Is that a Design! Of the year?

Forensic Architecture’s Counter Investigations exhibition

It’s probably an impossibility to focus on one thing when there are so many types of products shortlisted for the Design of the Year. But unintentionally the Design Museum’s winners video almost lambasts the concept. Is it a rocket ship, an operating theatre that fits in a backpack, or a ballet costume that wins?

I’ve previously enjoyed Designs of the Year as they throw up culturally-rich ideas, thought provoking concepts and usually an outstanding design or two. The 2018 design shortlist seems to represent a gargantuan version of a Springwise newsletter.

How credible is it when you need to review a rocket in space, against recognition for a pile of garbage in the sea? Anyway the overall winner is Forensic Architecture’s Counter Investigations exhibition. And yes that is as easy to comprehend as it is to read.

Um. A giant mind map has won the Design of the Year?  It could be worse, last year it was a building!


Building Up!

This year’s photographic showcase of architecture throws up a broad range of subjects and approaches.

Sunset above the skyscraper
Sunset above the skyscraper

The focus seems to be diverse with a quirky one, an “up the staircase” shot, and a posed one or someone got lucky with the vibrant colours!

The QUIRKY one- Roof Resident

Nonetheless, somehow this year’s shortlist crop seem a little sterile, to much a square frame on an interesting topic, rather than some form of supreme photography.

My preference is for “Sunset above the skyscraper” but as this was a drone shot rather than an actual photographic composition it does lend itself to what is this showcase about.


I spy with my little eye…

A super cool shot, literally, has won the Landscape Photographer of the Year 2018 competition.

Ice spikes, Glencoe, by Pete Rowbottom

It’s always enthralling to view the depth of images that people have conjured up. From the standard point and shoot, to the tricksy, to the stunning which includes the deserving Ice Spikes.

Field of red and a beautiful morning, Houghton, West Sussex, by Marie Davey:

I love the “Field of red”, which so captures a specific and particular view of the English countryside. I’m in awe of “Storm Opelia” and the truly dramatic “Milky Way” which somehow manages to capture the essence of St Michael’s Mount which has almost reversed and became the backdrop for the revealing night sky.

Storm Ophelia
Storm Ophelia, Porthcawl pier, Bridgend, by Rachel Brown:
Milky Way meets St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, by Mario D’Onofrio:



Blue Skies and Glass

The gargantuan Foster + Partners new office block for Bloomberg has won this year’s RIBA Stirling prize for Architecture. Nestled near St. Pauls in London the sandstone and bronze building is actually two blocks either side of an arcade connected by a glass-filled bridge. Among all the other mixed buildings near St Paul’s it looks fine.

Bloomberg, by Aaron Hargreaves

Inside it embraces the corporate look and feel with people being shepherded around from the general reception area termed “Vortex”, a dramatic, if troubling (mind your head) double-height space created by three curved timber shells, leading to the “pantry”, a quaint Americanism for a central concourse of café’s, with cracking views over St Paul’s, but which sits around a numb-inducing tedious 210m high bronze ‘ramp’ which winds down and links the office floors below. And just as people are returning to small offices and private spaces, they go for the ubiquitous open-plan floors where you can sit or stand up to work.

Bloomberg by Nigel Young

But the prize-giving is more a reflection of the pioneering new technologies included in the building. These include the multi-function ceilings fitted with 2.5 million polished aluminium ‘petals’ to regulate acoustics, temperature and light. The curious bronze baffles outside the windows serve as “gills” to draw in natural air, with flaps that open and close automatically, allowing the building to breathe, while softening traffic noise from outside. The passive ventilation system is designed to draw air up through the building and released through a central roof-light. Maintenance-wise the oak floorboards are fixed to magnetic plates so they can be lifted to access the services below. Along with other features this should ensure that the building uses 70% less water and 40% less energy than an equivalent office space. Whether all that works and is effective in future remains to be seen.

Bloomberg Public Art, Nigel Young

Outside, space has been created for public artworks, although the seemingly swampy stream by Cristina Iglesias may encourage you to get past quick and head indoors. But then I always preferred wide blue skies of the Tate St Ives.


It’s Brand Shiny New up North…

The V&A Dundee

The striking new building overlooking the river Tay in Dundee is the long-awaited outpost of the V&A museum. Externally the huge edifice looks like it’s just about to set sail over the Tay and away to Sea, with a pronounced prow paying homage to the past industry of Dundee. That past history includes being the home of kids comics through the ages, although most of those are now online, rather than being bought at the newsagents with weekly pocket money!

Inside the V&A Dundee

Like many infrastructure projects this was over time and well over budget, mid-build the £45m budget doubled. Somewhat confusingly every man and his dog (no, not you Gnasher!) have contributed to the cost except seemingly the V&A. Well that’s big brands for you.

Northern Resurgence with the Northern Spire

Like the Northern Spire, this is a shining symbol of renewal and regeneration. Could it herald a revival for the City much as being the City of Culture last year did for Hull. Or will it be a Hasting Pier job, which slipped into administration late last year (2017). The pier, which was restored with the help of  £11.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, has now been sold to a local businessman for £50,000, despite a local campaign run by Friends of Hastings Pier to buy the pier for the local community, which raised £477,000.

Northern Spire 2
Northern Spire, Sunderland

While this initially looks idiotic it is the huge maintenance costs that do the damage. The pier’s administrators, noted that significant cash for working capital and investment purposes, amounting to more than £1m, would be required to make the pier sustainable. So it’s making such things sustainable, and not just parachuting in a glossy new building that is required.

