How can we measure the value of good design? Blog by Siobhan Vernon, Austin-Smith:Lord
This is not the first time this question has been asked. It is human nature to try to measure, quantify and categorise everything. Several studies have tried to quantify this value and each outcome varies depending on what the method of measurement is; Social, economic or environmental? Some recent studies have tried to put a figure on these aspects;
A 2018 study by Fields in Trust Charity estimated that the UK’s parks and green spaces save the NHS £111M through the health benefits that they generate within their communities in tackling mental health and supporting healthy lifestyles.
A study published by CBRE and Gehl Architects set out the correlation between higher real estate values and good public realm intervention.
So the facts and figures are out there covering whichever factor you prefer to champion. The conclusion is that a well designed landscape, streetscape, public realm, park or gardens have significant value to society. Great news!
This leads to the next question. What is good design? How do we measure good? How do we measure fantastic?
Again, this is not a new question or a new area of study. However if we take the measurement of good design as a measurement of the quality of the human experience, we may be stepping into psychology and theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. This considers hierarchy of needs; protection, comfort, security and so on. These could be considered as performance indicators of an output, of a product, of a space. This is similar to how the Place Standards Tool assesses places.
Cambridge University have been undertaking research on product performance. This is based upon how well a product is performing and or how well a product or service suits the user’s needs with particular regard to Inclusive Design.
Following this rationale, it makes sense to consider public space as a product and the users the general public. Would a well designed public space meet the criteria set out by the Inclusive Design Toolkit, used by Cambridge University? How do the user’s needs fit into this? Is inclusive design a method of measurement for what is good design? How well does a space perform to service the needs of the public? When we consider the facts about who the public are: UK population of 64M within this figure; 11.6M are disabled, more than 10M have a hearing impairment, 8.9M have arthritis, 11.6M are over the age of 65, 2M have a visual impairment, 11.3M are children under 15. This means that there are potential barriers to the 11.9M living with a disability and the 11M over the age of 65, in accessing public spaces.
Continuing with the line of thinking that Inclusive Design is a method of measurement for good design, where does that take us? Does developing an Inclusive Design create a challenge or does it undermine creativity? It provides an opportunity to foster innovation, improve design and therefore result in a superior end product. There are many examples of products which have become commercial successes due to innovation which developed truly inclusive design. It turns out that extremely well designed products or services are enjoyed and appreciated by the entire population. Many mainstream products enjoyed today started as an inclusive design product. Household names such as Oxo Good Grips, Ford, BT, Nestle, Google and so on have enjoyed this success.
Designing outdoor spaces for a range of user’s needs is complex and challenging to accommodate for sensory impairments, mobility impairments and mental health impairments. A design solution suitable for one user group may pose a challenge for another. However on the basis of the evidence mentioned, I think we can conclude that Inclusive Design is a strong contender for measuring the value of design of public spaces.
Austin-Smith:Lord were part of the consultant team which completed the study “Value of Design in the Built Environment” (2014) on behalf of the Scottish Government , with Douglas Wheeler Associates and Ryden.
Sources and references and further information at:
Graham Ross FRIAS RIBA of Austin-Smith:Lord interviews Peter McCaughey, Lead Artist at WAVEparticle, who led Scotland’s contribution to the Venice Architectural Biennale in 2018.
Q. COULD YOU EXPLAIN THE BACKGROUND TO WAVEPARTICLE; YOUR PHILOSOPHY AND APPROACH IN ARTS PRACTICE AND KEY PROJECTS THAT BEST REFLECT THIS? A. “WAVEparticle is an artist-led organisation set up to explore the opportunities for integrating art and artists into the world beyond the confines of the gallery and museum, and in ‘discussion’ with certain dominant traditions of 20th century fine art, traditions rather allergic to the idea of function. We explore the contested role of the artist as a contributor to the processes of building and rebuilding places. I’m interested in how things function. How we fix things. And how we stop some things in their tracks.
The philosophy is best explained through a few projects. The Outdoor Museum, Helensburgh (2015), delivered in partnership with architects Austin-Smith:Lord, responded to the decision that over one hundred bollards were to be placed around the town square as part of the creation of a shared surface – we transformed bollards into plinths. Local dialogue, expertise and input were a cornerstone of the project. Over a two-year period, we organised a series of lively, convivial days to invite local people to be a part of it all, and to gather together artefacts and stories about the town, that are surprising and revealing, celebrating how any place is a Venn diagram of overlaps and shared history. The work aimed to connect the town to itself, to its surrounding areas and to its residents’ influence upon the world. The Outdoor Museum proudly displays a collection of reproductions of treasured objects, of local, national and international significance, brought forward or nominated by local residents and organisations in the town. The project prepared the plinths for over 100 other additions, and this year sees a new set of additions organised by the townsfolk themselves.
If the Outdoor Museum celebrates tactics of engagement and permissioned, negotiated practice at one end of the spectrum, we also explore intervention and cultural hijack as tools to open up encounters around liminal thresholds at in-between times. Sites to date have included city underpasses, a cinema due for closure and, in transition, a set of tower blocks at the time of demolition and the space between trailers in mainstream cinema.
