Tuesday, 26 November 2013
Monday, 18 November 2013
The decision to demolish the 'green' Sainsbury's store in Greenwich, east London is both disturbing and fascinating. This award-winning building by Chetwood Associates has reached the end of its usable life just 14 years after completion, not through any fault of the architect or architecture but because it is now too small for Sainsbury's and not suitable for use by the new tenant IKEA. IKEA has pledged to use as much of the demolition material as possible, but one can be sceptical about how significant that can be, given how formulaic IKEA stores are. A little hardcore perhaps? Twenty years ago, we would probably have seen the demolition of this store as part of the cycle of replacement and renewal. Although it won prizes, deservedly, it is not amongst the most stunningly beautiful buildings and will probably not be greatly missed apart from by those who enjoyed shopping there. If it had hung on another 16 years of course, it would have been eligible for listing, in recognition of its unusual typology - but that will not happen now. What has changed in the past 20 years, and most particularly in the last five, is a concern with embodied energy. As buildings become more energy efficient in use, so the significance of that grows. Throwing away a building, even with a little bit of token recycling, is just so wasteful. The irony is that it may be the very elements that made this building so striking that hastened its demise. An anonymous, modular box is easily extended or adapted, but the Greenwich Sainsbury's had character which is both laudable and difficult to adapt. Let's hope that the lesson learnt is not that we should revert to an unending diet of the bad-neighbour boxes that blight so many of our high streets and out of town areas.
Thursday, 14 November 2013
Thanks to the Think Tank Blog for pointing out the Roof Topper series of photos by a photographer who likes to get into scary places and take even scarier photographs. I'm not quite sure where the photographer is in the shots, but they certainly make for unusual views and - for those of the vertiginous persuasion - stomach turning ones. Rather than celebrating tall buildings as a sign of business success or decrying them for desecrating the city, Roof Topper sees them as a playground and a challenge. He brings back the excitement that even the dullest building can offer when it is still under construction, when visitors can go up by ladder, travelling in a juddering goods hoist or, as once you could do and I did, be taken up in the bucket of a tower crane.
Monday, 11 November 2013
I was in Cornwall at the Eden Project this weekend. It was, to my shame, my first visit. I was interested to see how the ETFE panels on the biomes were faring. The answer was, not fantastic, but well enough. They mist up a little, and you can also see some lines of discolouration where strips of the material have been joined to make up the hexagonal panels. Building these panels up from strips was not ideal, but it is the sort of thing that you do when you are a pioneer. When Grimshaw designed the biomes, really wide strips of ETFE were not available - now they are. Should the architect have shied away from the material, because it was just too early in its development cycle? I don't think so. ETFE was the solution to achieving transparency and insulation without the weight that glass would bring. And if it had not been for Grimshaw's bold move, the technology of the material would never have advanced so far. Eden was a brave project and there were all sorts of things that didn't quite work at the beginning and had to be put right or adapted. These problems change. This year for instance rabbits devastated the vegetable garden. But it is still a resounding success, both as a visitor attraction and as an educational proponent of sustainability. The beauty of the masterplan has been compromised by a 'temporary' structure in front of the biomes which has become permanent, housing ice skating in the winter, but that is a way of generating much-needed revenue in a recession and offering a facility to local people. Eden is being asked to consult on developments all over the world. The BRE Solar Centre is about to move there, and Eden is hoping to pioneer the use of geothermal energy in the area. It is lively, dynamic and interesting, and that does not always go with perfection. We should hail the courage of such projects which have the vision to get most things right and the pragmatism to cope with those that go wrong.
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
There are many interesting aspects to the new building for the WWF in Woking, designed by Hopkins Architects and aiming for BREEAM Outstanding, and most of them relate to the emboded energy.