Archive for the ‘Design Philosophy’ Category

The Ring Of Remembrance

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

After ​​two days visiting the battle fields of the Somme, a visit to The Ring Of Remembrance, International WWI Memorial Of Notre-Dame-De-Lorette, is all the more poignant. This is a powerful memorial to the sacrifice of life made in the Great War. The structure is designed by Agence D’architecture Philippe Prost (AAPP) on behalf of the Conseil Regional Nord-Pas-De-Calais and won the RIBA Award for International Excellence in 2016.

For me this was not only a personal journey of discovery, visiting the battlefield where my great grandfather gave his life 100 years ago this month, it was also an opportunity to study the architecture of remembrance. The majority of the monuments we visited where built in the years immediately after the war and all are of their era. Always monumental, and often neo-classical in design. It was therefore interesting to see how my own generation of architects has sought to contribute.

Unlike most war memorials, where one moves around the monument, the names of the dead lining the outer walls, this structure draws you in, the names enclosing, wrapping and immersing you on all sides. It is a dramatic contrast.  Everything external drops away. There is only the visitor and the 600,000+ names that enclose them.

The only relief to this is the dramatic moment when the ring cantilevers out and across a natural drop in the topography. This opens up glimpses of the battlefields beyond in the plains below. This moment leads to my only criticism. It is the entrance. It feels overly pragmatic that the entrance cuts through the sides of the ring, breaking the purity of the enclosure. It would surely have been more powerful to enter from below, from the ground, where the battle was fought. Entering under the ring one could then emerge fully enclosed and at the centre rather than at a specific point, with the inevitable hierarchy that this creates.

None of this diminishes the beauty, simplicity and power of the Ring of Remembrance. These are only the thoughts of an architect seeking to learn and, when the opportunity arises, try to achieve something greater still.

 

 

Great sketch

Friday, April 13th, 2018

We received these two wonderful sketches from site today. We love the power of sketching, what we call ‘thinking on paper’. It is great to see a contractor who is confident to sketch. They may not have intended to create art but we think they are beautiful, as well as practical. Keep #sketching

Prior Approval expertise

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Snug Architects have built up a wealth of experience in the design and delivery of Prior Approval schemes. The conversion of offices to residential use under permitted development rights is delivering much needed new housing and quickly. It is also repurposing mid twentieth century buildings that are no longer viable as offices. This  approach to housing delivery has its challenges and certainly has its critics but there can be no doubt it is injecting new life into city centres at a pace that cannot be matched b y the new build development industry. It is also bringing forward some of the most low cost housing available. This is in part because it is free from the constraints of minimum space standards. The result is viable margins can be maintained at lower sale prices. Well designed this can provide essential entry level housing to the market.

We have either delivered or are in the process of delivering over 300 Prior Approval units across more than 15 developments. Here are images of two of our most recent projects.

Before

After

Before

After

 

Lets solve the real housing crisis

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

How long do you think your house was designed to last? Let me put it another way. When do you think your house will be demolished? Houses get replaced when it is cheaper to replace them than it is to maintain them or, put another way, when more money can be made by knocking them down. So when will it be time-up for your home? Consider this, would you knock your house down if the roof finish or kitchen needed replacing? Probably not. Like the ship Ergo, all the parts might be slowly replaced but the ship remains. What about when it no longer meets your requirements? No doubt you would move or extend, assuming the banks will still let you borrow against the value of your increasingly tired home. What about if the roof, facade, kitchen, carpets, decoration and heating all needed replacing at the same time? It would not make economic sense at that point, particularly with the VAT added on top. Now you might well consider knocking it down, or a developer certainly would. The only thing stopping you would be how much you love your old house. We are seeing homes built as recently as the 1970’s being replaced. This is potentially a big problem.

Our concern is that we are not currently solving a crisis, we think we may still be busy creating one. Let us explain why. The true crisis facing modern housing is this; our houses are not built to last. When speed, cost cutting and skin deep branding define value we won’t create a product that lasts. Why is this a #housingcrisis ? 

Where I grew up in the Congo, you and your neighbours could build a house over a long weekend. It was a basic mud hut, but it was fit for purpose, cost next to nothing and was cheap to maintain. You might need to build yourself a new house every 15 years but that required very limited resources, so no problem. The rate of production easily kept up with the rate of replacement. In the UK things are very different. For starters our houses are much better quality (or so we like to think) but, our houses also take many skilled and less skilled workers over two years to build, once the full development process is taken into account. They also cost around 30% of our lifetime income and take around 30% of our life to pay off. So what you might say.

Let’s look at the big picture. There are approximately 25M houses in England. Since the 1950’s we have been adding around 220,000 houses to the housing stock annually and in 2016/17 we build 227,000, including 37,000 conversions, largely under permitted development. House building peaked at 350,000 homes annually in the mid 1930’s and 1960’s. This is the past but how many houses do we need to build in the future?

