Design and De-Growth
This post, written in collaboration with Studio BAD Architects, explores reasons to work towards a more frugal architecture. Four design case study projects will follow, in separate posts, covering a variety of sectors in order to interrogate the credibility of a rebalance between the amount of construction and end user ‘benefit’.
Bedford Place, Southampton, 2020. Collaboration with Studio BAD Architects to reactivate a newly pedestrianised road. Photo Credit: Hatch Studios.
It has been long-established in human society that growth is innately linked to progress. It may be a natural urge within us to grow and produce.
Rising GDP is linked to growth and political success. However, it is also being linked to rising environmental impact in terms of increased materials and energy needed to produce and use goods. Should we scrap using GDP as a measure of success in favour of a happiness index, (www.world happiness.report), if we really feel the need to rank ourselves against other countries?
De-growth is an economic theory born in the 1970s which looks at the merits of shrinking economies and saving the earth’s resources. There is good reason to fear de-growth, being able to pay for public services through taxation for example. Should we reduce production and growth and hence our working hours? Or, can we have the same amount of a greener-growth?
If we need financial growth to pay for services, can there be a reduction in some less beneficial sectors such as carbon-intensive food production including meats, cheap fashion and other cheap products and new-build construction? Could we see an increase in other sectors such as skills and education, leisure, health, public transport and other services which are less carbon-intensive by nature and may provide more satisfaction and enjoyment to end-users.
In architecture, should there be a post-growth movement? Architects Declare notes a pledge to ‘Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice’. This architecture wouldn’t serve to start with maximising building on a site for profit, but look to re-use existing buildings and sites for maximum gain and enjoyment to end users. Should this idea be part of the RIBA and ARB’s ethics codes?
Within the various large practices I’ve worked for, projects mainly focused on maximising the amount of building on a site in order for the client to afford the construction costs and make a profit, particularly if expensive demolition and foundations were involved. Production to afford production. More construction is seen as the only ‘viable’ choice by many developers.
Architects may start with a smaller budget project and then encourage their client to go for a much larger one. This in part ensures a steady stream of fees, a bird in the hand is better than a hundred competitions in the bush. Charging based on a percentage of construction value rather than man-hours used can encourage architects to push clients to go for more construction. Taking on bigger and bigger-costed projects with the greater indemnity insurance and staffing requirements that can entail can then result in practices having to continually power up and up like a pyramid scheme, working to keep a bloating practice afloat.
More time should be spent on the feasibility stages of built environment projects to determine the actual needs of the local community and do the building work actually required, then determining the lowest embodied and operational carbon options. This feasibility service by architects should always be paid for by clients, not given by architects in the hope of winning/creating a lucrative and prestigious project to work on at the end.
A friend who isn’t an architect once asked me, ‘haven’t architects built all the buildings?’ which seemed like a naive comment at the time. In actuality, there ARE a lot of buildings, and refurbishment and reuse could have been employed on most of the large projects I have worked on in practice before starting work as a freelancer, bar railway infrastructure projects.
Nowadays, most of the projects I work on are light-touch public space projects, installing artworks and outdoor furniture to activate underused spaces. Many are refurbishments, particularly for church buildings which require adjustments for custodians to carry out community-serving activities. Refurbishment has been forced onto many Christian churches who are trapped within their large, beautiful, historic listed buildings which are difficult to heat in the UK winters. Light-touch approaches over demolition are the only viable ones such as partitioning parts of the building which can be more efficiently heated, or using buildings seasonally. Going in with large and expensive technology such as air source heat pumps may also not be the best solution for older, less airtight and insulated building stock and may not solve the carbon problem when there is no wind or sun to run them in winter. At Studio BAD we work as a network of disciplines including design, building physics, building services, planning, costing and delivery/material sourcing from the outset to evaluate and test the best options in terms of cost, community benefit and environmental impact.
