 3: #Creativity

Maggie's Newcastle shows how a creative use of the landscape can provide shelter, warmth and joy.

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· Amy Glover

Open House/New Website

A great turnout to our studios for Open House London 2014 on Sunday and a chance to show-off our new website, launched on the same day.

We were only open for two hours but managed to welcome around 200 visitors through our doors for Open House London 2014 on Sunday 21st September. 

Johnny, Robin, Colin and Alex gave tours of our building, explaining how we had retrofitted a listed Victorian warehouse on Regents Canal into our new BREEAM 'Excellent' studios (completed in 2012). 

Johnny Winter leading a tour of the Foundry (Cullinan Studio)

Colin Rice leading a tour

Robin Nicholson Colin Rice leading tours

It was great to see such enthusiasm for the Open House weekend and an extra bonus to be able to raise £81 for Maggie's Cancer Care Centres from donations for the home-baked cakes on offer. 

Sunday also marked the launch of our new website, designed with creative consultants, Enso and built by web developers, Buffalo.

In celebration of the website launch, there was an extra-special treat to see the debut of the 'Woodpecker' drawing system, created by Enso's partner Those Works, which recreated Ted Cullinan's hand-drawn story behind the Ready Mix Concrete HQ (Grade 2* Listed earlier this year). 

The Woodpecker recreating Ted Cullinan's RMC lecture

Close up of the 'Woodpecker' drawing system

The completed drawing

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· Sahiba Chadha

Tangibility of the Flat Pack Neighbourhood

A visit to Wikihouse 4.0 and “Building on Open Source Design ” talk at the Building Centre

When you’re out and about this weekend soaking up all Open House 2015 has to offer, it will definitely be worth your while to pop by the pop-up WikiHouse 4.0 that is currently enjoying prime frontage on Store Street for the London Design Festival.

For those unfamiliar with the notion of “open-source design”, this WikiHouse prototype provides an embodiment of the Wikihouse platform’s open-source self-build dream – a prototype flat-pack house, compiled of details and junctions available online under creative commons, consolidated by a collaborative design team (Zero Zero Architecture, Arup) and constructed in eight days.

Sounds like a happy marriage between high and low tech.

Well yes, the development of the WikiHouse platform is described by co-founder Alistair Parvin as being down to technological shifts: the rise of global connectivity, parametric automation and digital local manufacturing. I won’t pretend to understand the how the smart electrical engineering of Wikihouse 4.0 works (I did gather that the MVHR unit composed of 3D printed mechanism with upcycled beer can casing), but it’s fully wired and online without a switch in sight, using an app to remote control the whole building. So the house is like a system in itself, sounds a bit like a machine made for living in…

And yet it’s also as low tech as they come, the prototype was built by a rolling rota of eight untrained volunteers at a time and all in rough and ready OSB, using self-made tools: the Wiki mallets.

But what about the harder issues of open source design, like preserving the notions of authorship and intellectual property, so hammered into us during architectural education. Parvin is at pains to stress that the downloadable details are rarely pure innovations, some of the Wikihouse joints are ripped straight off centuries old Japanese jointing.

So in the context of the UK housing crisis, how could this become tangible? The panel of the accompanying talk, made up of Parvin, Stuart Smith of Arup, Carl Turner and Paloma Strelitz of Assemble, agreed several points:

  • Web infrastructure is vital and diffusion of affordable good design, even more so in a changing global landscape of a burgeoning middle class in Asia demanding higher quality homes
  • There’s a global demand, a market of 20 million self-builders
  • We need legislative change in our highly regulated homeland, normalising land availability in particular
  • Perhaps we need a different approach to the market geared towards to values of the end user.  A house built for an end user is wildly different to that built by developer expecting returns, should we be economising "attention/sqm".
  • Reconnecting thinking and making, ensuring the latter is more accessible (an aside – visit Assemble’s £290/sqm Barn in Bow if not for its attempt to stall the nomadic creative community then to see some gorgeous handmade ceramic tiles)
  • Convincing local authorities to see this as part of social investment in a neighbourhood (another aside - see Carl Turner’s Grow Brixton project)
  • Challenging current procurement norms: Collective custom build, procurement issue is major step for self builders, architect as agent, contractors shell. (see Paper houses – higher end WikiHouse brethren)

One cannot help but wonder, where does the designer sit alongside these downloadable, replicable modular homes?

Parvin quotes Cedric Price in response: "technology is the answer but what is the question". Perhaps, the questions are context, need and realisation, and with this the designer can reclaim the role of agent and actuator.

And what about an answer to our housing crisis?

Well, stay tuned for Cullinan Studio’s own contribution to the debate in the coming months.

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· Colin Rice

You’ve got to go with the flow!

Cladding with overlapping elements has a discipline we ignore at our peril

It makes intuitive sense that rising global temperature will lead to more energy sloshing around in the oceans and atmosphere and hence more extreme weather events, even in the UK. However sceptical one may be, it would be prudent to fear the worse and design accordingly.

I was saddened to see on national news last week that a West Country primary school, built to the highest Eco credentials, had leaked since it opened and was going to cost almost as much to repair as to build - saddened selfishly because we need good stories about sustainable design to convince sceptical clients, not negative ones.

When I looked at the section of the pod-like classrooms I could see that the likely cause of the problem had little to do with sustainable design. Instead, the conceptual section is fundamentally flawed. Walls and roof alike are clad totally in locally sourced timber boarding, ignoring the fact that a roof is subject to more punishing weathering from rain and sun. More critically, in order to preserve the prismatic geometry there are no eaves, but rather a lined hidden gutter set inboard of the roof edge. With such a construction method, all workmanship must be perfect, all gutters and downpipes cleared of debris daily - and the rain intensity must strictly follow the British Standard. 

A section of extreme optimism

The principle of Creative Pessimism tells us that we should proceed on the assumption that what can go wrong will. Design with two lines of defence, have answers to the simple question what if the gutter leaks or is blocked? With more frequent and stronger storms, our architecture should celebrate the difference between roofs and walls, which is ultimately more sustainable.

