From Workshop to Site

Andreas Gorm P. Müllertz | September 2020 | Back to top

At Millimetre’s workshop in Brighton, a tremendous steel skeleton has been rapidly emerging. It will form the delicate superstructure of a garden pavilion-cum-guesthouse destined for the Isle of Wight. In the main hangar, a healthy collection of gently oxidizing off-the-shelf steel sections and staggeringly sharp, bespoke milled elements is set back from a row of socially-distanced workspaces. Millimetre’s metal workers have been working around the clock (and in the excessive summer heat) to cut, weld and grind the heap in front of them into the many precise modular components that will form the pavilion’s columns, floor and roof.

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An assembly line has been formed to increase the efficiency of fabrication, with a station each for repetitive rotary welding tasks, rotary grinding, welding using custom jigs and more complicated non-linear welds. As the steel passes through the workshop, glistening segments come to form elaborate sculptures. Adjacent to the metalworking bays is a six-axis robot arm programmed to cut high density foam into jigs for the most intricate welding alignments. This will be essential to the success of the central roof truss node, where nine tubular sections converge. More on this will follow at a later date.

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The pavilion will be lifted off the ground by cantilevering trusses held from the main columns, which are formed of four tubular sections tied together by intermittent thin plates along their height. The lower portions of these columns, which sit beneath the floor build-up, are amicably referred to as the daleks. These stub columns are the first pieces to be finalized, quickly assembled in tandem to confirm tolerances, and sent away to be painted for corrosion protection before arriving to site.

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On the northeast coast of the Isle of Wight, the site falls to overlook a protected marshland with tidal flows fed by the Solent. A shallow depression with raking banks at the bottom of the hill will conceal the feet of the pavilion superstructure; the baseplates of the stub columns now erected atop the long strip foundations and adjoined to form the triangulated support for the floor and deck above. Located to capture rainwater dropping from the overhanging roof eaves, the perimeter gravel drain will also mark the boundary between building and landscape, with tall, wild grasses merging with the wetland beyond..

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As the pavilion envelope will be formed largely of full-width glass spans closely abutting the columns, erecting the steel frame precisely is critical. Despite a remarkable installation tolerance of +/- 3mm diagonally across each 5 x 5m bay, the stub columns must be shimmed to ensure exact alignment and verticality. Between them, the galvanised (and thus silvery) internal floor beams are distinguishable from the external floor beams, which are coated to resist corrosion and painted to achieve a warm metallic finish. With the cantilevering terrace beams installed additionally, a datum is formed approximately 180mm below the intended finished floor level from which the remainder of the pavilion will rise..

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Back in Brighton, the columns which will stand on the shoulders of the stubs now installed on site are laid out one by one. Their height and slenderness astound – a true feat for the structural engineers, Smith & Wallwork. It is through, not around these columns that the thermal envelope will run, with tall and narrow glazing centred on each column between the four vertical tubes. The next test-build will involve hoisting up these columns, narrowly missing the suspended lights of the workshop, to bolt on the roof trusses via the halving joints rigidly reaching out to receive them. That dramatic and exciting update will have to follow..

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Drawing Together

Yang Yang Chen, Charlotte Stewart, Jack Barnett, Adelina Fasan and James Foskett | September 2020 | Back to top

“Boccaccio’s fourteenth century classic the Decameron takes the form of 100 tales told by a group of young people who have retreated to a villa while waiting for their native Florence to escape the grip of the Black Death”.

The 100 Day Studio is an initiative started by The Architecture Foundation that adapts Boccaccio’s 14th century classic the Decameron into a series of Zoom lectures. Our studio was invited to host a lecture on Day 26.

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Our office has a long-standing tradition of drawing together. From the plaster floor drawing we made of the Bishop Edward King Chapel, to the collective drawings for the “Losing Myself” installation at the Venice Biennale, the studio’s practice of collaborative draughtsmanship has always been a sociable activity, materialising our thoughts in a way that would not be possible individually. Starting from a roll of tracing paper, drawing together becomes the medium through which we relate and converse. During a recent online studio discussion on the relationship between memory and space, we started sketching our office as we remembered it. We drew it together with Niall using the Zoom Whiteboard whilst recounting memories of the space we once shared. The drawing started to become collaborative, as each colour represented a different person’s drawing. We realised that through using this technology, there was the opportunity to share our collective drawing tradition with a wider audience. We decided to host an interactive drawing session for our 100 Day Studio lecture, hoping to illustrate the sense of community through audience participation during this period of isolation.

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The move to working through remote digital media has been an experiment for us on its own: how could we choreograph this drawing exercise with hundreds of participants communicating with each other in real time? After hosting a few digital drawing sessions in our studio, the importance of designing a framework that would produce a cohesive collective drawing while still allowing for individual creative expression became apparent. Since the lecture would be taking place on a Thursday and finishing in time for the weekly 8pm Clap for Carers event in the UK, our narrative recognised our shared lockdown experience and appreciation for our health workers.

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There were around 300 people taking part in the collective drawing session, which was co-hosted by everyone from our studio. The participants were asked to draw their own house with themselves at a window. Then, they were asked to imagine putting on their shoes, go outside, and join one another in front of the house to clap for NHS and carers. They were invited to draw themselves hosting a street party in their neighbourhood when the lockdown is over. Very quickly, we saw each one of the whiteboards being filled with trees, flowers, picnic blankets and delicious pastries. The hosts then invited the audience to take a virtual walk down the street and design a public space together. It could be anything from a communal garden to a public swimming pool; from allotments to an athletics track; from a market to a pub, etc. It was great to talk about the variety of activities people looked forward to doing again.

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It was a one hour event. The collective drawing took 25 minutes in 20 breakout whiteboard rooms. The final composition was assembled from 20 fragments in 25 minutes while Niall gave a talk. It was completed just in time for the weekly 8pm Clap for Carers event in the UK. The collective drawing was revealed alongside a soundtrack by the composer Kevin Polland, mixing our own clapping with live sounds coming in from the street. We recognise this particular beautiful assembly of sketches is just one of many possible outcomes, reflecting the unpredictability produced by the structure of this exercise. This drawing is not a finished artefact, but rather a never-ending work-in-progress. We look forward to weaving the next tapestry!

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Cycling to Site

Joel Cady | June 2020 | Back to top

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to adjust our lives and working practices in unexpected ways. Some, perhaps many, of these adjustments are positive, opportunities to see the world in a different way. At the moment, I am working on a small stone building for the choir at Trinity Hall in Cambridge. The site closed for several weeks immediately after the lockdown was imposed, and then reopened in early May. With a small, finely-detailed building like this, remote site inspections would be all but impossible, so I needed to start making site visits again. Pre-pandemic, I was a frequent traveller on the 0742 King’s Cross to Cambridge – but government advice and office policy were clear in saying that public transport should be avoided if at all possible. I don’t drive, and I enjoy long-distance cycling, so decided to cycle to my fortnightly inspections – a 135 mile round trip from my house in Hackney. 

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Map showing outward and return routes

A bright sunrise and it’s warm already. Leaving home before six, I cross the Lea Valley and go out through Walthamstow, with swifts screaming above me and not much else for company. Epping Forest is almost deserted, and loud with birdsong. Two mountain bikers cheerily request a tow as I overtake them. Around Harlow, the rush hour is unexpectedly early and vicious, so I am happy to emerge into the quiet lanes and villages of Hertfordshire. On the chalk hills around Much Hadham, where Henry Moore had his studio, I watch a red kite gliding over a field, sunlit against the clear blue sky. After a long, gradual downhill, I cross the flat fen-edges with a tailwind helping me towards Cambridge. Coming into the city, my own route-planning mistake sends me alongside the railway and through the cluttered backstreets of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, rather than along the river through Grantchester Meadows as I had intended. Down the Hills Road and into central Cambridge. Tourists and students are notable by their absence, and the city seems full of builders, including a neat socially-distanced row of men in hi-vis having their tea break on the low wall outside King’s College Chapel.

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Gateway near Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire

When I arrive on site, to my relief, nobody bats an eyelid about the architect turning up in Lycra (or at least they are polite enough not to mention it!). I get changed and negotiate a slight delay in my temperature being taken as a COVID precaution, concerned I might be sent straight back again because I am hot from cycling. It’s exciting to see the building progressing again after a long period of inactivity. The masons are as exacting as ever, apologising for their own snags before I spot them, and grumbling about the occasional inaccuracies of the sawing work done at the quarry. It’s fantastic to see the strong sunlight and shadows on the stone surfaces, with arrises and joints we spent so long agonising over in the office as drawings now holding their own as part of the emerging building. I stand on the roof to have an enthusiastic conversation with the window installer about rubber membranes, and then go into the office to talk through some drawings with the site manager, both of us realising it is a challenging task if we are two metres apart with the drawing in the middle.

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– The building in progress: Granite plinth and first course of limestone, with the lantern framework above.

– Granite plinth and Portland Stone

– Portland Stone details – Jordans Basebed and Grove Whitbed

– Internal reveals and makeshift masons’ workbench

The inspection and discussions finished, I am wished a safe journey back with a wry smile. I sit on The Backs and eat a large packed lunch, then set off back the way I had come. Near Royston, I turn off and pick up another way home, into Essex and through Saffron Walden. At Debden, I find the village hall tap and wonder if I might drink it dry. Riding along in the evening sun, the long day catches up with me and I stop for a nap at the edge of a dry, cracked field of wheat. Carrying on into a steady headwind, Thaxted looks beautiful, with its windmill, buttressed church tower and medieval timber-framed houses. Approaching London, the roads are familiar from the rides that have kept me sane during lockdown, and I roll back through Epping Forest just as the sun is sinking over the horizon. The Lea Bridge Road is a bit of a shock to the system after so many miles of quiet sunlit lanes, so I spin along quickly and arrive home for a cold beer and some supper, ready for a ‘normal’ day working from home tomorrow.

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Fields near Tilty, Essex

Brickwork at Magdalene College Cambridge

Claire McMenamin | April 2020 | Back to top

At a site in Cambridge, bricklayers have recently finished placing the final bricks at the top of the ventilation chimneys of the new library at Magdalene College. This is the final act in a long journey of completing the brickwork that forms the vertical structure of the building.  Many parties were involved in the process with us, including the College, the engineers, the suppliers, the contractor and the bricklayers. The brick columns and walls support visual precast lintels which in turn support the horizontal timber structure. A grid of L shape brick columns rises continuously to roof level to support the central brick chimneys which sit on top of every group of four L shaped columns.