An early example of this, The Festival of Borrowed Light (1996), with artist Stephen Skrynka, activated the underside of Victorian glass paving lights across Glasgow, using light-switching systems, projected images, sound and embedded objects. This required access to basements across the city – 36 sites, including banks vaults, cinemas basements, undercrofts of derelict buildings, restaurants, pubs and jewellery shops. All were accessed and activated, often involving complex negotiations with hosts. Unannounced, the work appeared without warning, street by street and then stopped after two weeks. A wilful disruption of the day-to-day. The work engendered a sense of playful curiosity and broke up habituated patterns of behaviour as people stopped, intrigued. It was essential for success that the work was unexpected, that it worked in the liminal spaces between the ordered and the chaotic, the familiar and the unfamiliar.
These days WAVEparticle regularly collaborates with others to produce new processes, events and objects focussed on re-thinking how the places we live in, and the systems that regulate our lives, move to a more creative, connective model.
The interventions, like Borrowed Light, have been joined by negotiated, brokered processes, often within the system – regional government, council bodies, as a regular team member with architectural practices like Austin-Smith:Lord and in long-term relationships with local community groups.
The most recent example is The Happenstance, Scotland’s contribution to the 16th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice 2018. We responded to Grafton Architects theme of Freespace by building a freespace. We didn’t illustrate ideas about Freespace, didn’t make an exhibition about freespace – we made a freespace in the garden, at the heart of Palazzo Zenobio – inviting all-comers to build new possibilities together for the freedoms we urgently need to claim – focusing on the event nature of live situations and exploring how we can intervene in our own lives and the circumstances that shape us. The Happenstance encouraged everyone into a vital relationship with the built environment, using play as an active agent within the process of rethinking and reclaiming Freespace.
You could say WAVE is responsible and professional; particle is underground and playful. In theory, WAVE exists to support particle, but I sometimes suspect that the really interesting dynamic is the other way around.”
Q. HOW DID AN IRISH ARTIST COME TO LEAD SCOTLAND’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE VENICE ARCHITECTURE BIENNALE IN 2018? A. (Laughs) “When the theme of this year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice was announced as Freespace, several friends, who know my practice well, got in touch and said, apply! So, I’m not an architect, not a curator, not Scottish, but apply! OK. Freespace.
In framing the theme of the 2018 Architecture Biennale, Grafton Architects took an inspirational approach that should have acted as a purge of the moribund aspects of the pavilion-dominated Biennale culture. The challenge to the field was clear – address the agency of architecture, at a time of aggression upon our freedoms, privatisation of our land, and regulation of our rights as citizens to move across borders, and through, the spaces at the edges of our architecture. What could Freespace look like? How would Venice respond if you built one?
I assembled a team of artists and architects whose practice spoke to these concerns. In Scotland, we layered this by building one cornerstone of the project around the Year of Young People – everyone on the team had made extraordinary, playful work with young people. We laid out a very ambitious approach at the interview with commissioners, Architecture and Design Scotland and the Scotland + Venice partnership, and when I look back, we exceeded everything that we claimed we might do.”
Q. YOU DESCRIBE THE HAPPENSTANCE (SCOTLAND + VENICE) AS BEING ‘LOVED LOCALLY, LAUDED INTERNATIONALLY’. IT HAS HAD A VERY POSITIVE RECEPTION. WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL OUTCOMES FROM THAT PROJECT THAT YOU THINK WILL INFORM FUTURE PRACTICE? A. “Loved locally, lauded internationally – what a combination that is. That is a primary outcome and informs a desire, for evermore, to make something that can resonate in that way again. Why is that so difficult? Perhaps because of artificial separation between the local and the international – which I have to testify is reinforced by the cultural officers of the Venice Biennale, who actively barred us from listing the local aspects of our programme under the Biennale logo because… because it was too local.
Academically, culturally, bureaucratically, we still seem to disregard the local as a centre of value, knowledge and expertise. Everywhere I go, I assume that where I am is where it’s at. Everything I need will be there and, if you bother to look, the most amazing things will be going on.
This in fact was a primary rule of The Happenstance – our sense of freespace – the next person who comes into the garden at Palazzo Zenobio becomes the most important person in the Garden. This goes with our other manifesto, the art of the serendipiter – Expect To Be Lucky. However, the degree to which this oscillated was at times uncanny, so much so, that I began to refer to the Garden of Zenobio as the Garden of Epiphanies.
I think we will take these simple tools with us wherever we go now, and other similar simple principles, like the rule when we go somewhere – find a cultural connector, find another one, are they already connected? No. Connect them. Hey Presto! Already a more resilient infrastructure. Connecting Cultural Connectors.
I spoke often to the many architects and architecture students who came to our space and encouraged them to think about Architecture Plus (or as I began to call it the architecture in the expanded field – in direct homage to Rosalind Krauss). Without blowing too much smoke up their ass, nor this readership’s, I have to say I find architects have amazing brains – creative and mathematical at the same time. It’s then not such a stretch to ask for more, for an understanding that resilient infrastructure might be your opportunity too, that the performative intervention of building something across all its phases has huge potential, metaphorically and actually, to change the things around it. Again, Grafton’s description of the opportunity to address Freespace is worth reflecting on.