· Amy Glover

Open House London

We are open for Open House London on Sunday 21st September 2014.

We will be opening our doors from 11am to 1pm. 

There will be tours by the architects around our BREEAM 'Excellent' retrofit studios, an exhibition of our recent work and a 'drawing machine' - come along to find out more...

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· Amy Glover

ISEP Carbon Reduction Award

Cullinan Studio has won Islington Sustainable Energy Partnership's (ISEP) Carbon Reduction Awards for the second year in a row.

We were thrilled to pick up the award at the ISEP's Summer Networking Event at the Park Theatre on 3rd July. This year we achieved a 19% reduction in normalising the carbon emissions of our office.

We signed up to the ISEP (formerly ICCP) in 2008 with the commitment of reducing our carbon footprint by 40% by 2020. We now sit at a 55% reduction six years early.

ISEP Carbon Reduction Award

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· Amy Glover

Grade 2* Listing for RMC HQ

Our Ready Mix Concrete International HQ (RMC) has been Grade 2* listed.

Ted Cullinan said: 

“Numerous men and women put their hearts and hard work into the creation of the working landscape for our enlightened clients, Ready Mix Concrete. All of us are thrilled to hear that the value of our work on this unique building has been recognised and that this has led to its being listed for preservation.”

Backed by the Twentieth Century Society and a number of leading figures in the construction industry (list of names included below), Cullinan Studio applied for this award-winning single-storey office complex to be listed Grade 2* to prevent its demolition, less than 25 years since its completion in 1990.

A planning application has been submitted to Runnymede BC for RMC HQ (now Cemex House) to be pulled down and replaced with terraced executive housing. The building’s Grade 2* listing now means demolition could not proceed without both Listed Building Consent and planning permission in place.

RMC is regarded by many as one of Ted’s and Cullinan Studio’s most important works and was one of the key projects in the consideration of his 2008 RIBA Royal Gold Medal.

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· Robin Nicholson

Soft Landings Are More Radical Than I Thought

We all know that new buildings don’t work as we expect them to and good money is being spent investigating ‘the performance gap’; but we do have a solution.

Yesterday I went to a monthly CBx breakfast seminar at the UCL Energy Institute for what I thought would be a timely catch-up but which turned out to be a brilliant wake-up call.  ‘Mr Soft Landings’ Rod Bunn of BSRIA rattled through the story with some key do’s and don’t’s in how to define and then deliver the client’s desired outcomes.  However like other innovative tools such as the Design Quality Indicator, unless we are vigilant our industry will spare no effort in turning Soft Landings into a tick-box exercise, thereby destroying its value.

‘Soft Landings is the graduated handover of a new or refurbished building, where a period of professional aftercare by the project team is a client requirement – planned for and carried out from inception onwards – and lasting for up to three years post-completion.’

In discussion we agreed that although it does cost the client money to procure this additional service, it is much cheaper than the cost of operating an underperforming building for a hundred + years.  

Tamsin Tweddell (Max Fordham and Partners) and Alasdair Donn (Wilmott Dixon Construction) described the Soft Landing approach for Keynsham Town Hall, where the public sector client decided they wanted an office with an ‘A’-rated DEC (note: not an ‘A’-rated EPC). This  includes operational energy and forced the design team, the construction team and the client to work out where the energy risks lay at each stage of the process and who would manage them.

Rod had explained that it is difficult but just about possible to use soft landings in a D&B contract because soft landings demands effective collaboration.  I don’t quite know who is responsible for the industry getting itself into the current impossible situation where lawyers and project managers fruitlessly endeavour to satisfy clients’ risk aversion with customised contracts.  Having been the client for our own office with top engineers and an excellent contractor, the dysfunction of the controls defies belief.

And if you think Soft Landings will just go away, then the variant Government Soft Landings will be mandatory for public buildings from 2016 and it is said that a number of local authorities are insisting on it now.

Having been involved in the creation of soft landings through our Cambridge Maths building, I cannot wait for us to do a full soft landings project, starting on day one with client commitment and expectation and all round collaboration – what a delight that would be!  So we had better start by joining the Softlandings User Group.

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· Amy Glover

Maggie’s Newcastle shortlisted for BCI Award

Maggie's Newcastle is a British Construction Industry (BCI) Awards 2014 finalist.

The BCI Awards, now in their 27th year, recognise outstanding achievement in building.

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· Amy Glover

The Story of Ready Mix Concrete HQ Drawn by Ted Cullinan

On 2nd June 2014 the Twentieth Century Society organised an event in support of the application for Ready Mix Concrete (RMC) HQ to be listed.

RMC (now Cemex house), completed by Cullinans in 1990, is threatened with demolition having been declared surplus to requirements. The Twentieth Century Society, along with a number of highly regarded architects, engineers and designers, is backing our application to list the building in order to save it.

The event was introduced by C20 Society Director, Catherine Croft, after which Ted Cullinan drew the story of the design of the building. He presented the story in three chapters:         

  • Working with our inheritance
  • Working with the climate
  • Work, rest and play

First he described the existing building; listed 17th century Eastley End House, a stable block known as Meadlake House, a late 19th century Surrey style Arts and Crafts house known as The Grange, a lake, protected trees and a number of listed walls. Ted showed how he created a courtyard of roof gardens over offices to satisfy the planners’ interest in the view from St Ann’s Hill beyond the lake and M25.

Ted Cullinan's drawing from the C20 Society event

The second chapter explained how a metre of soil was put on top of the offices with a trough around the edge with a hedge for sun-shading. The underfloor plenum allowed cooled air to be circulated for night purging of the exposed RMC concrete slab. Ted described how the roof vents for the labs and the kitchens were designed as chess pieces.

Ventilation disguised as chess pieces

In the final chapter Ted explained how the buildings supported recreation as well as workspace - the gardens can be walked across and enjoyed.

Catherine then opened up the discussion to the audience, which included many members of the original design team, on why the building should be saved.