Dr Alan Holman’s research at Cambridge University suggests that we need 240,000 houses each year to meet the increasing number of new households. Critically, this figure excludes any reductions in the housing stock.  How many additional houses might we need to built to exceed the replacement rate? There is very limited data and no apparent consensus on the rate of replacement. In the past, during times of slum clearance it has been as high as 100,000/year. Records suggest that around 21,000 houses where removed from the housing stock annually in the 1980’s and since 2006/07 this has been steadily falling from 22,000 down to just under 10,000 in 2016/17. This would, on the surface, look to be good news but, with replacement rates so low few people seem to be focusing on the need to consider what affect replacing houses will have on targets. The  vast majority of our housing stock is still relatively young, with around 50% built in the past 50 years. Saltford Manor is the oldest house in Britain, which dates from the 11th Century, but this is clearly a rarity. What history shows is that many houses don’t last anywhere near this long!  What then should be the assumed rate of replacement?

The current rate of 10,000 houses being demolished annually would suggest a replacement rate of 0.04%. On this basis it would take 2500 years to replace all of our current housing stock. I doubt many architects, let alone their developer clients have this duration in mind when they are asked to sign up to 12 years liability! Clearly modern houses are not built to last this long. What then might be a more reasonable assumption looking forward and what are the consequences?

Currently around 21% of the housing stock was built pre 1919 and around just over half between then and the mid 1960’s. This means that over 75% of the housing stock is well over 50 years old and would suggest that a good number of houses will live well over 100 years. On the surface this shows just how long houses can last. These of course are the houses that survived. What is less clear is how many didn’t make it. Almost all of this existing housing stock is masonry construction and those that have survived were built to last. Those that weren’t have of course already been demolished.

Our concern is that we are today concerned more with speed than lifespan. Historic rates of replacement are a poor guide to the future. In Britain we love our period properties and, as a result we care for them and they last. The problem comes when we don’t love our houses. Sadly it seems we don’t love late 20th Century houses as much. It is of note that most demolitions today are of buildings built since the war. The simple truth is this; when we don’t love where we live its life expectancy drops dramatically. It seems to us that the rate of replacement, like almost everything else in modern society, is accelerating. We would not go so far as to accuse the construction industry of designed obsolescence but, there is no doubt that modern methods of construction do not come with 2,500 year warranties!

Today we build with materials that are often only given a 15-20 year manufacturer’s warranty. The consequence of this is the economic one we alluded to earlier. All these materials will need to be replaced at approximately the same time. When that time comes, it will, in many cases, make more economic sense to start again. Not least if there is a shortage of land and little or no love for the house itself. Now this may sound like good news for architects like us who specialise in housing and very good news for our developer clients. But is it sustainable?

We don’t think so, even if it were economically viable. The challenge is that the vast majority of our current housing stock was build post war. It seems to us that the 15M homes built since the war are less loved and less robust than the pre-war, predominantly masonry houses that have already survived the test of time. Even if we assume the majority of our post war housing stock were built robustly, it would seem likely that these houses will start to need replacing at a higher rate than is currently being assumed. How then might we establish an appropriate replacement rate?

If, instead of assuming our houses will last for 2500 years we instead assume this to be a more realistic 200 years, the rate of replacement increases to 0.5%. This would require an additional 125,000 houses to be added to the housing target. This is half again on top of current projections. Our fear is it is more nuanced and somewhat worse than this. In our view most houses built since the war will be lucky to survive 100 years. This is primarily because, unlike their pre-war cousins, they are by and large unloved and uneconomical to alter or maintain. If this is the case we could have a 1% replacement rate on the 15M houses built since the war, in addition to the 0.5% rate for the 10M built before. This would require 200,000 houses annually in addition to the 240,000 needed for new households. This total of 440,000 houses is double current targets. This would seem bad enough but sadly this is still not the true measure of the crisis.

What if, in addition to this, it turns that today we building with even shorter lifespans in  mind.  Modern houses are built in an age of designed obsolescence and with fast construction rather than long life as the goal.  When all those warranties expire and modern houses need many of their essential components replacing, and all at the same time, one may well find that all these snazzy new homes might be more economical to replace. Not least with VAT chargeable on refurbishment work! If this is the case we might find ourselves needing to rebuild a far higher proportions of our new housing stock and within as little as 40 years. On this basis we could be required to build as many as 625,000 houses per year just to maintain the housing stock. This is an unsustainable legacy to leave to future generations.

Here then is the true crisis; Our rush to build houses quickly is in danger of creating a scenario where houses are needing replacing faster than we can build them. This will result in a significant number of households becoming homeless. At current rates of construction and on the basis of these projections some 400,000 households a year could be homeless by 2060. Now that is a real crisis.

