Last weekend the 25th anniversary of the Open House took place in London, where more than 800 buildings across it were open to everyone for free. Of course we took advantage of this and visited many buildings ourselves.
The principle ideas 25 years ago are still present today, which is to let people learn the importance of thoughtful architecture and urban design. However, the city of London is ever-changing in a unique and diverse way. It has transformed in many different ways, from the expansive urban fabric to the smallest details.
Founded by Victoria Thornton, the Open House organisation has risen up every year supported by many volunteers and building owners, offering different kind of activities in relation with the design, such as neighbours' talks, cycle tours and architects’ talks during every third weekend of September. Besides this, over the rest of the year programmes for schoolchildren and design courses for community groups are provided to enrich the creative and sustainable knowledge.
In order to get the maximum from the Open House it is possible to find on its website, depending on everyone’s interests, some building listings with all the information (location, architects, period, etc). Some of them are really popular, so it is necessary to book in advance or enter in a public ballot.
Open House is a great opportunity to get closer to London, its people, and history. A new skyline is redrawn every year and needs to be shown to the world.
‘Getting stuck in’ - a warm welcome to our latest team member Robert Buss who is joining us from the London School of Architecture. A great first week getting hands on with the model making!
In July we launched a so-called micro-unit alongside our client RHP (www.rhp.org.uk) and our manufacturer – Legal and General (https://www.legalandgeneral.com/modular/). The prototype unit was delivered to RHP’s car park, where it was launched to the media and other interested parties yesterday, and is there to show how 26sqm can provide a really nice space to live in if well designed – pictures and floorplans are now available to view on our Projects page (http://www.wimshurst-pelleriti.com/launch-pod).
The unit was very well received on the day and has received only positive comments from those who have visited so far. In spite of this it is clear that there will be a lot of debate about the impact the introduction of this unit and others like it will have space standards – as there has been while we have been developing the concept with RHP – but the key thing to remember is that LaunchPod is there to fill a need that the private market cannot currently fulfil. It is purely a rental product that will be let at no more than the average rental rate of a double room in a typical shared house in the area. In this sense it is a big step up from the typical HMO offering – which in London is more often than not a double bedroom, shared kitchen and shared bathroom at up to £800 per month. It is categorically not a challenge to the space standards that the GLA requires from the sales market. The unit will provide a short term rental option in-line with the aims of the London Living Rent initiative, an affordable stepping stone for those who crave their own private space but have no help from the welfare state and cannot afford the market rate for their own flat. The London Living Rent Initiative is targeting intermediate rented housing at one third of the mean local (ward level) household income, helping Londoners on average incomes save for a deposit to buy their first home. In South West London this covers a very large percentage of the population – young professionals in particular.
Given the wealth of investment into student accommodation in recent years – new graduates will often find themselves living in lower quality accommodation when they are working that when they were students. LaunchPod is seeking to reverse this trend in a genuinely affordable manner. In the LaunchPod renters will have their own bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living-dining area, high ceilings and external amenity space as well as a wealth of storage. This is surely the sort of innovation that is required to help address the Housing Crisis.
Everyone has been involved in a conversation about the 'housing crisis' with heart felt opinions across the spectrum. The one thing every can agree on, I think, is the vital importance of new housing in the UK particularly affordable housing.
Thankfully, Mayor Sadiq Khan has secured over £3bn government funds to kick start building at least 90,000 affordable homes by 2021. The scheme, Homes for Londoners: Affordable Homes Programme 2016-21, can be split into three categories:
London Affordable Rent - for people on low incomes
London Living Rent - helping Londoners on average incomes save for a deposit to buy their first home
London Shared Ownership - for people who want to buy but can't afford the open market
We have been working with Richmond Housing Partnership to target the 15k-55k income range, who are part of the working Londoners category that include recent graduates, young professionals, and key workers. This is in line withe the London Living Rent initiative.
In Richmond the ability of this group of residents to afford to purchase properties on the open market is severely limited by high marker values of the types of properties which have traditionally been available. Together with RHP, we are currently designing new homes for the intermediate market rent sector with comparable costs to renting a room in a shared room within Richmond.