Former member of Cullinans, job architect Richard Gooden of 4orm, said that RMC was important for its innovative use of thermal mass and the novel linking of landscape, place and building. It feels that it has always been there.

Miriam Fitzpatrick of Dublin University, who did her Part 3 on RMC explained how the marriage of the landscape and the making of place didn’t seem to be high on the agenda in the 1980s, but everyboby loves a garden.

Greg Penoyre of Penoyre & Prasad suggested RMC’s range of work environments was cleverer than Google’s LA office he had recenly visited because it creates a unique range of places for reflection. As a workplace RMC is special and hard to repeat.

The RMC environmental engineer, Max Fordham, explained the building, being in the greenbelt, had had to meet strict conditions to get planning and those conditions should still apply - making it difficult for anyone else to replace what is there. He explained an advantage of the single-storey office building is its ability to create a natural rooflight down the middle, saving on energy in lighting. RMC has all the attributes of a smart office building but was one of the first not to need air-conditioning. The swimming pool was separated by an air curtain and a heat pump - now very fashionable but at the time, novel.

Ted's drawing describing the environmental elements of the building

Chris Twinn, of Twinn Sustainability Innovation, recalled how he had been working at Arup for five years at the time RMC was completed. He was not involved in the project but saw it as an eye-opener: suddenly you didn’t need air-conditioning. He has was able to draw from those ideas in subsequent projects - Hopkins’ Nottingham Inland Revenue which was to be entirely passively cooled, Portcullis House and BedZED.

Ian Craig, engineer on RMC, thought of RMC as 100 projects in one, describing every detail as great fun and totally original.

Former RIBA President, Sunand Prasad of Penoyre & Prasad, was struck at how the engineers in the room had spoken up. If there is a third industrial revolution based on natural systems, the RMC is an early essay in how we can solve the problems of the future. It has inspired. 

The discussion progressed to other possible uses for the building, which included a boutique hotel and an academic workplace, but it is widely seen as a great place to go on working in.

Fitzwilliam College, Central Building Phase 1 Opening Ceremony

On Monday 13th May I attended the official opening of Phases 1 and 1A of the refurbishment to the central building at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

This forms the first part of a five year staged renovation project to upgrade the function and fabric of the building, designed by Denys Lasdun in 1959, to provide more opportunities for student use, conferences and events. This went hand in hand with upgrading the services and environmental performance to reduce energy consumption and improve the internal conditions. We completed the feasibility study to suggest the packages of work in early 2013.

Enjoying a drink with the Bursar, Andrew Powell and engineers Adrian Mudge and Phil Hutchins

· Amy Glover

Clever Energy: People Power

In May we hosted a talk — 'Clever Energy: People Power' — as part of Open-City's Green Sky Thinking Week 2014 — and filmed it too...

Speakers: Mark Hewitt of ICAX on inter-seasonal heat transfer, Rokiah Yaman of LEAP on developing micro-anaerobic digestion in central London, and Agamemnon Otero of Repowering London on creating community-owned local energy.

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· Amy Glover

NAIC Planning Approval

The National Automotive Innovation Centre (NAIC) has been granted planning approval unanimously by Coventry City Council.

The National Automotive Innovation Centre (NAIC), designed by Cullinan Studio for Jaguar Land Rover, Tata Motors and Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick will be a centre for world-leading research on developing new automotive technologies aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and dependency on fossil fuels. It will create opportunities for applied academic research by the University's staff and students and become a focus for research by two major automotive companies with strong links to Coventry.

The single building of approximately 33,000sqm across four levels will provide space for research and development, an engineering hall and other business use. NAIC has been designed to achieve a BREEAM 'Excellent' rating and is due to start on site later this year.

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· Amy Glover

RICS London Award for our low-energy offices

Our BREEAM Excellent retrofit studio, the Foundry, is winner of the RICS London Award for Design Through Innovation.

The judges said of the Foundry;

"Innovative design and structural solutions were employed to enhance the place and role of the development in the surrounding area.

"The presentation of a current style to the street frontage, while retaining the traditional canalside warehouse feel on the rear elevation, has maintained the industrial character required by the planners.

"The process has been exemplary in meeting good practice, as well as achieving high environmental performance results and a BREEAM 'Excellent' rating."

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· Amy Glover

Planning for final Bristol Harbourside building

Building 3a, the final piece in the development of our Bristol Harbourside Masterplan, has received planning consent.

Designed by Cullinans, Building 3a will provide 101 residential apartments comprising a mix of one, two and three bedroom properties.

Project Architect, Philip Graham, said:

"The approval of Building 3a - Canon's Gate - will allow Harbourside to complete its transformation from an adjunct of the city into an integral part of it, knitting back into the centre with a contextual architecture.

"More than anything though, this scheme ensures a character that comes from its residents, where planting and the use of external spaces will continue an expression of community."

· Amy Glover

Maggie’s Newcastle wins RIBA Award

Maggie's Newcastle has won a RIBA Regional Award.

Maggie's Newcastle is one of five projects to win a RIBA North East Regional Award. The project also picked up the RIBA North East Sustainability Award.

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· Robin Nicholson

Edge Commission Begins to Get Some Definition

Last evening the Edge held the third session of the Commission of Inquiry into Future Professionalism focussing on ‘Society’ with the President of the Landscape Institute, the Immediate Past Presidents of ICE and RTPI and Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA and formerly Head of Tony Blair’s Policy Unit at No 10.

The Commission is sponsored by the Ove Arup Trust and is chaired by Paul Morrell, the first UK Government Chief Construction Adviser (2009-12); he is supported by

  • Isabel MacAllister, Director of Sustainability at Mace
  • Barrister Jenny Baster, Arup
  • Architect Karen Rogers, currently acting as a major client
  • QS Tony Burton, incoming Chairman of CIC
  • Prof Alan Penn, Bartlett Dean (unable to attend this session)

We will need to wait for Denise Chevin’s write-up to be posted alongside the first two on the Edge website and for the final deliberations of the Commission, hopefully before the summer. The over-riding concern of the Edge is how to promote inter-disciplinary behaviour and collaboration between the institutions. They of course all have histories, some long and distinguished, and they have members who often disagree, making the development of policies difficult and shared policies more difficult.

