Francis Kéré, materiality and place

 

In 2022, Francis Kéré was awarded architecture’s highest international accolade, the Pritzker Prize. Kéré’s many projects show us the power of materiality rooted in place, which is something that we emphasise through the use of local materials in our architecture and design work.

Francis Kere RISE Design Studio

Against the odds

Kéré was born in a remote village in Burkina Faso, with no electricity, running water or a local school. He left his family at age seven to study at a city school, where he later trained as a carpenter. After receiving a scholarship for an apprenticeship in Germany, he went on to study architecture in Berlin. Despite being far from home, one of his first projects was to design a school for the village he grew up in, in collaboration with members of the community and using local materials. For this, he was awarded the Aga Khan Award in 2004 and the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2009.

Innovative use of local materials

The Burkina Faso school project included the use of clay-earth bricks and suspended, corrugated metal roofs, to encourage stack ventilation for students learning in a hot, arid climate. By placing the overhanging metal roofs like this – rather than in the common way that makes houses hot inside – cool air is drawn in through the building’s windows and hot air is then released through holes in the ceiling. The innovative use of local materials and adaptation of traditional building techniques, combined with insight and involvement from the community, have been central to Kéré’s renowned approach.

Impact and investment

As awareness of his work grew, Kéré received widespread recognition for his experimentation with different materials to create cool and comfortable buildings in the hot African climate. He has also managed to raise funds for several projects focused on improving schools and other educational buildings for Africa’s young people, often involving buildings’ users in its construction, as he did in his home village.

Continuing to experiment with natural alternatives to air conditioning, one of his most recent projects – a technology campus in Kenya – uses wind towers shaped like termite mounds. In another project – a secondary school in Burkina Faso – he used local, laterite stone as the main building material. By orienting the building east to west, the amount of direct solar radiation on the walls was reduced, and a sharply protruding metal roof (like that used in the school in his home village) creates a large amount of shade.

Other projects in Africa have used a modular approach, with local people employed in the construction of modules, using local materials such as clay, laterite, cement bricks, gum wood and loam. Once again, large walls and impressive overhanging roofs remove the need for air conditioning in most buildings – a vital outcome in the changing climate and in communities without electricity for air conditioning, or the means with which to pay for powering cooling systems.

Inspiration

As the first black architect to win the Pritzker Prize in its 43-year history, Kéré acknowledges that he hopes to inspire young people in Africa to realise that paths like the one he has taken are open to them too. He continues to draw inspiration from local environments and there is a sense that his most impressive works may be yet to come.

Spotlight on Ricardo Bofill as we set up our new studio in Barcelona

 

Later this year, we will be opening a RISE Design Studio in Barcelona. We are excited about this, not least because we take a lot of inspiration from Spanish architecture in our work. Last month, we were very sad to hear the news that renowned Catalonian architect, Ricardo Bofill, had passed away at the age of 82. Bofill’s wide range of impressive buildings have influenced our projects and those of many others. He leaves a lasting legacy for us all.

RISE Design Studio Ricardo Bofill

Early influences and approaches

After an education in Spain and Switzerland, Bofill and a group of friends created ‘Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura’ in 1963 in the centre of Barcelona. From the outset, he worked in a multi-disciplinary environment, collaborating not only with engineers and other architects, but also artists and writers. This approach later developed into the holistic urban planning/design method that we are more familiar with today. His early projects were seen as exemplars of critical regionalism, with several viewed as a political reaction against the Francoist dictatorship in Spain at the time and a ‘shunning’ of architectural modernism.

In the 1970s, Bofill relocated to France, where his work echoed French traditions of classical architecture. His work in France culminated with the design of the new Antigone district in Montpellier, which combined large-scale industrialisation in precast concrete with classical forms. Described by Bofill himself as modern classicism, his projects like this led to his being referred to as one of the most significant postmodern architects in Europe.

Modular geometry

One of the best-known projects delivered by Bofill and his firm is Walden 7, a modular block of 450 apartments built on the outskirts of Barcelona in 1975. Located on the site of a former cement factory, the modules of the 14-storey building are linked by footbridges and arranged around courtyards. The intention of this design was that the building serves the evolving needs of its residents. On the same site, Bofill built his family home and office, within the original cement factory (see the image above). His stylish and innovative renovation of the factory included a large, central meeting room and exhibition space (the Cathedral), with 10-metre high ceilings and features of the original factory intact in the surrounding décor.

A similarly innovative and impressive project is the ‘monumental’ apartment block Les Espaces d’Abraxas in eastern Paris. Featuring prefabricated stone, cement facades and reference to baroque architecture, one building includes a semi-circular structure that encloses an amphitheatre (that was used as a filming location in The Hunger Games).