The graph below shows the number of households in Richmond against the income levels of social renters, private renters and owner occupiers. The graph clearly shows there is a huge portion of income earners between 15k-55k who are not able to live in the Borough of Richmond either to rent or buy.
Richmond upon Thames - Households per Income Level
The Isokon Gallery in Hampstead, London explores the 'story of a new vision of urban living'. The Isokon company in 1929 is stated to have been founded on the following principles: Standardisation of parts; Rationalisation of process and methods; Modern industrial design based on the principle of conspicuous economy.
As Architects we are constantly attempting to improve standard of living and balance this with the market forces of the time. Having visited the gallery, which is extremely interesting and topical, we realised that nothing in this world changes. Back in the 1930's we see people striving to design and build flats to accommodate single young professionals in a city environment so that one doesn't have to settle for a cramped room in a converted shared house. Fast forward to today. Do you see any changes?
Wells Coates designed the Isokon more commonly known as Lawn Road Flats' to target the exact market that we see today. The demographic that is struggling to get on the property ladder and can't afford the rising rental prices where they work.
In the Isokon Gallery book published by the gallery there is an extract from the launch day of the building, 9th July 1934, by Molly Pritchard:
" This building... is perhaps the most modern building in England. It is not only modern as an architectural piece - it expresses a revolutionary idea for living."
In the last year or so we have been researching methods of reducing construction costs and finding flexible solutions to providing new build homes in a city with tight planning constraints and increasingly expensive and diminishing pockets of land. One of the techniques we have been extensively working on is cross laminated timber (CLT) prefabrication.
- Simplicity of construction
- Manageable unit sizes
- No Limit to size of units created
- Reduces time on site for erecting the principle waterproofed shell.
- More jointing interface details
- Negotiation and coordination of parts on site
- Individual panels limited by size of transport
- Fully finished plug and play units dropped into position
- Very fast on site construction
- Fully off site with workmanship and fabrication undertaken under controlled conditions.
- Size of units completely dependent on what can be transported (roughly 4.2m max width)
- Limits flexibility in marginal increases in the overall unit size
- Limits maximizing site potential due to strict grid requirements
- Highly serviced volumetric elements of small scale combined with highly serviced components or wall panels undertaken off site under controlled conditions.
- Greater flexibility in overall design and adapting to site constraints
- Limited complexity in the connection of services on site - plug and play concept for highly serviced often small areas requiring numerous trades
- Wide range of junction details and interface types to negotiate on site
- Future adaptability
Wimshurst Pelleriti was founded on the principle that architecture and development can go hand in hand. Architects know how to design and they know how to manage the build process, perhaps it is arguable that the only thing they lack to succeed as a developer is an understanding of the financial aspect. However, if the financial side can be covered – why would architects not seek to implement their designs for themselves? Our company was founded to do just this – to design well-considered buildings for our clients – yes – but also to buy land and develop it as well as joint venture with clients who own land. We believe that not only does this give us access to the development margin – it actually makes us a better architecture practice as it helps us understand better the cost impact of our design decisions. In addition, it puts us in control of ensuring that the design we envisaged is what the builder delivers. We have come to truly appreciate the value of a well-designed detail and its importance to the contractor.
In our first new-build development – we have taken the role of architect, developer, project manager and contractor. This is quite an undertaking. The site is exactly the sort of complex urban site that we are in a good position to exploit. Indeed, other developers might have been put off because of its complexity & its history. It originally housed two derelict shops as seen above – and the previous owner had tried and failed to get permission for the building below.
We were confident we could do better – but we needed patience – it took us 15 months to get permission for our scheme then a further 8 months to obtain financing and to get the project on site. Now – three years after we had our offer on the site accepted and a lot of bumps in the road – the final steels are going into the roof structure. Perhaps this timeline is the key learning point – there are no short cuts and there will always be bumps in the road. We observe our clients’ bumps as an architect but we live and breathe them as a developer. When you buy a site on spec – its worthless unless you get planning permission for something viable – then once you do get planning - you don’t get paid a dime until you start selling however nice your design is. We very much hope that we both deliver a building of high design quality and make a profit for our investors. Both are on track – we will keep you updated….
