Engineering and design student insights

Student projects, placements, research and study experiences in the Faculty of Engineering & Design

Posts By: Alastair Marsh

The Destruction of Memory

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Why is architectural heritage targeted in war? And what can we do to protect it? Based on the book by architecture critic Robert Bevan, The Destruction of Memory reveals the destruction wrought by instances of cultural genocide across the world. Through exploring contemporary struggles, including the ongoing actions of Daesh (ISIS) in the Levant, this film shows you both the war against culture, and the battle to save it.

On the evening of Tuesday 2nd May, ACE Society hosted around 30 students and staff in the Level 2 Studios of 4 East South to watch the film of “The Destruction of Memory” and discuss what it meant to us, personally and professionally.

Rebuilding of Ferhadija Mosque, Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Image: Derek Wiesehahn. Copyright 2016 Vast Productions USA

Rebuilding of Ferhadija Mosque, Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Image: Derek Wiesehahn.
Copyright 2016 Vast Productions USA

We were fortunate to be joined by some special guests – Tim Judah, a reporter for the Economist on and author of several books on Balkans history; Ammar Azzouz, a trained architect and Bath alumnus from Homs in Syria, currently working for Arup in London; Ivan Gololobov and David Clarke, who teach and research in Russian and German Studies respectively, from Bath’s POLIS department.

After we’d watched the film and had a timely drinks and snacks intermission, we shared our perspectives on the film. This ranged from the historical, political and aesthetic, including some moving anecdotes of personal experience.

The following discussion was broad and challenging. We shared personal experiences of living and visiting cities recently shaped by conflict, and sought to answer the larger questions too. Will future generations inevitably repeat the crimes of the past? Is international law equipped to deal with these crimes? What is the balance in urban reconstruction between commemoration and moving on? There were few simple answers to be had, but much was learned in how to understand these complex situations – both as professional designers, and as human individuals.

The documentary unfolds in the crit bays of 4 East South.

The documentary unfolds in the crit bays of 4 East South.

We would like to thank the Dept of Architecture & Civil Engineering and the Edge Arts Community for funding and supporting this event, as well as our special guests for their time. It was an educational and thoughtful evening – a reminder that being the best designers and engineers is as much about listening as it is about speaking.

 

The shed – a short essay on architecture and society

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Think the shed hasn't made its mark on architecture and society? Think again...


Introduction

A large proportion of talk from us researchers is about the value of our research, why it’s cool and how it could help sort out a lot of the world’s big problems. And so we should talk in such a way. But once in a while, it’s refreshing and invigorating to divert our gaze from the lofty questions and terrible predicaments of our age – and seek something new in a familiar design.

In the spirit of one of my literary heroes, Alain de Botton, I shall take you through a short illustrated essay to restore the dignity of that architecturally misunderstood, true friend of humanity – the shed.

What contributions has the shed made to architecture and society? Bob Harvey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What contributions has the shed made to architecture and society?
Bob Harvey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the shed is rather narrow, focussing on the domestic garden or tool-shed...

“A slight structure built for shelter or storage, or for use as a workshop, either attached as a lean-to a permanent building or separate; often with open front or sides.”

… so I shall expand my scope to include warehouses and their ilk, arguably siblings of the domestic shed. Are you ready? Let's begin...


Familiarity

Breeds contempt! The shed has an unfortunate association with either domestic or working drudgery, so it is prudent to remind ourselves that it has been revolutionary in human history. It has enabled us to store our harvests - it would be hard to overstate the influence of this in the development of civilisation. My personal favourite example of this ‘early revolutionary shed’ has to be the Egyptians’ Granary structure in the popular PC game, Age of Empires. I don’t know of its archaeological accuracy, but what a thing of beauty!

Granary of the Egyptian civilisation in the Stone Age, as portrayed in Age of Empires I. Courtesy of Microsoft Studios.

Granary of the Egyptian civilisation in the Stone Age, as portrayed in Age of Empires I. Courtesy of Microsoft Studios.

Our ability to store food in warehouses is still vitally important today. How easy it is to take all this once revolutionary technology for granted today.

Although less true for foodstuffs, much is made of the influence of the digital retail economy’s influence on the urban built environment - its erosion of high streets and town centres. But it’s false to suggest that the web has dispensed with the need for retail buildings altogether. The enormous warehouses belonging to retail giants such as Amazon, Tesco, and notoriously, Sports Direct, are now the physical link in the fiendish process of sourcing and despatching products to and from around the world. Whether you love, loathe or tolerate them, these corporate behemoths who facilitate much of our daily lives with their logistical feats are, at the end of the day, still dependent upon the humble shed.

The enormous Sports Direct HQ and warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, UK.

The enormous Sports Direct HQ and warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, UK. Ian Paterson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Atmosphere

Many domestic sheds across the land are witness to nothing more remarkable than lawnmowers, long-forgotten trampolines and perhaps the odd model railway set, yet the shed is the prime haven for the discoverer and inventor.

Is it the freedom from distraction, protection from mocking voices or simply convenience has made the domestic shed the place of so much human ingenuity? Whatever its x-factor is, it has been birthplace for a plethora of advances, as diverse as Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie’s early experiments on new elements to Sir James Dyson’s invention of the bagless vacuum cleaner.

The inspirational and architectural potential of the shed as resurged in recent years - perhaps by people seeking something lacking in their homes.

Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie doing some Nobel-Prize winning work in their shed.