From concrete to other materials

Bofill increasingly moved from working with concrete to glass and steel, while still featuring classical elements like columns in his projects. Notable projects from the 1980s include the extension of Barcelona airport before the 1992 Olympics and the National Theatre of Catalonia. His designs gradually lost the classical aspects yet retained his love of a highly formal sense of geometry such as in the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco.

A lasting legacy

Over his lifetime, Bofill’s portfolio spanned a wide range of settings, from public buildings to transport infrastructure and urban design. Although Bofill has passed away, his firm in Barcelona continues under the co-leadership of his two sons and we will continue to take inspiration from his work while we establish our new studio in the city.

Passive House – a luxurious way to take climate action

 

At RISE Design Studio, we work hard to minimise the environmental impact and energy consumption of our projects. One way we do this is by working with the Passive House and EnerPHit standards. In October 2021, publisher and editor of Passive House Plus magazine, Jeff Colley, gave a TEdx talk in Tralee on ‘How Passive Houses can improve your life and help the planet’. Jeff’s talk highlighted some of the key reasons why the Passive House is key to tackling the climate emergency.

Passive House RISE Design Stdio

What is a Passive House?

A Passive House (or Passivhaus) tends to use energy sources from within the building, such as body heat, heat from the sun or light bulbs, or heat from indoor appliances to create a comfortable, healthy living environment. Typically, a Passive House features high levels of insulation to roofs, external walls, ground floors (with no heat loss at junctions), triple glazing and air tightness. A ventilation system recovers heat from stale outbound air and passes it onto incoming fresh air that is then filtered when entering the house.

Your home is your sanctuary

In an increasingly uncertain world, we are often made to feel that taking climate action equates with making sacrifices in our lives. However, the Passive House shows us how climate action does not need to feel like this. Instead, it can improve life in several ways. Most importantly, a Passive House costs very little to heat (and in some cases nothing at all), and the internal environment always feel fresh and comfortable, whatever the weather.

The emphasis on ‘future proofing’ means that a Passive House can withstand any weather and/or temperatures that the future may bring. As Jeff Colley explains in his talk, people who live in Passive Houses regularly describe constant comfort, no ‘cursing at the cold’ in the mornings, and peace and quiet – acoustic performance is very high, making it hard to hear anything outside or between party walls in flats/other shared accommodation.

No need for heating

Impressively, there are many examples of Passive Houses whose residents rarely or never turn on the heating system. In some houses, a heating system is not even needed, with only small battery-powered back-up if required. For example, of 18 sheltered housing units built in Devon for elderly people, the heating had not been turned on in nine of the units five years after construction. Similar accounts relate to Passive Houses in which there has been a boiler issue but this is not an urgent problem, as in more standard homes.

A healthy home is a happy home

In the west, we spend about 90% of our time in our buildings, making it important that our home is a healthy place to be. Experiences during the pandemic have also made us think more about air quality and ventilation. Recent research in Ireland suggests that the benefits of Passive Houses go even further than reducing energy use and creating a comfortable living environment. Over 200,000 global lung cancer deaths each year are estimated to be caused by the presence of radon in buildings. This is a particular issue when the weather is cold outside and the indoor environment is warm – radon can rise up from the ground into the living environment. The average levels of radon in a Passive House have been found to be much lower than in an average home.

Drawbacks?

Some critics have questioned whether the Passive House standard restricts architectural freedom. However, the standard is remarkably flexible and accommodates good design, in both retrofit and new build projects. The standard can be applied to any building, including commercial and residential, and even listed period buildings.

The first Passive House hospital is nearing completion in Frankfurt and Passive House schools are becoming increasingly common, such as the Harris Academy in Sutton. Impressively, the standard has also been used in a very progressive council housing scheme in Norwich. The standard can be used to create a good indoor environment for ‘things’ rather than people as well. For example, an Imperial War Museum archive near Cambridge uses the approach to protect its artefacts for future generations.

Jeff Colley suggested that the main drawback of living in a Passive House is that it may become hard to stay in other people’s homes when one has become so accustomed to such high comfort levels. Joking aside, the Passive House is an excellent example of how ‘being green’ doesn’t have to mean sacrifice. As Jeff argues, it is one form of radical climate action that everybody can agree to. We fully support this argument and we continue to work with clients on new build and retrofit projects that apply the Passive House and/or EnerPHit standard.