The future was here…

Certain designs are so emblematic that they remain inspiring and futuristic even though reality has overtaken them. So it is with “Futoro”, the “house of the future” designed in the early 1960’s by Matti Suuronen.

House of the Future

A recent novel, OK, Mr Field, describes the protagonist living in a replica of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. Completed in 1931, Villa Savoye is one of the most important houses of the 20th century. A key building in the development of the International Style of Modernism, it is one of the only houses in France to have been declared a national monument during the architect’s lifetime.

Villa Savoye
Villa Savoye

Yet, rather than a blueprint for the future, this, like “Futoro”, was just a high concept version for a second home, a weekend bolthole rather than an everyday home. For Le Corbusier a house might have been “a machine for living in”, a phrase famously coined in his seminal work, but the machine wasn’t up to much. This, like many idealistic concepts, finds the reality not as grand as the concept, with both properties being almost uninhabitable.

While these iconic buildings remain grander than the reality, they were from the modernists, rather than the futurists, so maybe we can’t let them take too much blame for not fulfilling our vision of the future.

Curate Away

Curating is one of those terms that you can easily take an instant dislike to. One of those contemporary terms used to describe the “bleedin’ obvious”.

But in this case someone has done a good job for this year’s crop of RIBA best buildings. The 2018 shortlist includes a fascinating collection of architecture. They range from the what seems environmentally-friendly restoration with the likes of Walthamstow Wetlands, a sympathetic restoration and revitalisation of a run-down area, with an emphasis of the inclusiveness of nature and buildings. The Albert Works restored a derelict area of Sheffield with a clean new building in homage to what was there before.

Gasworks London

While Albert Works tends to the hipster-style, albeit in that hard-as-nails Sheffield way, the Department Store is all-out Seattle lifestyle, wake up and smell the coffee place. Contrast that with the clean simplicity and clarity of line of St Augustines Church.

Gasworks – Room with a View

Then there’s the challenges of building a building within a building, the intrepid and fascinating Gasholders London. While I like to see re-purposing, is this great architecture or just plain crazy?

Gasworks – Looking Up

From all of those on the shortlist, my preference is the brilliant Tate St Ives. An engineering riddle as much as brilliant design it has transformed the Tate experience. And besides it wins hands-down as it has stunning sea views from the public roof top terrace.

Tate St Ives.

Renew or Replace?

The recent devastating fire has all but destroyed the Mackintosh School of Art building in Glasgow. Ironically, as it was being renovated following a fire in 2014. The Macintosh was a recognised and acclaimed building, so the original re-build was widely-supported to reclaim this heritage and phoenix-like build Macintosh’s design as he intended.

Mackintosh Building
The Macintosh School of Art

But this recent huge fire which engulfed this and nearby buildings have hardly even left a shell to re-build. Opinions have suggested we should develop a new building in a contemporary style rather than try to re-create, or as it has been expressed “create a replica” or pastiche of Macintosh’s great work. So is the irreplaceable just that – Irreplaceable?

Glasgow School of Art Library
Macintosh School of Art Library

The iconic York Minster underwent renovation for many years, and this truly magnificent building has been restored, along with the beautiful Great East Window and the Rose window, not just restored, but a modern re-creation of the truly historic, and a renewed building which has also been brought to live. They created new opportunities for craftsmen to re-create centuries-old skills and knowledge. So if we have the craftsmen, or can create them, we can rebuild Macintosh’s seminal work and leave it for future generations to marvel at and enjoy.

3D or not 3D…


The clever Dutch, not content with taming the waters of the North Sea, are now building a 3D printed pedestrian bridge, to be installed in Amsterdam. I do have a bit of a conceptual problem with 3D printing – I can only imagine a big manufacturing box with 3D printers working like crazy. But no, apparently it’s not like that.

The design studio leading the work says its six-axis robot printers are capable of printing objects of almost any size. Rather than being restricted by need to print within a machine, the MX3D bots move around the work being printed. So yes you can build a bridge (or anything really) with 3D printing. It’s due to be completed and installed later this year, or early 2019, so look out for that.

If you are in Holland…

at the moment, you can go to the far north and cross the Afsluitdijk, a 20 mile long causeway that separates the North Sea from fresh water Holland.


As well as being a great bit of geography, it’s now been enhanced by the Gates of Light artworks, which shield the entrance at both ends.



It’s a good cycle ride as well, of course on a separate cycleway, and there’s a mid-point café if needed. The cycle path is further up the dyke that the road, so you do get good views.


I started on the eastern side by cycling through Friesland which is delightful, full of tiny villages with great cafes. So I just turned around in Den Oever (on the west) and returned the same way.

Coda: I recognised the original “To be or not to be, that is the question” quote as being from Hamlet but couldn’t really remember the rest of the text, so a few google and Wikipedia pages later I am more informed. But I also learnt that what I was doing with the title was a “Snowclone”. So now you know.

Art on a Wall

Sometimes you see something and you think, that’s clever. Well the Scribit Robot is just that. Designed by a team including Carlo Ratti, an Italian architect and somewhat renaissance figure, this device allows users to personalise their walls with digital artwork. And then replace that artwork whenever they like. More prosaically it can do menu boards and anything else that requires printing.

The Scribit Robot

This clever concept is going to be crowdfunded later this year, so either it will be a great success or it will slowly slide away into oblivion and we will be none the wiser. So is it a genius idea with brilliant potential or just an expensive design concept that should have been kept in-house, what’s your view?