Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Will Historic Buildings Fare During the Recession?

March 30, 2009

By David Hill

Years ago, the Garrett-Dunn House, a 19th century Italianate structure in Philadelphia credited to the architect Thomas Ustick Walter, who also designed the dome on the U.S. Capitol, was slated for demolition. Despite its dilapidated condition, preservationists succeeded in getting the house listed on the city’s historic register and convinced a developer to incorporate the house into a luxury condominium project. While it wouldn’t be preserved in a technical sense, the landmark would live on.

Garrett-Dunn House in Philadelphia
former Bulova Watchcase Factory, in Sag Harbor, New York
Photo courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation (top). Image courtesy Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners (above).
The fate of the Garrett-Dunn House in Philadelphia is uncertain (top). Three years ago, BBB was hired to develop plans to convert the former Bulova Watchcase Factory, in Sag Harbor, New York, into loft-style condominiums. The project is now on hold (above).

Zip forward to 2008: As the economy began to stumble, the condo developer defaulted on loans for the property and the project skidded to a halt. In January, preservationists boarded up the house to protect it from inclement weather and intruders. Today, the empty house is surrounded by a chain-link fence, its fate uncertain.

Like most market sectors that require architectural services, historic preservation has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Newspapers around the country are peppered with reports of preservation or renovation projects that are up in the air due to funding challenges. But preservationists do see a possible silver lining: some historic buildings that might otherwise have been torn down because of rampant development may escape the wrecking ball.

“There’s probably no better friend to historic preservation than a good recession,” says Robert Musgraves, executive director of the nonprofit Historic Denver, Inc. “It may not be a good thing for society, but it does tend to bring development projects to a standstill, or at least cause them to slow down a little bit. When things are going fast and furiously, it can be difficult for historic preservation organizations to keep up with the challenges and opportunities out there. A recession gives them a little breathing room.”

The teardown trend, for example, has nearly ground to a halt in many historic neighborhoods around the country, says Adrian Scott Fine, director of the northeast field office for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “It’s nothing compared to the pace of a year ago,” he says. “The current disastrous real estate market could be good for preservation because it allows communities to be proactive and ready if and when the market returns and teardowns start up again.”

Fine is quick to point out, though, that despite his glass-half-full assessment, many preservation organizations around the country are suffering due to the recession. Funding from foundations is down because of shrinking endowments, and a number of government preservation agencies have seen their budgets cut. And while the pace of teardowns has slowed, some important preservation work has been delayed.

Meanwhile, some architecture firms that specialize in historic preservation are feeling the pinch. New York’s Beyer Blinder Belle, well known for its restoration work on high-profile landmarks such as Grand Central Terminal and Ellis Island, recently laid off about 20 percent of its employees, says Richard Southwick, FAIA, the firm’s director of historic preservation. “Our restoration projects have not been immune from market forces,” he says. “Construction loans are just not available.” Three years ago, BBB was hired to develop plans to convert the former Bulova Watchcase Factory, in Sag Harbor, New York, into loft-style condominiums. But that adaptive-reuse project is now on hold because financing has not yet been secured.

Some of BBB’s clients are “reshifting their priorities” because of the economy, Southwick says. For example, a “significant museum in the New York area,” which Southwick declines to name, hired the firm for a major restoration project. “But instead of doing the whole project at once,” he says, “they’re going to do it in phases while the fundraising continues.” Some government restoration projects, he says, are now being redefined as “infrastructure or security upgrades” in order to get funding, and job creation has become as important as the restoration work itself.

Robert Chattel, AIA, principal of the Los Angeles firm Chattel Architecture, which focuses solely on preservation planning and consulting, says, “A number of our projects are stalled.” Recently, his five-person firm was about to begin work on a report assessing earthquake damage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1921 Hollyhock House, which is owned by the city of Los Angeles. “Just as we were about to sign the contract,” Chattel says, “we were told to stop work.” Turns out the grant money for the project, from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment, had been frozen due to the state’s budget shortfall.

Despite such setbacks, Chattel is taking the long view. Much of the work his firm does involves long-term planning and environmental reviews required by the state of California, and that work tends to be fairly consistent, even during a recession.

“Our practice is diverse enough so that if actual construction work is slow, the other work we do goes on,” he says. “We’ll get through this.”

RIBA president denies plan to radically restructure institute

30 March, 2009

RIBA president Sunand Prasad has denied media reports that a “faction” of senior council members has urged for a radical restructuring of the institute.