Photo: Hervé Abbadie and Karawitz

Spotlight on Jan Kaplický

 

There are very few Londoners (and international cricket fans) who are not familiar with the Media Centre at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. Designed by avant-garde Czech architect, Jan Kaplický, this is one of his most renowned ‘spacecraft-like’ architecture projects. Completed in 1999, it received the RIBA Stirling Prize for its futuristic design and has become one of the icons of the sporting world. Kaplický provides us with inspiration here at RISE Design Studio, not only for his futuristic work but also for his interest in his later years in nature and the incorporation of organic shapes in his work.

RISE Design Studio Jan Kaplicky drawings

A new life in London

After beginning his career as an Academic Architect in Prague, Kaplický fled to London in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He described a need to escape a country where empowerment was very limited at the time and it was “impossible to achieve anything that was even slightly out of the ordinary”. Not allowed to go to university, buy books, or exhibit his work in public, his move provided him with creative freedom and he soon found himself working on the design for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, under the direction of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano before they relocated to the French capital.

He set up his own architectural practice in London – Future Systems – in 1979, and produced many intricate drawings of orbiting robots and homes transportable by helicopter. Although none of these drawings became real buildings, they drew a lot of attention to his ‘elegantly radical’ ideas, opening the doors for him to design the Lord’s Media Centre and later the Selfridge’s shopping store in Birmingham in 2003. Described as “the ultimate rejoinder to what was then Birmingham’s reputation as a decaying concrete jungle”, Kaplický’s work once again brought inspiration through his visionary designs.

From outlandish to organic

In the mid-1980s, Kaplický suddenly started to look to nature for organic inspiration for his architecture. Perhaps as a result of the death of his mother around that time – she was a well-known illustrator of plants – he had a renewed appreciation of the value of his mother’s work, using shapes of cobwebs, sea shells, mushrooms, flowers and other plants in his later work. Blending these shapes with a harsh and often controversial futuristic edge created a unique style that interrogated the relationship between nature and technology.

The business of buildings

Kaplický’s designs were generally not possible to build using conventional techniques. For example, the Lord’s Media Centre is an aluminum semi-monocoque shell – a sort of ‘boat shape’ – and there was no standard contractor in Britain who could build it at the time. Instead, Kaplický and his life partner, Amanda Levete, found a boatyard contractor in Cornwall to do the work. Combining Levete’s business experience with Kaplický’s designs worked well for several years.

In his later years, Kaplický designed a National Library building for Letná in Prague. Despite the work winning an international competition, its construction was blocked by the Czech authorities and caused much public and political debate. In interviews with Kaplický before his death, it was clear that he was sad not to have been able to build something in his home country.

Interview with Charlie Warde

Sean Ronnie Hill, Director of RISE Design Studio, recently interviewed Charlie Warde, a London born artist, who is now based in Marseille. His wide-ranging practise celebrates and critiques the themes behind post war architecture, in particular social housing. A number of his works can be found in the permanent collection of the V&A and 2 Willow Road.

Sean interview RISE Design Studio Charlie Warde

Sean: Why don’t we start with geography, why Marseille?

Charlie: It all stemmed from the project that Mike Davies and I put together for Manifesta Biennale, last year, so that was… what was last year? 2020! As a roaming European Biennale, it was Marseille’s turn to host Manifesta 13. Mike and I put forward a proposal for a large scale project that involved a student exchange between the Beaux-Arts here in Marseille and City and Guilds of London Art School and a big exhibition celebrating architectural and engineering achievements between the Brits and the French… a kind of “f*** you” to Brexit.

Sean: Absolutely.

Charlie: We were all set to go with that and then Covid kicked in. Mike had had some previous health issues and had to shield, so we had to sadly forget about his input in the project. I piggybacked onto a residency in the Beaux-Arts in Marseille and created a body of work which was well received; it all happened from that really. And then with Covid-19, we got stuck out here and Brexit kept us exiled here.

Sean: Yeah, very much for the better.

Charlie: Yes, exactly. But architecturally there’s plenty to keep me here too. There is the Unité d’habitation, the Cité Radieuse, which is something of an anchor point, I suppose.

Sean: So your equivalent to Trellick?

Charlie: Yes, it’s incroyable! Also, Marseille is a true Arrival City, it’s a port city – a gateway to North African French colonies like Algeria. Consequently you have this flow of people settling slab, dab in the centre of the city. You’ll find some of the poorest housing in Europe, in the first and second arrondissements, just off the Vieux-Port.

Sean: Which is quite like the Industrial model, because when the Industrial Revolution happened it was in the city centre.