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Magdalene College’s existing buildings display rich tapestries of brickwork. The bricks are predominantly soft with textured surfaces. Weathering and repair work that has been done over centuries has produced mottled patterns enriching their character further. The colours are mostly reds with some browns and purples. While all of the brickwork in the College was important as a reference, the Grade I Pepys Building which is the current college library, will have the most direct relationship with the new building and so was the focus of our studies. The new building will house the main college library collection while the Pepys Building will be refurbished to house and display the Pepys Collection. The elevation of the Pepys Building that faces onto the Fellows’ Garden is formed of red, brown and purple bricks. The brick colours along with large mortar joints give an overall brown appearance from a distance.

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While surveying the existing brickwork we noted that the size of the mortar joints have a significant role to play in the overall apparent colour and texture of the wall surface. The mortar joints of the existing buildings are generally larger than a standard modern brick joint and the bricks are typically smaller in height than a standard brick. The existing joints are also predominantly flush with visible aggregate in the mortar. The ratio of brick to mortar has an impact on the perceived scale of the building.

Together with the engineers Smith & Wallwork and Cocksedge, the builders, we arrived at the most appropriate ratio of brick to mortar for the new building. The brick size chosen is 5mm smaller in every direction than a standard brick and the mortar joint is 5mm larger. For the height, this produces a ratio of brick to mortar of 60:15 instead of 65:10.

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Another aspect which was developed with reference to the existing buildings was the brick bond. The old loadbearing brick buildings are predominantly English garden wall bond. We decided to use this for the walls and Flemish bond for the chimneys to reflect their load bearing nature. The L shaped columns of brick that rise continuously from ground to roof level repeat throughout the plan in a pattern that continues to the external walls, resulting in re-entrant corners on all external corners. A recessed joint running the full height of the building sits between the L columns on the exterior of the building and the enclosing walls in English garden wall bond. The floor slabs are expressed on the elevations by soldier courses.

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We looked at many different bricks from suppliers. The first brickworks that was chosen ceased production during the procurement process and the search began again. Samples which were considered to be potentially suitable were brought to site and compared to the existing buildings, particularly the Pepys Building. Cocksedge dry laid panels of the potential bricks beside the Pepys Building. A handmade brick by ‘York Handmade’ that Cocksedge had used on a previous project had a range of colours and textures that were complimentary to the Pepys Building. It was agreed with the College, Cocksedge and Smith & Wallwork that this was the most suitable brick to take forward.

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We visited the factory in Alne, York with Cocksedge to understand how the bricks are made and to review dry laid samples. It was fascinating to learn how each part of the process has an impact on the final result in terms of strength, quality, colour, texture and shape. Many carefully honed skills are required for each part of the process.

The clay source is a Triassic mudstone in the Vale of York beside the factory. A joiner makes the timber moulds for each brick type. All of the visual bricks in the new Magdalene library are special sizes or shapes, so a new mould was required for every type. The moulds for the chimneys in particular were intricate pieces of joinery. The wet clay is then thrown by hand into the moulds. This requires accuracy and endurance. The wet bricks are then stacked on trays and prepared for the kilns.

The different colours are achieved by setting the bricks in different ways in the kiln; firing at different temperatures and also in some instances by the addition of surface sand and manganese oxide. Bricks are fired in the kiln for 80 hours. When the bricks come out of the kiln, they are then sorted by hand. The method used to sort the bricks in large quantities at the York Handmade factory means the risk of an unwelcome pattern appearing on the constructed wall is limited. There are four different colours used in the new library so the bricks were mixed in York before being delivered to Cambridge.

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The team at Cocksedge built sample panels with the York handmade bricks. The aim was to check that the brick was the correct choice, to establish the most suitable ratio of the four colours and also to decide on the mortar mix. The mortar chosen was a mix of lime, cement and sand with the surface brushed to reveal some aggregate. The ratio of lime, cement and sand had to be carefully balanced and controlled to achieve the required strength, colour and texture.

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We were keen to not have any visible cut bricks and so the list of specials grew. We worked out the various types needed to form corners, walls and chimneys. We named each brick with a letter. In the end, we had one brick for every letter of the alphabet. It was nice to see that when the bricks arrived on site they had their name imprinted onto their surface.

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Cocksedge began carefully laying the first bricks in February 2019. The bricklayers were chosen for their experience working with old existing brickwork. We carried out workshops with the bricklayers before work began to discuss the various intricate parts of the building. It was very enjoyable to see the progress each time we visited site. When each floor level was reached the precast lintels and timber beams and slabs were placed onto the bricks.

Now through the newly formed windows one can see back across the College with views of the existing brick buildings.

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Balliol College, Sports Pavilion

Adelina Fasan | November 2019 | Back to top

7:45 AM, London Bridge. The train from Uckfield just entered the station and is spitting out hundreds of commuters, flowing past us. We hop on the now empty train and leave London to visit our timber sub-contractor’s workshop in East Sussex.

We are fast approaching the construction stage of our Sports Pavilion project for Balliol College in Oxford and were invited to review a mock-up of the roof structure. The pavilion roof is formed of slender sweet chestnut glulam joists; 10 layers are stacked on top of each other, each layer cantilevering further into the space, creating a coffer.

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From outside the roof structure expresses itself as a lantern, popping up in the centre of the building. The lantern is fully glazed, allowing for rays of sunshine to enter through the stacked glulam. In the evening, the dense timber lattice will be highlighted by a subtle glow, originating from LED strips, that are recessed in the top of the glulam joists.

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Picture1Internal view of the mock-up with LED lighting..

IMG_20191113_145107 copyEditThe mock-up in Inwood’s (timber sub-contractor) workshop

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The mock-up was used to test the connection details between the individual layers of glulam, the construction sequence, and the integration of the LED strips and the associated wiring. Preceding the assembly of this mock-up, these details have been worked through and coordinated in many lengthy design workshops, involving the contractor, structural and electrical engineers, the timber sub-contractor, electricians and us architects. As such, it was even more enjoyable to review the mock-up with all the parties involved and to see our combined efforts bearing fruit.

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Picture9The carpenters who built the mock-up and the Electrical Engineer, Design Manager, and Architect discussing the installation and accessibility of the LED strips

There is Music in Every Building

Tom Mcglynn | September 2019 | Back to top

Back in March, I was lucky enough to take part in the annual TEDxCambridgeUniversity conference as one of the 14 speakers. Whilst daunting, this presented a wonderful opportunity to explore and develop my personal interest in architecture and music and how they might interrelate.

I am passionate about both subjects and have long since had a hunch that they are linked. This notion centred around the idea that both architecture and music are composed of layers. On further investigation, numerous parallels became apparent despite the fundamental difference that architecture is visual, physical, and music is aural, intangible.

They share common language – structure, rhythm, harmony, texture, form and so on.

They are both compositions. Architectural composition is the arrangement of building components in space, sensed with our eyes. Musical composition is the arrangement of sounds in time, sensed with our ears.

Architecture is given its distinctive quality or character through choice of materials – stone, brick, timber, glass and so on. The musical equivalent is the range of instruments and sounds available to a composer – piano, strings, brass, percussion for example.

Architectural drawings are like sheet music, one instructing builders on how to construct a building and the other instructing musicians on how to perform a piece of music. In this way, a busy building site resembles an orchestra.

In considering the relationship, one can’t go too far without referencing Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s famous 18th century quote that “Architecture is frozen music”. This suggests solidifying, giving physical presence to sounds and led me to another line of questioning – can we translate the visual, physical, spatial components of architecture into the aural, intangible, time-based components of music? Can we look at a building and hear its music?

To help find answers, I contacted my brother – an electronic music producer – and we agreed to work together on a musical representation of a façade designed by this office – West Court for Jesus College Cambridge. It lends itself well to the test as there is a clear rhythm and well-defined order to the visual composition.

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We considered each bay of the façade as a bar in the music with each layer of the façade translated into a different musical component. Repetitive structural brick piers were translated to a beat. The stone fins added to the rhythm as another layer of percussion. The first floor windows were represented as piano chords, setting the groove and reinforcing the meter of the composition. The two floors above were translated into layers of melody, and the hidden foundations dictated the bassline.

The exercise was intended to be diagrammatic. My brother had many ideas about how to make a better piece of music but for me, the legibility of the translation was key. We could have pushed it further, giving more thought to which sounds or instruments might be best suited to different materials for example.

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A lot has been written about the links between Classical architecture and music but I am more interested in the here and now. We are in a technological revolution. With the introduction of computers as a compositional tool over the last few decades, I think it is more apparent than ever that both contemporary architecture and music involve the organised, now computer-aided repetition of a series of components.

Today the primary instrumental music is Electronic. It is generally composed on a computer and it is this computer that “performs” the piece, creating the final “recording”. It is still the case that most buildings today are built, or at least put together, by hand, but change is afoot. The use of 3D printing, drones and even robots on building sites hints at a future in which computers replace humans as the “performers” in construction.

If we think about the classical music of the past in terms of the classical buildings of the past, we can align its melodies and orchestration with ornament, craft, organic sculptural form. Contemporary architecture is closer to electronic music. For some this will have negative connotations but it is important to recognize the full spectrum, from the mundanity of elevator music (or Muzak), to the ubiquity of pop music, and on to the progressive sounds of electro, house, techno and so on. As computers continue to have more impact on the way we practice, architects must embrace their potential in the same way music producers have, striving to be more Techno than Muzak.

To view the talk please click here.

Scotland Wing Extension

Jackie Stephen | May 2019 | Back to top

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Following the completion of the Auckland Tower, the Faith Museum is our second project at Auckland Castle and is an extension to the Grade I listed Scotland Wing. Unlike its vertical sister, which wears its expressed timber structure on the outside, the Faith Museum is singular and monolithic in its appearance, forming a continuous horizontal stone edge to an enclosed courtyard. Cop Crag sandstone, local to the north-east of England, is the external treatment for the roof, walls and weatherings of the building. Far from being homogenous, the stone is alive with natural variation which ranges from delicate lacy swirls to something resembling animal markings.

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The principal internal space is a 9.5m tall gallery which follows the steeply pitching roof form, supported by a procession of closely-centred fine metal trusses. The Museum is largely inward-looking, borne of its intended purpose for contemplation and preservation of religious artefacts. This provides further enjoyable contrast and conversation between our two buildings in how they seem to view one another: the Tower’s expansive 360˚ views offering a full appreciation of the Faith Museum in its entirety as begins to take form, whilst the introspective Museum offers the only the slightest peek of its neighbour over the wall.

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See also: blog post September 2017 & May 2014

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Master’s Field Project

Caoilinn McConville | April 2019 | Back to top

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When reflecting on the work of our practice, the chamfered corner, is a recurring interest. This detail has developed over the years from our preoccupations with the Miesian re-entrant corner, the simplicity of a trabeated structure, and a desire to find ways of expressing a deep façade.

Simple chamfers in concrete and stone were employed in recent completed projects for Hampshire House and The Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre, Oxford. At the Master’s Field site in Oxford, currently under construction for Balliol College, a corbelled chamfered detail is incorporated in a load bearing façade. This project comprises eight student accommodation buildings and a pavilion arranged around a series of courtyards overlooking a cricket pitch.

