NTU – more talent on show

You may be having a sense of deja-vu if you drop by here often. I have blogged a couple of times lately when I have been at Nottingham Trent University.


Last night it was the Annual Friends of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment dinner in the amazing Newton Building. I am a friend of the University apparently. I’m certainly an Alumni – although that seems like a very long time ago!

The dinner was great fun – meeting lots of new people. There was even some ‘KT’ (knowledge transfer!) going on. One of the lecturers was really keen to understand how we are appraising properties in a rising market.

Part of the evening gives the guests a chance to look around the end of the year student shows. And this is where you get to admire the work done by final year students. It’s corny – but there are some very talented people. I love looking at the architectural drawings and designs – even if some are fanciful. Perhaps some of the ‘fashion’ is not really what I’d wear in the office (we have only just started to lose the ties!).

But the part I really enjoyed this year was the furniture design. There are some really beautiful pieces. In some cases it is art rather than furniture.

My favourite piece was done by Charlie Adams and is shown in the picture. It is a simple desk – the workmanship was ‘Audi’ standard and the lines and proportions just perfect. It was designed for the House range of John Lewis. I thought it was the star of the show!

Nottingham in pictures…

Last night I was at Nottingham Trent University again (I seem to have been there more in the last few months than I was in the final year of my Degree!) – this was another exhibition.


As part of the 170th year celebration (which I blogged about before here) last night was a photography exhibition – by Martine Hamilton-Knight and the RIBA. The focus was on Sir Michael Hopkins work.

Marine has been photographing the architecture of this particular practice for the last 20 years. And there was a romp through the last two decades. The Inland Revenue, The University Jubilee Campus and latterly the Nottingham Trent University Newton / Arkwright extension all feature. There are some magical photographs and iconic views.

You probably know I have keen interest in photography – I aspire to this level though! Martine spoke at the event and mentioned the importance of light and good architecture on her work. Some of this architecture is fantastic – and looking at the body of work on show you realise that we do have some truly inspirational buildings in the City. They have been portrayed well.

There’s always that question you get asked- if you could do anything other than your current job what would you do? And I would always answer – I’d be a photographer. I have always been interested in the medium and I get to takes lots of pictures for my work. But thats not the level of art Martine and others achieve. That takes work – not just snapping!

It was an inspiring exhibition. I am inspired. I will get the camera out more.

Nottingham University wins again – on the world stage

We know the importance of Nottingham University to our City. It is critical.


And now Nottingham is number one in the world for sustainability. I’m delighted that my good friend Dr Lucelia Taranto-Rodrigues (who is an Environmental Champion at the Univeristy) has written this guest blog post….

The University of Nottingham’s contribution to the cities’ economy and vibe is unquestionable. The University attracted almost 25,000 British students and 9,000 international students in the last year. This has a huge impact on the day to day feel of the city (and on its vibrant night life that we are all too familiar with). The University of Nottingham is in an excellent position. It is ranked in the UK and European top 30 and in the top 1 per cent of all universities worldwide. And last week it was ranked number 1 in the world for sustainability. In a world where environmental issues such as climate change and ever increasing population growth are of pressing importance this latest accolade is testament to the University’s research and educational work addressing these challenges.

The UI Green Metric World University Ranking is an initiative created in 2010 by the Universitas Indonesia. In 2009 they hosted an ‘International Conference on World University Rankings’ where a number of experts agreed that the existing criteria being used to rank universities were not giving credit to those that were making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. A criteria was developed including information such as the size of the university (spatially and population), the campus location and the amount of green space, energy use, transport, water use, waste recycling, green policies and management strategies. The University of Nottingham was listed in first place in 2013 out of the 301 universities from 61 countries.

This is a huge achievement, but also one that did not come without significant effort and investment. For many years now the University has committed itself to becoming a leading green University and sustainability is one of guiding principles in the University’s Strategic Plan. Its sustainability strategies range from improving existing buildings, engaging students through initiatives such as the ‘Go Green Hall Competition’, involving staff as ‘Environmental Champions’ and proposing the installation of wind turbines to partially power the campuses with clean energy. The main 330-acre University Park Campus is also green (as in ‘containing extensive greenery’) and has won the Green Flag Award for 11 consecutive years.

The University is also committed to the development of low carbon buildings and is internationally recognised for its work in low and zero carbon housing through the Creative Energy Homes project – research that is helping inform the UK’s delivery of sustainable housing.