Charlie: Exactly that, there are definite similarities in that way, one being that the landlords of these properties are private. They own a lot of the city centre which they rent out at cheap rents, which they fail to upkeep. There is a real issue of neglect, a lot of their properties are extremely dangerous, and there have been tragic incidents… in 2018, two buildings on Rue d’Aubagne collapsed, killing eight. There are buildings in the centre of Marseille with cracks through which you can see daylight. In structural walls! There are buckled door frames, that have shifted because of structural creep. So now in Marseille the Marie (Mayor’s office) is emptying a lot of these properties because they are so dangerous; they are pulling them down. There are gaps everywhere.

Sean: Are they relocating the inhabitants elsewhere?

Charlie: To hotels mostly! There are banlieues on the outskirts of the town which are full. I must say Sean I’m not an authority on this, which is partly born out of my lack of French, so any research that I need to do, such as going through city archives, is out of the question at the moment.

Sean: Sure, I mean you are a new arrival there, but it is interesting the parallel there because Ladbroke Grove was very similar with private housing.

Charlie: Yes, Peter Rachman, the landlord who squeezed a lot of the West Indian community out of what little money they had. Indeed it is similar, but what’s really interesting is Marseille has, as a result, you have this incredible mix of cultures, of classes, of creeds. It’s this crazy, chaotic melting pot, and there are town planners from all over that view Marseille as the antidote to gentrification. If you’ve got this density, this mix, it diffuses a lot of the differences. You’re not creating ghettos like they have done in Paris over the years. Everyone’s in it together – it’s a community. I’m not saying it’s an easy alliance, but it works in many ways.

Sean: Yes, yes absolutely, I mean that’s very much the essence and the beauty of these amazing cities. London did it for many years with many different communities living together and it very much benefited the city.

Charlie: Absolutely.

Sean: That leads into another interesting parallel where you’re taking about Unité d’habitation and Trellick: concrete. It was the material “in vogue” at the time…. but there’s a lot of interesting things you got from Trellick.

Charlie: For sure. They are both landmarks. Both are cited as prominent examples of a particular era aren’t they? Trellick being Brutalism, the Unité earlier – 1953 (Trellick was completed in 1972). “The Corbusier” as they call it here, is one of the high points of post war Modernism. And yes, both sculptural essays in the use of concrete. However, I would say the construction of Trellick Tower is superior to Corbusier’s building.

Sean: Do you think it was down to local craftsmanship or down to the timeline?

Charlie: Both – I think it’s a lot of things. I think it is the timeline. I think that structural engineers, architects and concrete technicians learnt very quickly how to improve mixtures and the issues of using certain aggregates. There were advancements in construction skills – for example vibration systems to compact concrete when it was poured into shuttering so that there were less cavities. Trellick Tower did have an advantage in that regard. Also, Goldfinger was particularly adept at large scale construction projects. He finished on time, never went over budget and was absolutely rigid in the way he oversaw a build. He was a very controlling man, he was a bully – larger than life, like his buildings. He was able to force situations into completion.

Sean: I suppose in an industry like that especially back then, maybe that was necessary.

Charlie: Yeah, 1972! From my knowledge of the project, they didn’t encounter too many problems whereas Neave Brown’s Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate was rife with issues, some born out of the complexity of the site (it was built along a curved railway line). There was a major flood because of a burst water main. There were also walk outs and strikes. It ran over time and over budget – it coincided with the demise of a lot of these large-scale estates.

Sean: What attracted you initially to Goldfinger’s work ?

Charlie: My first job in London was dismantling televisions on a shop in Golborne Road in 1996, and that was the first time I encountered Trellick Tower up close and personally, and it terrified me. I had already seen it driving in and out of London on the Westway – as you ride the flyover you meet its gaze – but being on Golborne Road, being under its shadow was something that made such an impression on me. Then I became aware of the legend and mythology of the building — the bad times in the 70s and 80s, the stories of drugs, muggings and rapes, the pirate radio station aerials on the roof. That all changed in 1984 with the resident’s association being formed. In 1987 the council finally installed a concierge to control the flow in and out of the building. It was the “Tower of Terror” mythology that initially pulled me in and then, when I was doing my masters, I began to research it and I began to understand why it was built, who it was built for and more about that period of architecture.

Sean: So Brutalism became your topic of choice then ?

Charlie: Yes, yes it did, after knowing very little about it became an endless source of fascination, and I began to look at other Goldfinger buildings. I had a residency at 2 Willow Road back in 2013 which gave me the opportunity to make a series of radio shows with James Torrance for Resonance FM on Ernö Goldfinger – Homes Of Tomorrow. We interviewed some great people – Neave Brown, James Dunnett (who has written widely on Goldfinger) and Mike Davies among them. It opened up this whole world of post war architecture, from which my practice has grown.