Before we all break out in blind panic. What can be done? To solve this crisis we must build houses that last, at least a life time and most importantly build above the true rate of replacement. It is a mathematical certainty that to do otherwise is a crisis guaranteed. To solve a crisis you need to know the true source of the problem. Our problem is the same as it has always been; Firmitas, Commoditas, Venustas. This means houses that are cost effective to maintain, able to be adapted to changing circumstances and that are loved. In summary, houses that are built to last and above all, houses that are loved.

Sustainability is the ability to maintain. We must create houses that are easy and cost effective for people to maintain, delaying their replacement. Only then will we ensure our houses last at least one life time and hopefully longer.

What then are some of the solutions? At Snug we are currently repurposing a lot of offices though office to residential conversion. This may double the life of those buildings. They may even make it to their 100th birthday.

Before

After

This is part of the solution but it does not solve the crisis. It is suburban housing that we must tackle. Legislators, planners, designers, lenders and developers must work together to establish a viable approach to the delivery of houses that are built to last. Heaven help us if we don’t.

There is much we can learn from our past. In the Industrial Revolution we built both the good and the bad. The good is still with us, places like the Lever Brothers’ workers housing at Port Sunlight. These were places built generously. They have lasted well over 100 years and continue to grow in value, showing no sign of needing replacing. Many others at their time built what quickly became slums. They barely lasted half a life time.

The act of building houses, must become more than a short term economic activity. It must become a generous act and an investment in our collective future; more national infrastructure than asset class. Perhaps we should even be receiving tax breaks for maintaining our homes.

If we can’t expect this through developers own inclinations we must make it in their interest. If those who deliver houses had ownership of the future things might be different. We have found it is always the case that those clients who retain some measure of ownership invest more in quality. We need those who create to have ownership of the consequences. Then they will take responsibility and generosity will become self-interest. The Lever Brothers where no fools. They knew that we reap what we sow. Because they believed this, they built to last and built places that people have loved.

This approach is high cost but long life. There is of course an alternative, we pursue the low cost short life approach of my African friends. This is the other side of the same coin. It is more intense and results in a far higher replacement rate. It is certainly an option but we are not convinced this is something our current, drawn out and highly contested approach to planning, can cope with. We have of course been here before. In the post war housing crisis pre-fab housing saved the day. They may not have been designed to last but of course many have long outlived their design life through tender love and care.

Arcon MK V Pre-fab from 1946.

Whichever approach we take we need to focus on solving the real crisis. By all means lets build fast, we certainly need to build more but, above all, lets build houses that people will love. This above all things will delay their replacement. Perhaps the best example of this is the Great Mosque of Djenne. The current mosque was built in 1907 and despite being made of mud remains in good order. The reason is, it is well loved by the local community. While it is loved, it will last.

We clearly aren’t building enough houses and because we aren’t building either to love or to last there is a real danger that we are building well below the rate of replacement. This is a crisis in the making, a crisis we are still busy creating.

To solve the crisis we must focus on the source; we are neither building enough houses or building above the sustainable replacement rate. Our current focus is almost exclusively on building enough houses to meet growing household numbers. Few if any housing targets are accounting for the rate of replacement. It is this challenge we believe our industry must now focus on trying to solve.

Form Follows Force Part 2

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Here are the second batch of images on our new housing and apartment typologies. These images explore how a large scale settlement edge development can be sympathetically integrated into its setting, creating a humane settlement edge where people will love to live and impact is minimised. Let us know what you think….


Form Follows Force!

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

 

 

At Snug we endeavour to create humane homes where people ‘love where they live’. Our architecture seeks always to respond positively to the forces at work upon it. These forces are derived from the characteristics of the site, the ergonomics of inhabitation and of course the clients business plan. Form follows force!

Two quotes that have always influenced our work. The first, Jorn Utzon in The Innermost Being of Architecture;

‘The true innermost being of architecture can be compared to natures seed, and something of the inevitability of nature’s principle of growth ought to be a fundamental concept in architecture. If we think of the seeds that turn into plants or trees, everything within the same genus would develop the same way if the growth potential were not so different and if each growth possessed within itself the ability to grow without compromise. On account of different conditions, similar seeds turn into widely differing organisms.’

In other words, in nature, form follows force.

Our signature design process, shrink wrapped function and the stealthed form, is a design strategy for a humane architecture. We have been refining the use of this technique to produce efficient housing layouts that respond to the forces at work on the project.

Be it the macro scale of walking around a large development, embedding and sculpturing forms into their immediate physical context or the micro scale of manoeuvring around a bed in a bedroom, we are always thinking about the way our buildings mould to the forces at work upon them.

When these forces align with the emotional requirements of the human; lighting; materials; familiar domestic forms; the design becomes not just for the human, the functional, but is for the humane, the force.