It doesn’t stop there – the University has set itself the ambitious target of BREEAM ‘excellent’ as a minimum for all new projects. Work has commenced on the first carbon neutral laboratory to be built in the UK, located on the Nottingham Innovation Park, the extension of the Jubilee Campus. It has been designed to achieve BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ and LEED ‘Platinum’ – that is extremely ambitious for a lab! And in early March there might be another significant award: the Energy Technologies Building, not far from the carbon neutral lab, has been shortlisted for the Educational Building International BREEAM Award. If you want to show your support you can cast your vote at Your BREEAM Award. The winner will be announced as part of this year’s BREEAM Awards 2014 celebration at the Ecobuild show at London’s ExCel – hopefully we will have one more reason to celebrate!

Thanks Lu, please vote for The University!!

A Nottingham Institution!

I have two really distinct memories of July 1979. Firstly the smell of hops and barley being boiled at Home Brewery – where I started my first job. Secondly the smell of ammonia from the ‘ozalid‘ printer we had in the office – which produced architectural prints. Unmistakable smells; good memories.

The original Home Ales sign – still there – but hidden!

On the first day I started work I was taken into Nottingham to become ‘equipped’ for my drawing office career. It was Monday 2nd July 1979. And John E Wrights was the ‘shop’ concerned. It was like an Aladdin’s cave of drawing and art material. I was bought a Rotring rapidograph pen and an adjustable set-square! I still have the set square but the pen has long since gone to pen-heaven. They both took some getting used to.

Yesterday I had reason to go to the John E Wright’s – I needed some large plans printing. I was reminiscing. The shop hasn’t changed that much – in 33 years. The man behind the counter told me they had been there for 50 years. The business was started by John Wright in 1900 – above a pub in Nottingham. They served the architectural community – printing plans predominantly. The business was later expanded to include selling materials – including artists materials. They moved to ‘Blue Print House’ in 1962 – I’m not sure the youngsters will get the name!

It is good to see these sort of shops still going. They have adapted (a lot of digital display material is now produced). But they have a foot firmly in the past too – I bought some scale rules (an ‘eighth of an inch’ – if you must know!) and some sketching pens.

It took me back and made me smile!

Venice – The Biennale

Once a year it seems I get the opportunity to play at being an Architect! Two years at Shanghai I met lot’s of people from Nottingham University (at the Expo) and last year it was Istanbul. So the chance to visit the Venice Architecture Biennale was too good to miss.

I had never been to Venice; it really is like stepping onto a filmset. The images you have of Venice are exactly that – images of Venice. If it weren’t for the motor boats – you could easily have stepped back in time – a thousand years. The sense of place is amazing, something I’ll re-visit again tomorrow.

The Venice Biennale is a collection of architectural projects under the curation of David Chipperfield. The theme was “Common Ground” – which is widely open to interpretation! But the brochure suggests that there was to be a concentration on the city – but also ensure that creations engage with the people who use it.

There are some wild and whacky installations, but some amazing ones too. Some are really ‘art’ rather than architecture (although you might argue they are inter-dependent?). I loved the Zaha Hadid work – and I thought some of the traditional materials (brick, tile and timber) worked really well. The surroundings of the Arsenale were spectacular – again steeped in history.

The main exhibition is based in the old shipyard – and again you feel that you are in a completely different era. There’s no modern crinkly tin sheds here.

Some of the photographs of the former eastern block countries and their rather brutalist architecture – concrete cities – were a reminder of how bad buildings can be. We have all seen these! But you are reminded that some of these places are peoples homes. How people have adapted to their surroundings is amazing.

This is a collection of work from all over the world. Some is conceptual but some is real too. It is well worth seeing – if only to get a grasp of some of the work being done around the world. But the real winner is the setting – Venice is a natural backdrop for architecture. Some of the buildings are just stunning, but that’s for another day!

Not so sustainable….

I drive past McDonalds every day – deliberately. It isn’t part of my daily routine.

But I do remember the Nottingham Castle Marina branch being opened. If my memory serves me right it was 1989 – and a certain Martin Brandon-Bravo, the local MP at the time performed the little curtain drawing ceremony. I remember this as there was a brass plaque form many years. Then when he lost his seat McDonalds took the plaque down! Like erasing history?

So 24 years on, it is interesting to see another re-fit. A major one this time as the ‘restaurant’ has been closed for weeks. It’s not a great advert for the longevity of buildings.

Last week I was judging some awards – and the question of sustainability came up. Sure, we are putting buildings up with low carbon footprints. We are even getting good at it – some of the technologies are so clever we are being paid by the utility companies as they produce too much electricity to use themselves.

I guess McDonald’s are fitting better insulation and greener technologies.

But this building is 24 years old. It’s not exactly sustainable then. We have all of the embedded carbon from its original construction – and now another load.

My point is that some of the best sustainable buildings we have are buildings that have stood the test of time. Take the Pitcher & Piano in Nottingham. It was a church – built in 1876. It stopped being used as a pace of worship in 1982 when it briefly became a Lace Museum. Now a thriving pub. Sure, it has had a refit internally, but is this not a truly sustainable building? 136 years and counting?