We are delighted to have been invited to become part of London School of Architecture!
Architectural Education and Architectural practice are inextricably linked, after all we all spend at least 7 years formally training; but as some have highlighted there often exists a polarisation between practices seeking ‘oven ready’ architects and architectural education often positioning itself to challenge the status quo of built form in the pursuit of innovation. Beyond this the state of our university system currently leads to graduates amassing debt that they are unlikely to be able to pay back over the course of their professional career. This situation formed the catalyst for Will Hunter to establish a different model of education where students operate part time in practice, alleviating some of the financial pressures whilst drawing in a range of the capital’s leading architectural firms - small/medium and large - to support it’s students and participate in critical debate. We are very excited to partake in this journey with the LSA and develop a working relationship; we have as much to learn from the students as we have to offer them; and look forward to engaging with passionate architectural minds!
We will leave you with a few words from LSA founding director Will Hunter:
“We want the innovations that the students design, not to be motivated by mere formal novelty, but about how architecture performs spatially, choreographs relationships and creates experiences. At its most poetic architecture is human ritual spatialised; and at its most prosaic it is an assembly of parts. We want our students to be adept at moving between these two modes of expression to create architecture truly befitting of our times.”
One of the biggest issues the authorities face in major cities is transport. Securing funding and planning for future public transport is challenging. However, accommodating the car is even more difficult. In some cases carless developments can be extremely beneficial to the local authority, the local community and above all the environment (that is until Elon Musk creates a sustainable driverless dream machine).
Richard Rogers in ‘Cities for a Small Planet’ writes, “[cars] have eroded the quality of public spaces and have encouraged urban sprawl” .There is an assumption that cars are more flexible than any other mode of transport but, as Dorothy E. Smith writes, “we do the driving and can choose the direction and destination, but the way in which the car is put together, how it works, and how and where it will travel structure our relation to the world we travel in”.
In London we are relatively well off. Lets take a look at the history of another city. LA.
The city of Los Angeles has long been the seductive mistress which lures in her prey with the promise of opportunity, lush landscapes, sunny skies, ocean views, surfing beaches and above all, freedom of movement. Los Angeles believed nothing was impossible and has prospered from the name L.A. , drawing people away from other historic cities to a land where dreams come true. Unlike many other cities which provide persistent images in your mind of historical landmarks or buildings, L.A. is often depicted by images of freeway intersections, traffic jams or sprawling grid patterns. So why do so many still flock to this city?
The urban history of Los Angeles is largely related to infrastructure and resources as in most cities but, as in the films the city is famous for, there is a theatrical story line with a concluding cliffhanger: Where does this vast but elusive, attractive but obscene, joyful but sinful city go next? The conflicts around L.A.’s networks have often been documented or even adapted into films. The ‘railroad wars’ may be described as the opening credits to Los Angeles’ history; Pacific Electric’s battle with the automobile was portrayed in the plot of ‘Who framed Roger Rabbit’ with the freeway taking over the rail lines and finally the famous Californian water wars are the inspiration for the film ‘Chinatown’. Securing the water in Owen’s River via the L.A. viaduct and the rapid growth of the early rail lines did indeed turn a small pueblo into a global metropolis and for a long time after the L.A. version of the American Dream was that everyone should have a car, a driveway and a yard. Any talk of other ways of living was deemed a ‘step backward’.
A brief history - a story of conflicts
California joined the United States around 1850 as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Los Angeles had a population of 1,620. By 1930 the population had risen to 2.3 million (including the whole metropolitan area) and in 2012 to almost 15 million.