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A brick-clad chamfer at the corner between two windows is used throughout the accommodation buildings. This establishes a shifting perspectival relationship as one moves through the site, and gives all the buildings a common language. Corbelled brick and concrete lintels and mullions set up a trabeated structural rhythm which clearly defines each individual student bedroom and creates a delicate play of light and shadow across the façade. A series of finely detailed brick and concrete panels are layered within the depth of the window reveal, articulating a secondary rhythm which expresses the transition from solid to glazed elements.

The detail enables the depth and structure of the wall to be elegantly expressed, maximizing its presence when viewed externally and minimizing its presence internally. It also forms a generous threshold which provides privacy for students inside engrossed in their study. For moments of welcome distraction, the large picture windows frame uninterrupted views over the cricket pitch and across the campus.

The expression of a chamfered corner produces challenges in construction, particularly when expressed in precast concrete components clad in corbelled brickwork. When forming acute angles with orthogonal bricks, special consideration must be given to alignments and bonding. Interface details demand careful thought regarding sequencing and tolerances to achieve a symbiosis of structural performance with aesthetic ambition.

Externally, in the plan detail shown here, the apex of the chamfer is formed from stacked brick headers. This exposes three faces of each brick, limiting the choice of bricks, which are typically produced with only one finished stretcher face. Brick specials are required to form the chamfered corbel of the lintels, and grids are carefully set out to ensure alignment of vertical and horizontal corbelling. We looked to the meticulously detailed and crafted brickwork of Jensen-Klint’s masterpiece, Grundvig’s Church in Copenhagen, for expression of stepped vertical forms.

Internally, minimising the corner where the windows meet produces intricate challenges in the alignment of linings, blinds, reveals and fitted furniture. This complex resolution of constituent parts all work hard to achieve the aesthetic objective of the simple glazed chamfered corner.

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Detail Key
1.Whitewashed ply bench 2. Aluminium window 3.Whitewashed plywood reveal 4.Plasterboard 5.Rigid insulation 6.Steel window fixing brackets 7.Metal pressing 8.Wind post 9.EPDM/ vapour barrier 10.Mineral wool insulation 11.Breather membrane 12.Steel restraint brackets 13.Corbelled brick faced precast concrete mullion 14.Flashing 15.Concrete cill 16.Concealed curtain track 17.Oak joist over 18.Concealed roller blind 19.Timber panels 20.Timber framed window 21.Prelaminated timber frame 22.Precast concrete mullion 23.Precast concrete coping over

Encounters with Waterhouse

Rasmus Pikk | October 2018 | Back to top

When reflecting on our work as a practice, it is possible to find connecting threads, ideas, references and people who have been an inspiration to us. One of these people is Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905). Our work for the Natural History Museum has given us a chance to learn more about the great Victorian architect and perhaps by happenstance, we continually meet him again and again through different projects.

Alfred Waterhouse was immensely prolific. He was born in Liverpool to wealthy Quaker parents and spent much of his youth travelling and studying throughout Europe. Upon his return to England, Waterhouse set up his own architectural practice in Manchester, where his Gothic designs won competitions for the Assize Courts (1859) and the Town Hall (1868). His reputation as a practical man, a master of rational planning and his reliability in executing designs, led to commissions for work of a varied character. Eventually he would have around 650 ecclesiastical, commercial, domes- tic and institutional buildings to his name.

In the spirit of High Victorian Gothic, Waterhouse was interested in experimentation, contemporary construction methods and architectural honesty through the expression of structure. Gothic Revivalism allowed architects to test their ideas and bring their vision to life by capitalising on new technologies of the time, and as such, Waterhouse’s interest in utilising new materials and techniques is expressed in the use of the great steel spans of the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall. Waterhouse is also known for his careful attention to durable urban materials for the industrial city, such as richly ornamented terracotta and faience, which he used both internally and externally. In our time working with the museum, we have deeply reflected on Waterhouse’s drawings for NHM which portray his predilection for simple bold ornamentation, a delight in the texture and subtle colours of terracotta, and a Victorian reverence for the craftsman.

1stLeft to Right – New entrance to NHM Waterhouse building, Hintze Hall, ornamented terracotta facade detail

Waterhouse is often mentioned for his use of deep red brick, which was brought to London from the North through King’s Cross. Red became the dominant colour of the period in the area and signified the link to the North. For the T1/Tapestry Building in King’s Cross, we analysed the Prudential Assurance Company headquarters in Holborn, completed in stages between 1877-1897, not only for its colour, but also for civic qualities and robustness. The history of the site and the PAC building were a part of the collection of references for the colour-saturated character of the precast panels, reminiscent of Victorian terracotta. We took advantage of available technology when working with decorative pattern and applied it in a structured fashion to all of the precast elements. The pattern was created digitally in three-dimensions and the information was used to direct an automated routing process. This generated a positive panel in soft board, which, in turn, was used to make latex moulds used in the formwork to make a positive precast surface.

2ndLeft to Right – Prudential Assurance Building in Holborn, T1 Tapestry detail

In our projects for Oxbridge colleges we have often had the pleasure of having a Waterhouse building as a neighbour. He was prolific Oxford and Cambridge in the 1860s and 1870s where he built more than most of his contemporaries. Waterhouse’s first university work was the Cambridge Union in 1866, followed in rapid succession of new buildings for Balliol, Caius Tree Court, a new block for Jesus, a series of commissions for Pembroke College, a small wing for Trinity Hall and finally the new women’s college at Girton. It has been key to the success and joy of our projects in these cities to understand the rich historical and material conglomerations of the surrounding buildings. It informs our approach and helps us to weave the projects into the grain of the city. The new song school in Avery Court in Trinity College, Cambridge is sited so that one axis of its cruciform plan aligns with the arched opening leading through the Waterhouse building to Trinity Lane. The proportions of the lantern windows are inspired by the Gothic, and the brick for the Balliol College project was chosen to compliment the Waterhouse buildings along Broad Street and the surrounding buildings. We admire Waterhouse’s bold picturesque compositions and celebration of vertical movement that provides punctuation along the routes around the building. Such visual markers can be seen, for example, in our Somerville and Jesus College projects. We feel privileged to be presented with similar challenges and questions to Waterhouse – what is a contemporary and sensitive response to designing a new building within the existing architectural assemblages?

3rdLeft to Right – Waterhouse’s Balliol College Broad Street Frontage, NMLA Balliol College project window detail

By way of our continuing collaboration with the NHM, we constantly find ourselves in dialogue with Alfred Waterhouse through his buildings and the ideas contained within them. Studying his extensive body of work and the complexity contained within, is a fascinating prospect, as we’re learning more about ourselves as contemporary practitioners engaging with similar questions.

NMLA swim the serpentine

Joel Cady, Alastair Browning & Claire McMenamin | September 2018 | Back to top

On Saturday, a group of current and former NMLA staff, friends and partners swam a mile in the Serpentine as part of the weekend’s open water swimming festival in Hyde Park.

Following a summer of sun-drenched sea and river swims, it was pouring with rain as we made our way through crowds of bemused tourists and displaced geese to the start. It felt distinctly autumnal as we lined up on the edge of the Serpentine in our wetsuits and matching hats to a motivational soundtrack featuring Ricky Martin. After a civilised scrummage at the start, everyone settled into a rhythm for the mile-long lap in the murky greenish-grey water. We circumnavigated Christo’s vast London Mastaba, a stack of 7,506 brightly coloured barrels floating in the centre of the lake, and agreed that our frog’s-eye views of it lent a new appreciation of the piece. As we rounded the final marker buoy and then clambered up the precarious exit ramp, we emerged grinning, enjoying the familiar and addictive endorphin buzz from pushing through the chilly water. A bottle of fizz was opened and shared, and we splashed damply off to the pub to warm up and relive the summer’s swimming exploits.

For anyone considering a discovery of swimming outside (even vicariously!), we would thoroughly recommend Roger Deakin’s wonderful book Waterlog, which tracks a year of swimming in the wild across the UK and has by now inspired thousands of subversive sea, river and lake swims.

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A Stone Glossary

Joel Cady | May 2018 | Back to top

We are in the process of choosing the stone to be used for a new building in Cambridge. It has been an apparently exhaustive journey through marbles and limestones from the UK, Europe and beyond. We amass endless samples, and talk in detail to quarrymen, masons and engineers about bed heights, weathering, and reliability of supply, as well as the inevitable costs to quarry the stone, cut it to shape, and fix it together to form a building. One of the most fascinating elements of this process are the specialist terms used to describe building stones and their properties. Below is a list of a few favourite words, ordered to explain the material properties that have so far governed our explorations for this new project.

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William ‘Strata’ Smith’s 1815 Geological Map, the first nationwide geological map ever published.
The Clipsham Quarry at Rutland in Lincolnshire. Clipsham Stone occurs in the Inferior Oolite of the Jurassic System, where it was laid down between 174 and 163 million years ago. Clipsham is a popular building limestone with a characteristic golden colour. We have recently worked with it at Bishop Edward King Chapel in Cuddesdon and the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre in Oxford.

Bedding plane
Many building stones, including all limestones, are sedimentary rocks, formed by the gradual settlement and compression of underwater sediment over millions of years. The directional way in which they were formed governs their properties and how they can be used as building stones. Most UK limestones must be used ‘naturally bedded’, i.e. orientated in the building in the same way that they were formed in the ground. This means the height of the blocks is limited to the depth of the bed, rarely more than 1m in the UK. ‘Face-bedding’, when blocks are laid so their bedding planes are parallel with the vertical face of the block, can lead to rapid weathering and crumbling.

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Metamorphic
A stone that began as another type of rock and changed as a result of exposure to heat and pressure over geological time. Marble was originally limestone, and is chemically identical to it. However, the metamorphic processes changed its physical properties so that it does not have bedding planes, and can be cut and orientated in any direction. This makes it ideal if tall blocks are required.

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Precipitation
The chemical process by which Travertine is formed, usually when geothermally heated water is exposed to the air, causing it to degas and carbonate minerals to precipitate out from the water. Although a type of limestone, its distinctive formation means it also doesn’t have bedding planes and is workable in much longer, thinner pieces than sedimentary stones.

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Oolitic
A type of limestone made from an amalgamation of individual grains called ooliths. An oolith is a tiny carbonate particle surrounded by concentric layers of calcium carbonate, which were deposited as the ooliths were rolled around on the bed of the clear shallow sea in which the stone was formed. This gives the stone an even structure so it can be cut or sculpted in any direction, a characteristic which makes oolitic stones ‘freestones’. Portland Stone is an oolitic limestone used extensively in London’s historic buildings, perhaps most famously in churches by Cristopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, including St Paul’s Cathedral and Christ Church Spitalfields.