Materials should also be specified in relation to the lifespan of the building or it’s intended use, ie; is carbon-intensive concrete required for a new building or refurbishment which may only be used for 10 years, is a client willing to use materials which are less carbon-intensive but require more maintenance? Do buildings have to be made of the most robust/static and maintenance-free materials to retain their financial value to a client?
So, what are architects offering clients and the community and what could they offer with frugality being given priority in their design processes? Can they still add value? Can this value be credibly measured by social and community impact? If it is still financial value to the landowner, should architects be paid in relation to how much money they actually save the client rather than spend in terms of the amount of building work which needs to be done?
In my previous sculptural work I was often interested in making objects which were a mixture of man-made forms and natural forms, exploring how these two types of thing fit and relate.
Exploring coastal areas near to me, and looking to find objects to help to start future sculptural works, I came across many items which at first looked natural but turned out to be man-made. These included lumps which looked like rocks, but were a lot lighter, rubbery lumps, hardened polystyrene chunks, bits of rope starting to roll into small pebble shapes and fishing net fragments with shells and sea weed attached, bound together with plastic.
The franken-rocks made up of many items and bound with melted plastic are apparently called 'plastiglomerates'. They are a marker of human pollution and have almost become a kind of modern geological formation, in faster time. The fishing gear fragments I found include melted plastics and formed a habitat for organic creatures as small shells and seaweed have grown into them.
But how will these plastiglomerate 'rocks' weather over time? Can they act as a geological record of what is described as the Anthropocene Epoch, the period of Earth's history when human activity had a major impact on climate and ecosystems? Or will they break down or be utilised by living creatures? Can they return back to an oil and release all of their small elements?
CREDIT: Image: Drawing of Southampton Guildhall Square Summer Lounge with urban rug artwork, Amanda Moore
Recently I have had the opportunity to work on urban activation projects in collaboration with Studio B.A.D Architects. These projects are focussed on bringing more people into town centres which have been struggling to compete with online retail growth and have then subsequently been hit by a series of COVID-19 lockdowns. These activation projects aim to offer people experiences as an attractor to the High Street in the form of public art, street performance, music, hospitality and leisure. Many involve repurposing the built environment rather than building additional large-scale elements. Interventions are often lightweight to include; repainting, murals, window vinyls, furniture insertions, re-cladding building, altering building layouts, temporary/moveable/reusable structures ... etc.
This led me to question why it is that within traditional architectural practice, the starting point for typical new projects often involves a feasibility study to determine how much more building can fit onto a site rather than robustly testing lightweight approaches such as alterations to existing buildings or even use of off-site existing buildings or homes where some functions could be more remote. The conclusion may still be to build more, or different, buildings.
Is it because of the way in which the standard architectural fee structure is set up? This is usually based on a percentage of the project construction value. Often architects do not charge for early feasibility work when this is actually providing a valuable architectural service to the client. The goal seems to be to 'get a building'.
CREDIT: Image: Nomadic Allotments, Union Street Orchard, London, something removed but not replaced.
But should the client firstly be advised as to what they could achieve without more heavyweight building? Not building something is the most carbon-friendly approach to design in times where there is suddenly a renewed interest in the climate emergency, now that we are experiencing nature's fightback in the form of more frequent extreme weather events.
Would working more regularly on a time charge basis, (with some lump sum guidance for each work stage), change the way in which lightweight approaches are considered as architects are often instrumental in the client defining their brief? Architects have much more to offer than just planning and detailing new buildings. They also have an ability to analyse and critique existing spaces, current uses and have an objective view on ethical approaches to projects...
Are Buildings Permanent?
CREDIT: Collage: Amanda Moore, Serpentine Pavilion 2013, Sou Fujimoto
Buildings are permanent right? A naive friend once asked me whether architects would always have work because ‘they must have built all the buildings by now’.