This was brought to a head in a remarkably joined up and rapid response to the flooding in the Somerset Levels earlier this year. Sue Illman led the response from the Landscape Institute with an open letter to David Cameron with support from 16 Institutions but sadly not including the RIBA or RTPI! Her letter hit the magic spot of the first story on the Today programme and thus achieved wide coverage. Matthew Taylor pointed out collaborative action is essential but speed is not always a virtue as Chris Smith demonstrated by choosing the precise moment as Chair of the Environment Agency to intervene and shut up the red-meat politicians calling for the abolition of his Agency.

Matthew described a three tier theoretical framework within which our Institutions operate:

  • Leadership/followship that can control or can convene opinions
  • Solidarity through membership that can be exclusive or inclusive
  • Individualism/enterprise that could promote creativity or commercialism

And much else besides – read Denise to find out more  including what to do about the surplus of architects and the shortage of engineers; my long-standing position has been to reduce the architecture training to four years (+ practice) the first of which is a cross-disciplinary Foundation Year, so that more of us end up in the right place. Interestingly this hovered within the Farrell Review if not in the final Report. The Chairman had the best quote of the evening “architects are the nurses of the construction industry; it doesn’t matter how badly you treat them, there will always be more waiting to become one!"

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· Amy Glover

Maggie’s Newcastle wins RICS Award

Maggie's Newcastle is the winner of the RICS North East Renaissance Awards 'Design Through Innovation' category.

The Design Through Innovation Award recognises creative use of innovative design, how the project has achieved the highest standards and how well the scheme has been received amongst users and the local community.

The judges said:

 "Maggie's Newcastle is a truly inspiring development which provides social, emotional and practical support for cancer patients and their families in a low energy, sustainable new building in the grounds of the Freeman Hospital. Low energy design features and the creative use of textured materials in the building's fit out combine to stunning effect in the creation of a remarkable building, the success of which is borne out of its unexpectedly high visitor numbers since opening."

· Amy Glover

RMC HQ threatened with demolition

Ready Mix Concrete International HQ (RMC), by RIBA Royal Gold Medallist Ted Cullinan, is threatened with demolition.

A planning application has been submitted to Runnymede BC for the award-winning office complex, completed in 1990, to be pulled down and replaced with terrace housing. RMC is regarded by many as one of Ted's and Cullinan Studio's most important works and was one of the key projects in the consideration of his 2008 RIBA Royal Gold Medal.

Peter Davey, in his review for the Architectural Review, sums up the success of the project as the use of Green principles

 "to create a magical world in which the past and the present, nature and artefact are interwoven with great poetic skill."

Not only was the project, with its grass covered roofs (when built, said to be the largest roof garden in Europe) and sunken courtyards, a sympathetic master-stroke in rejuvenating a scarred, once green area, but is was also an iconic statement of the changing meaning and function of the corporate headquarters.

Ted Cullinan, Founder, Cullinan Studio writes

 "The RMC HQ Building is the building in which the ideas that have always interested and inspired me are most thoroughly combined in a single work".

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· Robin Nicholson

‘Retrofit for Purpose’ by Penoyre and Prasad

Judging by there being over 10m hits on Google, ‘Retrofit for Purpose’ is a title that resonates.

Penoyre and Prasad’s book 'Retrofit for Purpose', subtitled ‘Low energy Renewal of Non-Domestic Buildings’ and launched by RIBA Publishing at Ecobuild, is essential reading especially for those teaching architecture as solely the art of building new buildings. 

The reality is that we need to make much better use of the buildings we have already got rather than pulling them down before they have even been paid for; and of course expecting new buildings to last for at least 200 years.  

This book tells you how, with 11 case studies preceded by 6 classic essays including ones by Sunand Prasad and three heroes of Building Performance Evaluation - Bill Bordass, Roderic Bunn and Rajat Gupta with Matt Gregg. I was less familiar with the experience in Germany and USA presented by Mark Siddall and it was interesting to learn that in the Sates it was private sector commercial that pulled the transformation not legislation. But the show-stopper for me was Richard Francis’ economic and management arguments in ‘Spend to make: financing commercial retrofits.’  Francis of The Monomoy Company spells it out so clearly and suggests ‘there are signs that a fundamental shift is under way’ and not before time.

Assembling the data for the case studies must have been a battle of wills, a battle well worth fighting as we have good comparable energy and carbon data, plans and sections and before and after photographs.  There are 5 offices, 2 university buildings, 1 visitor centre, 1 leisure centre, 1 school and Penoyre and Prasad’s own heroic transformation of the Guy’s Hospital tower.  I should probably declare an interest as one of the offices is our own transformation of a Victorian Foundry into a really comfortable BREEAM Excellent office, showing off our own work. 

Siddall suggests that to comply with the ‘EU Energy Efficient Directive, a 33-year programme will be required necessitating the refurbishment of 492,350m² of the total estate per year.  At say between £500 and £1,000 per m², the annual expenditure would be some £250m to £500m per annum; and that is just for the public estate leaving aside over 3m privately owned non-domestic buildings’.  And that will require top architects, engineers and construction managers with new skills, working collaboratively.  LETS GO!

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· Amy Glover

Eastfields Regeneration

We have been appointed with Levitt Bernstein and Proctor Matthews to explore options for the regeneration of Eastfields estate in the London Borough of Merton.

Circle Housing Merton Priory selected teams of architects to support the proposed regeneration of three areas in the Borough. They have been consulting residents since last summer about the possible demolition and redevelopment of over 1,200 homes. Proposals for this major regeneration scheme include the provision of new homes, public open space and community facilities.

Our team, led by Levitt Bernstein Associates, will work with local residents throughout the year to create an outline masterplan for a new neighbourhood for Eastfields in Mitcham.