An Oxford Outing

Emily Doll | December 2017 | Back to top

Last month NMLA’s Balliol College team went on a celebratory excursion to Oxford to mark an important project milestone. We visited selected buildings by the office and by others, called at the site to observe demolition-in-progress, and finally hid from the rain for festive beverages.

All aboard the 9 o’clock train from London Marylebone. The sky is grey and the clouds are heavy.

One hour later, two taxis crawl up the hill to Ripon College. Ten excited people are deposited on its driveway.

We enter the chapel. Two people to pull the entrance door wide. Eyes up; iPhones out; pause to pose for photo.

Outside, driver’s thumbs drum-drumming against the steering wheel. Doors open; it’s time to go. Heart FM for the drive into town.

Students mill around Somerville College. Camouflaged amongst them we enter NMLA’s housing block. Up the stair tower, peeking into bedrooms and kitchens, we debate the merits of bathroom pods.

Herzog and de Meuron’s Blavatnik School of Government stands next to Somerville, glittering. Like magpies we are drawn through its doors.

On the roof terrace Oxford is laid out beneath us, dreaming spires etc., but next: lunch.

Heavier and happier, we walk to Worcester College’s Nazrin Shah Building. Heads pressed to the glass we stare greedily inside.

Later, eleven sets of PPE are donned and rainclouds assemble as we tour the site. Mud, glorious mud. Three years till ribbon-cutting.

The rain starts, the pub beckons. Cheers to Balliol!

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The Welcome Building

Anne Schroell | September 2017 | Back to top

The Welcome Building in Bishop Auckland consists of a new viewing tower and central ticketing hall for the The Auckland Project. It acts as an access point and gateway to the wider site whilst also giving views over the town and landscape setting. The tower – a timber framed structure – is now well under way on site.

The building team has worked tirelessly and with the highest level of precision, to build the in-situ concrete lift shaft. Working from the ground up seemed to take an age.

Meanwhile, the enormous larch glulam beams have been carefully crafted and manually grey-oiled in the joiner’s workshop.

The frames are now being lifted into position on site and suddenly the building can be seen. Almost in an instant. As if the past four years had happened in the blink of an eye.

We are so excited and proud – even – to see this fantasy project becoming real at last. But with completion on the horizon, time seems to now move all too fast….

Welcome Building

See also: blog post May 2014 (please scroll down)

Checking In

Ben Allnatt | August 2017 | Back to top

In July, following a recent opportunity to begin designing a concept store for fashion brand HiPanda, two of the NMLA team were lucky enough to travel to Tokyo for a site visit.

After leaving the airport, we begin driving through the narrow Tokyo streets as the dizzying cityscape towers upwards. Some things seem similar, but always more…vertical. Stepping out of the car the humid air quickly envelops, reminding us we are certainly not in Camden anymore. Pure overstimulation.

Stepping into Hotel Okura’s lobby the chaos of the megalopolis washes off and is replaced with Zen. Passing the immaculately stacked wall of umbrellas, the ‘bell captain’ gracefully bows with a slight smile seeing how large my eyes have become.  The dimly lit mirage of greens and browns is so consistently assembled it seems to hum. While the giant world map hanging on the wall is supposed to remind us of the new time zone, it instead seems to catapult us back 5 decades, straight into a scene from Madmen. The hotel’s 60s style interior has remained completely untouched. And it’s marvellous. Even the impeccable uniforms of the staff match the muffled beige palette. While at each turn there are plethora patterns and textures, it still feels incredibly understated.

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Designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi and Hideo Kosaka in 1962, the modern design clearly references more traditional Japanese forms and palettes. Unfortunately, the original Northern Wing of the hotel (which was arguably the most authentic and impressive of the two) was demolished in 2015 to make way for a much larger tower ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Despite widespread outcry to try and save the adored modernist relic, the Northern Wing fell to the wrecking ball .

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Yet so many aspects of the Southern Wing still hold endless charms and we were so lucky to experience them. Warm timber and brass detailing forms the backdrop to lighter elements like shoji screens and ornate wall hangings. The wide low spaces are punctuated by dangling hexagonal pendants and potplants. When standing in the space you can instantly see why writers have been inspired to set their scenes within these walls. James Bond spent a night or two here, while local writers seem equally enamoured, and Haruki Murakami sends Aomame here in his unnerving and fantastical 1Q84.

While Tokyo charges ahead into the future almost everywhere you look, it was so special to witness this elegant design, perfectly frozen in time.

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Balliol Facade Trip

Susanne Sharif | April 2017 | Back to top

We are working on new student residential buildings for Balliol College, Oxford. As part of the detailed design development we have been working with a façade sub-contractor based in Belgium, and recently made a visit to their manufacturing factories. The itinerary for the day – a design workshop, a factory tour and a review of samples. Lots of coffee after an early Eurostar, and a good lunch.

There had been several similar design workshops before; where gathered around the meeting table, sketches were scattered as we questioned the architectural intent and the construction details equally. Brick samples sat in front of us, books piled up with precedents opened, past project drawings and models pulled out for reference. How to compose the language to create a calm and unified façade across the site. The engineers, the architects, the craftsmen who will build the façade.

These sorts of discussion are an aspect of everyday practice, and incredibly valuable part of the process – marrying the conversations of design aspiration with the actual making of. The bricks and mortar that see the architecture delivered from the paper to the physical form.

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Natural History Museum Progress

Chris Hildrey | March 2017 | Back to top

Below are some from the Natural History Museum site showing the scaffold ‘tunnel’ going up at the Museum. This is the framework required to lift, manipulate, and move the blue whale skull into position in a few weeks.

Though the main hall has had a sperm whale in it before, this was only around 15m long. In contrast, the blue whale, the largest known animal to have ever existed, is about 30m long once assembled.

Unfortunately, due to the various extensions and alterations to the Museum over time, the skull can only come in via the front doors. And – much like a very large, very heavy, very valuable sofa – it’s a case of squeezing it in at strange angles.

Natural HIsory Musum Update 1

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Natural HIsory Musum Update 2

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Natural HIsory Musum Update 3

Cambridge Architecture Students Tour of Jesus College

Tom McGlynn | March 2017 | Back to top

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On Wednesday 1st March the University of Cambridge Year 2 architecture students visited our West Court development at Jesus College. They were invited by Professor of Sustainable Design Koen Steemers, a Fellow and Director of Studies at Jesus College. I gave a general introduction to the project in the recently completed auditorium and was asked to cover some more specific acoustic design issues to tie in with Professor Steemers’s recent lectures on acoustics.

It was great to experience the ash-lined auditorium space occupied. With the secondary glazing installed earlier in the week, there was no disturbance from noisy Jesus Lane outside and even the buzz of the busy building site beyond the four walls of the auditorium was not noticeable.

I really enjoyed the Q&A session and was surprised at the insightful questioning and level of engagement that the Year 2 students demonstrated. There were specific questions about acoustic design – Were different room shapes considered? – and more general questions about the architecture – What informed the architectural language of the Auditorium? How was the 100-year lifespan of the building considered in the selection of materials?

Having finished in the auditorium, we crossed the courtyard to the new café pavilion and ended the tour in the basement bar below. Here the acoustics are very different with glazed tiling to the walls and brass surfaces. It was interesting to discuss how the acoustic plaster soffits, the sprung floor and the ceiling vaults might affect the sound. Again probing questions were raised about design and sustainability but I got the sense there was another question on everyone’s mind – Shouldn’t every college bar have its own microbrewery?

A Site for Sauriis

Chris Hildrey | January 2017 | Back to top

Our proposal to redevelop the grounds of the Natural History Museum is due to start on site this month. The work to the main entrance – the first of three phases – will introduce level access to this area for the first time while also restoring the Grade-I listed fabric to its former glory.

The works include changing levels, repaving the forecourt, restoring railings, installing planting, and repairing or reinstating original terracotta details across the site.

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Ahead of this, the main entrance and central hall of the Museum are now closed while both teams gear up for construction – including some unusual enabling works. As part of these works Dippy the diplodocus has now been dismantled ahead of going on tour around the country; to be eventually recast in bronze for the next phase of our project.


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The railings have now been removed for off-site restoration and re-painting:


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And scaffolding is also going up for the removal of display cases and various specimens:


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This will need to go up again halfway through construction of Phase 1 allow for delivery of the blue whale skull through our active site. Here it is just before it left the Museum.

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If you’re wondering how that that will fit through the front doors, the answer’s simple: the same way the elephants do.


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Phase 1 is due to complete mid-July ahead of the main entrance reopening to the public shortly after. In the meantime, there’s a pop-up conservation studio in the Darwin Centre – which we highly recommend – where you can see the conservationists at work restoring the whale’s bones.

Losing Ourselves

Benni Allan | November 2016 | Back to top

Niall McLaughlin Architects - Venice Biennale Blog

“Losing Myself” is not only the title, but also an accurate reflection of my experience during the journey towards realising the Irish contribution to this years Venice Architecture Biennale. It was one of both discovery and despondency, through some ups and downs that offered an insight into the demands of setting up an exhibition on the world stage.

Over a period of 6 months, we delved into the subject of dementia, to help form a strong body of research to support what would eventually become a final projection as an interactive piece in the depths of the large warehouses of the old Arsenale. The intention being that the installation would attempt to convey all of our findings yet at the same time create a sense of elation through its experience. Using the practice’s first-hand knowledge of working with people affected by this condition for over a decade through a project with the Alzheimer’s Centre in Dublin, offered us the opportunity to re-imagine designing a building through engagement with users of the Orchard Centre. It was clear to us from the very beginning that any proposal called for a much deeper long-lasting message that, as the exhibition’s curator Alejandro Aravena advised, should offer other professionals in our field the ability to learn from our lessons experienced.

We chose to do this as most architects would, through our drawings, and through our understanding of designing spaces for people with dementia.

All of a sudden and without much warning, our day-to-day workings as architects in the practice shifted, forcing us to hone our unkempt skills as trained drafters, creative writers and experienced PR and marketing experts; not to mention mediators, micro-managers and tough administrators. To say the process was challenging would be an understatement, yet fulfilling nonetheless.

The first sight into the magnitude of the task at hand was made clear once a score was established, setting out – like a script to a film – the sequence of drawings that would help to describe the day in the life of the inhabitants of the Orchard centre. This formed – layer after layer – a choreographed piece to be projected onto the smooth concrete floor, made up of a drawing count well into their hundreds. With this unexpected realisation we worked intensely to devise a new plan. One that involved a collaborative effort, and considerable favours from our peers and our friends who ultimately brought new ideas and a fresh take on such a complex and fascinating subject.

With renewed enthusiasm and a newly formed 16-strong team of drafters we ensued in a fortnight of drawing, line after line, all in a continuous motion of ink on the trace. The small studio next door to our office transformed into a workshop, filled with references and images of the Orchard Centre in Dublin to help inspire, with each of us in teams of four sat at specially designed drafting stations that recorded every move.

