Author Archives: Ian Milliss

Barn to playpen

This barn conversion by leading equestrian facility designers Blackburn Architects is in Leesburg, Virginia. The New River Farm barn has been adaptively reused as an entertainment area for guests. The glazed end wall overlooks panoramic views of the Potomac River.

new river bank barn

new river bank barn

new river bank barn

Links Blackburn Architects

Fight climate change, not war

abu ghraib torture blogswarm

We are supporting the March 19 blogswarm marking the fifth anniversary of the start of the insane and unjust Iraq war.

From the beginning it was nothing more than an unjustified war of aggression by a group of countries, the US, UK and Australia, whose historical pretensions of moral superiority can now clearly be seen as false, disguises for greed and criminality. It has put the final nail in the coffin of the US economy and completely corrupted the already fragile US political system, probably beyond repair. Not only has it ruined countless lives, the money it has wasted would have gone a long way to solving the real crisis facing the world and that is climate change.

But it’s not worth arguing about anymore, it’s an appalling evil and most people want it to end. How many ways can it be said, the ship is sinking, the theatre is on fire, the ivory tower is collapsing and it is much, much later than you think. It’s time to kick out the criminals and charlatans that have taken control of politics and business and start dealing with the real problem, the looming climate disaster that makes every other problem an irrelevancy. The Europeans are now leading the way and it’s time for the rest of us to follow them.

Here are some links you should visit

March 19 blogswarm

no war no warming

5 years too many

winter soldier

And if you are in the US, get out on the streets today and join the protests!

We told you so

According to the great Gore Vidal, the sweetest words in the English language are “I told you so!” and here’s where we get to use them.

We’ve always argued that in most cases the best building is the building that is already there. In sustainability terms, at least, the reasons for adaptive reuse of existing buildings seem obvious. Even if the proposed new building is greener than green there will still be a considerable CO2 cost in the new materials, and since many modern building materials only have an expected life of around 25 years there is a considerable future CO2 expense as well. Long lasting but expensive traditional building techniques and materials rate better than cheap modern materials – in other words don’t let accountants design your building, it will cost the earth in the long run.

embodied energy graph

But we’ve never found figures to back our assertion. Well, now someone has proven it. In a report that has got a bit of coverage in the UK (here, here, and here) the Empty Homes Agency has done research to show that reusing existing buildings is greener than building new “green” buildings.

The report, compiled by the Empty Homes Agency with help from the Building and Social Housing Foundation, indicates that the embodied carbon – the carbon released as a direct result of building a new home – accounts for nearly three times as much as the building’s lifetime emissions.

The agency claims that building a new home emits more than four and a half times as much carbon dioxide per square metre as refurbishing an existing one. As much as 35 tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved by bringing an existing home up to scratch – equivalent to driving a car from London to Sydney and back seven times. Over 50 years, this means that there is almost no difference in the average emissions of new and refurbished homes.

So there, we told you so! Here is the summary and this is the full report.

empty houses liverpool
Plimsoll Street, Liverpool, UK (Photo from
community brother’s Liverpool housing flickr set )

One of the implications is that in a world desperate for a few instant solutions, a moratorium on demolitions, the restoration of empty buildings and the restriction of new building to greenfield sites must suddenly look appealing. It would be interesting to speculate on the effect this would have on the dynamics of the future metropolis – cityofsound, Geoff Manaugh, where are you?

Now the other thing we have been saying is that there will be a world wide ban on coal mining in under ten years – you must remember we live in an area completely economically dependent on coal mining yet the local government strategic plan for the next twenty years does not even mention climate change despite our attempts to raise the issue. Since the European Union, (the world’s biggest economy) is now threatening the US and China with trade sanctions if they don’t get moving on greenhouse emissions, the coal mining ban is looking increasingly possible. Perhaps we should make a long bet on it.

Auto repair to studio residence

The Villa de Murph is a formerly abandoned 1947 auto electrical repair shop and 60’s warehouse in West End, a “transitional part” – don’t you love that euphemism? – of Atlanta. David Yocum and Brian Bell adaptively reused the warehouse as an 1,850-square-foot office for their architectural partnership bldgs and a living space for Yocum and his wife. The roof was removed from the repair shop to create a courtyard.

Bell Yocum bldgs studio

Bell Yocum bldgs studio

Bell Yocum bldgs studio

Bell Yocum bldgs studio

Bell Yocum bldgs studio

Bell Yocum bldgs studio

Bell Yocum bldgs studio

Links: bldgs NY Times article

Via: ApartmentTherapy

Our gallery is open for business

We’ve just posted the first two projects on our new feature Gallery page. We’ll be posting photos and links there of some of the many admirable loft/barn/factory/warehouse/etc conversions that we find but can’t write about at length.