Barry McCullough at Levitt Bernstein said: "Despite being close to the Academy and some well-loved leisure facilities, the Eastfields neighbourhood doesn't feel linked to its surroundings. We want to work with residents and the Circle Housing Merton Priory team to connect it with the local area by creating an attractive layout including safe streets and open spaces that are used by all at all hours of the day."

The design work begins in May and will include a series of exhibitions, workshops, site visits and public events through the year.

· Aditya Aachi

UK Shelter Forum Pecha Kucha 2014

"Ready? Ok, GO!"

And off I went, trying not to stumble over my words for the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds while I spoke about my work in Haiti over the last 4 years. The crowd was a warm but intimidating mix of PHD candidates, masters students and shelter professionals. It was over before I knew it, it seemed to go well enough, people understood what I said and maybe even agreed with some of it. I managed to navigate the 20 slides without too many hiccups - aside from being handed a very squeaky microphone early on - and I even got a couple of laughs! It was about time for a beer.
A few moments earlier the organiser of the UK Shelter Forum Pecha Kucha had plucked my name at random from a hat. I was the first of 10 speakers presenting a wide range of research and findings. Subjects ranged from archaeology in the Antilles to retrofitting in Peru and the Philippines.

The shelter forum is an annual event which brings together various researchers, educational institutions, NGOs, professionals and government bodies who are involved shelter and settlement reconstruction after disasters. The Pecha Kucha, which is held the evening before the main event, is where researchers, recent graduates and people working in the field are selected to present. The list of presenters and their subjects were as follows:

  • Avery Doninger, Oxford Brookes University - ‘Transition to What?’Evaluating the transitional shelter process in Leogane, Haiti
  • Pedro Clarke, Oxford Brookes University - Learning from Disasters: Lisbon 1755
  • Aditya Aachi, Architectural Association - Haiti - Simbi Hubs, IDP camps and Bamboo
  • Vicente Sandoval, UCL - Questioning disaster risk and reconstruction: A multi-scalar inquiry
  • Martin Dolan, Oxford Brookes University - How was the 'social urbanism' of Medellin made possible?
  • Ryan Sommerville, University of Westminster - Preparing for post-disaster recovery: Open Data, Community and Built Environment Professionals
  • Julia Hansen, UCL - Capabilities in post-disaster housing
  • Josh Macabuag, UCL - Seismic Retrofitting in Rural Communities
  • Kate Crawford, UCL and Alice Samson, Cambridge University - Dialogue between archaeology and humanitarian shelter: resilience in pre-Columbian house-building and repair
  • Elizabeth Wagemann, Cambridge University - Implementing academic research: a pathway for impact
  • Ana Gatoo, Cambridge University - The Philippines Sheltering Response: three months after typhoon Haiyan

Joseph Ashmore, who was the informal host for the night rounded up by saying that he was very impressed with both the content and visual standard of presentations and I have to say I agree. It was particularly good to see that presenters hadn't shied away from showing what they had found when probing deeper into certain situations. Martin Dolan's presentation showed some of the darker aspects of positive interventions which were a result of the regeneration of Medellin, Colombia - though all we see in the media are the success stories and glossy images.
Though these events are primarily a platform for students to discuss their research in public, they can be an important tool to hold a mirror up to the sector and open up the discussion on how to improve in the future.  After all these interventions can be a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the states in which they are implemented and hence there is a responsibility to make sure they are the best they can be.

The event overall was both mentally stimulating and enjoyable. I look forward to it becoming an annual booking in my diary. A big thanks to Victoria Maynard and Bernadette Devilat who organised the event. Videos and posters from the evening will be posted here once they become available.

· Robin Nicholson

A day in Prague

A day of contrasting delights.

Having never been in the Czech Republic, I just had to spend a day in Prague on my way to give two talks in Olomouc. I had asked for some guidance from the director of the programme I was teaching on; so having arrived mid-morning, I left my luggage in the hotel and set off by tram for the House of the Black Madonna armed with Veronika Klusakova’s list of other recommendations. 

Although the Czech Cubist collection has been moved to the museum, the building (Josef Gočár 1911-12) is formidably Kubist and upstairs in 2005 they recreated the splendid Grand Café Orient. A beer and sandwich in this atmospheric interior was just what I needed but what was that smell – the cigarette smoke sort of belonged there, despite the EU!

The House of the Black Madonna

Then off to the Zizkov TV tower (Václav Oulický 1985-1992); surely the Czech communists didn’t actually build a piece of Archigram?  It manages to be both modern high-tech and so old-fashioned at the same time. Not only is it still open but it has a posh restaurant and bar and a one-bedroom hotel, all with great views.  Being mid-afternoon on a weekday there were only a couple of visitors and I didn’t fancy a drink but I understand it is extremely popular.

The Zizkov TV Tower

The next day it was off to Olomouc on the Leo Express; with the help of Google translate I had been able to buy my ticket online in London for what was a breeze – 157 miles non-stop in 133 minutes, in clean comfort with refreshments and  an airline type screen telling us where we were, all for £6.00 – get that HSII!  The interesting thing is that the National Railways are challenged by Leo and one other private company using the same tracks!

· Amy Glover

Stonebridge Hillside Hub Exhibition

Exhibition of the Stonebridge Hillside Hub at the University of Nottingham School of Architecture

From 4th February to 14th March an exhibition detailing the design and construction, from inception to completion, of the Stonebridge Hillside Hub will be on display at the University of Nottingham School of Architecture.

We completed this landmark mixed-use community building in 2009. It has since won a number of awards, including a Building for Life Gold Standard and Award and a Civic Trust Special Award for Community Impact and Engagement.

· Helen Evans

Emerging Trends in School Design

Last week a bunch of Cullinans keen beans attended 'Shaping the Future: Spaces for Education' talk at the Geological Society.

The talk was part of this season's 'Emerging Trends' series by the Royal Academy. The speakers were Philip Marsh (drMM), John Whiles (Jestico Whiles), and Simon Allford (AHMM).

In the current era of parent-led grass roots initiatives a wide spectrum of school types is cropping up from Free Schools to Academies and beyond. The time is ripe to ask: how can school design attitudes evolve to meet these new challenges?