In the wake of this tremendous task, and whilst the pieces of the giant drawing puzzle were assembled, we worked through the strict limitations of the conditions set by the site to design the plainest solution to help hold our projectors carefully in place on elegant brass legs; known to us as the “Quadpods”. These creature-like contraptions, designed as simply as possible with the most delicate of touches to the ground, in order to impede on the ultimate purpose; to project the constructed image of the occupied Alzheimer’s Centre and in it’s daily life through inhabitation.

Niall McLaughlin Architects - 02 Venice Biennale

Following months of critical review, energised discussions and our inherent need to agonise over every detail we packed up the van and began our last stretch of the journey with the install in Venice. The logistics of fabricating and transporting our kit of parts to the old docks of the Artiglieri executed like a military operation thanks to the efficiency of our technical and construction team, Art AV. Tightly packed in large wooden crates the slender legs looked like swords prepared for a Royal Guards’ procession. Day after day we worked into the night with each and every task bringing the piece closer to life. All around us things starting to happen, with everyone working towards the final crescendo; the Biennale’s grand and highly anticipated opening.

Whilst we all had different ideas of how the research would ultimately embody itself as an installation, it was never clear how and if the message would successfully be conveyed to its wider audience. What can be said is that the most enjoyable response from the piece was the look of bewilderment coupled with wonder that fill the faces of visitors in the space. At that moment, a sudden comprehension came to life. Onlookers were invited into the daily rituals of the characters in a building that through circumstances of the mind experience the world with difficulty. It was a message we wanted to paint; that our ability to construct the built world around us in our mind, slowly becomes more challenged in the process of developing Alzheimer’s. Architects and designers have opportunities to address this issue front on, which is even more critical given that we are all likely to live longer.

A culmination of a body of research has emerged that we hope will help architects, practitioners and individuals dealing with dementia alike, to learn ways in which we can address this prominent condition that affects the way humans navigate and orientate themselves in space.

Biennale Brass Stands

April 2016 | Back to top

Images of the brass stands fabricated by Millimeter in Brighton which will form part of the main installation in Venice. The intention is that 16 of these quadpods will support an individual projector in order to show the collaborative drawings.

Niall McLaughlin - Biennale Stands

A Style for our Times?

Tom McGlynn | November 2015 | Back to top

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“The way to make good architecture – that is, to respond with dignity to the relentless jostling of theoretical positions and of the buildings themselves – can be to say very little indeed and just to enquire into what a particular place might, by way of buildings, most need”

Niall Hobhouse in Translations: Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, Christoph Merian Verlag 2014

Each year the Stirling Prize shortlist sparks debate about contemporary architectural style and it was no different this year, particularly with such a distinctive set of buildings. The prize is “presented to the architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture in the past year” and so any building shortlisted could be considered to exemplify a style for our times.

In practicing architecture I have been conscious of past and present styles or trends and how these influence design. The offices I have worked in each have different design styles and a different set of architectural references. This variety has enriched my experience of design; as a result, I do not consider myself to have a fixed stylistic agenda or claim a particular preference for one style over another.

I have now been at NMLA for almost a year, working on one project but well aware of the rich variety in the practice’s past and present portfolio. Whilst there may be a discernible common language in the architecture, I would say this transcends any one particular style. To pick three of the most celebrated projects, the Chapel at Ripon College is very different to the Fishing Hut which is very different to Darbishire Place. Of course these buildings have different briefs but perhaps their ‘style’ is most significantly determined by the ‘place’ they inhabit (where ‘place’ refers to location and context – physical, social, historical and political).

The Chapel sits on a sensitive site. It must respond to its bucolic setting in a clearing amongst trees, the historically-significant college building stock behind and the views to and from the valley below. The Clipsham stone is in keeping with the Limestone of the other college buildings. The smooth base helps ground the building in its natural setting whilst the rough-cut dog-toothed stone alludes to the craft evident in the historic buildings nearby and has an organic quality whose textured surface perfectly captures the shadows of the trees. The clerestorey windows glow as a halo and act as a beacon on the hill when seen from the valley below. Rowan Moore described the chapel as sitting “comfortably amid Cotswold scenery and gothic revival architecture”.

The Fishing Hut is set in the landscape, between water and sky. Its simple form and construction are familiar to rural or agricultural settings but the level of craft and its quality materials make it delightful for the user, elevating it beyond purely functional. With its operable screens and shutters, it is both solid and transparent, as much about shelter, security and shade as it is about light, air and opening up to the landscape it inhabits.

At Darbishire Place the new brick block reflects the massing and characteristics of the existing Peabody estate blocks. The brick selection and white precast concrete window surrounds complement the brick and white-painted window reveals of the Edwardian buildings around the courtyard. Inset balconies enable the new façades to have a flatness akin to those of the surrounding buildings. A simple kink in building’s footprint allows the block to work with its context on both sides – a longer elevation addresses the street while a more compact elevation works with the proportions of the other courtyard façades. This kink also provides a route in from the street and so the new block can complete the courtyard without closing it off.

In terms of these three buildings, it is perhaps more difficult to identify a common architectural language than to comment on how they respond to place. I think they are all concerned with light and shadow and each display a level of craft in their execution. For me though the architecture of each project has a fineness. The fragile crown of stone fins and frameless clerestorey windows at the top of the chapel; the intricate timberwork, lightweight permeable envelope and the slight cantilevered deck hovering over the water to the front of the fishing hut; and the open corners and slender corner posts containing the inset balconies to Darbishire Place. It is these moments of finesse that unite the three buildings and other projects in the office.

Style has played an important and often polemical role in the development of architecture over the last 150 years. However, whilst we can entertain debate about a cycle of trends in design, what style is ‘now’ and what is coming next, it seems more pertinent to be aware of the wide variety of styles and take influence from sources that are most appropriate to any one project’s place.

In the same vein as the opening quotation, we should not be concerned with a particular style for a particular time, but rather a particular style for a particular place.

Craftlines

Eimear Arthur | August 2015 | Back to top

Eimear

My grandfather has worn many hats; soldier, civil servant, father of seven, husband, and winner of a county final in hurling (the achievement of which he is potentially most proud). He is fluent in Irish and recalls event and dates from 50 years ago with a staggering accuracy. Yet the residing image of him from my childhood is as a craftsman – in the garage next to his house in Dublin, whittling and sanding a piece of ash to form a hurley, sizing it precisely for the user, wrapping the handle to create the perfect hold. I remember sitting, playing surreptitiously with a clamp, watching this in awe: the creation of the perfect instrument from a piece of timber; a skill honed through practice and an unfailing attention to detail. I marvelled at the assurance of it all, the promise in his hands.

It would be satisfyingly simple to attribute my choice of career to these moments – to claim there was an epiphany in watching him, a sudden realisation that I wanted to be an architect, to create. In reality, however, the path was not so linear; instead the conviction that I wanted to become an architect embedded itself in my consciousness slowly, over time. The memory of him working in his garage was one I didn’t return to often, and like any story we fail to repeatedly tell ourselves, it languished, dormant, in the recesses of my mind.

I recently went to site at Jesus College, Cambridge, where we are working on a project that is part new build, part refurbishment. An aspect of the refurbishment involves the adaptation of eight bookcases in the magnificent former library into wall panelling. The existing bookcases are a dark stained timber, designed by Maurice Webb in the 1920s and wonderfully crafted by a masterful hand. Reworking these without compromising their beauty would be a challenge for any craftsman.

On seeing the work the joiner had done, I realised there was no cause for worry – it had been executed with confident, competent hands. In that moment, the memory of my grandfather in his garage came back to me in glorious Technicolor; and I felt a familiar thrill at the embodied potential of the right material in the hands of a craftsman, with promise in his hands.

Frameless Architecture

Alicia Lafita | August 2015 | Back to top

Alicia Atlas

Our classification of the world is the result of a desire to impose order on the chaos we are born into. In nature we classify the species, in society we classify our relationships, and in architecture we classify the spaces we design and inhabit. In many cases, classification is a useful tool that allows us to root ourselves in time and space.

Classification can also be the enemy of imagination, suffocating our desire to wonder and discover new associations. It can limit the understanding of what surrounds us and disjoint elements that should not be separated. Framing perception can become a reductive force.

In his book Atlas: How to Carry the World on One’s Back, Didi Huberman uses ‘atlas’ in its broadest sense to mean a ‘collection of images’. Huberman explores two different ‘uses of reading’: a denotative sense in search of messages, and a connotative sense in search of montages. The dictionary is a predictable tool for the former, and the atlas is the ‘unexpected apparatus’ for the latter[1].

The atlas is frameless and endless. It surpasses boundaries and restrictions and is in a state of constant renewal. The atlas enables our imagination to trigger new associations, new relations. Although we may start with a search for the specific, we may then wander endlessly, unlimited by a defining frame.

Architectural education, architectural research and architectural practice have suffered for too long from being limited by a defining frame that has placed them in different dictionary entries. It is now time to rethink this model, which shapes our lives, our careers, and ultimately our contribution to society. If we are to replace the dictionary with the atlas, if we are to substitute the definitive meaning with the endless search for new relations, we will have a new model of architecture where education, research and practice are interwoven and intrinsic to one another.

For this new model to succeed, we must completely awaken our imagination. Education, research and practice will be symbiotic and won’t be understood without each other. As a result, transverse readings and meanings will develop within our work. These will be found not only in the individual but also in the collective. In our office, inspired by Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, we will develop our own Atlas where images of our endlessly evolving inspirations and aspirations will be captured. Our Atlas will be a new ground from which meaning, space and relationships will grow. Our Atlas will enable us to read what has never been written[2].

[1] Georges Didi-Huberman (2010). Atlas. ¿Cómo llevar el mundo a cuestas?. Madrid: TF Editores/Museo Reina Sofía . 16-17.

[2] Georges Didi-Huberman (2010). Atlas. ¿Cómo llevar el mundo a cuestas?. Madrid: TF Editores/Museo Reina Sofía . 14.

Nazrin Shah Building – Steelwork

Tamsin Hanke and Alastair Crockett | July 2015 | Back to top

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Just over two years since our first tentative steps towards imagining what sort of space a new auditorium for Worcester College might possibly be like, we find ourselves enclosed within a spidery sketch, looking up to the trees through a skeletal enclosure of steel. We watched in excitement as our drawings were scribed across the site, first in neon spray paint and little red sticks, later excavated into deep ravines. We pick our way across the lines that had become so familiar on paper and are now concrete obstacles in a muddy field. The reality of this transition only became real as we stood looking across at the steel columns in this picture. They map out the positions of the stone fins that radiate around the curved facade of the new auditorium, with the sloping beams above us silhouetted against the bright July sky marking the future locations of the sculpted folds to the soffit.

