Engineering and design student insights

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

Tagged: architecture

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.

 

Questions and answers on the Basil Spence project

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Emma Moberg


In his introduction to this project, Martin reminded us that “vision without action is a day dream”, and similarly, “action without vision is a nightmare”. Even though I thought it fairly apparent at the time, I would in hindsight say that we have experienced quite a bit of both. The real lows such as the heartbreak of a cracked concrete model or a fatal computer crash, were all eventually overcome. I think the essential trait to our team has been our persistence; continuing to question and experiment to push the scheme further. I believe that the project has not only taught us to ask the right questions, but also how to provide useful answers.

Our Method:
Physical Models
The One Sentence

A dialogue through models

Our scheme developed over eight weeks of questions and answers, and more questions, a process in which the models were key. Imagining and developing a building in a team of four can be challenging if the conversation takes place only in words. I found that arguments more often arose due to miscommunication than actual differences and disagreements. In order to lead a constructive design conversation and share ideas between us we have used a wealth of cardboard and foam models. Also a useful tool in all of the tutorials, acting as tangible objects of dialogue. The model making has been effective in terms of communication, but also to test and interrogate ideas. We detected flaws and made improvements through continuous material experimentation.

Towards the last stages, our cardboard models grew in scale and were eventually tested in plaster and concrete. We spent many days, even weeks, sawing formwork in the workshop, testing plaster pigment levels, cutting foam and pouring concrete in the lab. We learnt fantastic things from the skilful department staff; Walter, Miles and Eve, patiently guiding us through the hands-on making. Obvious as it may sound; by building our building again and again, we developed a clear and coherent material and structural strategy, tried and tested by the critical method. To me, the confidence that this rationale of physical evidence and tangible iterations provides, has been valuable.

One sentence to focus our design

Often during the project we would be asked to repeat the single sentence that defined our scheme. Our sentence was “A monument to Oxford’s literary heritage” and was decided in the second week. While a simple exercise, that sentence on the wall was helpful in decision making and reminded us of the initial motivation and foundation for our project. Our one core idea evolved and developed rather than drastically altered. Although we had many days of doubt and indecisiveness, we were always able to gather in consensus around that core sentence, and thereby drive the process forward.

The group dynamic

I am incredibly grateful to have been through this exact project with these exact people. The dynamic within the group has been exciting and invigorating; I do really believe that we have played on each other’s strengths towards an end product that is more confident, clear and thoughtful than any of us could have thought of on our own. And in turn, inherent to our building is Matt’s wonderful clarity of thought, Helen’s conviction and drive for the scheme, Zach’s patience and brilliance and my own continuous efforts to question, improve and imagine our scheme. After the blood, sweat, tears and sleep invested in this project I am glad to see our Basil Spence finally come together. And, I am proud of the work we presented, which I believe is a perfect culmination of all of our efforts and the methods we have learnt over the past three years in Bath.

 

Unity, confidence and persistence on the Basil Spence project

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Helen Needs


Unity of thought
Working together is the foundation on which the Basil Spence project is built. The integration of disciplines to create something inspiring is both an exciting and daunting prospect. Emma and Matt have been close friends since the beginning of university, and are now almost like brother and sister. My place in the team dynamic has occasionally been to balance this, trying to resolve slight tension by helping them realise they are often saying the same thing! We were incredibly lucky to have worked with Zach, our engineer, who shared our desire to create something more. He appreciated our architectural ambitions, and worked with us to enrich them with structural and environmental strategies which elevated the design to another level.

I think that throughout the project we have all endeavoured to not take the “easy way out” in any aspect. If ideas felt that their only justification was being the obvious, or easiest solution, we wouldn’t accept them. I think this unity of thought helped us create something with a truly strong concept, which stood the test of time - each of our moments of unwillingness to compromise has paid off. A new experience for me has been the sheer volume of models we have created during this project. As a bold initial move was the key to our design, considering its scale - modelling it from the outset was unavoidable. We tested any and every eventuality and suggestion given to us in tutorials, resulting in a rapid iterative process which allowed us to become comfortable with our scale and form. The process of making these models also meant that there have been very few instances where the team has not been “on the same page” with what we are trying to express.

Confidence to answer our critics

Throughout the project, my confidence has experienced true peaks and troughs, as has the confidence of the group as a whole. In week two our proposal began to be referred to by tutors and colleagues as something “bold”. A building of this scale, standing out amongst its context is not something I believe would have been any of our initial ideas had we been working alone. The reaction to this risk-taking approach was more often than not, positive and something we were commended for.