Speaking after last week’s spring council meeting in Cardiff, which was held largely behind closed doors, Prasad said no members had proposed such changes at the RIBA.

But he warned that the RIBA would have to “gear up” to examine all options available to it in light of the global downturn.

“What I would say is no one in the RIBA would [contemplate a radical restructuring],” he said.

“There is contingency planning going on… This will go on over next six months.

“There may well be trimming costs and such measures, but there will be no grand unveiling of a plan. It will be incremental and responsive”

Sunand Prasad, RIBA President

“There may well be trimming costs and such measures, but there will be no grand unveiling of a plan. It will be incremental and responsive.”

“Do you know any serious organisation that isn’t considering a range of plans at the moment? The world economic situation has fundamentally changed.”

At the end of last year the RIBA announced plans to cut expenditure by 10% and make five staff redundant.

Reports had suggested a faction of senior council members including Prasad were planning to call for the restructuring at last Thursday’s council meeting.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New sensors in street lamps 'to save 9,000 hours of energy a night'

Street-lamp sensors which react to changing light conditions are being upgraded across Southwark to reduce energy usage.

The sensors measure outdoor brightness and then switch lights on or off as required.

Sensors have been in use for several years, but Southwark's engineers have carried out several studies allowing them to reduce the time each light is on by 30 minutes per day.

Council bosses say this will reduce energy consumption by thousands of hours a night, and called for the scheme to be rolled out across London.

Eddie Henry, Southwark council's director of street lighting, said: "We looked at schemes like dimming, or turning off lights altogether. But in London, for safety reasons these are just not viable options, so we decided to experiment with changing the light levels at which we actually turn the lights on."

The unit of measurement for light is the "lux". Daylight is defined as 100 lux and street lamps were programmed to come on when that dimmed to 70. However, work by Southwark Council's street lighting team has shown that lights do not actually have to be turned on until brightness drops to 55 lux.

Mr Henry said: "We found it makes absolutely no difference. People will see no change at all, yet we will save 9,000 hours per night of electricity if all our lights are upgraded."

Southwark has already installed the new system on 2,000 street lamps, and hopes to double that number by the end of the year.

Councillor Jeff Hook, Southwark council executive member for environment, said: "Southwark is committed to achieving a number of carbon reduction targets over the next few years.

"We are calling on residents to switch off and save energy. But we have to walk the walk too. The council provides more than 200 services for its residents and is always looking for ways to reduce emissions across the organisation."

Nanotech Batteries - A New Energy Future

People want to use clean and green energy and live easy on earth’s resources. Many are changing to hybrid cars and using solar panels side by side with conventional sources of energy. But they hold a grudge. How to store large amount of energy in batteries?

Hybrid cars fit batteries for power storage. But this power is not enough to last long distances and takes many undesirable hours to recharge. The storage battery is not very helpful during acceleration. Solar and wind also don’t provide us with power at constant rate. They give us energy intermittently. Their storage devices also take lots of space and money as well and yet they don’t seem promising for surge demand. Gary Rubloff, who is the director of the University of Maryland’s NanoCenter is also voicing a common consumer’s concern, “Renewable energy sources like solar and wind provide time-varying, somewhat unpredictable energy supply, which must be captured and stored as electrical energy until demanded. Conventional devices to store and deliver electrical energy — batteries and capacitors — cannot achieve the needed combination of high energy density, high power, and fast recharge that are essential for our energy future.”

Scientists at the Maryland NanoCenter at the University of Maryland have produced new systems for storing electrical energy derived from alternative sources that are, in some cases, 10 times more efficient than what is commercially available.

Electrical energy storage devices can be categorized into three groups. Each group has its advantages and disadvantages. Batteries, mainly consisting of lithium ion, accumulate large amounts of energy but cannot afford high power or fast recharge. The second type is electrochemical capacitors (ECCs). Their advantage is they can offer higher power at the price of relatively lower energy density. The third storage device is electrostatic capacitors (ESCs). They store charge on the surfaces of two conductors. This way they are capable of high power and fast recharge, but at the price of lower energy density.

Scientists are using new processes to enhance the storage capacity of the devices. They are banking upon millions of identical nanostructures having peculiar shapes that will facilitate energy transport with the help of electrons. Electrons will move to and fro and store energy at a very large surface area. We all are familiar with the fact that materials behave according to physical laws of nature. The Maryland researchers are using this fact to their advantage. They are utilizing unusual combinations of these behaviors to produce millions and in the end billions of tiny, virtually indistinguishable nanostructures. These are supposed to receive, store, and deliver electrical energy.

