Sunday, 21 April 2013

Cullian Studios - Retro Fit - Seminar April 2013 - Open City

Cullian Studios - Baldwin Terrace side
Thank you to Cullian Studios for opening up their offices and the talk about their escapades in refurbishing their warehouse offices on the canals in N1, Islington.  It was very interesting seeing what hoops they had to jump through to with the planning office, heritage department, structural and cost constraints and changes in sustainable construction best practice. 

Although wind power, solar power and other eco gadgets are fun and of the moment, some of the most effective ways of retro fitting a building with sustainable technology are the old ones - effective insulation, well fitting windows, low energy lighting, and a BMS (building management system) which allows the occupants to monitor and alter the heating and lighting to suit the way the offices are used. 

Lighting over desks, not general to the space - task lighting
4 years ago wind energy was chic and the planning application included them.  Since then thoughts on the effectiveness of wind energy in cities have changed, but getting the planning department to agree to the change was difficult.  The difficulties of refurbishing the building were exacerbated by the realization by the council that the warehouse was the only one left - as 'they' had allowed all the other, probably more architecturally interesting, warehouses to be demolished to make way for architectural 'feature' housing/offices on the canal side.  This meant that the rather mundane Victorian warehouse that were to become the Cullian Studios became significant because of rarity not significance.  This skewed the Heritage and Council's thinking on what they could and couldn't do to the building.

Steel frame that supports the Victorian wall
There were a few important lessons learnt:
  1. It is important that occupants are able to control heating/lighting systems easily.  A lot of building management systems on the market are difficult to install, difficult to use and difficult to maintain, which means that people proably don't use them in the most  efficient way.
  2. BMS and the accompanying technology needs to be simplified - make it accessible to all.  
  3. Planners need to get up to speed with changing technology.
  4. Planners need to have an overall plan of an area, not allow piece meal development without considering the area as a whole.  The wholesale demolition of buildings without long term considerations is negligent.  But, is this really the planners department, they are only paid  individuals, not people who are there for the greater good of the Borough. 
  5. Easy or rather simple is often the most effective
  6. Consider acoustics.  They are more important than you think.
Cullian Studio canal side facade, retention of Victorian warehouse frontage

 Thank you to Open Cities for organizing this seminar.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum

The title of this exhibition has been carefully selected as the curators obviously wanted to show and illustrate the lives of the average Pompeiian, not just the manner of their deaths.  I'm not quite sure what I expected but I did expect more.  I know that archaeologists have unearthed huge amounts of everyday detritus from both sites, which illuminate and illustrate Roman life, enabling us  to understand and appreciate how they (the Pompeian/Romans) lived a life not unlike ours with all mod (2000 year old) cons and luxuries to make life comfortable.  But there really wasn't that much on display.

Basing the exhibition on an existing house, each 'room' of the exhibition was then furnished with products and artifacts appropriate to that area.   I expected more minutiae - lots of it, if fact I expect to be overwhelmed by the smallness of an ancient life, that is so different and yet so similar to our own. Each item on display was interesting and often exquisite in detail and pathos, but there wasn't that much. Which meant that at the really interesting displays there were a lot of people trying to read, look and appreciate the items,  creating a bottle neck and that meant that my son and I looked from a distance and moved on (thank goodness for audio descriptions, in little MP3 players).

Having said that, this exhibition is probably the nearest we will get to Pompeii or Herculaneum for a few years so, we enjoyed and lapped up all the curios, charred food, furniture and mementos of the suddenly stilled lives. Macabre it maybe but also fascinating - and the overwhelming sense that they aren't so very different from us!