I have to say I feel a strong debt of gratitude to the Venetians who overcame their suspicions of the biennale culture and embraced The Happenstance, as well as the architectural press who bothered to come and see a collateral project, miles from the Giardini and Arsenale, and who understood the importance of not just ‘illustrating’ a freespace but activating one.
Palazzo Zenobio, our base for the Scottish Collateral project, is a very special space, almost sacred ground to the few Armenians left there, who hold the history of the place deep within them. Venice, like Belfast back in the 1980s, is on fire. A population of 170,000 in the 1920s has decreased to below 50,000 – with the negative aspects of privatisation, tourism, the Grand Navi and, I have to say, in the eyes of many Venetians, the Biennale culture. This is what Giovanni Andrea Martini, President of the Venice Municipality, said about The Happenstance on the second last day of the Biennale, ‘Tomorrow is the closing day of the beautiful sharing experience between Scotland, with the tireless, inspirational Peter McCaughey, and Venice. It has been intense months where, since the opening of the pavilion at CA ’Zenobio, the interaction between artists and citizens has been addictive, sparkling. Scotland hosted in the garden of CA ’Zenobio… the entire city: citizens, associations, children, students, etc. And unforgettable deckchairs to enjoy outdoor cinema. And tomorrow we recover the threads of a beautiful relationship weaving’.”
Q. AS A PRACTITIONER AND EDUCATOR, YOU’VE EXPLORED THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN ART, ARCHITECTURE, PLACE AND COMMUNITY FOR SEVERAL DECADES. WHAT HAVE THESE EXPLORATIONS REVEALED? A. “That it’s great to work in teams, and the bigger the better! In inner-city environments, which is my particular focus, the challenges are significant. I often think we are creating a vertical stack of wisdom and brainpower to compensate for the short horizontal of timescale in which places emerge or re-emerge. It’s an artificial, ‘unnatural’ compensation but it’s the best we’ve got when we can no longer wait three or four centuries for a wee place to turn into a big place. We trade a million iterations over millennia for rapid prototyping and live testing.
Inter-play sums it up. We need poets, anthropologists, planners and taxi drivers, artists, engineers, business folk and those alienated by cities to contribute. I deeply believe that the knowledge is there to fix ourselves, we just need to mine for it. I have no qualms in acting as an external agent between spaces, communities and specialisms. In-betweening, negotiating, provoking, mending. Peace and reconciliation theory is in my mind all the time, and the need to help the individual, student, or community to connect to themselves.”
Q. INSPIRATIONS. WHAT, WHO AND/OR WHERE INSPIRES YOU IN YOUR ART PRACTICE? AND WHY? A. “Benjamin’s flâneur, leisured, pleasured, and peripatetic, seemed, and seems, all the more important in the encroaching battle over the privatisation of public space. A significant part of my thinking is concentrated on the inner-city, and the critique of the situationists resonates powerfully – from them I borrowed a number of tools, including the dérive and détournement (Guy Debord). The erasure of the commons and the attacks by successive right-wing governments on the idea of community has been countered in Scotland, and elsewhere, by inspiring ideas and tools around the devolving of power, ownership and planning processes that encourage the regrowth of community.
Also inspiring: Erwin Wurm’s one-minute sculptures; Allan Kaprow’s art of the everyday; Artist Placement Group, (Context is Half the Work), Latham & Steveni; growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles; the untrammelled play and inventiveness of children; my very loving parents who encouraged free-thinking.
Q. WHICH ARTIST(S) SHOULD ARCHITECTS STUDY AND BE AWARE OF, AND WHY? A. “Off the top of my head, today, I’d say Marc Lombardi, for his ability to map complexity in a simple, elegant way; Tatzu Nishi, for his incredible hijack of civic space (statue works); James Turrell, for building spaces around light; Gordon Matta-Clark, of course, as the seminal anarchitect. That fantastic Fluxus card by Yoko Ono: Go to a City, Find an insect… The Harrison Studio (Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison), for The Centre for the Study of the Force Majeure, that brings together artists, scientists, engineers, planners, and visionaries, to design ecosystem adaptation works in regions around the world, that are nearing critical tipping points due to planetary warming. Katie Paterson, who, in a parallel way, collaborates with scientists and researchers across the world, considering our place on earth in the context of geological time and change.”
Q. WHICH ARCHITECT(S) SHOULD ARTISTS STUDY AND BE AWARE OF, AND WHY? A. “Artists – be aware of Diller + Scofidio for their collaboration across disciplines, their audacious Blur Building, and the newly emerging Collection and Research Centre for the V&A (with Austin-Smith:Lord). Catch Winy Maas for his inspiring ideas and visualisations; Zaha Hadid for her drawing becoming building; Gehry for Guggenheim Bilbao and the aspirational idea/myth that architecture by itself can lead meaningful regeneration. The idea/ illusion that the next thing we do can be a transformational project is worth hanging onto. Sneaking in a few outsiders – Patrick Geddes on planning, Thomas Heatherwick on engineering and DEVO for their… sorry, I drifted into favourite bands there…”
Q. COLLABORATION. YOUR PRACTICE CONTINUALLY COLLABORATES. WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF EFFECTIVE CREATIVE COLLABORATION WITH OTHER ARTISTS, ARCHITECTS AND COMMUNITIES? A. “Trust. Respect. A sense of playfulness and a desire to share ideas. A Venn diagram-type understanding of mutuality and difference – enjoy the overlaps, enjoy the differences, if possible, remain curious about where value lies in a project or a process – right through until the end. Be a leader when needed, facilitator when needed, foil, runner or support.