I studied architecture after studying fine arts in order to be involved in physical projects which would be more permanent than fine art, in terms of their longevity and relevance. Surely they would therefore also be more important and impactful? Art seemed to be more transient based on trends and what was popular for collectors and galleries.
But is architecture and building design permanent? Should it be? Most clients expect at least 150 years of useful life from a building which is costing them several millions to construct. We raise floor levels above flood levels, with allowances for climate change, and carry out copious coordination exercises with materials and system providers. Maybe buildings can last at least this long and this length of time can be considered ‘permanent’. Victorian residential properties are popular in the UK and are well looked after by each generation of custodian. But should many non-residential buildings, such as commercial buildings, public buildings and temporary accommodation, be permanent?
A commercial building designed with enough solidity, and embodied carbon, to last hundreds of years may not be wanted after forty. If building uses often change, perhaps the structural frame should always be designed to be flexible and reusable. This might be easier to achieve with traditional building technologies such as steel or concrete frame, but not for more sustainable technologies such as cross-laminated timber which may not allow flexibility in glazing or internal wall positions.
There has been an obvious trend for temporary architecture in recent years including pop-up retail, outdoor event spaces and urban parklets. This feels to have grown during 2020 with a need to utilise more outdoor spaces due to reduced permitted indoor occupancy during the pandemic. Temporary architecture allows the proposed use of a place to be introduced and tested by communities before more expensive built interventions, and accepts flexibility and community input. It can also be free to be of its time, trendy in colour or form. It doesn’t have to be timeless. Maybe the design life of 'temporary architecture' can be extended from the length of a single event to the length of a tenure.
CREDIT: Photo: Dinesh Mehta, Kumbh Mehla Festival set up with temporary walls and floors
Can humans expect any of our interventions to be permanent?
Is this wishful thinking as a kind of immortal legacy?
When I worked for a large practice in London, the partners were always excited by projects which involved masterplanning where a developer had procured several plots of land as new street networks and proposed uses could be developed which they felt would likely have greater longevity than the individual buildings.
Aside from building use, building standards often change and old buildings may not be able to be upgraded to ‘current’ standards.
Questionable quality is another issue which can counteract the designed mass and solidity of buildings. There are unfortunately many instances where architect-designed buildings are not weathered well and it’s a (short) matter of time before they decay when all the mastic fails. This often seems to come down to confusion between the role of the architect and the contractor and who will take responsibility for the final detailing.
And so is architecture more or less permanent than art?
Artworks may be protected for millennia if they constitute an important financial or cultural commodity. Public art could also potentially have a longer life span than a building.
A public art project I was fortunate to work on, Black Down Stone Circle, Dorset, was installed in 2016. It consists of five totems produced from local Forest Marble stone. The totems align with true north and the summer and winter solstice sunrise and sunset positions specific to the site. Sunlight passes through openings in the totems and hits a central Portland standing stone. The project was built by a skilled stone mason called Tom Trouton and the alignment was advised by specialist Simon Banton. It is now used as a ceremonial site by spiritual groups on the solstices.
CREDIT: Photo: Simon Banton, Black Down Stone Circle
Contrary to my expectations at the beginning of my architectural studies, a built project like this may prove to have more permanence than most architectural projects I've worked on in terms of physically being there and being relevant. The sculpture is robust and well-built by a craftsperson rather than relying on the integrity of foil tapes and membranes. The artistic idea does not age or need to be updated in line with any style or technical standards.
These days it seems more appropriate to me that art can have permanence but architecture should be more temporary.
"Going Local" post-COVID...
CREDIT: Photo taken at Bedford Place, Southampton, of artist decorated road closure blockades, but what now happens behind?: Amanda Moore
Since the pandemic started early this year, people have been forced to become more ‘local’. Working from home, (which I’ve now been doing for 9 months), no distant holidays, less inessential travel.
Strangely, there have been some potential upsides to this new way of living which could point the path to a more permanent way of simplifying our lives and making us more rooted in our local environment, for the better.