Scientists are concentrating on self-assembly, self-limiting reaction, and self-alignment behaviors of nanostructures. Rubloff clarifies further, “The goal for electrical energy storage systems is to simultaneously achieve high power and high energy density to enable the devices to hold large amounts of energy, to deliver that energy at high power, and to recharge rapidly (the complement to high power).”

The Maryland research team is going for electrostatic nanocapacitors. They significantly increase energy storage density of such devices - by a factor of 10 over that of commercially available devices. This advance puts electrostatic devices to a performance level competitive with electrochemical capacitors.

The research team is right from the beginning building up the technology for commercial purposes. Their outward appearance would be like thin solar panels produced at economical costs. Multiple storage devices can be staked one over the other inside a car battery system. For the solar and wind energy storage they dream about the fully integrated with storage devices in manufacturing.

Steven Holl wins in Shenzhen

Shenzhen business district to be shaped by an all star cast

Steven Holl Architects has won the “4 in I” tower competition to design the master plan for the Futian business district in Shenzhen, China. Organized by the Shenzhen Planning Bureau, the charge is to create a unified urban plan and office complex around the new Shenzhen Stock Exchange Headquarters designed by OMA. Holl was selected by a six-member jury chaired by Arata Isozaki. Other winners including Morphosis, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Atelier FCJZ and Hans Hollein and MVRDV, will design the individual towers in the scheme.

Holl’s design is based on the concept of tropical skyscrapers as Shade Machines connected by a “Social Bracket”, a long horizontal element elevated above the plaza that gathers together the public programs of all for towers including, cafeterias, gyms, art galleries, auditoriums, and a cinema. The Social Bracket is topped with a green roof that collects and recycles grey water and storm water from the four towers.

The towers circular design maximizes interior space and views while minimizing the exterior envelope. Incorporated in each tower façade is a rotating sun-shading device with photovoltaic cells that is designed to harvest enough energy from the sun to provide cooling for all four towers.

Iris and FMG by Francesco Librizzi and Vittorio Venezia


Better late than never #2: Milan architects Francesco Librizzi and Vittorio Venezia designed a stand for ceramics brands Iris and FMG at Cersaie 2008, the annual ceramics fair in Bologna, Italy last summer.


The stand is made from a sequence of faceted slabs that gradually change shape. The strips are clad in two tiles, one by Iris and one by FMG.


Contrasting colours were used from each brand including a mottled blue and green shade from the FMG Nature 2.0 range.


Here’s some information from the architects:

In July 2008 the studio was asked to design a pavilion for the Cersaie fair in Bologna. The client, Iris, is a ceramics producer and owner of several brands in the same field. The task was to design a single stand for 2 brands, Iris and FMG.


Normally the two brands share the same plot at the fair, using one stand separated into two parts. In 2008 the owner decided to reduce the number of products shown and at the same time to avoid any separation between the two logos, use one space.


We decided to create an device that would expose each brand separately in a single structure. To do this, we designed a two-sided device, where each tile can be seen from different directions, creating the impression of a single material, according to the angle of view.


Visitors can go back and forth across the stand, having the impression of switching brands depending on which tile is exposed.








Client: IRIS + FMG
FMG Art Director: Luca Molinari
FMG communication: Rodex

Design by: Francesco Librizzi and Vittorio Venezia
Design collaborators: Alessandro Grassi

Enginering and realization: GiPlanet

Friday, March 27, 2009

Architects to "Do more with Less"

Sat, 2009-03-14 03:21

By Quintus Perera – Asian Tribune

Colombo, 14 March, (Asiantribune.com): The Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) held its 27th annual sessions with the inauguration of Architect 2009 Trade Exhibition at the BMICH.

At the inaugural ceremony Prof Mohan Munasinghe, co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize making key-note address spoke on climate change, sustainable development and the role of the Architects.

The welcome address was made by Jayantha Perera, President SLIA and Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Urban Development and Sacred Area Development; Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Construction and Engineering Services and Ms Ferial Ashraff, Minister of Housing and Common Amenities also spoke.

Speaking at the event Mr Perera said that Sri Lanka is at the cross roads of a new era of development and their aim is for the industry and the architectural fraternity to be ready to used this opportunity to “Do More with Less” in terms of using resources to ensure environmentally friendly design concepts and sustainable development.