In 1868 Southern Pacific Rail began to construct a railroad down California’s central valley and reached Los Angeles in 1876. Entrepreneurs began to invest in Southern California but the railroad only set off a minor real estate boom. It wasn’t until the transcontinental line, the Santa Fe, reached Southern California in 1885 that large numbers of midwesterners flocked to Los Angeles to reside, “A passenger could travel from Kansas city to Los Angeles for only one dollar” which would equate to about $25 today. Local banker, H. S. McKee, said in 1915: “The most conspicuous fact about Los Angeles lies in its being a residential and not industrial community.” After World War 1 and the increase in automobile sales the oil industry became the region’s leading sector closely followed by the movie industry.
Los Angeles’ growth was fortuitous because it lacked basic conditions for a new settlement to grow. Carey McWilliams said: “Without lumber and minerals, with only one natural harbour [San Diego], lacking water and fuels, and surrounded by mountains, desert, and ocean, there was seemingly never a region so unlikely to become a vast metropolitan area as Southern California. It is an artificial region, a product of forced growth and rapid change… Like the entire region, Los Angeles, its heart and centre, has developed in spite of its location rather than because of it. Southern California is a man-made, gigantic improvisation.” Los Angeles now operates the largest container port in the United States.
In 1901 Henry Huntington established the interurban ‘Pacific Electric Railway’, a light rail line. Whilst its predecessor, the Los Angeles Railway, was designed as a commuter railway, the P.E. was designed to promote his own residential real estate. Usually development would happen slowly along proposed routes of trolley lines and landowners would build a little at a time waiting for the property to appreciate once the railway was completed. Huntington had the money to expand the railway at a tremendous rate and could choose where he put the lines. He built the lines through his own land with the strategy to subdivide and sell the real estate. Huntington explains, “It would never do for an electric line to wait until the demand for it came. It must anticipate the growth of communities and be there when the builders arrive—or they may very likely never arrive at all...” Between 1904-1913 he completed 1100 miles of track, ran 900 ‘redcars’ and opened 500 subdivisions of land a year, “all within a block or two of a street-car line”.
After a while Pacific Electric went into decline, partly due to bad maintenance and the automobile becoming more affordable. Cars had right of way so the trolley journeys were held up and took longer. It is rumoured a subsidiary of General Motors bought some of the trolley car routes to make them into bus routes, allowing for the dominance of the automobile. It has been dubbed the ‘Great American Scandal’ or the ‘Red Car Conspiracy’. After a while Pacific Electric followed the trend and the trolley car routes were dismantled for freeways.
Although, the automobile industry was gaining momentum, Americans were not always as keen on the car as they are now. Previously there was nothing moving faster than 5-10 miles an hour. Children were encouraged to go out and play. However cities were filling up in the 1920’s, the Ford was being massed produced and as a result the death toll went up. The car had a bad reputation. A collection of motor clubs and other interested parties named Motordom came together and lobbied for rules that protected the car industry. They suggested that if a driver could be reckless, so could the pedestrian .The ‘jay walker’ was previously a slang word for a ‘country bumpkin’, a person walking around aimlessly looking at the big dazzling buildings. E.B.Lefferts, a P.R. advisor for the Automobile Club of Southern California, recognised that instead of making ‘jay walking’ a legal offence it would be more effective to make it a word of ridicule. If a person caught jaywalking was ridiculed then the onlookers would make sure they didn’t jaywalk in future. In 1929 Motordom effectively won and the car had victory over the streets in LA. Crosswalks became compulsory and freeways were built to get people in and out of the city.
Los Angeles, unlike other western US cities, was shaped both by its rail and the automobile: originally a western rail terminus and a set of residential communities populated by rail-based migration from the American midwest, its many towns became connected to each other by high-speed highways and eventually merged into one vast metropolis.
Car culture - a love lost?
The vastness of L.A.’s relatively consistent density has generated discussion on ‘dense sprawl’. It might be argued that it will suffer from problems that occur in high density areas, such as traffic congestion and poor air quality and lack the benefits of accessibility that are traditional to dense urban areas with a good street life. Manville and Shoup quoted: “Los Angeles is both car-oriented and dense; it approaches the human density of San Francisco but dilutes it with the parking supply of a suburb. Any benefits Los Angeles might derive from its density are offset by its relentless accommodation of the automobile.”
