Slamming doors in new houses?

Lat week at the East Midlands Property Show there was a ‘demonstration house’ at the front of the East Midlands Conference Centre. Actually not so much of a house – rather a room… But bigger than the house I pictured yesterday!

It was there as an artefact from the Passiv-Haus conference which had taken place in Nottingham in the preceding days. Passiv-Haus is a means by which property can be built with high levels of insulation – and air-tightness.

The sample house was developed by my friends at Church Lukas in conjunction with the University of Nottingham.

I was given a demonstration. If you try to slam the door (ideally in a fit of rage) it just won’t slam. This is because the air in the room simply has nowhere to go. It can’t draw any air through… But as soon as you open the window – you can. It’s a bit like the feeling you get in the London underground as a train approaches – the air is pushed and pulled through. It was stark demonstration!

Air-tightness coupled with the insulation reduces the amount you need to heat a building. However, it is necessary to ventilate as this level of air-tighteness is hardly healthy!But this is about management.

You also have to be careful abut slamming the doors – which cost nearly £3,000!

Oh, and you have to not mention to Sue Churchill (pictured) that the step up to this level of sustainability is quite tricky….


For the third time in as many weeks I found myself trailing around and exhibition – this time Eco-Build in London. I say London loosely as it was held at ExCel – which is closer to Southend-on-Sea than London I think!

This was a slightly different exhibition from the Building Exhibitions I used to go to at the NEC in Birmingham, the focus not surprisingly was on sustainable design and products. I have to say that some of the products just look as though they have been badged ‘green’ to get their place at the show. It was a massive undertaking – it would take you more than a day to get around the place!

I went to meet a few people, but also to see my friends from Nottingham University – some 2nd year students were exhibiting a pallet shelter which was great fun -although a bit thin on practicality! But there was also a Passive Haus competition run in conjunction with Isover – where Nottingham University had five entrants in the 8 shortlisted schemes. These were all designs centred around Trent Basin Nottingham. there were some really good ideas. The winners were Dan Shanahan and Emmett McNamamra from Edinburgh University. Nottingham students took second and third prizes.

I had a fascinating chat with Prof. Wolfgang Feist – the man who ‘invested’ the Passiv Haus concept. He was a really interesting character and was evangelising the system – explaining that it is not complex. It is about keeping the design simple. And very airtight!

I also saw a containerised student village offering which had been built by Terrapin and designed by Church Lukas Architects in Nottingham. It was really good and a very clever use of the technology of building in factories and then constructing on-site afterwards. The Formula 1 Hotel concept was similar to the Japanese Hotel – it was ‘cosy’ to say the least!

Putting to one side the big glossy stands, I was, once again, impressed by the work produced by the students at the Universities.

The Hepworth Gallery Wakefield

I have been wanting to visit the Hepworth Gallery at Wakefield since it opened earlier in the year. At the weekend, we got the chance to visit this award winning building.

The Hepworth - by the Calder

It is fantastic (well the content is…). It is well worth a visit.

But first I have to get the ‘architecture’ out of the way. It’s a David Chipperfield design – and I struggle with it externally. It, once again. uses concrete exposed panels – which are just dull in my view. I like the geometry and the setting by the River Calder – JMW Turner found a fantastic view here back in the late 1700’s when he painted the Chantry Chapel. I’m not sure he would make of the brutalist ‘jewel’ now sitting opposite. Not a lot I guess. It is highly sculptured, but why oh why do we have to do dull colours?

Fortunately the inside is much better. the galleries are brilliantly lit. They have interesting shapes and form a perfect setting for the works displayed. I like the boarded walls and the materials generally inside are well worked. The Galleries are all at first floor level, but the shop and cafe bar on the ground floor fit well.

But the real attraction, as it should be, is the art. The Gallery is built around a collection of Barbara Hepworth Sculpture work – and it is fantastic. The works of art, the mockups, the sketches and the storytelling are really well done. The influences are also there too – including Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein. It is a really coherent place.