Within communities, self-organised groups and associations sometimes act as if in competition with each other. If you can balance your own aspirations with the hopes and ambitions of others then you can find the mutuality, this is the Venn diagram overlap. Things can be progressed in parallel without the rigorous parameters of perfect consensus. I’m interested in the G8 protests, where a degree of affinity allows different groups and individuals, with significantly different interests, to be in the same place, at the same time, pointing in the same direction. I often suggest to friends that the model for such collaboration in society needs to be built from understanding the ambitions, and ultimately the failings, of the left to organise itself to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War.
Q. WHAT’S NEXT? WHAT FUTURE DIRECTIONS ARE YOU LOOKING TO EXPLORE WITH WAVEPARTICLE? A. “To continue to explore new processes around placemaking and collaborations across disciplines – 50%.
To consolidate the tools, we have developed in order to share them – this includes mentoring younger artists, to encourage them down the path we are wandering along, a two-way challenge – convince more artists to work in this way and more organisations to value and host this activity – 20%.
To let Particle rip – 20%.
Prison reform, educational reform, land reform – 10%.”
Q. WHAT ROLES CAN AND SHOULD ART AND ARCHITECTURE PLAY IN SCOTLAND’S FUTURE? A. “Artists and architects positioning themselves as in-betweeners, engaging as ambassadors for ambitious change in these interesting political times; supporting the genuine desire in Scotland for devolved processes, land reform, community centred planning, sustainable energy systems. To be influential, inspiring and inventive but to do so they need representation – a city architect for each of our major Scottish cities, licensed to have vision and budgets to go with that. Similarly, artist-in-residence programmes across Scotland, encouraging a culture of creativity and innovation.
Graham Ross FRIAS RIBA Peter McCaughey
This interview was originally published in the RIAS Quarterly Winter 2018 edition. The interview extract can be viewed here.
To read ‘Expecting To Get Lucky – The Art Of Happenstance’, a blog published by Graham Ross in June 2018, click here.
Peter McCaughey and WAVEparticle regularly collaborate with Austin-Smith:Lord on a wide array of projects. These have included participatory planning and community-focussed regeneration projects such as (Y)our City Centre Glasgow and design charrettes. They also include delivering arts strategies and installations within significant public realm projects including Helensburgh Outdoor Museum and Bridgegate in Irvine. Peter McCaughey and WAVEparticle also led The Happenstance project; Scotland’s contribution to the Venice Biennale 2018 which showcased projects from across Scotland, including A Town Hall for All by Graham Ross and Austin-Smith:Lord.
This blog was originally published in the RTPI Scotland journal ‘Scottish Planner’ in December 2018
To maximise design quality in our built environment society needs more, highly skilled folk capable of designing and planning buildings and places, in creative dialogue with clients, end-users and communities. The planning and design professions need to inspire people to become more confident and able to contribute effectively to shaping their place; as citizens, leaders and/or as future design and planning professionals.
Creating Places (2013) defines ‘good design’ as, ‘. . . provid(ing) value by delivering good buildings and places that enhance the quality of our lives’. Planners and designers should be valued, and deemed vital, by society by continually demonstrating how we creatively add value.
Planning by Design
To design or to plan is to conceive of something with purpose and intent. I recall, as a student, hearing a definition of urban design as being the opposite of urban accident. An accident suggests unintended consequences. Carelessness. By design speaks of creating something with intentional care and quality; as planned.
Architecture + Design Scotland’s publication ‘A Vision of Health’ proposes that ‘design is the intelligent allocation of a scarce resource’, not simply visual embellishment. Design, and design-thinking, are powerful tools that when applied effectively can resolve numerous issues simultaneously.
Be Valued by Adding Value
We intuitively know that good design adds value. Considered holistically good design can deliver added environmental, social, economic, cultural, health, financial and functional value. However it can be difficult to measure and evidence.
Value of Design in the Built Environment (2014) research published by the Scottish Government, to which I was a contributing author, found that well-designed buildings and places are currently ‘valued’ within the built environment sector in Scotland in a wide variety of ways that are not consistent, transparent or comparable.
It found that design as a process (design-thinking) plays a fundamental and positive role in the different stages of development in the built environment. It is a vital element in decision-making at the critical early stages and as projects progress through problem finding and framing, ideation and solution generating, creative and visual thinking, prototyping, testing, implementing and evaluating.