Outpatient’s Building

Claire Chawke | June 2015 | Back to top

Outpatients Building

New windows have been cut into the existing masonry walls of the Outpatient’s Building. These windows create a visual connection between the east and west wing rooms, across a double height space of pre-cast columns and beams.

Screens

Benni Allan | June 2015 | Back to top

Benni Allan - Screens 2

Images: Avenham Park Pavillion, Preston.  The Institute of Timber, Detroit

‘What do you see when you look up through the trees? Try to imagine this moment in a pretended place or part of a journey through a particular sequence of spaces. How does one describe this experience? What is it about spaces in nature, for example forests, which make them fascinating yet at the same time unsettling places to inhabit? A forest offers a place of refuge and natural beauty where the element of surprise is all part of the experience’

The idea of nature as a spatial experience and a driver for architectural form was a question that ran through my academic work and has subsequently led to an obsession with a perceptual and evolving architecture. It is interesting that my time in the office has allowed me to both reflect and discover parallels that run through similar themes in the work of the practice. A pursuit for a “thicket-like” characteristic, which allows for shifts in spatial qualities and a variation of patterns that overlay like woven surfaces to define space are just some of the mannerisms that I have begun to recognise.

I compare my own attempt to generate a kind of place that is animated, brightening as you ascend towards the canopy when reading the blurred lines of the roof of the pavilion designed for a woodland park in Preston. The structure is designed as a number of layers of mesh to capture rain whilst creating a display of shadows that activate the building beneath. As a competition proposal, the structure was never fully realised yet it has been the ideas established during this process that still resonate today. By staggering the building between the tree density, the line of the pavilion is undefined breaking the traditional form of constructing space and allowing a new reading of the building and landscape. Particularly enlightening in the search for the enclosure of space is a fruition of a screen-like quality that works as a surface and also as a generator of it’s tectonic form.

The use of the screen as a ‘device’ in our architecture allows elements to become not only separators of rooms or the external environment but also actuators for unique and unimagined spatial experiences. In search of this architecture is an attempt to purposefully discover a different architecture and an unplanned result that wouldn’t necessarily be reached through something un-natural.

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Benni graduated from the Bartlett with Distinction in 2014, and has been working on a project for Jesus College, Cambridge since joining Niall McLaughlin Architects. In February 2015, Benni was named as one of the nation’s up-and-coming designers and ‘One to Watch’ by the Design Council to represent the future of British design. His project the ‘City of Forests’ looked at beautifying Detroit through reforestation strategies to promote a denser, greener and more sustainable future in which timber becomes the main economic output. As Detroit continues to struggle with the effects of massive industrial changes, this more positive image of vacancy as an asset opens new discussions about the future post-industrial city.

New NMLA Office

Joel Cady | April 2015 | Back to top

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We are moving to a new office in Camden this spring. The space is currently being fitted out: partitions are now complete, and floor finishes and ceilings are being installed this week.

Tapestry Building Progress

Scott McKenzie | March 2015 | Back to top

ArgentBlog

Looking south from the roof garden, the view is framed by the ‘beak’ of the building looking south over Regents Canal and out towards the BT tower.

Argent Blog

The concrete frame of the Tapestry (T1) building is approaching completion, with just two more floors to be constructed. This space on the 8th floor will become an outdoor roof garden enclosed either side by two level ‘townhouses’ and a tower to the north. The area will be open to residents and landscaped with trees and gardens.

Model Image

Niall McLaughlin | December 2014 | Back to top

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FIAT-MIRAFIORI

Alastair Browning | November 2014 | Back to top

Alastair Browning is a member of the Auckland Castle team at Niall McLaughlin Architects. His thesis project FIAT-Mirafiori, undertaken whilst studying with Unit 17 at the Bartlett and tutored by Niall McLaughlin, Yeoryia Manolopoulou and Michiko Sumi, has been selected as one of 11 highly-achieving postgraduate projects from across London’s architecture schools to exhibit at the Architecture Foundation’s Futures in the Making Exhibition.

Futures in the Making is being held at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Twenty Tottenham Street, London W1T 4RF ( Until the 28th November 1.45 – 6pm)

FIAT-MIRAFIORI, Turin, Italy

Located in a suburb of post-industrial Turin, once the ‘Fordist world’s most prototypical town’, the proposal is for a campus university sited within the endless 20m x 20m concrete grid of Fiat’s behemoth Mirafiori plant (1939). The proposed high-speed railway link between Lyon, Turin and Budapest is seen as a driving agent in re-establishing the city and its traditional expertise in manufacturing within a wider European context. The project is an exploration of the open-plan, balancing the generic with the particular by interweaving new programmes and functions into the repetitive matrix of the existing concrete frame.

The design focuses on the sectional distribution of the master plan, with workshops, offices, lecture theatres and public squares at ground level, and housing, communal facilities, nursery schools and shared gardens inhabiting the building’s roof. Occupying a site equivalent in area to Turin’s historic centre, the project envisages Mirafiori as a new city quarter articulated by the shifting presence of production, research, commerce and living.

Fiat Mirafiori-Alastair Browning1

Fiat Mirafiori-Alastair Browning

The images above depict an installation built as a 1:500 representation of the site. Conceived as a simple armature, the model afforded a large-scale, neutral, three-dimensional surface that momentarily held the light and colour cast by a moving, digital projection. I was interested in how this plain surface could take the role of both narrative device, upon which the dynamic history of the building’s conception, construction and early operation could be retraced and re-recorded, and serve as a framework within which to test differing scenarios for the site’s re-inhabitation.

Reflecting on the experience of making this installation, I have now come to realise that what had started out as process of historic site analysis, drawn to scale and illustrated through light, had become (quite unintentionally) suggestive of a proposed architecture. Experienced at 1:1, the installation produced a dreamy environment of diaphanous surfaces, coloured light and whirring sound. Whilst the subject and intent of the installation was still historical, it no longer just retold but ‘produced’ a shifting architecture, temporary in nature and formed through the lightest touch of light, colour, diffraction and shadow. Exploring this disjunction between intent and outcome a bit further, I can now recognise that through the initial planning, fabrication and composition, activities that at the time I only understood as a means to an end, I had already made a series of decisions about the installation’s form, scale and materiality. The subsequent processes of animation, projection, filming and finally editing footage and sound together, added further faculties of decision, critique, editorship and importantly chance or accident. Each, in turn, contributed an iteration – an opportunity to reflect, develop and transform – which, slowly but surely, transformed a representation of the past into a proposal for the future.

The Furthest From The Floor

Katherine Hegab | November 2014 | Back to top

Imagine a room without a roof, where the sky can be seen and the seasons read. This room holds the capacity to frame dazzling colour and scaleless formation, silent motion and subtle evolution.

What if a roof challenged these things, and set out to generate a drama quite of its own?

Often we witness the world at eye-level alone. Much of our urban landscape positively encourages us to do so. Yet it is sad if, on the occasion we raise our eyes to the ceiling, we are not enamoured with what we find. It is often height that offers the best opportunity for expression. With height comes volume and the potential to present the greatest manifestation of depth and structure.

Our practice explores the roof and the complexity of a soffit as an ongoing theme. The notion of the exposed rafters in a barn has influenced the design of the soffit in our gallery at Auckland Castle. We are developing an array of rafters that create density yet delicacy in their mass when tightly multiplied. Though the roof is low, its lowest point occurs just higher than your fingertips, creating a definitive datum between the world of rafters and the world of exhibitions. This effect is further enhanced by the muted nature of the walls to increase the feeling of overhead awareness.

As contrast to this, your gaze is directed by the vertical piers that surround you as you move through Bishop Edward King Chapel in Oxford. Slowly they rise, higher and higher, until they meet the ceiling, at which point orientation is adjusted and the piers fuse with the weave of rafters. It is pleasurable to witness something simple become something complicated. Height offers the opportunity for elements in the space to take you on a journey. They “pick you up” at eye-level and carry you up to the roof, where often the brightest or darkest environments exist.

The requirement to defend from rain leaves the roof little choice but to protect, as efficiently and simply as possible, granting the interior more freedom for expression. And why not, when you consider where most building users will stand? However, as our towns and cities become denser, the roof, as seen from its surroundings, becomes an increasingly important issue to address.

The two examples I have given construct varying degrees of interest, leading me to suggest that it is possible for a roof to respond to that drama in the sky with a drama of its very own.

Chapel and Auckalnd-Niall MCLaughlin

Images: Bishop Edward King Chapel and Auckland Castle

Katherine received a BSc Degree from the Bartlett in 2008.  In 2007, she was awarded The Henry Herbert Bartlett Travel Scholarship and the UCL Expeditions & Travel Grant to conduct a construction project in Kampala.  She joined Niall McLaughlin Architects in 2012 and has worked on London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, St Cross College in Oxford, the T1 Argent Building in London and Jesus College in Cambridge.

T1 Building

Scott McKenzie | November 2014 | Back to top

The Argent T1 building, which is currently under construction as part of the redevelopment of the Kings Cross area. This photo is taken from the public viewing windows in the hoardings alongside Regent’s Canal. For more information on the project, visit the project page on the website here.

T1 Argent Niallmclaughlin Architects

The Element Of Surprise

Sarah-Jane McGee | November 2014 | Back to top

I recently explained to a relative that the most exciting part of my job is the element of surprise. I compared the world of desktops and emails and repetitive strain injury to that thrill I get each Wednesday when arriving on site to inspect progress. It is the uplifting discovery of the unexpected that is most satisfying to me.

The origin of the word ‘surprise’ ranges in meaning from ‘overcome with emotion’, ‘strike of astonishment’ or ‘a taking unawares’. This is also common to the early process of design during which the building takes shape inside your mind as a sequence of spaces, moments and details. As architects, our job for many months and even years on a single project is to translate this purely imaginary set of ideas into a two-dimensional rule-book for eventual construction. The resulting documentation is scientific, precise, and impersonal. It is accompanied by reams of contracts, costs, schedules and sums. It is in short, quite dull to the naked eye.

This document then comes into contact with a wide range of people; contract managers, site agents, sub-contractors, labourers and tradesmen. They have a unique ability to bring this pile of paper to life. Over the days and months the team forms the structure like bees in a hive. One week there is a hole in the ground, soon after the steel is measured and delivered, the floors and stairs go in, the roof lights are installed, the doors are hung and the whole thing is ‘buttoned up’.  Suddenly what was abstract becomes real, what were lines become tangible surfaces, shocking in their dimension and materiality.

Construction is simply connecting one thing to another thing, layering over and over and over. The physical actions are drilling, digging, hammering, stacking, lifting, fixing, pouring, spreading, sticking, brushing, nailing. It is a human activity, with each person lending his or her very specific skills to create the whole.