Simon Allford conveyed energy in his interrogation of the problem at hand, calling for designers to reconsider the brief for schools.  He argued that architects should ignore overly specific briefs and instead conceive schools as part of the city fabric, rather than allowing the design to be driven by a programme that changes as often as educational policy. Allford’s plea for ‘highly bespoke yet inherently adaptable design’ cited the Uffizi Galleries in Florence as an example of a building which goes beyond its brief to form lasting public space.

View of the river Arno framed by the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Piazzale degli Uffizi

Most of the evening covered well publicised past projects such as the Kingsdale Secondary School Sports Hall by drMM which, whilst admirable for its creative use of ETFE and glulam structure, can hardly be considered as an ‘emerging trend’ as it was completed ten years ago.

I left disappointed by the lack of emerging school design philosophies shown, but motivated to continue the debate on the subject (those of us who attended stayed behind for an animated discussion)! Hopefully others had a similar reaction and will be inspired to join a more focused debate on design for the next generation of schools. Overseas inspiration is easy to come by - for example, the climate-sensitive and cost-effective DPS Kindergarten School in Bangalore, conceived by architects Kholsa Associates as a prototype school for South India.

Terracotta jaalis and colourful corrugated sheets provide playful shading and a nod towards the vernacular architecture of the region, set within the rigorous framework of a modular concrete typology. Natural ventilation, light and local materials harmonise in this project, which came top of the education category at the 2013 Inside Festival awards and is a delight to read about. Could such an approach begin to answer the call for innovative ‘highly bespoke yet inherently adaptable design’ for schools and if so, what would the British equivalent be?

The central courtyard at the DPS Kindergarten

· Robin Nicholson

What housing crisis?

On Monday the rising star Shadow Minister of Housing, Emma Reynolds, enthusiastically briefed a full-house at NHBC about emerging Labour Party plans to deal with the housing crisis.

She talked about ‘Build First’ to encourage SMEs to make up the numbers to 200,000 homes a year using smaller public sector sites which they paid for later, hence Build First. Little definite beyond that as Sir Michael Lyons’ Housing Commission is not due to report till later in the year and the election isn’t till 2015. But she went some way to answer some of the questions raised by James Meek’s excellent review of the recent past ‘Where will we live?’ published in the London Review of Books. 

For Reynolds the issues are numbers, affordability and quality, including size, none of which is helped by the Coalition’s ‘Help to Buy’ programme supporting re-mortgaging and houses up to £600k, unaffordable to most first time buyers. Garden Cities are part of the programme as trailed by the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls at the NHBC Annual Lunch in November but the question is where? She batted aside the idea that these would be warmed-up eco-towns but declined to name any locations; the difficulties to be overcome include the free market price of land and the difficulty many Local Authority planners now have finding the necessary resource for strategic planning.

I asked her about this since the Coalition has abolished Regional Planning, encouraged  nimbyism in the South-East through the National Planning Policy Framework and seen the Local Authority planning community decimated by financial cuts; I suggested that, as a result, planners were back to (battling the lawyers with) development control.  In reply to another question she talked about the ‘Right to Grow’ (beyond the Authority’s boundaries) for towns like Stevenage, Luton and Oxford and the ability to swap green belt land. This is like the expansion of Cambridge redrawing the City boundaries, following extensive community engagement.

She was warmly received, answering most questions confidently but I felt that her reliance on homes ‘being more attractive’ as a means of winning over the nimbies was a tad optimistic!

· Amy Glover

Lord Mayor’s Design Awards & Civic Trust Awards

Maggie's Newcastle has won two awards and a commendation at the Newcastle Lord Mayor's Design Awards 2013.

Maggie's Newcastle, completed in May this year, won the 'Small Scale' category and the Lord Mayor's Special Award. The project was also a Commended Finalist in the Landscape category.

'This year the Lord Mayor would like to recognise the success of Maggie's Newcastle for both its external appearance as a building in a landscape setting and its approach to the internal spaces. The judges were unanimous in their praise of how the development has used space well on a compact site.'

Maggie's Newcastle has also been named as a Regional Civic Trust Awards Finalist and has been put forward for a National Award.

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· Sahiba Chadha

Sustainability Talk

Passivhaus - what's the hold up?

Last week Cullinan Studio asked an expert panel to discuss Passivhaus for our monthly Sustainability Talk. The main question of the night was - what's the hold up? Why has the UK not quite embraced the system as readily as our continental cousins? Our panel argued that digging a little deeper into the issue reveals there a number of misconceptions about Passivhaus to be blamed for stalling its popularity.

Architect Justin Bere refuted the common argument that Passivhaus means a sentence to architectural banality. Bere suggested it's more useful to see Passivhaus as a tool to ensure quality and comfort rather than a stringent aesthetic style. In the face of the extra costs associated with the system, he called upon some research his practice has been involved in, which demonstrates the capacity of Passivhaus to reduce whole life costs (with the caveat of an economic context of low to middle interest rates).

Justin Bere of Bere Architects

Also addressed by Bere were common misconceptions aboutMVHR interfering with relative humidity. He cited performance feedback which showed MVHR to consistently enable optimum relative humidity levels of 30-60%. As for the question of whether UK builders are up to the challenges of building Passivhaus, Bere believes the architect  can go some way to help. From ensuring the detailing rigour starts at their drawings, to choosing specifications that harmonise with the system (for example specifying window fixing that required predrilled holes) and appointing an "airtightness champion" on-site.

Will South, of Passivhaus specialist consultants Cocreate, agreed, saying that the architect should be willing to teach the contractor. He also advocates Passivhaus courses for the whole team, including the client: the fact is that even well-designed Passivhaus buildings are overheating, so its as much about education as design.  He believes that Building Control represents the minimum standard - this "bottom" isn't where we want to be: longevity and quality are more readily on offer with Passivhaus. In this way, Passivhaus is as much about quality assurance as it about comfort, of course through meticulous detailing. In response to the issue raised that the airtightness values required are excessively low, South conceeded this is a case of overdesign, but doing so to allow for the building to change and grow without adversely affecting the whole system.