The design and planning professions are undervalued. Planning is under-resourced by public authorities. The likelihood of delivering design quality is often diminished by ill-conceived procurement processes. We need to continually seek to be smarter in how we bring the right people together, at the right time, to enhance the probability of positive design outcomes. Intelligent planning and commissioning make better design outcomes more probable.
Planning and Designing Together
We need to dissolve silo-thinking and overcome learned systematic misunderstandings (and suspicion) between different professions and sectors. Let’s foster an empathy and culture of knowledge sharing. Let’s embed interdisciplinary working to ensure development, planning and design practice effectively contributes to shaping our future.
We need to appreciate that design quality needn’t cost more; indeed it saves money and adds value. Designers and planners need to show leadership and celebrate the compound benefits of design quality over time. It’s time to reclaim the agenda and advocate a better way for society to benefit from the collective skills, imagination and creativity within current and future generations of designers and planners.
After at least seven years of study and gathering experience, three of our recently qualified architects reflect on how and why they came to join the profession and look forward to taking the next steps along their career path.
Emily Harper, Tom Barker, Victoria Slater……..RIBA
Q1 HOW DOES THE REALITY OF PRACTICING ARCHITECTURE MATCH YOUR EARLIER EXPECTATIONS?
E: I’d always thought of architects as problem solvers, but in the context of the brief being the problem and the design being the solution, in practice we deal with so much more; managing teams, organising information, unexpected issues that crop up on site etc. It all feeds in to the larger design solution but its just the route that university does not wholly prepare you for.
T: I am not sure I had ever stopped to consider what my expectations were for when I finally became an Architect. At A-S:L I had been given such a good opportunity in my position as a Part 2 Architectural Assistant that I did not believe my day to day job would change much. What has stuck out since qualifying and even after 4 months of being qualified is being able to call myself an ‘Architect’ after all the years of being an ‘almost architect’!
Q2. ANY ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ARCHITECTS?
T: Make sure you are driven. It is a long and tough course, not necessarily academically, but in terms of the workload required from you.
V: If you are about to start Part 1; be prepared to find the first few years a steep learning curve in university, it takes time to develop the wide range of skills and confidence required to deliver good designs as well as visual and verbal presentations. Reviews are not fun, but keep working at them; they really do prepare you for the real world of interviews and presentations. Regarding Part 3; do not put it off! Whilst the more experience you have in practice improves the depth of your case study and understanding of Part 3 issues, you are not expected to know everything, it’s about how you research and apply professional knowledge.
E: Don’t leave the Part 3 coursework and PEDR sheets to the last minute. It is important to find a work-work and a coursework balance. Ask for help; you are more than likely surrounded by a wealth of experience; use it, but be critical, being able to think about things critically and objectively will help in both practice and in qualifying.
Q3 WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ARCHITECTURE? WHAT DROVE YOU?
E: Art. I’ve always loved the arts and could not imagine a career without doing something creative. I just want to create beautiful things. It may sound superficial but it comes from a good place, I promise! Even though there is no evolutionary reason why humans create art, music, dance, theatre or strive for beauty; it all increases happiness and well-being. We spend approximately 80% of our lives in and around buildings, I want to be a part of creating space to either facilitate the arts or spaces that can achieve the same effect in and of itself. Preferably both.
T: I chose Architecture when I was very young. I grew up on the outskirts of London and used to see 30 St Mary Axe (‘The Gherkin’) by Foster + Partners being built when we used to travel into the city. One day I apparently said: ‘ Mummy, I want to build something like that one day’. My fascination with architecture was never lost after that, as I developed I found myself more and more challenged by aiming to be sustainable and studying the impact architecture has on our communities and environment. These became the two main drivers towards me pursuing a career in Architecture and a passion for bettering the built environment.
V: My interest was rather unromantically sparked by the result of a computer algorithm career test in school! Quite simply a result of my aptitude and passion for science and art, was this alien profession of ‘architecture’. I was intrigued what this actually was, I had a vague notion but was not really aware of what an architect did let alone how you could become one. A selection of history of architecture books promptly arrived for me at Christmas and I became hooked!
Q4. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING/ MOST SATISFYING/ MOST ENJOYABLE MOMENTS?
E: I love that we have the opportunity to see things that not many other people get to; this year I visited a storage facility for one of the UK’s major museums and spent a couple of hours exploring only a fraction of their hundreds of thousands of artefacts and I have had similar opportunities on the V&A Collections and Research Centre project, all in the name of work! It’s really exciting being part of a project that could potentially expose more people to the wealth of culture that is currently stored away.
V: My most satisfying moment so far was attending the opening ceremony for the Aberdare Campus project, the speeches from the college staff and video showing their previous campus really demonstrated how much of a positive impact the new building has on the college community. This is reflected in an increase in both pupil numbers and retention in the year since the project was handed over, it’s rewarding to know the project is actively improving opportunities and education for people in the area. I started working on the project at my first day at A-S:L and continued to be a key member of the project team all the way through to completion, so seeing the building develop and come to life over two years was a great experience.
Q5. HOW HAS YOUR PART 2 EXPERIENCE ENABLED YOU TO QUALIFY AND DEVELOP AS AN ARCHITECT?