Sarah-Jane Blog

Sarah-Jane McGee, Project Architect (Right) and and Sophia Tibbo, Structural Engineer (Left) on site, 2014

To me it seems surprising and almost contradictory that something as animated, chaotic and personal as a construction site can become a silent space of light falling on blank walls. The story is hidden behind white layers of plasterboard, a secret that will only be uncovered in the next round of renovation or demolition.

After all the humming and drilling the building gets built. The bees move on; an enchantingly empty hive remains.  And we begin to imagine again…

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Sarah-Jane McGee graduated with a first class honors degree from University College Dublin in 2008. Sarah-Jane won the Irish Architectural Graduates Association Gold Medal in 2008 and her thesis project was highly commended in the OPUS Construction Awards in 2008. Having worked in Ireland for O’Donnell and Tuomey Architects and in Italy for Mario Cucinella Architects, she joined Niall McLaughlin Architects in 2011.  Since joining the practice she has worked as Project Architect on a recently completed private house in Hampstead, London as well as working on St. Cross College, St. Teresa’s Carmelite prayer room in Dublin, a fishing hut in Hampshire and the ROQ Masterplan in Oxford.

Reflections on Images of Heritage

Pinelopi Antoniou | October 2014 | Back to top

A few months ago I revisited my 5th year dissertation: “The Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles; their essence and their absence”, as the possibility of writing a joint article with my MSc supervisor arose. Reading it again after so long felt like meeting an old friend; familiar and at once curiously foreign.

The much-contested issue of the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles is well known. Since 1965 it is the subject of international political debate while by the mid ‘80s, when the first official request to the British government for their reinstitution was made, it became a national issue. The British arguments for the non-repatriation are also well documented and until now neither the British Museum nor the British Government seem particularly keen to return them.

This however had not been the burning question in mind when writing the dissertation. Having assumed that they would not be returned (and not really questioning it as right or wrong) what intrigued me was how the building, having been proclaimed a catalyst for their return, would be designed to deal with their probable absence.

Athletes Housing

Until and including 2008 the widespread rhetoric was that the spaces must remain empty in anticipation of their return so as to remind the viewer that the museum will “remain incomplete as long as the Elgin Marbles sit in the Duveen Room of the British Museum”[1]. Upon the museum’s completion however the adopted solution was to exhibit casts of the missing pieces instead, “in order to suggest to the viewer how the monument might look like when complete”[2]

Having traced the history of the display of the Parthenon Marbles in Britain and at the British Museum (ranging from the ‘cabinet of curiosities’ approach through to a more modern curatorial attitude) and the influence they had had in its architecture, I approached the subject through a ‘semiology’ lens and considered the philosophy and meaning of ‘void’ while examining architectural examples of how empty spaces, when displayed correctly, can have a powerful meaning. The resulting conclusion was that even if the Parthenon Marbles were never exhibited within the new museums’ walls, their absent presence could still be felt through a careful portrayal of their void so as not to resort to a seemingly trite and rather defeatist attitude of using a plaque or indeed casts. Evidently, the message of the void would need to be conveyed in a way as to allow an ‘open’ reading while not being so ‘open’ that it prevents us from recognising in the message a formalizable structure.[3] An empty space would then not appear as “a deficiency, a failure to fill up a cavity or gap… but a bringing – forth.”[4]

Looking back now, the discourse was interesting if slightly self-righteous. Inadvertently, the conclusion reached could read as a glorified absence that would become a pressure vehicle for their return, because it is where they belong. But do we own heritage? Heritage is thought of as underpinning our roots and the importance we bestow on the material culture “plays a vital representational role in defining national identity”[5]; as such any discourse is incredibly complex and inherently political, so much so that it becomes personal.

When I first saw an image of the façade for the athlete’s residential building within the Stratford regeneration I thought it superficial, an ornament of post colonisation, almost hubristic. Reading Niall’s ‘Peplos: The dissimulating façade’ got me thinking about this more. When the Marbles were removed from the temple they began a different journey, their identity was altered “from deep walling elements to thin relief panels” while “their dissolution, replication and dispersal”[6] made them idealistically present but always lost [7]; they don’t ‘belong’ anywhere. Maybe this facade should not be offending me but helping me to recognise the expression of appreciation for the ‘lost’ pieces of a timeless masterpiece that could almost read as a celebrated protest.

[1] Sands, H. (2008) “Henry Sands says Athens’ new museum is missing its Marbles” Acropolis Now [online] http://www.elginism.com/new-acropolis-museum/the-new-acropolis-museum-needs-its-marbles-to-complete-it/20080827/1289/ (Accessed 3rd March 2013)
[2] Plantzos, D. (2011) “Acropolismus”, Antiquity, no.85, p.623, [Online] http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/085/ant0850613.htm (Accessed 9th October 2012)
[3] Caesar M. (1999) Umberto Eco: Philosophy, Semiotics and the Work of Fiction, Polity Press, Cambridge, p.65.
[4] Leach N. (1997) Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory, Routledge, Taylor & Francis group, London, p.123.
[5] Smith, L. (2006) Uses of Heritage, New York, Routledge, p.48
[6] McLaughlin, N., (2012) “Peplos: The Dissimulating Façade”in Archithese.
[7] Ibid.

Pinelopi studied at the University of Cambridge and the Edinburgh College of Art. She holds a BArch (Hons) and a Diploma in Architecture. She  was nominated for the RIBA President’s Medal in 2005. She joined Niall McLaughlin Architects in 2013 and has worked on a private house in London, a private house in the Cotswolds and is currently on the Outpatients building in Oxford.

Large-scale model making

Alastair Crockett | September 2014 | Back to top

The use of physical models by architects is well established, and can be seen throughout history as the natural partner to drawings for exhibiting a proposal of the building prior to construction. Within our practice, models are rarely produced as mere presentation pieces, but rather as tools for exploration. This role makes them less precious and complete, with the ability to change and adapt the design following the feedback that the model has initiated.

The type of models that I enjoy most are those of a larger scale, of 1:20 and above where you are able to get your head inside and truly appreciate the space. In addition to the final form of such models, much is learnt through the process of construction. Structure, surfaces and junctions are some of the issues that require resolution during the making of the model. Within our studio space, we have a large area dedicated to model making, which allows for building and display of sizeable pieces.

Large Scael Model

During our work on a new build private residence in Hampshire, we carried out much of the design work on the external envelope through the use of physical models. They were worked up in increasing scales including a 1:10 piece of the facade. In particular, we were considering the form of the heavy external piers, fascias and cornices against the lighter timber elements that sat within them. We made the model using a similar sequence to the proposed building construction. We put the more solid facade elements in place so that we could begin considering a number of different forms for the timber window framing that sat within. The glazing was again produced in a similar method to the full-scale building, with a timber-framed bay built separately prior to installation in to the existing facade. We fixed these delicately so that removal would be possible.

We worked on a number of iterations of the window form, adapting the frames and constructing new versions when modification was not possible. Each time, the model was left on display within the studio so that everyone in the practice could consider the alternative versions and provide feedback. Once we had a favoured form, we used the same model to illustrate the proposal to the clients for approval.

I believe that such iterative assessments and amendments would only have been possible through the use of a large-scale physical model. Building models is about constructing space, and many of the activities are similar in technique and execution as the construction of a real building. By carrying out these actions in miniature we may appreciate the building as a physical form and understand the three dimensional mass. Building of models is our primary opportunity to test and refine our building form, whilst experiencing and discovering an approximation of the processes that will be required to make it.

Alastair studied at the University of Bath, University College London and London Metropolitan University. Since joining Niall McLaughlin Architects in 2012 he has worked on the T1 building in King’s Cross; a private residence in Hampshire and the Nazrin Shah Building for Worcester College in Oxford.

Auckland Model on its way to be photographed

Olivia Forty | July 2014 | Back to top

Lesson one: don’t make a model wider than the door.

AucklandModelphoto

The Red House

Tom Turner | July 2014 | Back to top

A group of us from the office recently went to visit William Morris’ Red House. I was inspired by a picture of a red house on the cover of Peter Davey’s book ‘Arts and Crafts Architecture’ so was slightly disappointed to find that those fine chimneys were the work of Edwin Lutyens and not Philip Webb. It was an interesting trip none the less.

The Red House was designed in 1859 by Philip Webb for William Morris. The two had met in the office of G.E. Street in 1856 during Morris’ brief architectural career. The house can be thought of as a bridge between the ‘Gothic Revival’ as epitomised by the ideals of Pugin and the ‘Arts and Crafts’. 50 years after its construction Lawrence Weaver wrote about The Red House ‘It stands for a new epoch of new ideals and practices. Though the French strain which touched so much of the work of the Gothic Revivalists is not absent, and the Gothic flavour itself is rather marked, every brick in it is a word in the history of modern architecture’.1

The Red House is something of an experiment, built by a young and relatively inexperienced architect, and as such is not a refined piece of architecture. Webb later remarked with reference to The Red House ‘…no architect ought to be allowed to build a house until he was 40’. 2

Despite Webb’s young age the experimental feel of the building is probably more to do with the client. Morris would have been incredibly ambitious and perhaps a little impractical. As our tour guide explained the principal rooms of the building face North to address ‘The Pilgrim’s Way’, an ancient route from Winchester to Canterbury as mentioned in Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’. Our guide took great glee in explaining that this eccentricity led to the building being terribly cold, an example of Morris’ ideas overruling common sense. Peter Davey offers a simpler explanation in that Webb was following the Georgian fashion of the principle rooms facing North, whilst also allowing space for the connection of a future East wing for Morris’ friend Edward Burne-Jones and his wife Georgiana.3

Niall Mclaughlin-The Red House

To say that the Red House is unrefined, however, is to miss the point of what makes it so significant. It is the physical embodiment of a group of young designers and thinkers who went on to change the face of British art, design and architecture. They were inspired by a nostalgia of a reimagined medieval England, and it was in the past that they found the clues to pave the way for the Arts and Crafts.

This interest in an older England was not unique to Morris as Ian Hislop explains in his recently broadcast BB2 series ‘Ian Hislop’s Olden Days’, which places Morris’ aesthetic interest in the medieval into a broader social and political context. The description of the second episode, ‘Forward into the Past’ is as follows:

Forward into the Past – How the Victorians turned to the Middle Ages to make sense of their era of progress.

‘Ian Hislop travels back to the era of the Industrial Revolution and Victorian Britain. This was a time of some of the greatest progress and modernisation the country had ever seen – and yet, throughout these decades, writers, artists and politicians were trying to make sense of this new world by retreating into a very old world indeed: the Middle Ages.’

The point that Hislop makes is that we take comfort from the cultural signals that remind us of ‘the good old days’ weather they be the idea of chivalry, the Robin Hood politics of ‘take from the rich and give to the poor’ or the truth and beauty inherent in a gothic arch. For the Victorians the golden age was the medieval period so I wonder what it could be for us today.