Will South from Cocreate

Ivan Christmas, Senior Development Manager at the London Borough of Camden, has been at the helm of what is currently the UK's largest residential Passivhaus project: Chester Balmore, in Highgate New Town. The project only began to aim for Passivhaus certification at tender when contractors Willmott Dixon were brought on board, demonstrating that the system can be designed in at a later stage. Bear in mind this change did also mean a change in architect (from competition winners Rick Mather Architects to specialists Architype) in order to achieve the redefined design goals. Both Christmas and Ben Shuster of Willmott Dixon pointed out the project's fanned bays and adherence to conservation constraints show that a real design dialogue has been allowed to take place - unaffected by Passivhaus requirements.

Chester Balmore in Camden - currently on site

It was particularly useful to have wisdom shared from the perspective of several members of the team that would be responsible for delivering a certified building - the architect, client, contractor and specialist consultant. As the evening devolved into Q&A, it was clear that although achieving the full certification may be a stretch, even with some deviation, Passivhaus is definitely a better baseline to leap from. The real hold up lies in practicing the balancing act of rigourous Passivhaus detailing and wider architectural design choices.

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· Sahiba Chadha

AJ Footprint Live conference: The Green Rethink

On Tuesday Johnny Winter and Sahiba Chadha attended the inaugural AJ Footprint Live conference, promisingly entitled 'The Green Rethink'.

Keynote speakers Sir Terry Farrell and Dr Ken Yeang began each half by offering their vision of a sustainable built environment. Farrell paired sustainability with ‘urbiculture’, placing the city at the heart of sustainable development so long as it is developed holistically and diversely, particularly encouraging an active and vibrant ground plane (citing Darwin’s ‘tangled bank’ and Jane Jacobs’ notion ‘organised complexity’). 

Yeang, a well-known purveyor of the literal greening of the built environment, underlined we must “rethink our relationship with nature”. He suggested that the next generation of green buildings must: be better integrated with nature, function as a living system, repair wider fragmented landscape and enlist natural processes for systems such as closed loop water drainage.

Some of the ideas and studies presented were already well worn, and packed panels did mean several sessions were too short to fully relate enough detailed information. For example The Technical Briefing panel crammed in the upcoming Part L revisions, Soft Landings and the issue of closing the building performance gap. Although this left almost no window in which to debate how this really feeds back into improving good practice, an interesting provocation was made by Roderic Bunn of BSRIA, in the suggestion that Part L should demand certain compliance within building operation.

The tight schedule was, however, studded with moments of inspiration.Patrick Bellew’s list of top green innovations to keep an eye out for was certainly compelling: electro-chromic glass, entrepreneurial energy storage, smarter green facades and joined up systems on site (e.g. the smart use of waste for power in Gardens by the Bay).

A few interesting points were also made in the panel entitled on ‘More Homes, Better Homes’. Alison Brooks hit the nail on the head by urging a renewed focus on the suburbs, using Newhall Be as a case study. Nick Raynsford MP noted that although mass house builders have shown improvement in recent years, the only way to sustainably solve the housing crisis with the immediacy required is through increased public spending.

Alison Brooks Architects - Newhall Be

Other case studies worth picking out included Architectes Associéswork, which demonstrates the large scale potential of Passivhaus with their office and mixed-use projects in Belgium. Cloud 9's Media ICT project in Barcelona, effervescently presented by Enric Ruiz-Geli, has shown the great potential of “dealing in particles” in building façade technology (case in point below: nitrogen mist turning glass to translucent walls to prevent solar gain). The fact that these sorts of projects seem to thrive better on the continent suggests the UK planning system and construction industry must play some innovation catch-up!

Cloud 9 - Media ICT, Barcelona

· Amy Glover

Camden Design Awards shortlist

Torriano Junior School Gatehouse has been shortlisted for two Camden Design Awards 2013.

Torriano Junior School Gatehouse has been shortlisted for the 'Camden Community Designs Award' and the 'People's Choice Award'.

The 'Camden Community Designs Award' recognises scheme that have had the most positive impact on the local community. Voting is now open for the 'People's Choice Award' on the We Are Camden website - look for 'The Gatehouse' if you would like to vote for our project.

· Sahiba Chadha

Happold Lecture Take 2

Reprise of Robin Nicholson's Ted Happold Medal Lecture

Friday saw Robin Nicholson reprise his CIC Ted Happold Medal Lecture for Cullinan Studio and guests during a wine and cheese evening at Cullinans' canal-side office. Speeding through the last 25 years of the construction industry, Robin's lecture hinged on his experience of various landmark construction industry reports, taskforces and forums.
Throughout the talk, a common theme picked out by Robin was an increasing change of bias evident in each report, shifting towards a focus on the client and end user. This goes hand-in-hand with the more socially-driven agenda that has emerged at the forefront of sustainable practice.

Robin re-delivers his Happold Medal Lecture for Cullinan Studio and guests

For Robin, the 1994 Latham Report ('Constructing the Team') signalled the first time members of the construction industry created a "public interest manifesto", rather than a self-serving industry report. Four years later, the "industry-shaking" Egan Report ('Rethinking Construction') championed the concept of demonstration projects in order to better assimilate lessons learnt throughout the construction process - another move in favour of client and user. As well as this, Robin described the Egan Report as a significant "early stumbling" into sustainability. How much these projects realistically impacted upon future good practice is up for debate, however they made clear the complexity of true change in the industry.

But Robin maintains the future should be bright. From the optimistic Paul Morrell notion that "design is free if there is a 10% building performance improvement", to the presence of think tanks such as EDGE which continue to debate industry progress and direction, to the smartening of practice through BIM, its clear that attitudes are evolving. Success and sustainability will lie in properly seeing concepts through in practice - in Robin's words "now we just need to do it!" 

The Happold Medal

Robin with the Happold Medal

Further reading:

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· Amy Glover

Maggie’s Newcastle wins Building Better Healthcare Award

Maggie's Newcastle has won a Special Award at this years Building Better Healthcare Awards, presented on 6th November 2013.