Clare Woods - The Unquiet Head

Currently there is also an exhibition (until January 2012) of paintings by Clare Woods – titled the Unquiet Head. These are over-sized paintings in the main with an explosion of colour. They are described as supernatural elements of the landscape. They are so large that they just grab your attention. Most of the work is enamel on aluminium – and is a worthy complement to the Hepworth displays.

I can wholeheartedly recommend going – it’s about an hour from Nottingham

The only downside (and it is only a little niggle) is the ban on photography in some of the galleries.

UPDATE – the talented local architect Sue Churcill at Church Lukas kindly pointed out to me that my original post included reference to David Copperfield – the US magician. Whereas, this is an award winning architect – David Chipperfield (who runs a circus in his spare time. Thanks for clearing that up Sue.

That Marmite feeling….in Nottingham?

Marmite has been in the news recently after it was reported that Denmark had banned it. It was something to do with fortified foods with added vitamins, minerals or other substances which can’t be marketed in Denmark unless approved by Danish food authorities – and Marmite isn’t approved!

And Marmite was used as a metaphor last night to describe the latest Nottingham building to have hit the press. My good mate Sue Churchill at Church Lukas Architects bagged the front page of the Evening Post! The story is here – the latest £60m development at Nottingham Trent University’s city centre campus.

I love marmite and I love this building. I think it just adds to this area. We already have a rejuvenated NTU campus – which I have blogged about before. The new Newton / Arkwright extension is superb and this new building compliments and helps yell out “success”. I might be a bit biased being a former student! I have many happy (?) memories of the Byron building – which is to be replaced by this new building… Byron was constructed, I guess, in the late 1960’s when this was a Polytechnic. It has had its day. It’s tired and dated.

We do have to remember that we really do need out to Universities to push boundaries – and this is not just in research. The architecture can be cutting edge too.

Although I think this is great stuff for nottingham it seems that some of the comments posted at the foot of the on-line Evening Post article are less than complimentary. But then you might recall that I ventured into this arena before and quickly retreated. It’s the usual suspects making misguided and irrelevant (mostly) comments. Sue has a sense of humour and agreed that the “Stevie Wonder Architecture Studio” was worthy of a laugh!

I hope people, whether they love it or hate it, see the benefit for the City….

The Cameron & Clegg show

So, after just a couple of weeks in (shared) power, the Con-Dem-Nation packages have emerged.

TweedleCam & TweedleClegg

And from a property perspective, there are some interesting statements in the Freedom, fairness and responsibility document

Some of the statements:

We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use.

We will promote shared ownership schemes and help social tenants and others to own or part-own their home.

We will promote ‘Home on the Farm’ schemes that encourage farmers to convert existing buildings into affordable housing.

We will create new trusts that will make it simpler for communities to provide homes for local people.

We will require continuous improvements to the energy efficiency of new housing.

We will provide incentives for local authorities to deliver sustainable development, including for new homes and businesses.

We will review the effectiveness of the raising of the stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers.

They have also said that they will create a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development in the Planning system”. I am not sure exactly what this means – does this mean we can have a mud hut in place of our Grade I listed buildings…

And as Sue Churchill at Church Lukas pointed out to me last week, they are going to launch a national tree planting campaign, which should solve all of our problems!

There is quite a lot on the Green Agenda, which is laudable, but we really need to sort out the facts form the urban myths, before we set off on more targets. We cannot keep issuing edicts and aspirations without a very clear level playing field. We need the myths busted so that we are really clear on:

1. what is really happening to the planet.
2. what we can realistically do about it – and this is not just us alone in the UK!
3. what technologies work and which ones don’t – including the payback periods.

New York – just brilliant!

Yesterday Sue Churchill from local talented Architects Church Lukas sent me a great link to a video – entitled The Sandpit by Sam O’Hare.

I don’t need to blog very much – it really speaks for itself. It is just brilliant! Sue said “Beautiful – The video, not you”. Harsh perhaps, but true.

There are some details about how it was filmed here. The technique of time-lapse photography and post production with a shift-lens are really clever.

Enough words – I hope you enjoy it. I wonder if we could do one for here?

[Update 7 March 2010 – I had a link to the film on Youtube, but it looks as though the video has been removed].

You can see it here on Vimeo though! Well worth watching….