In architecture we often talk about truth to materials and the expression of a building being honest to its construction. These ideas were central to the thinking of Morris and Webb’s predecessor, A.W.N. Pugin. In his book ‘The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture’ he writes:

‘The two great rules for design are these: 1st, that there should be no features about a building that are not necessary for convenience, construction or propriety; 2nd, that all ornament should consist of the essential construction of the building. The neglect of these two rules is the cause of all the bad architecture of the present time.’

These words seem as relevant today as they were when first written, although our mental picture on reading them may be somewhat different. Perhaps Pugin’s time and the generation that followed could be thought of as an architectural golden age. In architecture school the Victorian period is an interesting piece of history but not relevant to modern design, but might it be ok to take some inspiration from these great designers?

The idea of any given moment in time looking back to a golden age reminds me of the plot of Woody Allen’s film ‘Midnight in Paris’ which Wikipedia notes ‘The movie explores themes of nostalgia and modernism

Gil Pender travels back to his Golden age, 1920’s Paris where he socialises with the likes of Hemmingway and falls in love with the beautiful Adriana. All’s well until they are transported back to Adriana’s golden age, the 1890s Belle Époque and Pender realises that a golden age can only ever exist in the past.

If time travel were possible we would only ever be chasing rainbows.

When we build in an historic environment or we are looking to create a sense of place we turn to local materials and traditional construction techniques. These offer us a connection with the past that is important for reasons that I can’t begin to explain but which I acknowledge as being real and significant.

It seems to be becoming increasingly acceptable within contemporary architecture to address issues of nostalgia and modernism but our recent brush with post-modernism has made us cautious in our approach. As we venture once more in this direction we would do well to remember the lessons of Pugin, Allen and Hislop.

1. Weaver, Lawrence Small Country Houses of Today, First Series, Country Life, London, nd, p180.

2. Jack, George ‘An appreciation of Philip Webb’, The Architectural Review, Vol XXXVIII, 1915, p3.

3. Davey, Peter Arts and Crafts Architecture, Phaidon, 2010, p40.

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Tom studied at the University of Manchester where he received a BA (Hons) and a diploma with Distinction at the Glasgow School of Art. He won the Royal Scottish Academy Student Prize for Architecture in 2006 as well as the Glasgow City Council Silver Medal, Glasgow School of Art Chairman’s Medal and Glasgow Institute of Architects’ Parchment.  Between 2006 and 2013 he worked for Duggan Morris Architects and Rick Mather Architects.  Tom joined Niall McLaughlin in 2014 and has been working on a private house in Hampshire and is currently running the Jesus College project for the master plan and first phase of development to add research, social, academic and residential accommodation to the College facilities.

A Day Out Of The Office

Anne Schroell | May 2014 | Back to top

Niall McLaughlin Architects-Auckland Castle

We breathlessly boarded the 08.55 to Darlington. Like skilled waitresses we had kept our homemade, oversized, A1 box perfectly level throughout our chase through Kings Cross Station.  The immaculate foam-board creation fitted perfectly on top of a  double-seat on the near-empty train. East-Coast mainline rules are clear however; the guard reminded us that seats are for people only and at Peterborough we were duly ordered to deliver our carefully crafted friend to the dedicated luggage wagon at the front of the train.


The box was purposefully constructed to house a 1:150 context model of Bishop Auckland Town Square with ‘slot-inable’ building options for the site in question.  The model was made for a meeting with Durham County Council and English Heritage at Auckland Castle that same afternoon.
Despite our ticket inspector’s fussiness, we were carried to our destination with the box and its contents in good order.


After a communal lunch with the review panel, the dozen-odd experts collected themselves around a table where the model had been assembled. The object took up so much space that notebooks occasionally and apologetically slid from the edges of the table.


For the following three hours, a multitude of building blocks representing different proposals for the new Welcome Building were inserted into the corner site. The new building is to link town and castle, engaging the new with the old, with our site at the axis of this pirouetting dance.
As we waltzed around the model, interchanging different pieces into our self-made jigsaw, a negotiation occurred between the many different people around the room, a parallel perhaps to the building itself.


During the second part of the afternoon, the presentation became more conceptual. The tower – the key feature of the proposal – was discussed in its meaning, shape and materiality. Was it a campanile, a siege tower, a lighthouse or a scaffold? Each version was debated with varying levels of approval or skepticism. We answered  questions by pulling off bits of white card or finding any handy props to add on to the model; notepads, milk jugs and i-phones were used.


We left the meeting feeling excited, there was only this box to get all the way back to the office…..

Image shows part of the paper model, with multiple versions scattered about, sitting on a windowsill after the meeting.

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Anne studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture. She worked for Tonkin Liu and De Matos Storey Ryan as well as practices in Luxembourg and Austria before joining Niall McLaughlin Architects in 2006.  The main projects Anne worked on are Deal Pier Café in Kent, Somerville College Student Accommodation in Oxford, Peabody Housing in London. She is currently running the Auckland Castle project which consists of 2 new buildings. One is a new gallery attached to the castle and the other is the Welcome Building and Tower for orientation and ticketing.

Assyrian Carpet

Tim Burton | March 2014 | Back to top

At the Assyrian collection at the British Museum, set amongst the colossal gateways of winged beasts with human heads and resplendent reliefs of bloody scenes from lion hunts, there is a large gypsum alabaster stone panel that was once a decoratively carved and painted door sill made up of inter-weaving patterns and borders, in imitation of a magnificent carpet.

Now wall-mounted in its current home, its intricacies can be clearly admired. Alabaster was discovered by the Assyrians circa 879BC to be ideal for carving fine ornament detail, and huge pieces were accordingly quarried, transported and installed as panels in the internal rooms of royal palaces where reliefs or pattern befitting a king would be carved with an astonishing level of skill within a surface depth of 10-15mm.

Image

For Niall McLaughlin Architects T1 project, carried out for Argent on the King’s Cross redevelopment site, a motif from this ancient panel is being incorporated, along with other patterns from ancient Egypt to the twentieth century, into a number of repeating pre-cast elements that will form the building’s decorative facades and bring this enigmatic piece of deracinated design a new lease of life.

We are currently working towards achieving this in a collaboration with the client and the project’s contractor and a team of architectural pre-cast specialists. After carefully interpreting the motif and integrating it into the facade scheme; the proposed design is now being taken forward by mould makers who are utilising 3D routers to form prototypes of a pattern mould. The first results, which are being awaited with no little anticipation by the design team, will be analysed and the depth and colour of the reliefs carefully calibrated. Within a short period of time the small extract of pattern from an Assyrian carpet in existence nearly three thousand years ago will have a physical presence as part of a tapestry of other pre-cast components on this distinctive building forming, part of this ambitious development in the centre of London.

Image of Assyrian carpet pattern engraved in stone from Gottfried Semper Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics, Getty Publications, 2004

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Tim studied architecture at London Metropolitan University and the ETH Zürich after a previous degree in Fine Art and Art History at Goldsmith’s College and experience within the film industry. He has also worked for Gramazio and Kohler’s Research Chair for Architecture and Digital Fabrication. Tim joined Niall McLaughlin Architects in 2012.  Since joining the practice, he has worked on a Peabody housing project in Whitechapel and the T1 Building for Argent in London’s Kings Cross. The T1 Building is a large mixed use development containing a district energy centre, an indoor sports pitch, car parking, shops, bars and 80 apartments.

Clad in a Garment of Poetic Imagery

Joseph Mackey | January 2014 | Back to top

The following text seeks to explore the communicative role of architecture, highlighting how the buildings of Louis Sullivan offer an antidote to the stoicism of the modern movement.

The reasons for the adoption of a muted architectural language in the beginning of the 20th century were numerous, but perhaps the inability of architecture to communicate can be traced back to a Critique of Judgement wherein Immanuel Kant called for true artists to ignore conventional rules governing popular taste as a means to preserve the integrity of the artist / genius in the landscape of an emerging aesthetically uneducated middle class. The restriction of this Kantian ideology can be clearly seen in the modern movement where the elimination of ornament in favour of purely functional structures was meant to appeal to our morality. We were meant to appreciate their honest expression but this simplified architectural rhetoric stripped architecture of its ability to express meaning beyond its function and reduced the ability of the architect to infer a narrative.

Guaranty Building blog image 2

It is here I believe that the architecture of Louis Sullivan offers a counterpoint to the stoicism of the modern movement.  Sullivan’s response to the modernist doctrine was not to abandon ornament but to heed the advice of Owen Jones and devise a new and contemporary ornamental vocabulary. The Guaranty Building represents the high point of Sullivan’s communicative architecture. The building presents a veiled ornamental screen of rich terracotta tiles which act to delineate the tripartite composition of the facades. The ornament at the base of the building reflects the connections of its veiled steel structure which support the vertical mullions above. The repetitive program on the upper floors are articulated by a rigid pattern of piers and ornate spandrels. Sullivan completes the composition by employing a concave cornice which absorbs the vertical mullions and acts to complete a flowing continuous organic architecture.

‘Our buildings thus clad in a garment of poetic imagery… will appeal with redoubled power, like a sonorous melody overlaid with harmonious voices’[1] .  Although Sullivan never acknowledged the influence of Semper, the Garment analogy used by Sullivan is a clear reference to Semper’s theory of dressing and his insistence that the ‘archetypal origin of built form was textile production’[2]. It is also indicative of the ‘strong influence that German culture had on Chicago in the 19th century’[3].

Ornament was for Sullivan and Semper a demonstration of essential artistic and social motives, ‘being fundamental, the wreath was not only initial, it was also profoundly significant because it manifested the unity of the social body, the people themselves’ [4.

Sullivan’s Architecture represents an alternative modernism where function and ornament were not considered to be in opposition but could coexist to create a symbolic architecture which sought to communicate.

[1] Louis H Sullivan, Kindergarten Chats, Dover Publications Inc, 1980

[2] Kenneth Frampton, Studies in Tectonic Culture, The MIT Press, 1995

[3] Ibid.

[4] David Leatherbarrow, The Roots of Architectural Invention, Cambridge University Press, 1993

Images from John Szarkowski –  ‘the idea of Louis Sullivan’ Thames & Hudson, 2000

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Joseph holds a BArch degree from University College Dublin. Joseph won an Architecture Association of Ireland Student Award in 2006 and the Arup Architecture Graduates Medal in 2010. Between 2006 and 2012 he worked with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Paris, Tom dePaor in Dublin and Eric Parry Architects in London.  Since joining Niall McLaughlin Architects in 2012 he has been working on a chapel for monks in Dublin, the repair and extension of the old Radcliffe Infirmary Outpatients Building in Oxford and the T1 Building for Argent in King’s Cross, London. The T1 Building is a large mixed use development containing a district energy centre, an indoor sports pitch, car parking, shops, bars and 80 apartments.