The obvious social effects of a sprawling city are evident. Mass depression, obesity and individualistic societies are problems around the world. Cars allow freedom to not exercise and freedom to seclude oneself from society, which are reported to be detrimental to our health and our sense of community. Cars encourage sprawl, leaving empty plots along the way and may restrict the street life. Jane Jacobs argues “the more downtown is broken up and interspersed with parking lots and garages... the duller and deader it becomes”.
There have been advances in technology within the car industry such as low carbon fuels, hybrid cars and driverless cars. However, these very small steps in efficiency don’t solve the problem. Take driverless cars, for example, they may reduce traffic collisions and improve congestion and journey times but traffic congestion does tend to maintain an equilibrium. The law of induced demand states that, in general, when the supply of a product increases, so will the demand. Todd Litman also points out that “if road capacity increases, the number of peak-period trips also increases until congestion again limits further traffic growth. The additional travel is called ‘generated traffic’.” Driverless cars are an indication of a system needing radical change. Small steps in the efficiency of car fuels or automated systems will hold back the clock for so long; to truly secure the future of Los Angeles, as former Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa says, the need is to ‘remake the city’. For a city that has remade itself many times and has attracted its people on the premise of ‘a new life’, it seems fitting that major investment in public rapid transit systems is an appropriate way forward.
Los Angeles has expanded continuously and voraciously for the last 100 years. There is a feeling in L.A. that this cannot continue. Densification and controlled expansion is key in the future. If the city wishes to escape the suffocation of the car, it will need to continue to invest in public transit and convince communities of the importance of further mixed-use development in close proximity to that transit. Interestingly the ‘great auto-orientated city’ suits public transit, with long straight boulevards and the weather to facilitate walking, cycling or waiting for a bus. Cars cannot be allowed to dominate when other alternatives exist.
There is no doubt that the automobile is part of the ‘Angeleno Psyche’ and that will not quickly change. Although car travel may one day become fully zero-carbon in efficiency, it remains a less than ideal mode of transport because it encourages sprawling expansion and segregation of communities. The ecological and social cost of neglecting low income and minority households must be considered when developing sustainable plans for the future. The preferred model for development is densification with public transport for economical, ecological, social and pragmatic reasons.
Los Angeles has begun the process of regeneration through the work of Mayor Villaraigosa and the passing of new laws. Political resolve to press on and public support for change is gaining momentum. It appears Los Angeles now appreciates the need to develop through densification, expansion of public transport and control of the automobile. Through such policies L.A will continue to develop as an inspirational, exciting and modern city.
Major Sadiq Kahn is definitely a good thing for transport within our own city and hopefully his policies can also shape the city in a positive way for many years to come.
A great addition to the library; ‘Two minds: Artists and Architects in Collaboration’ selected by Sophie who practises as both and Architect and an Artist. This book gives a great insight into different approaches to collaboration and engaging with Artists who are spatial practitioners in their own right.
When it comes to defining the spatial layout within buildings a common theme today is achieving a developers dream of 100% net internal area (NIA) to gross internal area (GIA). Obviously this ratio is impossible but the 80% mark is usually the aim. In today's climate the driver is money. In the past we have seen the delineation of 'served' (the main element, such as a trading floor, dwelling or theatre) and 'servant' (the ancillary elements, such as circulation and services) space being associated with flexibility, future refurbishment, security, public vs private, and even social class.
Below are three examples from different periods that show 'served and servant space'. These ideas are not new.
Eric Lyons (1912-1980) a British Architect and designer is most commonly known for his partnership with Span Development which have built over 70 estates from the 1950's onward.
A common theme throughout the developments were not just the modernist expression of the time but the creation of successful and close communities. The estates all had generous gardens and the buildings themselves were spacious and light.