Prof Munasinghe continuing said that a major concern has been that carbon dioxide has gone up alarmingly in the atmosphere due to industrialization and emission Green-House gas and to achieve sustainable development eco-system should be protected.

While emphasizing the importance of the architects’ contribution and good governance he said that climate change undermines sustainable development and unfairly penalize the poor and is a threat to future human development. He said that business leaders and architects can start making development more sustainable. There are practical solutions and policy options to be implemented that will integrate climate change responses and sustainable development strategy from global to local levels.

He said that poor countries and poorest groups will be most venerable to warming, sea level rise, precipitation changes and extreme events. Most socioeconomic sectors, ecological systems and human health will suffer. Adaptation measures are available, but must be systematically developed. Mitigation technologies are also available, but better policies and measures are needed to realize their potential.

Net economic effects will be negative in most developing countries. Impacts will be worse in many areas where already there are flood and drought prone, and economic sectors are climate sensitive. Lower capacity to adapt because of a lack of financial, institutional and technological capacity, and access to knowledge.

At the beginning of this important presentation by Prof Munasinghe, the three Ministers who were guests of honor, left the Hall.

Along with the Presentation of scrolls to the newly elected members of the SLIA three special awards were presented to Architects Ashley De Vos; Prof Lal Balasuriya and Ole B Larsen.

- Asian Tribune -

Architect 2009

SLIA in intnl. foray by Ranga CHANDRARATHNE

SLIA has done more than any professional body in Sri Lanka. In an interview with the Sunday Observer Architect Jayantha Perera, President SLIA, President elect Chandana Edirisooriya and Architect D.B Navarathne on the vital role the SLIA plays in the construction industry in Sri Lanka, spell out the objectives and the capabilities of SLIA which has the expertise to undertake any task in re-building the nation. Architect 2009 is the 27th annual sessions of the Institute of Architects which will be held from March 4 to March 8, 2009 at BMICH. Architect Navaratne, Architect Jayantha Perera, President, SLIA and Architect Chandana Edirisooriya Q: The SLIA is one of the prominent professional bodies in Sri Lanka as well as the Asian region. Looking back on the beaten track, how do you assess the progress the SLIA achieved and recognition of it as professional body both in Sri Lanka and abroad? A: SLIA was started fifty years ago with few members. Today, SLIA has over thousand members. In 1976, SLIA was incorporated by an Act of Parliament and in 1996 Architect Registration Board was incorporated into the SLIA Act where the term architect was protected. By this, quacks in the guise of architects were thrown out of board. In the international arena, SLIA has been a founder of the Commonwealth Association of Architects and Architect Regional Council of Asia. It is also a member of UIA (Union of International Architects) and SLIA held chairmanship of ArchAsia twice and chairmanship of SARJ twice. SLIA has achieved recognition in the international arena and locally it has been rendering a service more than any professional body in the country. Now we have four CPDs every year and SLIA publishes an English and Sinhala journal quarterly in addition to a newsletter. We are on the verge of publishing a book on the works of SLIA members during the last fifty years. So each member will contribute two pages. We hope to launch it with annual sessions. We have initiated School of Architects. Q: Why the `Architects 2009' trade fair and exhibition which the SLIA conducts annually is important for architects and public in Sri Lanka? A: The exhibition offers the architects to publicize their works. At the same time, it gives an opportunity for public to be aware of what has been happening in the Sri Lankan architectural scene as well as global trend. With regard to product division, the exhibition and trade fair offers opportunities for exporters, architects and public. B: What is this year's focused area centred around which the `Architects 2009' is held? A: Against the backdrop of global worming, shrinking resources, the focus is on application of new technology in Sri Lanka with experts' help to construct more energy efficient building with fewer resources. For this purpose, experts from India , Hongkong and from the West will attend the annual sessions. Keynote address will be delivered by Mohan Weerasinghe who shared the nobel prize for global worming scenario with Algore. Q: Can you spell out the objectives of the exhibition and trade fair? A: The main objective is to expose the architects to public, trade to public and educate the public on what is available as architects, material and technology available for the industry. B: Who are the principal Sri Lankan and foreign resource personnel participating in this year's exhibition and trade fair? A: All stakeholders in the construction industry such as contractors, material suppliers, furniture suppliers and sanitaryware suppliers are involved in the exhibition and trade fair locally and foreign suppliers through their agents and some foreign suppliers themselves from India. Q: How do you perceive the challenges and opportunities that Sri Lankan professional architects would face in the post war scenario in which construction industry would play a vital role in development, especially of war-ravaged North and East? A: SLIA was the first to come forward when tsunami struck and most of SLIA members were involved in post-Tsunami re-development process including North and East. In fact, SLIA collected funds and constructed houses in the South and in the East. SLIA provided honourary services to a certain point and services for a nominal fee beyond it. SLIA has the total expertise to re-build the nation. Q: What do you think the appropriate strategies and policy initiatives that government should make in order to derive maximum benefits from application of state-of -art technology in the field of architecture? A: Government should take an initiative to use appropriate professionals in developing the country. When it comes to building sector, I think, using an architect is a must because architect is a team leader in any building project. If that is done government will achieve the maximum.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ena de Silva House uprooted : A heritage house gets second chance