For myself, being housebound has made me more appreciative of my home and garden space and forced me to look at ways of optimising small areas of space. I’ve created a reading nook in the hallway and densified storage, as a posed to thinking about extending or buying a bigger home. I’ve gotten to know my neighbours better, we’ve set up benches in our driveways and had lunchtime coffees. I’ve cycled around during the one hour of government-approved daily exercise to scope out parks and woodland cycle routes I didn’t know about and people seemed to make more eye contact and smile more that usual during the summer, enjoying any level of human contact.
Within town centres, some roads were closed in order to allow shops and cafes the opportunity to spread out into the streets due to restrictions on internal occupancy. In my own town, the two main Victorian streets have been closed since July which has not only removed the traffic, but also the linear barricades formed from parked cars which prevented people moving from one side of the street to the other in a more organic way. Both streets are served by back alleyways in any case and there is nearby accessible parking. The last few months of reduced car access has likely had little effect on trade, more the ‘inessential trade’ restrictions or general increase in online shopping pre-COVID. However, the streets have had an eerie silence where the white and yellow road markings remain and people are still not used to waking down the middle of the streets. This is an opportunity though, to rethink whether cars should be allowed into every street of our small town centres, making way for people to have a slower and more friendly retail experience, meandering down streets rather than driving to a shop and leaving, or driving out of town to bigger malls and hyper markets. Using the streets between shops as pop-up markets, weaving a garden through the town, having additional seating or events spaces sits in line with a retail ‘experience’ which has more physical interaction and connection with our local towns, and ties in with encouraging less car use and carbon reduction.
CREDIT: Photo, Romsey Parklet: Mill Road Summer
Architects, designers and planners should be starting with the smaller traditions and rituals of each community such as yearly events, or seeking out local makers and performers who could benefit from having a public platform. Asking people what they want and making temporary and flexible interventions in line with those potential users, introducing a new use for road and parking spaces so that people can see the benefits and feed in ideas. A bottom-up approach rather than a top-down one which usually involves building large permanent interventions without ensuring that people are actually going to use them.
I currently have the opportunity of working with teams on a couple of these town centre projects, walking the streets and talking to local traders and groups about how to make the space around their business or studio more of a transitionary zone, ie; a parklet in front of a restaurant, a selling space in front of a workshop, a market stall for traders who sell in several towns, an activity or event space for local school or theatre groups ... all of this making the market street potentially more of an experience which draws people in as an alternative to online or out of town shopping...
Go [or stay] local.
CREDIT: Medical Drawing: Amanda Moore
Which profitable jobs can you do with an art degree? Quite a lot, plus, you have the benefit of mixing and matching them for a more varied work-life than the average person usually has.
Here is an idea list of 60 potential jobs for artists including ones I've personally tried.
Why 60? Because this was how many I could think of in one hour. I'll keep adding to this list:
CREDIT: Photo: Amanda Moore
In this 'Make Stuff by Hand’ series of posts I will share items built using minimal tools. Using your creativity to build things which can be used in your home is incredibly rewarding. However, watching YouTube videos by people with an entire workshop setup can be disheartening. What if all you've got is a drill and a saw?
Here I outline the steps in making a plywood storage bench:
1. Measure your space
The instructions and cutting list included here will show the design for a 1.5m x 350mm bench to fit the space between two bookcases and create a seat under a window. You may need to adjust these dimensions to work with your particular space.
2. Choose your materials
Spruce plywood has been used for this project and can be purchased at a timber yard or popular DIY store. They should be able to cut it for you. The cutting list here is based on an 18mm material thickness.
3. Draw up your design
Not everyone has 3D CAD software but you can download software like Sketchup for free, www.sketchup.com/plans-and-pricing/sketchup-free. You can model your item to scale and then take it apart and lay the pieces out into a cutting list. You want to try and lay out your pieces so that you require as few sheets of plywood as possible.