T: Since starting at A-S:L just over two years ago I have had a great amount of exposure to projects and the full scope of the role of an Architect! I am unsure I would have been able to get this opportunity at any other practice through discussions with my peers. A-S:L have been alert to my capabilities and have allowed me to take responsibility whilst still providing support as and when required.
V: I was very lucky to be one of the recipients of the RIBA Wren Insurance Scholarship in 2014 which meant that I received mentoring by A-S:L during my Thesis project with Phil and Adam in the Liverpool studio. Since joining the Cardiff studio I have worked on a variety of projects in different sectors, with a large amount of design freedom and exposure to project running to develop my skill set further for the Part 3 exam. I am also being further supported to develop my passion and special interest in social housing projects which has been growing in volume in our Cardiff studio since I joined.
E: A-S:L have been very receptive to my personal interests and very supportive of my desire to focus on Arts and Culture projects during Part 2 experience. It makes sense for the business too; having staff that love what they are doing must be good for productivity!
Q6. WHAT’S NEXT? HOW WILL YOU CONTINUE TO DEVELOP IN AND OUT OF THE STUDIO, AND WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO DOING NOW IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
V: I will be looking forward to continue developing my interests in community regeneration schemes with more responsibility in both helping to win and lead projects. Beyond that; reading journals, books, attending events, conferences and exhibitions to keep up to date with the latest thoughts and research in practice, art, design and construction. It is also important to keep aware of the trends and news stories within society as a whole, developing my passion for ambitious social housing projects for example includes keeping up to date on political issues which can help inform brief requirements and ultimately the design and delivery of projects.
T: Now I am fully qualified I do not want to stop here, there is still so much more to learn. I want to continue to be passionate about Architecture, I want to continue to seek motivation and learning experiences through architecturally focused activities such as talks on buildings and ethos as well as articles on new technologies and possibilities. Aside from this I have been enjoying being able to focus back on Sport with running, rugby and football. I would like to spend my evenings completing triathlons but some serious work needs to be done on my swimming ability before I ever attempt to compete in one!
E: Outside of the office I have a lot of the world left to see; I was fortunate enough to go travelling before I started university, but still have so many sights to check off the bucket list. There’s so much beauty and creativity in the world and I want to experience as much as I can. So using all my holiday days for long weekends in European cities seems like a good start! I’m sure it can only benefit me in practice…
An interview with Winy Maas HonFRIAS by Graham Ross FRIAS.
In recognition of his significant international contribution to architecture, urbanism and design Winy Maas, founding Director of MVRDV, was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland at the RIAS Convention in Aberdeen in May 2018. Graham Ross FRIAS, and Partner of Austin-Smith:Lord, was given the honour of reading out the citation whilst RIAS President, Stewart Henderson, presented the Honorary Fellowship to Professor Maas. The citation read out to Winy can be viewed by clicking here.
Austin-Smith:Lord and MVRDV have been exploring collaborative opportunities for nearly a decade, most recently on the (Y)our City Centre project in Glasgow, and have developed a close professional friendship. In celebration of the Honorary Fellowship, the RIAS invited Graham Ross to interview Winy Maas and the article was published in the Autumn 2018 edition of the RIAS Quarterly.
YOU ESTABLISHED MVRDV TOGETHER WITH JACOB VAN RIJS AND NATHALIE DE VRIES IN 1993 AND HAVE BECOME WORLD-RENOWNED FOR INNOVATIVE DESIGN AND PRACTICE. THE WORLD, AND ARCHITECTURAL PRACTICE, HAS CHANGED SIGNIFICANTLY IN THAT 25 YEAR PERIOD.
HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERISE THE CHANGES TO ARCHITECTURE AND PRACTICE OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS?
When Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries and I started MVRDV in 1993 we were already heavily influenced by the warning issued by the Club of Rome and we saw amazing opportunities to actually find solutions to the global climate crisis. Nowadays it has finally become mainstream to work on these global issues. We saw our tools change from paper to incredible sophisticated three-dimensional (digital and analogue) solutions, yet at the same time the construction industry still heavily relies on century-old materials such as brick and mortar. There we need more innovation.
Q. HOW HAVE MVRDV ADAPTED TO, AND LED THAT CHANGE?
The digital revolution started during our studies and so as an office, we were born digital. We have made renders, animations, and 3D tests ever since we started. I still love this simple yet abstract visual quality of the early work. Today we educate our staff in technology and sustainability, and also here we are early adopters—recently our in-house BIM whizz-kid was asked to help the government of Luxembourg to implement BIM.
Another fantastic innovation is scripting. For our Valley project in Amsterdam we’ve been able to test the façade for each tower, creating 80 variants that respect daylight, view and sustainable elements.
Q. WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE PRINCIPAL OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES FOR ARCHITECTURE (AND ARCHITECTS) IN THE NEXT 25 YEARS?
We have to participate in the global issues, as experts and as a discipline. We should think big with a vision to give direction and work hard on it; we should look ahead into the future and always remain curious to find and apply innovations.