The first two are

  • a garage converted into a tiny house in Portland Oregon
  • an 1879 apartment adaptively reused as an architect’s studio in Barcelona.

There will be more every week. If you have a favourite project that you think should be featured, send us links and info using this form.

Apartment to office

The Barcelona studio headquarters of Roldán + Berengué architects is an adaptively reused 1879 apartment. The studio features spectacular tiled floors while doors are reused as tables and shutters are used as screens. The furniture contains a ladder system within it so that you can sit near the ceiling – you know you’ve always wanted to do that.

roldan & berengue barcelona

roldan & berengue barcelona

roldan & berengue barcelona

roldan & berengue barcelona

roldan & berengue barcelona

roldan & berengue barcelona

Links: http://www.roldanberengue.com

Garage to house

This garage adaptively reused as a tiny house of 400 square feet is in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. It features a mezzanine bedroom, alternating steps staircase and plexiglass porthole in the mezzanine floor lighting the kitchen below, a typically well thought out detail.

garage house

garage house

garage house

garage house

garage house

garage house

The blog tells a fascinating tale of the bureaucratic perils that lay in wait for anyone trying to build small in a world of bloat.

Links: http://bottleworld.net Perkins Architectural

Don’t be brutal to Robin Hood Gardens

solar pavilion

Some suggest that Alison and Peter Smithson were the first examples of starchitecture, as Norman Blogster calls the “more PR than architecture” careers of stylists like Hadid and Liebeskind. But when our reader Kristian Seier challenged us to find something bad to say about the Upper Lawn Pavilion (later known as the Solar Pavilion), their holiday house built in the early 1960s, we realised we’d simply forgotten that it existed.

solar pavilion

Which is inexcusable because not only is it one of the most admirable of the 20th century’s many glass box houses, it is also a rare example of adaptive reuse by great modernist architects whose attitude we admire even when we find their large projects unlovable.

Writing about the restoration of the Solar Pavilion, Jane Withers in The Observer tells us:

The Smithsons bought the property in 1958, part of a group of farm buildings including a stone cottage that had been served with a demolition order. Instead of razing the existing building, the new two-storey pavilion is superimposed on parts of the old structure. The old stone doesn’t just give texture to the new building – it also makes us look at the past with fresh eyes, as old parts are found in surprising places. A massive chimney wall – once the end wall of the cottage – now cuts through the upper and lower living spaces. The outdoor terrace was once inside the old house, so that a cottage window is now set in the garden wall to playful and slightly surreal effect.
The remains of the original cottage not only provide a framework to anchor the new wood and glass structure, they also root the new building in the local history. It is a wonderful illustration of the Smithsons’ ‘as found’ theory, where instead of the earlier modernist pursuit of gleaming newness, the architects reuse and reinvent the existing….
The startling aspect of Solar Pavilion is its utter basicness.
A few years earlier, in 1956, for the seminal pop art exhibition This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the Smithsons contributed Patio and Pavilion, a shed made of second-hand wood and a corrugated plastic roof. They intended it to be read as a symbolic habitat embracing what they considered basic human needs – a piece of ground, a view of the sky, privacy, the presence of nature. Solar Pavilion embodies such thinking about the fundamentals that nourish not just man’s physical but also spiritual needs.

“Reuse and reinvent the existing’? Doesn’t that sound like the perfect description of what we are on about?

solar pavilion
(Photo
Ioana Marinescu)

During the restoration in 2003 Sergison Bates had to add a kitchen and heating – apparently man’s physical needs did not extend to heating, stoves (they cooked on a fire outside) or beds (they slept on mattresses on the floor upstairs), a lifestyle Allison Smithson described as “camping in the landscape”.

solar pavilion
(Photo
Ioana Marinescu)

She documented their trips to the house in her solipsistic book AS in DS (ie Alison Smithson in her Citroen DS). Wendy, who hates camping, is horrified by this while I find it incredibly admirable, it appeals to some deep spiritual need of mine. Or maybe I’m just a jaded dilettante and so were they, but I don’t think so. The point is that unlike the starchitects they were never about style, they were about solutions to problems of living.

And that led to their theory of “streets in the air”, based on their opposition to modernist planning that carved cities up into quarantined functional areas.