Sean: And in terms of your practice, we’re kind of jumping around a bit now but, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on your upbringing

Charlie: My upbringing was peculiar, I grew up in a stately home in Kent, Squerryes Court, built in the 1680s. It’s a massive doll’s house – red brick, symmetrical, large windows, light filled; very beautiful. My family couldn’t afford to live there without opening it to the public so it became this lovely little museum and wedding venue around which we navigated our lives. We lived in a small part of the building and the rest was shut off and opened to the public. So I grew up in a beautiful environment that was interesting from an architectural perspective AND a fine art perspective as there was a small collection of paintings, furniture and porcelain. I grew up with an appreciation for these things.

Sean: Yeah, because you were surrounded by incredible architecture.

Charlie: So yeah, my upbringing was completely devoid of Brutalism, right ? It couldn’t have been more different and perhaps that’s the thing that drove me in a different direction. And I was into street culture as a kid – hip hop, breaking, graffiti; the Electro albums, Subway Art and Beat Street made a big impression on me. That led me into the more interesting parts of the city…

Sean: So, with a History of Art background, was Art always there ?

Charlie: It was always there. I think my subsequent degree in Art History was a natural progression given my family surroundings, and the people I met from from an academic and research background, so I fell into the art history. I guess that History of Art is interesting from a Fine Art perspective because one becomes an arbiter of style and quality – the stuff you learn about tends to hold up over time and is held as exemplars. If you have a background in Art History, I think it fine tunes you as an artist, raises your standards.

Sean: You have all the bits of a puzzle subconsciously.

Charlie: Certainly! And one is conscious of getting things absolutely right too. If you’ve researched art academically, you become very aware of the way your own art might be perceived.

Sean: Seems like a massive advantage to have this knowledge of the industry.

Charlie: Yup, but also a disadvantage… I’m perhaps too much of a perfectionist! I’d like to talk about some of the pieces you’ve been working on over the years, and the reasoning behind your medium of choice and why 3D and why is that inspiring?

Charlie: Well this all came out of two things really. Firstly, My Masters from City and Guild’s of London Art School from which I graduated in 2012, during which I concentrated on the contextual and conceptual aspect of my practice. I developed the idea of trying to BUILD a painting out of paint rather than simply paint a picture of a building. In 2012 London was full of “luxury apartment” building sites, CGI pasted all over hoardings around large scale construction projects – perfectly rendered lifestyle images of models in slick interiors, you know the sort of thing. Building a painting in 3D seemed like a more honest rendition of architecture than some slick two-dimensional trickery.

Secondly, during my pre-MA life as a portrait painter, I learnt how to grind pigments, make oil paint, cook up and thicken mediums, stretch, size and gesso canvases etc. I had a profound understanding of artist materials and found I could apply that to pushing acrylic paint, mediums and pigments into reproducing concrete ingredients and finishes.

Sean: Do you use anything like a substrate? So you start up with a thin piece and just layer up. No reinforcement?

Charlie: It’s pure paint – Plastic Painting. So yeah, that’s kinda how it happened, but concrete is interesting to me because it is bound up with so much narrative potential. That whole idea of the Sense Of Place, of Psychogeography and telling a building’s story. Concrete is full of energy – the stuff that made it, that it’s soaked up over the years. I think a damaged, decrepit piece of concrete from a neglected building is so revealing. So that sort of narrative is the stuff I’m interested in.

Sean: There’s something beautiful in a weathered building, but often with the architecture that we share an interest in, it would be interesting to see it when it was first built – before the weathering and pollution.

Charlie: Absolutely. Like Thamesmead, the way Kubrick depicts it in A Clockwork Orange, just after it was completed – it’s pristine, the stuff of Science Fiction. Not like that anymore…

Sean: So one of the most important elements of architecture that architects are considering now is sustainability. What is your attitude towards concrete as a material and how it can play a part ?

Charlie: Its a worry isn’t it, Sean? They say that if concrete was a country, it would have the worlds second largest carbon footprint. When one considers the amount of infrastructure that is being built in Africa, China and South America, it is just extraordinary. We are running out of construction grade sand!

I think the really interesting thing is the idea of transformation — architectural transformation. Finding the potential in something that already exists, even if it’s damaged. So you have Anne Lacaton and Jean-Phillipe Vassal who won the 2021 Pritzker Prize and their practice is all about transformation. Look at their project in Bordeaux – the Quartier du Grande Parc. They took an existing housing scheme and bettered it. They just altered the scheme, they didn’t tear it down. Mei Architects did an amazing project in Rotterdam — Fenix One. They took a large concrete warehouse and built a series of flats on top of it. I hope there’s a shift into realising that these are the ways that architects can solve existing problems. This is what my next exhibition in London is all about, PLAYTIME. I have asked 10 architects, artists, art critics, curators and a fashion designer to reimagine and transform the entire exhibition each week. Mike Davies is one of the Players, Gianni Botsford another; two brilliant architects that will rebuild the exhibition. Everything will be available to view in real time, 24/7 on the website, because we have HD CCTV cameras positioned around the gallery. The title, PLAYTIME, is based on Jacques Tati’s film, the ultimate cinematic critique of Modernism. As always, It’s all about the architecture, Sean!