Q. WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AND MVRDV? FORTHCOMING PROJECTS? FUTURE AMBITIONS?
In 2019 we will complete a large museum project in Rotterdam, the totally democratic and fully accessible art depot for Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. Then in 2022 we will open the first smart city in the Netherlands, the Floriade Almere. Our ambitions are broad—we want to do everything at all scales. From cabins to regional planning and research, we want to create remarkable and wonderful places.
THE WHY FACTORY
YOU FOUNDED THE WHY FACTORY, A RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR THE FUTURE CITY, IN 2008 AT TU DELFT.
Q. WHAT IS THE SCOPE AND AMBITION OF THE WHY FACTORY?
The Why Factory (T?F) is a global think-tank and research institute which we run at Delft University of Technology and other universities. We explore possibilities for the development of our cities by focusing on the production of models and visualisations for cities of the future. We combine education and research into a research lab and platform that aims to analyse, theorise, and construct future cities. But to be more practical and give an example: we ask the question “how would a city look that we would share with as many animals as possible?” and then we design and research this.
Q. COULD YOU OUTLINE THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN YOUR RESEARCH AND PRACTICE? HOW ONE INFORMS (AND IS INFORMED BY) THE OTHER?
It’s complicated… (laughs). Interplay happens in all different ways—we mostly do totally independent research and explore directions the practice could not go down, that commercially cannot be payed, like a future vision to replace all building material with nano-technology and create totally flexible architecture. Sometimes we collaborate closely and come to communal results, such as The Vertical Village. Sometimes we work and research parallel issues such as the Green Dream, a study into sustainability that is very valid for the practice, or the Porouscity, a study for skyscrapers with a human scale quality that we also explore in practice during competitions. So we inspire each other and collaborate and at the same time there is great freedom to be independent. As it should be.
Q. THE RECENT THE WHY FACTORY PUBLICATION, COPY PASTE “IS AN INVITATION TO COPY WITH FINESSE AND SKILL (THAT) UNDERSTANDS THE PAST AS A VAST ARCHIVE ON WHICH WE CAN AND MUST BUILD.” IN THE WAKE OF THE DEVASTATING FIRE AT MACKINTOSH’S GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART THERE HAS BEEN MUCH DEBATE ABOUT WHAT TO DO NEXT. WHAT APPROACH WOULD YOU ADVOCATE?
As the building is so loved and admired, I would rebuild it and update it in a sustainable way and make it a great educational project for the architecture school and local artisans. Look at the centre of Warsaw that was rebuilt after the war whilst Rotterdam was completely modernised. I think it’s definitely the choice of Glasgow. But perhaps, if the annihilation of the building is complete, one could think about rebuilding it on the same site but on top of a new building, to densify the area. This would elevate the new old Mack to become a beacon above the roofs of Glasgow.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE AREAS OF RESEARCH AND INVESTIGATION?
Mobility is an important issue for the future that will be explored in upcomimg studios. And we are looking into bio-engineering and buildings that are flexible and adaptable for all kinds of users.
WHILST PRACTISING INTERNATIONALLY YOU’RE A REGULAR VISITOR TO SCOTLAND. MVRDV, WITH MY PRACTICE AUSTIN-SMITH:LORD, HAVE LED THE (Y)OUR CITY CENTRE PROJECT IN GLASGOW AND YOU’VE GAINED AN INSIGHT IN TO HOW SCOTLAND’S CITIES, ARCHITECTURE AND LANDSCAPES COMPARE INTERNATIONALLY.
Q. TO MEET FUTURE CHALLENGES WHAT ENHANCEMENTS SHOULD SCOTLAND MAKE TO ENSURE IT CAN THRIVE?
Scotland is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt places in Europe and the world even. With the relatively empty countryside and densely populated Central Belt, you have a perfect spatial recipe to become Europe’s first CO2 neutral nation. And to develop the spatial dichotomy: keep the highlands empty and make the belt green and dense. I hope that this and the next Scottish governments can realise their green and social goals and I hope that the Independence question will be settled – one way or the other – so that the country can focus on these goals.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS FOR GLASGOW TO ENSURE IT CAN BE A LEADING EUROPEAN CITY? AND HOW BEST TO DELIVER THESE CHANGES?
On a more philosophical level, it is fair to say that it is a great time for urban transformation and renewal. The European city is in high demand and attracts more and more people. Glasgow has an amazing historical inner city and fantastic open spaces that can be transformed into vibrant, unique neighbourhoods. Glasgow has a strong and somehow rough character and that should be used, preserved and strengthened through new developments.
I think in terms of urban planning Scotland would be wise to reform and focus on what is good for the public rather than having urban planning mostly focused on making room for investments. If the city is great because urban planning is actively working to make the people the first priority, the investments will follow. Steering investments in the public interest instead of offering opportunities would be a meaningful change.
Q. YOU’VE RECENTLY RECEIVED AN HONORARY FELLOWSHIP FROM THE RIAS. WHAT ROLE SHOULD OUR PROFESSIONAL INSTITUTIONS PLAY IN THE FUTURE?
Set the tone, create a vision for the future, and together with your members ask yourself what architects can do to make Scotland a better place. And never stop.
This interview was originally published in the RIAS Quarterly Autumn 2018. The interview extract can be viewed here.