As younger members of CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) and, by 1956, as founding members of Team 10, they were at the heart of the debate on the future course of modern architecture, demonstrating a broad concern in the social environment and advocating for buildings that were specific to their location and purpose. Rather than the CIAM understanding that cities should be zoned into specific areas for living, working, leisure, and transport, the Smithsons argued in favor of mixed use within the same area. They conceived mid-rise housing as ‘streets in the air’ to encourage sentiments of belonging and neighborliness, rather than isolated slab-like towers. They believed these goals could be achieved at differing levels of human association: house, street, district and city. (Harvard University Library Smithson Archive)

Unfortunately, when they tried to put it into practice the result was Robin Hood Gardens.

robin hood gardens
(Photo
kristo)

Doomed from the start by a bad location, poor construction and dysfunctional welfare tenants, the streets in the air only facilitated criminal activity. The project turned into a high profile disaster and their careers crashed.

robin hood gardens
(Photo
moreikura)

But looking back on it, the theory still seems sound.

And now Robin Hood Gardens is threatened with demolition. If it goes, their only remaining major projects will be Hunstanton School and the Economist Plaza.

Robin Hood Gardens looks shabby but so do Zaha Hadid’s buildings already,

robin hood gardens
(Photo
joseph_beuys_hat)

that’s what happens to buildings if you don’t maintain them.

Since Erno Goldfinger’s equally dysfunctional Trellick Tower has now become a fairly desirable residence could a similar outcome be possible with Robin Hood Gardens? The current residents love it even if it is noisy, run down

robin hood gardens
(Photo
joseph_beuys_hat)

and generally intimidating in its grimness. It’s a potentially divisive question even in this household on the other side of the world, Wendy says knock it down, I say no. And since I’m writing this and she’s not, I’ll commend BD’s on-line petition to you where you can sign up with your fellow luminaries to petition for its listing and preservation.

And just remember this quote, at CIAM’s 1953 Congress the Smithsons wrote:

“Belonging’ is a basic emotional need – its associations are of the simplest order. From ‘belonging’ – identity – comes the enriching sense of neighbourliness. The short narrow street of the slum succeeds where spacious redevelopment frequently fails.”

Ark

Maya Lin is an architect with an extraordinary ability to find the symbolic form that will reconcile all the conflicting elements of a public design brief. Most famously she did this in the Washington Vietnam memorial,

the wall vietnam memorial washington
(Photo
genenphotos)

that deep black scar in the earth that paralled the scar the war left in the American soul, its rising and descending wall graphing the US death toll. The Wall’s perfection was only underlined by the nearby Three Soldiers memorial and flag

three soldiers vietnam memorial
(Photo
Jeff Kubina)

demanded by dissenters, its sentimental and anachronistic socialist realism unintentionally symbolising little more than the unresolved delusions and confusion of identity felt by many of the veterans of a futile war that should never have happened.

Maya Lin came to mind when we were writing about Herzog & de Meuron’s levitating Caixa Forum building because she also had built a levitating building, the adaptively reused cantilever barn

cantilever barn haley farm
(Photo
yellow crayons)

that houses the Langston Hughes Library at Haley Farm.

langston hughes library haley farm

The barn contains a 5000-volume reference library on civil rights and children’s advocacy and a small book store.

Lin commented

“The idea was to maintain the integrity and character of the old barn yet introduce a new inner layer. The integration of old and new allowed me to leave exposed and untouched the main body of the building yet build the library within the existing structure.”

But elsewhere on the site is a much more extraordinary building by Lin. Hans Hollein made a splash, so to speak, early in his career

hans hollein aircraft carrier in landscape

with his image of an Aircraft Carrier City in Landscape. Maya Lin’s ship shape object in the landscape, while smaller, carries a greater symbolic burden than any aircraft carrier.

haley farm chapel

The Children’s Defense Fund, that owns Haley Farm and uses it as a training centre, is the type of organisation that puzzles and disturbs non-americans. Why is it necessary? Why doesn’t the government do it? And above all, why the insidious christian propaganda that permeates its publicity? It’s all as creepy as anything that ever came out of, say, Iran.

haley farm chapel

Perhaps most scary of all is the fact that it can build an indoctrination centre chapel of such potent symbolism.

Noah’s Ark is deep in the subconscious of all children brought up in even the most feeble christian tradition,

noahs ark bouncing castle
(Photo Timothy E Baldwin)

all those cute animals rescued by humans, and at this point in history, as we face the deluge brought on by our vanities, it has a peculiarly ambiguous and guilt laden resonance. The story of Noah’s Ark is probably the only part of christian mythology where there is any trace of human connection to the other life on this planet, the only hint that our actions have consequences for the other creatures we share it with.

haley farm= chapel
(Photo
yellow crayons)

Can we hope that the symbolism of this building will somehow be adaptively reused to engender this sense of responsibility for all life in children that will in fifty years be facing a genuine apocalypse?