RISE Design Studio Charlie Warde

Warde’s latest UK exhibition, PLAYTIME, opens at Cable Depot on 12th November. Details can be found here.

Architecture and the Kindness Economy – learning from Mary Portas

“Architecture is not just about what we build – but how we live.”

We have been captured by Mary Portas’ work on the Kindness Economy. This new value system requires businesses to understand the fundamental role they play for the wellbeing of people and the wider fabric of our society. At the heart of this approach is the need to balance commerce with social progress. We also see the need to balance our architectural and design business with the environment. In this post, we reflect on what we have learned about the Kindness Economy that resonates with our work at RISE Design Studio.

Mary Portas ii

Our shifting relationship with buildings

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we are realising just how much buildings influence every part of our lives. After spending more time in our homes and immediate neighbourhoods than ever before, we have become more aware of how we interact with the buildings we inhabit and how nature is reflected both internally and externally within and close to our homes.

In her recent podcast with Amanda Levete CBE, Mary Portas suggests we are going through a radical shift in our relationships with buildings. Architects are therefore at the forefront of designing our world post-pandemic. Buildings are the greatest expression of the idea of community and we need to understand who we are building for, particularly as different communities have different values, which need to be reflected in the architecture that surrounds them.

Lead by example

There is growing concern that volume housing is often built cheaply, with a focus on maximum profit for the developer, rather than on achieving maximum impact for the people who live there. As architects, we need to understand who we are building for and tailor designs accordingly. Different communities need different buildings, and housing should be designed around shared values not the value of a project or the resulting profit.

In an era of spending more time living and working in the home, it seems conceptually inappropriate that the design is in many cases driven by profit for someone who is not rooted in, or connected with, that community. This raises questions about how to encourage a shift in approach – Mary Portas would argue that this can be done by leading by example and showcasing successful projects for others to take inspiration from.

Between office and home

What will change as many of us start to return to the office? It is perhaps hard to predict but within the Kindness Economy there lies potential to re-imagine the office as a family home. Small companies may move from warehouses into townhouses, creating a homely office or a neighbourhood co-working space. It will be important for companies to have conversations with their staff about the future, to achieve a more positive work/life balance.

Attracting people back to the office will also require more thought about what kind of spaces people want and whether they want to work in those spaces. There is an opportunity to design buildings from which everyone has access to some outdoor space, nurturing the connection between inside and outside, and the local environment that we have all got to know so well when our movement was restricted.

Nurture community and connection

Although we live in an increasingly digital world, we are arguably more disconnected than ever before. Enforced remoteness and distance has negatively affected the culture and connectedness of our lives. As we re-emerge, we need places to meet, to learn new skills, and to feel a sense of culture around us. As we look to new ways of living and working, social interaction will be very important. How can people be put at the heart of buildings?

As many town centre properties lie empty, there is now an opportunity to begin a transformation but this will need risk-taking, innovation and creativity. Mary Portas points out the immediate opportunity to re-purpose these buildings without extensive demolition, in a way that exploits the characteristics that make a building so difficult to convert – a large central atrium, perhaps, or large indoor spaces with no natural light.

While challenging, these are exciting opportunities for architects – perhaps we can convert old department stores into spaces that are home to community functions and activities that will help to bring us all together again? Perhaps they could become places where people can grow food, making use of the latest technology in hydroponic farming? People’s concepts of a shop have changed and there is growing agreement that we need to re-purpose and re-vision these properties to create spaces and activities to bring people together.

You can visit one of Mary’s Living and Giving Shops across the UK.

 

Refurbishing homes for net zero – upskilling our design team

 

Refurbishing and retrofitting existing homes is a large part of the challenge of transitioning the built environment to net zero. We are faced with a significant task, especially as every home is different – efficiency measures that work in one home may not be appropriate for another. Retrofitting is also a daunting task for homeowners, particularly in terms of engaging a contractor with the right skills and experience for the job. At RISE Design Studio, we have worked on several projects that have included energy efficiency measures and, as the push to net zero becomes ever more critical, we are working hard to upskill our design team so all our projects are as energy efficient as possible.