Header Image: Graham Ross and Winy Maas. Image copyright: Malcolm Cochrane
History Whodunit: Paint analysis at the Great Pagoda
Retelling the tale of a heritage structure sometimes reads like a good detective novel . At the Chinese Pagoda at Kew, the exact date of key components could be ascertained and as such an 18th century copper clad roof was saved.
Listen to this video featuring David Millar, Head of Conservation at Austin:SmithLordand, and the tale not so much of “whodunit” but “whentheydunit”…but the clues were in the paint.
Integrating modern-day techniques into Conservation Architecture
Authenticity is a much-prized attribute in 2018, maybe even a media buzzword in an era of ‘fake news’. Conservation architecture is, by definition, associated with notions of preserving historical legitimacy. However, if it is to remain current and meaningful to the professional talent pool of today that should not mean it must become a backward-looking sector. Optimising the lifespan of a restored structure and minimising its environmental impact might mean integrating modern-day materials and involving cutting-edge techniques such as selective laser sintering or 3D-printing and weather-resistant automotive paint.
This was the approach taken in our recent restoration of the Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens, London. David Millar, Head of Conservation at Austin:SmithLord, explains more in this short video….
Placemaking differs from masterplanning as an approach to urban design by utilising existing assets and community as a foundation for proposals that promote the health, happiness and wellbeing of residents.
Cardiff Council fully embraces the placemaking principle and Austin-Smith:Lord has seen it successfully applied when working with them and Cardiff Community Housing Association on schemes such as Loudoun Square, Hamadryad, Maelfa Llanedeyrn and Schooner Way. We have also used the principle to good effect elsewhere in the country, at Manchester’s Piccadilly Place, Glasgow City Regeneration and Helensburgh’s rejuvenation.
Cardiff Council has approached Austin-Smith:Lord to collaborate on a feasibility study for Channel View, helping to address Cardiff’s growing housing need and enhancing the site’s integration with the surrounding city and landscape, upgrading the site and The Marl for the benefit of residents and wider city inhabitants.
Even at the earliest phases of a feasibility study, an effective placemaking design cannot be realised in isolation; from the outset we worked with a number of stakeholders, their advice and feedback on our proposals proved invaluable and sessions were held regularly. These stakeholders included representatives of the council’s placemaking and urban design specialist teams, planners, highways and utilities departments. Guidance was also sought from representatives responsible for housing provision within the city including the Cabinet Member for Housing & Communities Councillor Thorne who is the local Ward Councillor. With each consultation exercise the design progressed greatly, we felt no reticence in revisiting and redesigning elements of the scheme to fully integrate the guidance received. Key to working in this way is to underpin the scheme with a coherent design concept robust enough to incorporate changes whilst retaining the compelling vision that consultees and stakeholders could buy into.
For Channel View, our concept proposed the layout of the development to stitch together what we identified as the urban fabric of surrounding buildings with the river, where currently an awkward and indifferent relationship exists. The real benefit of sharing this concept with all who engage in the placemaking process is that everyone knows what they are working towards and so the best solutions are reached. That approach is applied to all Austin-Smith:Lord projects for this very reason, the concept never stops working hard for the development of the scheme, extending to all levels of design detail.
The concept emerges as a curve which improves the boundary between the development and the park, making it better observed and more welcoming to users. That curve is supported by a corresponding boulevard, laden with the latest thinking in pedestrian, bike and vehicle movement design, acting as a ‘spine’. The boulevard and park are linked by the public plaza, known as the ‘heart’, where the community buildings and new Independent Living Unit will reside. The concept is again reflected in the vertical silhouette, which rises gracefully from the low surrounding housing towards the river, identifying Grangetown in Cardiff’s dynamic skyline. After addressing current conditions a successful placemaking exercise should be designed to incorporate future developments for maximum benefit while being robust enough to function without them in the interim. In this case the scheme for Channel View allows for the possible future inclusion of a pedestrian and cycle bridge that would complete the circuit of the Bay. In researching the site we became aware of the presence of the wreck of the Louisa, a scheduled ancient monument shipwreck submerged by the impoundment of Cardiff Bay, which we believe could be celebrated and marked by an exciting public art installation such as a light based water feature.
The process of placemaking at Channel View has reached a milestone and we anticipate the next steps being the Outline Planning procedures. Our work with council stakeholders so far has resulted in a compelling proposal which holds great promise for the community in Grangetown and the wider city. Community engagement is an essential aspect of placemaking and will continue as the design progresses. Austin-Smith:Lord’s robust concept will continue to be a reference point for all who engage in the process and we are excited by this opportunity to shape one of Cardiff’s strategic development sites.
Official opening by The Prince of Wales of the Chinese Pagoda at Kew Gardens in London
July saw the official opening by The Prince of Wales of the Chinese Pagoda at Kew Gardens in London. The restoration work at the site over the past year was overseen by David Millar, Director and Head of Conservation at Austin-Smith:Lord. Watch this first video in the series that explains more about this conservation project where 18th century craftsmanship has been blended with innovative 21st century SLS 3D printing to once again adorn this unique listed structure with 80 dragon sculptures.