Thursday, 28 October 2010

Reflections on Norman Foster's RIBA Annual Discourse

During this stimulating and thought provoking talk, Lord Foster raised some very interesting points which, sat in the audience as a Human Factors professional, got me thinking….

A number of residental buildings were built in India (not by Foster) to re-house occupants of a slum. However, years later they still sat empty because dispite being more modern and providing sanitation, they did not provide the same quality of life and integration for live/work/retail that the close knit community of the slum provides.
Key lesson - Understand the User, understand how they live and work, understand how they interact and use their built environment - then start designing.

MASDAR - A sustainable city being built in Abu-Dhabi. Foster + Partners have been integral to the project developing the arcitectural blueprint and design thinking. They put a lot of effort into analysing how buildings have historically been built in hot environments and took a U turn from the "modern" building design that you commonly see across the middle east - large glass towers. 

To make the Masdar buildings and streets naturally cooler - thus requiring less air conditioning to maintain a comfortable environment, lessing the power burden that they had to produce using the solar panel farms.

They took inspiration from desert settlements to:
  • Orientate the city to ensure that the cooling winds naturally swept through the streets and open park areas.
  • Positioned wind collection towers to naturally ventilate buildings.
  • Constructed buildings with carefully orientated windows, which were shaded by arabic patterned fins to avoid direct sunlight.
  • Provided walkways and open courtyards between buildings with natural shade, foliage and small water features to provide usable outdoor space. Which have been shown to have significantly lower radiant heat than similar courtyards in Abu Dhabi City and thus feel more pleasant.
Lord Foster stated that it took a lot of convincing to get buy in from the developers, as his low rise buildings did not have his usual WoW factor. But through determination they got there, and he believes that is to key to enabling the city to be sustainable.

Key lesson - Don't follow convention. Analyse the key challenging features of the local environment (e.g. intense heat) then investigate novel ways to overcome it, or at least best adapt to them. Look at historic designs in places you might not expect and look to nature for inspiration.

If you wish to see Lord Foster's presentation, a video can be found at 

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Deralict buildings and the role of design in community identity

Hastings Pier has recently burnt down by arsonists. Its loss raises a question of cultural identity and building function. The pier has been out of use since 1996 and become increasingly derelict. Is Hastings still Hastings if it doesn’t have a pier? What about civic pride/sense of identity? Is a derelict building like graffiti – shows no-one cares, break down of society…attracts more crime.

The pier had no “useful function” in the modern world…but maybe it did. It was part of Hastings’ identity, surely as such it was performing a useful function and it should never been allowed to fall in to disrepair. Brighton was once famous for having two state-of-the-art piers, now it is famous for having allowed the West Pier to go to rack and ruin. Is Brighton now half the place it was? Should the Lanes in Brighton be bulldozed and replaced with a modern shopping mall to improve pedestrian access? Is this neglect of manmade landmarks one of the contributory factors in the creation of “clone towns” and a rootless society with no sense of identity?

As an example of the opposite, the village of Corfe Castle in Dorset is dominated by the ruins of the castle that was blown up by Cromwell’s troops during the civil war. It has not functioned as a castle since, yet the ruins give the village its identity and the ruins are kept in good repair. As it no longer fulfills its function of being a castle should it be dismantled stone by stone and the stones recycled to build houses? Would the people in the village prefer to live in Corfe Hill or Corfe Castle? Would anyone go out of their way to visit Corfe Hill? Would they even bother to get out of their car and walk up the hill if the remains of the castle were not there?

These buildings do play an important role in the local identify but they must be kept and maintained as something that is recognised as important.

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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Personal security in the community

In a piece in World Architecture News recently, we discussed the nature of the surveillance society in relation to the future of control rooms.  One issue we highlighted was how the presence of things like CCTV cameras actually intimidates people and produces this atmosphere of fear.  What is required is to breakdown some of these barriers and integrate the means of protection into the community.  We gave the example of the old police boxes as something that achieved this in the past

Well perhaps they are making a comeback...we spotted this article on a new police kiosk in Preston that provides information to the public and also allows direct communication access to the Police control room.  Although perhaps not a surprise that the kiosk itself is monitored by CCTV!

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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Control room safety in pipeline operations

From the US, came this interesting piece on utility / pipeline control room operations and human error.    It features some interesting views on operator fatigue and training possibly contributing to failures to spot abnormal operating conditions and subsequent incidents.

It seems surprising that the understanding of the contribution of the use of the SCADA systems was not captured in accident investigation data until this year!

What is also surprising to us is why fundamental issues like alarm flooding have not been managed in parts of the pipeline industry in the way that they have in others.

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