Retrofit flat London

Embracing refurbishment

The 2008 Climate Change Act committed the UK to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The buildings sector accounts for 37% of total UK GHG emissions and, of these emissions, 65% are from the residential sector. As a result, there has been growth in the residential retrofit industry, with buildings being adapted to be more sustainable and energy-efficient. The majority of our existing residential stock requires some level of retrofit to enable the government’s ambitious emissions targets to be reached.

Common measures include improving insulation. A new heating system might also be installed, or double glazing might be fitted. Yet, conserving energy is not the only reason to retrofit a building. Improving indoor environmental quality, reducing dampness and mould will all lead to increased health and productivity levels of residents.

Upskilling our design team

Recognising the increased momentum in London around reaching net zero, we have really enjoyed working with clients on refurbishment projects that incorporate environmental considerations. Modern architects are well-placed to add creativity and innovation into the drive to retrofit existing housing stock, particularly those that may prove very expensive to retrofit. For example, historic buildings such as Edwardian terraces are protected, and increasing energy efficiency can pose a real challenge. However, there are exciting options to retain the façade and rebuild the living spaces within the building.

More and more clients are seeking energy efficient homes and we are fully aware of the important role architects play in helping to reach the government target for 2050. As a result, we have been working hard to upskill our design team to work on these types of projects.

Maximising design benefit

There are several industry standards designed to increase the efficiency of residential property, including the Passivhaus and EnerPhit certifications. A Passivhaus project tends to use energy sources from within the building, such as body heat, heat from the sun or light bulbs, or heat from indoor appliances to create a comfortable, healthy living environment. However, it can be difficult to reach the exact requirements of the Passivhaus standard in a retrofit project.

Recognising this, the Passivhaus Institut has developed the EnerPHit standard for projects that use the Passivhaus method to reduce fuel bills and heating demand. We are working hard to implement this standard in our projects and our design team has developed the skills to align retrofit projects with this approach. EnerPHit takes into account the limitations associated with retrofit projects and relaxes some of the Passivhaus criteria to reflect this. Nevertheless, it is still a very demanding standard and generally results in a building that outperforms a new-build property both in terms of energy and comfort.

New build in the countryside – dream or possibility?

 

As the world tries to move on from the Covid pandemic, there is anecdotal evidence that we are increasingly seeking life outside the city. Building a new home in the countryside and becoming a rural dweller may seem like a impossible dream but it is becoming an increasing reality for some. One reason is that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) allows new, isolated homes to built in rural areas, if they are of exceptionally high quality of design. We explain the rules below.

RISE Design Studio - new build in the countryside

The right house in the right place

Current NPPF policy recognises that new housing can be very homogenous – the ‘cookie cutter’ developments that have been all too common across the country. This has led to a push to improve the design quality of new housing, particularly in terms of environment considerations.

In the new NPPF, paragraph 79 encourages local authorities not to approve new developments on unbuilt land in the countryside. However, there are some important exceptions to this rule. These include where a house is designed to exceptionally high quality, helping to “raise standards of design more generally in rural areas”. In addition, a house would have to “significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area”.

No single route to success

The requirement for “truly outstanding or innovative” design means that there is no ‘right’ type of house that would receive planning permission. Instead, there is the need to focus on the individuality of a project and be aware that it is likely to be a long and intensive process.

It is clear that the sustainable design elements of the new build are key. Using natural, local materials can help the property to ‘take root’ in its local context. Equally important is how the property would positively impact the site, complementing and enhancing the existing landscape. Planning committees are more likely to approve houses which ‘belong’ in a landscape and use sustainable building technologies that are unique to the site.

Chances of success?

It is worth noting that the number of applications and the corresponding success rates are both quite low – a study found only 66 approvals between 2012 and 2018 (this was a 58% success rate, compared to an 88% success rate across all residential applications). Each case tends to have it own unique circumstances and the rules may be applied differently in different local authority areas. Engaging the local authority and any local communities or stakeholders early on in the project is very important. This will help to ensure that those making the final decisions about the build are confident in the quality, suitability and acceptability of the design and location.

We considered a lot of these aspects in the design of our Clogher Forest Village project.

Spotlight on Lina Bo Bardi

 

Recycling or converting buildings came naturally to Italian-born Brazilian architect, Lina Bo Bardi. Inspired by the use and reuse of basic materials, she devoted her working life to engaging with every facet of culture and designing ‘people-friendly’ buildings. Described as “the most underrated architect of the 20th century”, it is pleasing to see her finally receive the attention she deserves. We take inspiration from Lina Bo Bardi here at RISE Design Studio, particularly her respect for authentic objects and how to preserve and celebrate them in the home.