Here I managed to get all of the pieces to fit onto one standard sheet of plywood:
CREDIT: Drawings: Amanda Moore
REMEMBER to allow for the saw blade thickness, so you will need a little wastage of material as allowed here.
4. Take your cutting list to a supplier
Choose your material and try to get the least cr*ppy pieces. There is often one bad side with standard construction plywood and you could make this the bottom, back or inside. Sorry guys outside of the UK, I only do metric.
CREDIT: Drawing: Amanda Moore
5. Choose either brackets or strip wood to make the joints
This project used strip wood as it was cheaper. You could use small brackets though. You will also use wood glue to create stronger joints. Make sure that your wood screws are not too long, ie; less than the thickness of the panel material plus the strip wood or bracket thickness.
I also used hand clamps to help hold things in place and used strip wood at most joints for strength. You can see the 'bad' side of the timber being situated inside the bench.
6. Hinges and openers
You can use individual hinges or continuous piano hinge which can be cut to size.
I also decided to cut out four slots to allow you to open the lids. This involved drilling good-sized holes to create each curved corner and simply cutting with a saw and chiselling out.
Lightly sand any sharp edges and varnish the bench to show off the natural wood grains. I chose to paint the interior of the bench in a chalk paint by Rustoleum, www.rustoleum.com/product-catalog/consumer-brands/chalked/.
I also added restrictor hinges for child safety, and to stop the lids hitting the wall, plus sticky felt pads to the underside to allow the bench to be moved around without scuffing the floor.
Finally I decided to sew two cushions from wool felt with wadding inside and fitted them with velcro, but this isn't necessary.
Surviving the Architecture Crit
CREDIT: Photo: Amanda Moore
What is a crit?
An architecture ‘crit’ or critique is an opportunity to present your project to a wider audience, a panel made up of tutors, professional architects and also your peers.
What is it for?
A crit is often not a formal part of the grading process although it may give an indication of where your project currently sits in terms of assessment. A crit should provide an opportunity to have a discussion with a wider circle of people than your tutors and receive feedback to help you develop your project further.
Here are some tips in preparing for your architecture crit:
Pin up a page for each part of your design concept
Each part of your idea such as site analysis, research related to the brief, orientation of the building, materials, and massing should have at least one sheet on the wall dedicated to it.
Don’t spend time doing dozens of sections or dozens of plans. Make sure that each part of your idea is represented as above. If you are short on time, use your model by lighting it and photographing it from different internal and external viewpoints.
Keep your presentation concise
Every project doesn’t need a long starting analysis of where the sun rises and sets. Everyone already knows that and it is a given that the building would be designed with this in mind. Filter your work and pull out the more poignant aspects of the site and project. You could even include a sheet on the wall with a list of the main bullet points about your project.
Don’t read out your presentation
If there is a clear order to your sheets you should shouldn’t need to read out information. You know your project better than anyone else and the sheets should help provide cues.
Don’t worry about negative feedback
This is a hard one. The crit isn’t necessarily part of the grading process. It should be there to provide objective feedback to help you improve your project. Try to not take it personally and attend the whole day so that you can compare your feedback to that of your peers.
Think about the main things you want to get from the crit
You may have questions you’ve been asking yourself about your project in the run-up. Write them down in your notebook and use the crit as a chance to discuss with the panel.
Practice your presentation
Do a run-through to time your presentation and use a friend or family member who isn’t an architect. The presentation should be clear enough that a non-architect can understand what you’re talking about.
Ask a friend to take notes
It can be hard to remember references and other information given by members of the crit panel when you are presenting. You may also remember more of the negative comments than positive ones.
Dressing relatively smartly and addressing the crit panel goes a long way. Don’t treat them as if they were a firing squad. Move around and take them through drawings and models. Also, start your presentation by telling them what your project is and the site location before going into the ‘journey’.
Get some sleep
Working until 3am and turning up unwashed and drowsy is going to distract from your work and result in a poor verbal presentation.