We have recently finished refurbishing and extending a 2 bed Span House in Teddington. The client's were receptive to bold ideas and enthusiastic throughout the design process. We received planning and more importantly approval from the community and in total the whole process from inception to completion took 1 year. The cost was also under £100k!
In our digital world the book has taken a backseat. One only has to open their latest news app to read about local libraries shutting and print journalism battling for survival. Architects often have an affinity to printed books paying special attention to bindings/materials, photography and graphics. Indeed, whilst all of us are often checking out the likes of Dezeen or have practice subscriptions to a whole range of online journals, physical books are often seen as a luxury.
As a practice we believe they play a vital role, helping form a rich library of reference points and more in depth analysis that aid a varied approach to design. We wanted to expand our library in a democratic manner and in a manner that somehow reflects the staff and their interests. As such every month a member of staff will be choosing and new book and presenting it to the team, all on company expenses I hasten to add!
The physical model attains a certain immediacy that often eludes other modes of architectural representation. Be it a sketch, a plan or 3d visualisation often the most effective mode of communication is through models. In fact models are inherently architectural, generating a conversation between space, light and material. Moreover they inhabit the very same space that our buildings will eventually occupy and as such can be used as an invaluable tool to test space and light through the passage of time. The act of model making itself requires decisions, conscious or otherwise on how components might join and whilst the material may not by a literal translation, i.e. cardboard could represent masonry, the expression of a joint may navigate into a design and it is this element of chance and iterative testing that we actively court within our design process.
As the practice expands we are increasingly reaping the benefits of model making. We try to use them through all stages of our designs, from concepts and massing, for client presentations and pre-applications through to presentation models and they are always a great centre piece for discussion. But these models are seldom finite, we welcome clients and planners alike to move and shift parts to help better form and evolve conversations.
There is an undeniable deep rooted relationship between the model and built form that stretches back centuries. Even on completion of the actual building the models are rarely disposed of. To the contrary they often take up an important role in the entry sequence of many great civic structures allowing visitors to simultaneously inhabit a part whilst attaining a sense of the whole. As our schemes continue to develop and emerge so too will our models!
From quick concept sketches to construction detail sketches we are attempting to convey a message simply and concisely. The sketches sometimes tell a story about the design, or show the atmosphere intended for a space, or illustrate how a detail and materials come together (which is extremely useful for both clients and contractors on site).
I have been sketching throughout my career starting in my first year for Renzo Piano, and then for Richard Rogers and now here at WP. The sketches below are a small collection throughout my time at the different offices on buildings in many countries across Europe.
by Leo Pelleriti.
The Japanense Exhibition at the Barbican Centre is definitely worth a visit.
If you are interested in architecture (which you probably are because you are here!), we recommend going to the new Kings Cross development in North London. The huge masterplan is well on the way with a variety of different buildings in all shapes and sizes. What we noticed was the varied use of cladding treatments in the area. Every building seemingly trying to create its own identity within the area, which is a tricky thing to do when you're up against architect's such as David Chipperfield, Allies and Morrison and Duggan and Morris.
Below are a few photographs of the different patterns and textures seen around the site, with some taken from other areas of London too. It is fascinating to see how a material can radically change the appearance of the building and atmosphere of the environment. The final photo is actually of some diagonal hoarding! We can find inspiration anywhere.
There are many ways to visualise a space or external facade. One of the techniques we use to explore textures and materials is a 'flat' photoshop image with ghosted white lines. These images are usually extracted from 3d views. However, to translate a vision or a colour palette it is often better to show less. As Mies van der Rohe said, 'less is more'.
Sometimes shadow is not needed as in fig.1. Although slight changes intone help give a sense of perspective. Colours and textures added with a few 'props' tell a simple story that anyone can understand.
Composition and proportion are other key components of creating beautiful and well balanced buildings. It is usually the buildings that haven't dealt with these two things that stand out the most and are jarring to the eye. Careful consideration of window placement and scale can transform the simplest of elevations into elegant forms along a street.
Shadows were needed in Fig.3 to show the multilayered facade. The freestanding walkways needed to come out of the page and show the staggered nature of this particular project.