The second quote is by Steven Holl, from Anchoring;

‘Architecture is bound to site…Building transcends physical and functional requirements by fusing with a place, by gathering the meaning of a situation architecture does not so much intrude on a landscape as it serves to explain it.’

The places in which we live should help us live and orientate ourselves in the world. They should speak of who we are and how we hope to be.

We have sought to develop these ideas in the context of a series of large scale housing development, to showcase its effectiveness. We approached standard housing typologies, and applied our principles, sculpting forms that echo an arts and crafts contextual style through the contemporary use of asymmetry, chamfering, jettying, gables and pitching. This was completed by lowering the perceived scale of the larger units through stealthed forms, using rhythm in street scenes, defining lynchian nodes and routes and celebrating the edge of the sites through its relationship to its natural context, increasing its surface area and pulling views deeper into the site. The result are places that we would love to call home.

We feel we have produced a new domestic design aesthetic that is contextual, familiar and loveable. We would welcome your thoughts?

Settlement Edge

The Flats

Detached House

Symbiotic design

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Snug are starting a national debate on the merits of Symbiotic Design. This is about thinking outside the silo, exploring how multiple functions can be added to a project without compromising the primary function. The result can be significant added value at little or no added cost. It is an inherently sustainable approach to design that creates additional outcomes from what were single function solutions.

Our first application of this approach was our proposal for adding wind turbines to lamp posts. The lamp post already provides the support, the wiring and all the prelim costs of installation. All the wind turbines need is to borrow the existing infrastructure supplied by the lighting columns. The result is symbiotic infrastructure, a net gain at little or no extra cost or impact.


Our most recent applications of this ground breaking approach is in the design of symbiotic sea defences, a prototype applied and now delivered at our Milford-on-sea beach hut project. The concept is simple. Take the costs of essential infrastructure, normally a sea wall, and add value by inhabiting it. In this case we inhabit the wall by adding multiple uses in and around the essential concrete sea defence. In this instance concrete c-sections laid on their sides achieve a robust 1 in 200 year sea defence whilst also providing new beach huts within, and a promenade on the roof.


Symbiotic Sea Defences

99% – Beach huts, promenade, inhabitation

1% – Sea defences

The result is a liability transformed into an asset. A government grant transformed into the seed funding for a major waterfront rejuvenation. Traditionally the money spent on sea defences achieves one thing and one thing only, defence from the sea. It often comes at a high price, cutting people off from the waterfront and destroying the everyday due to fears about the ‘one day’. Our approach ensures that the essential requirement of sea defence is not compromised. Instead it is added to with multiple additional uses being derived from the core ingredients of the project and at little additional cost. We believe this approach could create significant long term revenue for local authorities, leveraging government grants to create cultural and economic transformation of the seafront.

Symbiotic Design is all about thinking across silo’s. Our inhabited sea defences recognise the all important necessity for robust sea defences. Delivering sea defences is not, however, seen as the end but instead becomes the beginning, the seed funding for wider urban regeneration. Secondary uses leverage the primary use in the same way as symbiote’s do in nature.  The result is significant added value and a more holistic and multidisciplinary approach to infrastructure design. We believe it is this approach that will deliver truly sustainable solutions in the future. It is time for cross silo thinking, it is time for Symbiotic Design!

Elephant Cage – Part 2

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Following last November’s involvement with the ‘Elephant Cage’ symposium, #ECage17, Richard joined a number of talented Anglo-Dutch Architects and Engineers on an invigorating and inspirational trip to the Netherlands, to reflect on the conceptual proposals for the ongoing strategy for Sea Defence along Southsea seafront.

As part of this trip Richard was able to view and talk to the original designers and engineers responsible for world renowned infrastructure projects that seek to integrate within their environment to enhance as well as protect the urban context.
It was heartening to find so many parallels with these global leaders in design and innovation, sharing many of the values and strategies that Snug has been promoting in our own work and thinking.
And of course, no trip to the Netherlands would be complete without a tour of some of the most sublime and eccentric architecture our planet has to offer! Markethaal by MVRDV; De Rotterdam by OMA; Delft Railway Station by Mechanoo and the Cube Houses by Piet Bloom to name just a few!
Thanks to @ProjCompass @ArchLokaal @arch_port  with our media sponsors the Architects Journal @ArchitectsJrnal 

Collaborating with giants

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

At the heart of our philosophy is the idea that we are greater when we collaborate. We created this image to reflect and inspire the symbiotic collaboration we believe in. If you are a giant looking for a symbiont give us a call. Our experience to date suggests it can be great for the host and mutually beneficial.

Building in Context

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

 

This has got to be one of the best quotes I have ever heard on the reason for designing in context. Cllr Gottlieb, we love it.

Extract taken from the Hampshire Chronicle 2 February 2017.

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