Let's take art out onto the streets...
CREDIT: Image: Amanda Moore, SÖCIÅL SPÅCE Project 2020
When lockdown started in early 2020, in relation to the global pandemic, the arts were badly affected. In terms of galleries, many had been forced to temporarily close in towns due to social distancing measures. In the summer I was lucky to be commissioned by People United, along with 5 other artists, to design artistic concepts which would make social spaces kinder and, well, more social. This culminated in a graphic leaflet which people could download at home. The idea was for communities to work together to produce an outdoor artwork which would assist with social distancing in a playful way. The artworks would allow us to interact more with our local public realm, particularly at a time when indoor spaces were subject to tighter occupancy guidelines.
Through 2020 and beyond, could there be a greater impetus to take artwork outside onto the streets and what are the benefits?
And are there any limits to the placement of art outside of the gallery?
These projects are often commercially sponsored, paid for by arts councils and trusts or form part of planning application agreements or council regeneration projects. They can be temporary or permanent and they can have a much larger role than art as commodity. They are art as identity, interaction and engagement of people with their surroundings.
Artist Fees: Invoicing
CREDIT: Drawing: Amanda Moore
When working as a freelance artist or creative, you need to be clear with your client about fees for your services and any other costs from the outset. You can also lose out on hard-earned fees because of simple invoicing mistakes. I definitely have. Here are some helpful tips:
Decide whether you are charging an hourly/day rate, or flat fee
If the project is a service, like designing some graphics or editing photos as part of an ongoing freelance gig, you may wish to invoice on an hourly or daily rate. Make sure that you agree a rate in advance. It may be worth joining an artist membership site like a-n, (a-n.co.uk), for current recommended day rates.
If your project is a one-off larger commission such as a piece of bespoke artwork, you may be better off agreeing a flat fee. Work out a budget breakdown to include estimated time you'll need for; project research, meetings, site visits and production using your day rate. Include an estimate of any necessary expenses and fabrication costs. Get quotations from any external fabricators.
Day rate invoicing
If you are working on a day rate, include the time worked on the invoice and your hourly/daily rate so that there is no confusion over this. If extra work is required later, you can easily separate the extra work from the work already completed and invoiced for.
Flat fee invoicing
Agree a payment schedule if the work will run over a longer timeframe. This may be based on completion of certain tasks or on set dates along the way such as once per month over a six month project.
This is very important. Otherwise you could end up working for a long time with no payment which will affect your cash flow. You may also end up invoicing periodically based on the amount of time you have spent and not end up receiving the full lump sum fee agreed once the project is complete.
If you have to outlay a lot of money on materials, make sure that your payment schedule is timed and sufficient to cover these costs to reduce your risk.
Scope of services
Make sure to detail what you will be responsible for and what will be provided by others before starting any work. Who is printing the final artwork? Will you be expected to pay for any consultant costs such as engineering fees for a bespoke three-dimensional work? How many meetings will you be expected to attend? How many design revisions will you allow within the agreed fee?
This all needs to be agreed or your fee could be spread very thinly.
Delivery and installation
Following on from the point above, make sure that you agree with your client who will be hanging or installing any physical work and whether you are expected to arrange delivery. Get quotations from specialist companies as there could be a massive cost difference between a small van delivery and a large truck with crane.
Keep your expense receipts as proof of costs for clients if required. You will also need them in order to claim any tax back on your yearly income tax return.
Basic invoice information to include:
Tax on income
Keep copies of invoices in separate folders for each tax year with receipts. This will make completing your income tax return much easier. Register to pay tax in your country, (called Self-Assessment in the UK), and make sure to put the tax away in a separate account when you get paid so that you don't spend it! Don't forget that there may be other deductions such as student loan payments and National Insurance in the UK.
What am I doing here? I'm collecting sea water to fill 1,000 bottles and hang them from a scaffold inside an old ruin. Why? Why not?