Whilst we were comfortable with the shape and form of the main building from the beginning there were a number of delays due to lack of confidence. This speck of doubt initially diluted our ideas and central concept. Throughout tutorials and discussions leading up to the interim review there was an “elephant in the room”, which surprisingly was not the large, bold main building. Each of us avoided designing these smaller modules - which were initially key to our concept. Just before the interim review these modules were removed from the proposal entirely. This move tested my confidence in the idea as a whole - however, it felt as though a weight had been lifted and allowed us to focus our efforts entirely on designing the central building. Our initial moves gained a positive reaction at the interim review, one major change to “tidy up” the diagram of our building was something we all agreed on. From here, there were more layers to add to achieve the level of detail we felt it required to reach its full potential - but it felt attainable.

As we planned our final critique, I was hit with a realisation of how deeply immersed we had become in the project. Going into the review I felt we would be able to guide the critics into elements of the design we felt best sold the proposal. Pushing and questioning each other and ourselves constantly meant when others asked questions - we had conviction in our answers.

Perseverance until the end

This was the longest project we have tackled so far in our university careers. It was an exciting prospect having the time to develop an idea so fully, but we've also needed perseverance. Once the idea of the “concrete box” was expressed, we universally agreed that some, or all of our models would ideally be concrete casts. The idea was beautiful, the reality was hours spent in the workshop, many failed attempts and ultimately - heartbreak. Creating formwork which we thought would be sturdy enough took days - only to have this be our downfall - the model could only be removed from its formwork by brute force. The concrete cracked, leaving us with only one or two intact fragments, the model was unsalvageable. Yet, we decided to pursue the goal of creating a casted model, just in a different medium. The end result perhaps was not as neat or accurate as we had envisioned, however the ceremony of opening it up during the review and revealing the spaces inside still achieved the desired effect and our time spent making it was worthwhile.

After experiencing the euphoria of winning the Basil Spence, knuckling down and ensuring all our thoughts and ideas were captured on our final report was a difficult process to begin. We had the well-known situation of “it’s all in our heads, we just need to draw it”. This week, having each focused on producing a section of the report, I have witnessed it come together into a piece of work I am immensely proud of and that I believe shows our scheme at its best - a place I would love to visit.

 

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.

 

Vision, Management, Delivery on the Basil Spence

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📥  Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Matt McCluskey


When Martin first e-mailed the year to encourage us to start assembling groups for Basil Spence, he suggested that a suitable team may consist of a visionary, a manager, and a deliverer. While I agree with him on principle, I would like to think that our team distributed these traits fairly evenly across the four of us, and that this enabled us to work cohesively and productively for the entire duration of the project.

Visualising our Basil Spence design

In terms of visualising the scheme, I always felt that the others within the group were seeing the scheme from the same perspective that I was. Although we sometimes had different opinions about how to develop the scheme, this was mainly resolved by making physical models. Not only did this highlight flaws in an idea through physical manifestation, but model making in itself provided much needed respite from endless debate, discussion and potential conflict. I was sometimes reluctant to spend time developing multiple solutions, but have realised that this was the only way that our scheme ever moved forward, and that without constantly modelling different ideas, we would have ended up with a very bland solution.

Delivering to our final goal

Individually, we were all self-motivated and set our own objectives, all the while bearing in mind the various milestones to work towards. Collectively, however, we sometimes struggled to commit to group goals and to decide who should complete which task, due to the unpredictability of the time taken to produce material. Once the scheme had been finalised, we realised that we faced a daunting task to produce all the necessary material for the final review. Emma and Helen had spent days in the workshop producing formwork for a concrete model which broke as soon as we prised the formwork off. This setback was extremely demoralising and frustrating in equal measure. We felt as if 5 days had been completely wasted, leaving us with less time than desired to produce the drawings for the final review. Helen took on the thankless task of building a 3D model to use for drawings and we managed to produce a cast model for the review.

Working as a team

In Zach, we not only had an incredibly gifted civil engineer, but a talented and immensely passionate designer who contributed greatly to every single aspect of the design process, while also producing an amazingly thorough engineering solution to our scheme. His positive outlook on the project and eagerness to push the boundaries of his knowledge have produced, in my opinion, a unique and innovative solution to a complex brief. I have never met an individual who works as hard or as unselfishly as Zach. Whether it was cutting tiny wooden buildings in the workshop, calculating the structural requirements of our building, or staying in studio hours after us to do his other coursework, his enthusiasm never wavered.

Thanks to Emma the main body of our scheme has stayed pure and undiluted in terms of its concept. Her amazing drawings brought to life the fantastical nature that we tried to instil in our scheme. Helen's calm demeanour and ability to think clearly and with reason has prevented several discussions from turning into arguments, as has her ability to weigh up the pros and cons of multiple solutions in order to produce the best result for the scheme. This is something that I occasionally found difficult, as I can develop tunnel-vision and struggle to imagine how another solution could work.

Without my team mates, I would not have had such a firm belief in our scheme. I can say whole-heartedly that I have enjoyed every single moment in their presence - our shared enjoyment of this process has made Basil Spence worthwhile; we have produced a scheme which I am proud to put our names on.