RISE Design Studio - Lina Bo Bardi

Buildings flowing with the natural environment

In 1951, Bo Bardi created the ‘Casa de Vidrio’ in the rainforest surrounding São Paulo. An early example of the use of reinforced concrete in domestic architecture, she found a Brazilian context for the Italian modernism she was trained in. The landscape ‘flows’ underneath the building and the main living area is almost wholly open, apart from a courtyard that allows the trees in the garden to grow up into the heart of the house (perhaps a source of inspiration for Sverre Fehn’s Nordic pavilion). This celebration of the local environment is a theme that runs through her work.

Engaged public places

Bo Bardi’s designs were used in the the Solar do Unhão cultural centre in Salvador, and the Museum of Art, the Teatro Oficina, and Centro de Lazer Fábrica de Pompéia in São Paulo. In what she termed ‘poor architecture’, she sought to design public spaces that embodied a simple form of monumental architecture. The São Paulo Museum of Art is formed from ‘raw and efficient’ pre-stressed concrete, allowing unobstructed views to the lower-lying parts of the city.

She expertly restored buildings in a manner which neither pandered to nostalgia nor ignored context – the restoration of a 17th century sugar mill into the Solar do Unhão left the colonial exterior intact, with a modern staircase added. This reflected her belief that a museum should be a place for education – an active site of knowledge rather than a mausoleum of the past.

When she was commissioned in the 1980s to turn a burnt out office building into a theatre, she designed the new space almost completely out of painted scaffolding. The intense theatre space is designed to make the members of the audience feel as if they are engaged with the act on the stage.

Simplicity and the historical present

Lina Bo Bardi also designed furniture and she often used plywood and native Brazilian woods in her design. Wanting each object to display its own ‘natural logic’, her designs embodied simplicity and reduction and rawness of material.

Bo Bardi’s work has become much more widely acknowledged in recent years and support has grown for the proper preservation of her buildings. In a lecture at the University of São Paulo in 1989, she was asked to describe her ideas for the preservation of historic buildings. She replied that she sees no such thing as ‘the past’ in architectural practice. Whatever still exists today is what she termed ‘the historical present’ – you have to preserve the typical features and characteristics of a time that is part of our human heritage.

Kitsungi – the art of repair

 

Celebrating the beauty of a naturally imperfect world is a tenet of our work here at RISE Design Studio. By embracing impermanence and accepting that we are always in a state of flux, it becomes easier to appreciate what we have, rather than compare ourselves to others. It is this mindfulness and ‘living in the now’ – with all its imperfections – that we try to capture in our work. An important influence on our approach is the Japanese art of kitsungi – ‘golden repair’ – which respects the unique history of an object.

Reclaimed bricks RISE Design Studio

An accidental art form

It is thought that kitsungi was developed in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke his favourite tea bowl. He was disappointed that the repair involved stapling the pieces together, which left the bowl looking unattractive. Instead, local craftsmen filled the crack with a golden laquer. This made the bowl more unique and valuable, and prompted a new style of repair. As the style developed, the lacquer was likened to natural features like waterfalls, rivers, or landscapes.

The need to accept change

We often feel regret when something breaks or is wasted. For the Japanese, this is ‘mottainai’, a feeling that dates back to the original era of kitsungi and remains present in contemporary Japanese environmentalism.

In London, we are tackling the challenge of developing a circular economy to support net zero targets – mottainai and kitsungi can provide us with the inspiration we need. In our ‘throwaway culture’, we often miss opportunities to transform broken or used objects into something new, perhaps even making those objects more rare and beautiful than the originals.

This is the essence of resourcefulness – making the most of what we already have (or what already is) and highlighting beauty alongside any flaws. The perfections and imperfections are what gives our surroundings a story and meaning.

Embracing the past in the home

What does this mean at home? It can include choosing authentic furnishings that create a lived, harmonious space. It might also mean sourcing used furniture and allowing each scratch to add to the narrative of an item’s history. It might mean repairing walls, floors and external materials to reflect the history of the building and the changes it has seen through the years. Sourcing local or reclaimed materials might also help to root the home in its local environment and landscape.

Imperfections are gifts

The art of kitsungi is not only about objects – it is also about how we live our lives. It helps us to realise that we, like the tea bowl, are all fallible. We heal and grow, and we often survive emotional blows and live to tell the story. However, it can be hard to admit our failures and accept that bad things can happen. If we are to learn something personal from the local craftsmen who repaired broken items with gold, it is that imperfections are gifts to be worked with.

We take pride in working with imperfections in our projects, whether those be in buildings with a story to tell, with materials that reflect the local landscape, or with furniture and other fittings that have existed for several generations.