Marie Skłodowska Curie and Pierre Curie doing some Nobel-Prize winning work in their shed.


Aesthetics

Cobwebs and some slightly wonky pine slats are de rigeur for most domestic sheds, whilst numbingly vast sheets of corrugated sheet metal are the look of choice for their industrial brethren. But this has not always been the case, and still is not always so. I shall use counter-examples that I have encountered on my travels in Somerset.

The Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon impresses firstly by scale - it stands 51 metres long and 9.5 metres wide. Venturing inside, it reveals its astonishing craftsmanship – a timber cruck roof, most of which has survived from the 14th century, supported by the buttressed walls of fine limestone. Perhaps such grandeur is unsurprising, as it was built to serve Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset, at that time the richest nunnery in England. Although I’m glad to see the back of the feudal system it facilitated, surely there is no finer shed then this in the land?

The stunning cruck roof of the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon, Somerset, UK. Courtesy of English Heritage.

The stunning cruck roof of the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon, Somerset, UK. Courtesy of English Heritage.

In more recent history is the Bath branch of discount supermarket Lidl, built in 1966-67. Originally built as a factory for a manufacturer of office furniture, I have judiciously deemed it an honourary member of the shed family as it was built as a single interior space. What makes it special is only visible once inside – influenced by the style of Mies van der Rohe, it was the first building in Britain to make use of Mero space frame technology for its roof trusses. On a social level, it was architecturally notable for having no partitions between craftspeople and managers. Converted to a Lidl within the last 5 years, one can admire the spectacular geometry above your head whilst in an achingly long checkout queue.

The roof trusses of Lidl in Bath, using a Mero space frame. Courtesy of Phil Turton / Historic England.

The roof trusses of Lidl in Bath, using a Mero space frame. Courtesy of Phil Turton / Historic England.


Conclusions

This statement might seem cheesier than a budget Parmesan - but sheds are really a lot like us humans. Though often seemingly dull, they often have the capacity to dazzle, either in the appearance or the activities they facilitate. And even when they really do seem dull, they fulfil critical functions in our societies incredibly well. How we’d miss them if they were gone.

 

Science, goblins and the new fiver: why 2017 will be a good year

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Postgraduate

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

It’s scarcely worth repeating that 2016 was full of surprises – of which many people were happy, many not happy. As for many other walks of life, science faces uncertain times.

Despite the UK Government’s promise to safeguard existing EU Horizon 2020 funding until the UK leaves the EU, there are concerns of leaner times ahead. Cold hard cash aside, the general zeitgeist is perhaps also concerning for a scientist. The Oxford English Dictionary’s recognition of “post-truth” as a word, plus a famous person being quoted as “having had enough of experts”, has created something of an edgy mood.

Throughout all this uncertainty, I am personally buoyant about science’s prospects in 2017. In the spirit of the year just passed, this is for an unashamedly emotional, subjective reason, all thanks to an unlikely union of people.

First of the odd couple, the man behind Gnarlak the goblin in the film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – otherwise known as Ron Perlman. Secondly, the new face of the £5 note – one Sir Winston Churchill. In an interview with The Big Issue, Perlman spoke passionately about the value of arts, saying:

“I’m with Churchill – we need to cherish culture. It celebrates our commonalities”

Ron Perlman, Interview with The Big Issue, no.1231, 14 November 2016

Gnarlak, a goblin played by culture champion Ron Perlman. Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Gnarlak, a goblin played by arts champion Ron Perlman. Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Churchill was indeed a champion of culture – particularly its value to society (though he is often misquoted in this regard).

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

Sir Winston Churchill, Address to Royal Academy, 30 April 1938

This staunch support of culture may have partly come from Churchill’s own career in painting. It was a source of great enjoyment and relief for him. As he himself said "If it weren't for painting I could not live. I couldn't bear the strain of things."

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

Winston off-duty. Image courtesy of The International Churchill Society.

But what is this to do with science?” I hear you ask. Like its fellow branches of the liberal arts, science, has its ups and downs. But like so many other aspects of human culture, it’s hardwired into our existence. It’s here to stay.

At this point in time, we are perhaps more aware than before of the differences between oneself and other citizens. This is a reason, more than ever, to seek what unites - our “commonalities”.

And science DOES unite. To give an example - standing out amongst December’s news articles about the Middle East was the arrival of SESAME. Not a puppet or seed, but the Middle East’s new particle accelerator, the “Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications”. Scientists from Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Bahrain will collaborate and do research in this new £75m facility in Jordan.

Open SESAME! The Middle East's new particle accelerator in al-Balqa, Jordan. Image courtesy of http://www.sesame.org.jo/

Open SESAME! The Middle East's new particle accelerator in al-Balqa, Jordan. Image courtesy of http://www.sesame.org.jo/

The prospect of lots of clever people from a troubled region working together to push the envelope of human scientific knowledge is something to celebrate. Likewise, in music, sport, literature etc., there is so much which humans enjoy and excel at which unites us across differences. At a time when there seem to be ever more ways to contrive conflict with others (voting preferences, cosmetic appearance, nationality, the list grows ever longer), let us always think first of the reality at hand - that quietly, so many of the things which inspire us are common to us all.

So as we look ahead to what 2017 may bring, rather than dwell on what frights us, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of all that unites us.

A Happy New Year to you all.

Also posted at https://verycivilengineer.wordpress.com/