Maggie's Newcastle Cancer Care Centre, completed in May this year, was awarded the Patient's Choice Award, which is presented to the project, across all categories, that was deemed to have the biggest impact on the patient experience and outcomes.

The judges said;

"I love the approach they have taken to this and the way people come into such a lovely space. The building has good architectural principals and I like the open spaces. It is a building that is very easily navigable and it is furnished very comfortably."

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· Amy Glover

The Happold Medal 2013

Robin Nicholson has become the ninth recipient of the prestigious Happold Medal 2013.

Awarded jointly by the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and the Happold Trust, Robin received the award after delivering the Happold Medal Lecture 2013, entitled 'Collective responsibility for a sustainable industry'.

The Happold Medal Lectures form an occasional series of groundbreaking lectures on a wide array of topics, with a focus on sustainable development. They are in memory of CIC's founding Chairman and visionary engineer, Sir Edmund (Ted) Happold.

Robin Nicholson with the Happold Medal

· Robin Nicholson

A day in Rio

When I was invited to go to Rio de Janeiro for the day I jumped at the opportunity, the only downside being that I would have only arrived in São Paulo the previous day.

We had arrived the previous day in thick fog and drove into town through a dystopian traffic- jammed nightmare; but today there was not a cloud in the sky; so flying out over central São Paulo, it was difficult to believe the number of tight packed towers that have sprung up like thistles do, everywhere, as far as the eye can see with remnants of the old city left in the interstices.

By contrast, flying into the fabulous inner city airport of Rio banking left so you see the whole city centre before you shudder to a halt before tipping into the water - I know it's been done before but so exciting.  Then off to Studio X in what's left of Praça Tiradentes; that is 'Teeth-pulling' in memory of an 18th century Brazilian dentist who led an insurrection against the Portuguese who cut his head cut off and displayed it there. Dentistry is what the City Heritage team under Washington Fajardo are trying to do to save the remaining facades even though many of the buildings behind have collapsed and then encouraging rebuilding behind.

Praça Tiradentes

Studio X is a collaboration between the City and Colombia University and run by a great local team - two architects and one cultural producer - who have inserted a steel and timber climbing frame of connected spaces to fit the original facades. There was a great cycling exhibition and another on 6 projects in Chile.

Pedro Riviera, Junia Santa Rosa, me, Leticia Montes, Washington Fajardo, Nanda Eskes

My job was to explain the legacy of CABE, the work of the Cambridgeshire Quality Panel and the workings of Building for Life 12 to see to what extent they may offer clues for those who want to ramp up the quality of architecture and urban design in Brazil in general and to support the massive popular housing programme My House MyLife (this is a  brief description from 2 years ago). There was a good discussion and I hope this will kick something Brazilian off.  I went on to give a similar talk to two different audiences in São Paulo.

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· Amy Glover

Maggie’s Culture Crawl

At 7.30pm on Friday 21st September an enthusiastic team from Cullinan Studio (plus friends) set off from Victoria Embankment Gardens.

15 miles and 6 and a half hours later, they were resting their weary feet at the top of 30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin) - although some of us arrived there a bit later - having completed the Maggie's Culture Crawl.

The team were exhausted, aching and not looking forward to the journey home at two in the morning, but were happy in the knowledge the walk was done and that they had helped make a difference for those suffering from, or affected by cancer. Thank you to all who sponsored the team and helped us to raise over £1,200.

Some of the team take a break inside the Roca Gallery at Imperial Wharf

A sign/sigh of relief knowing there is only one more mile to go

Highlights of the walk included a spin on the London Eye;

the Durbar Court in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where a refreshing cup of tea and biscuits was served up by Fortnum and Mason;

Maggie's West London, which is always a welcome stop on the Maggie's night hikes;

a wonderful array of biscuits at the Royal Geographical Society;

the 'apple trees' en route were a welcome treat;

and the spectacular view from the top of The Gherkin...

...some of us got there a little later than others.

Team members: Amy, Andrew, Ashley, Helen, John, Laith, Lucy, Roddy, Sarah and Sanaa.

Having taken part in the event previously, we were proud to be taking part for a fourth time, especially in celebration of Maggie's Newcastle which we completed in May this year.

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· Amy Glover

Open House London

On Sunday 22nd September we were open for the Open House London 2013 weekend. We were delighted to welcome over 140 people through the door.

Visitors were taken on tours of the building by the architects and engineer of the retrofitted Victorian warehouse we converted into our studios last year. There was also an exhibition of our recent and current work on the canal level of the building. Tea, coffee and cake seemed to be gratefully received. Donations for cakes came to £64 pounds which will go toMaggie's Cancer Care Centres. Thank you to everyone who contributed.

An exhibition of our recent work on the canal level of our studios

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· Colin Rice

Container Joy

17 years on the heaving waves...

17 years on the heaving waves, serving The Shipping Corporation of India, now transposed to a dune-side plot, ready for service for three, five, eight years? 

Pure volume of space, 8' wide, 8' high and 20' long, mute but resonant, endlessly adaptable yet utterly fixed.

Double doors at one end open wide to the world, a thick back wall of servant space. Within the bounding steel, no fixings, a temporary and contingent fitting out.

Secure, weather-tightness assured, perfect to store materials as found or as planned, to sort and rack, to prefabricate and transform into a new cabin.

In short, a sheddist's delight!

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· Amy Glover

Double-winner at the AJ Retrofit Awards

Cullinan Studio were double-winners at the AJ Retrofit Awards on Wednesday 11th September.

We picked up the award for the Offices - under £5m category for the Foundry (our own retrofitted studios) and the Schools category for improvements to Rosendale Primary School in south London.

The AJ Retrofit Awards recognise and celebrate design, engineering and construction excellence that prolongs and improves the life of the built environment.

The Foundry will be open for Open House London on Sunday 22nd September, 11am - 1pm.

Foundry studios: BREEAM Excellent retrofit

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