Compare this to the monstrosity being built on Castle Boulevard I blogged about here. Will this be standing in 136 years – not a chance. Bet you my life on it…

Oh – and Ronny McD I haven’t forgiven you for taking down that brass plaque….

Battersea as a football stadium?

I was in London this week and was interested to note that Chelsea Football Club are bidding to buy the iconic Battersea Power Station. I passed the building a number of times as I criss-crossed London.

The building isn’t pretty – but can be seen for miles around. The four chimneys and rather brutalist architecture make quite a statement on the London skyline. It’s a bit of a ‘marmite’ building. Some love it and some hate it. I quite like it. It last produced power in 1983!

And so it seems that the proposal by Chelsea to create a ‘Stamford Bridge II” has also divided opinion. Although I can see that the football club could create an instantly recognisable ground, I am not sue that it would work. I think the designers will have to demolish too much of the structure to make a stadium work. This seems a pity, although finding another use might be rather elusive.

I gather that Boris Johnson must give consent and that he may not be behind the proposal.

There was talk that the former power station should have been Tate modern. I think that sort of use sits much more comfortably than a football stadium…

Churches past and present…

As I drive along Castle Boulevard each day (on my way to Costa Coffee!) I have watched the new Cornerstone Church gradually come out of the ground – on the site of the old MFI.

It’s not looking pretty. Imposing yes, pretty no. In fact, to date, it looks like a newer version of the MFI trade showroom it has replaced. All steel, crinkly tin and some token brick and stone facades. Theres a bit of a curved section of brickwork and a jauntily angled joint between brick and profile sheets. Although the scaffold remains up, the ‘reveal’ isn’t going to be eureka moment I fear!

I was thinking as I drove past this week what a difference a hundred years makes. Well, perhaps 200. If you have ever seen the Basilique_du_Sacré Coeur in Paris, St Pauls in London or La Salgrada Familia in Barcelona – you’ll understand what I mean. These are great pieces of architecture – that have stood the test of time. They remain iconic and standing! They were constructed of the very best material, stone, slate, lead. They had character and real features. They were more than just canopies to protect people from the wind and rain. They are not buildings they are places.

I wonder in a hundred years if this new Cornerstone church will be standing. I’m guessing that MFI was built in the late 1970′s – a pretty poor lifespan. 35-40 years?

Our world today is all about sustainability. We concentrate it seems to me on the energy and ‘green’ credentials. But surely some of the most sustainable ones are those that were built hundreds of years ago. Their embedded carbon has long since been written down. Look at the Pitcher & Piano in Nottingham – originally a church, now a bar. Re-use at it’s best.

I’m sure cost has featured highly and I gather that congregations are high in number. So, these new churches have done something the old buildings couldn’t do! Perhaps they are sustainable after all?

Nottingham Contemporary – Thomas Demand

Last night I was at the Nottingham Contemporary again. This time it was an evening with the currently showing artist Thomas Demand. He was in conversation with Milan-based architect, researcher and editor in chief of Domus magazine, Joseph Grima.

The event was packed – it was over-subscribed. I guess there were over 100 people there. There was also a simultaneous live web-cast – which was recorded and remains on the web site here.

Domus is well respected in Architectural circles having been around since 1928. It has covered the work of John Lautner – and architect who was the inspiration for Demand’s latest exhibition. Lautner was an Architect who divided opinion – but who’s work has been widely critiqued. He was apparently a poor draftsman – and relied heavily on his models – which others then drew from. It was eight models held at the Getty Museum in LA which provided the material for Demand’s images.

Demand explained his interest in the models. These were ‘real’ three dimensional forms which were used to demonstrate the buildings, in a way which CAD or CGI’s can’t do. We have become used to the latter in our everyday lives – they permeate our world of film and game, as well as architecture.

He also touched on the work of Frank Ghery – Ghery is probably my favourite Architect and I thought his work at the Sci-Fi Museum and Experience Music Project in Seattle is just genius. Ghery works with paper and card to produce his whimsical models – which then form the basis of the actual building.

I thought the talk was a fascinating insight into how an artist works. He sees photographs as ‘indexical’, in other words a representation of what is in front of the camera. But they can, by using abstract composition provide a different perspective and become less of a record. It is interesting that his time at Getty was limited and there are rules which prevented him from taking photographs with flash, or by using a tripod. He took between 600-700 photographs for the handful you now see.

I liked in particular one of his phrases – “If I don’t love what I do, who else will love it”. It seemed to me that this was a similar perspective of Steve Jobs at Apple.

The Contemporary does this sort of thing well – a great venue and a unique opportunity to see and hear an artist who is regarded as being at the top of his game. Well done Nottingham Contemporary…


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.