A heritage house gets second chance

Moves are afoot to save a landmark Bawa creation, No. 5, Alfred Place, by disassembling it from its original site and rebuilding it at the Moratuwa University
By Renuka Sadanandan

It was a house that many recognized as marking a turning point in the career of Sri Lankas most famed architect Geoffrey Bawa. Thus, the news that No. 5, Alfred Place, built by Bawa in the early 1960s for batik artist and designer Ena de Silva was to be sold to a leading private hospital had most heritage lovers in shock.

Now comes the welcome suggestion to have the Ena de Silva house disassembled and rebuilt at the Moratuwa University where it could serve as a design museum.

“The Ena de Silva house in many ways saw the beginning of the Sri Lankan identity in architecture post-independence,” says Architect Milroy Perera, likening the movement by Bawa and his associates Barbara Sansoni, Laki Senanayake, Ena herself and others to the signal contribution made to art by the 43 Group. “Bawa created something that we could call our own, drawing from our own traditions whilst incorporating modern elements. Losing it would be an enormous loss to our heritage.”
A view of the house. Pic courtesy Dominic Sansoni/ Three Blind Men

Mr. Perera who built the landmark Kandalama Hotel based on Bawa’s design says a group of architects who were deeply influenced by Bawa – C. Anjalendran, Channa Daswatte, Amila de Mel, and himself – have been working with Prof. David Robson and the Moratuwa University’s Head of Architecture Prof. Harsha Munasinghe to see if the house could be reassembled at the University.

The author of two books on the great man, Prof. David Robson agrees the move would be the best option given the current urban landscape.

“I love this house, but there’s not much point preserving it where it is. It would be far better dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere. We thought of Lunuganga (Geoffrey Bawa’s country residence) but thought it might spoil the garden there and then Milroy Perera came up with this idea of moving it to the Moratuwa University and having it as a Design Museum.” Even though it has not been in the public eye as such, being a private residence, ever since it was photographed and documented in the Times Annual in 1968, the house has had a huge impact, Prof. Robson feels.

The Moratuwa University authorities would welcome the move, affirms Prof. Munasinghe. “The Ena de Silva house was definitely a milestone in the evolution of a Sri Lankan architectural style,” he says, adding that it was also significant in the use of local materials and local craftsmen.

“The Architecture Faculty of the University which was set up in 1961 has long felt a museum was needed on the campus, not just for this faculty but for others as well. It would serve as a valuable resource for the students and maybe architecture students could be involved in the rebuilding process,” he says. This would involve salvaging doors, windows, pillars, artifacts — whatever could be saved and rebuilding it according to the original plan after meticulous documentation had been done.

The decision to preserve it should not be seen as an emotional one, but rather as an intellectual exercise based on saving what it represents, he says, adding that they would need the support of the public in this exercise.

Ajith Tudawe, Chairman of Ceylon Hospital’s Ltd (Durdans Hospital) which would be taking over the property confirmed that Ena de Silva was in favour of the house, which she herself had played an active role in designing, going to the Moratuwa University. “If it’s going to be preserved it’s a good thing,” Mr. Tudawe told The Sunday Times, while declining to divulge what the land would be used for once it changed hands.

A pioneering design

The de Silva House remains one of Bawa's most potent and beautiful designs. At the time of its conception the urban courtyard house was part of a forgotten tradition found only in the old Dutch and Moor streets of Hultsdorf, Galle and Matara.

Coming at a time of growing urban congestion, this house more than any other, was responsible for changing the perceptions of a generation of architects and ultimately of the entire urban population of Ceylon, writes David Robson in his book “Geoffrey Bawa: The Complete Works” (Thames and Hudson- 2002)