Lifestyle Living

There is a discernible trend towards “serviced rental” in our major cities. This bundled service for renters may have started with the investment in high quality rental apartments for students, which first appeared a number of years ago. The single high rental price provided good quality accommodation, lifestyle living like shared living space with quality furnishings like TV’s and gaming machines, and inclusive charges for broadband, heat and light. Convenience at a cost.


The new serviced rental takes that model and throws in even more glamorous lifestyle options for urban living, such as gyms and rooftop bars. Again this comes with a bundled price. The price for entry is high, only suitable for those with reasonably high disposable incomes, or maybe for those using someone else’s disposable income!


These rented places are trying to target a particular market, and their marketing suggests they are appealing to a  “co-living” concept, and trying to change the view on rental living in the UK. Traditionally in the UK we have viewed home ownership as being desirable and necessary, with rental being “wasted money” while paying someone else’s mortgage. The actual cost of home ownership being similar to renting. But unlike the commune style living concepts of the 1970’s, which still do exist, these are not really co-operative’s with an agenda, they are commercial markets seeking a return on investment. At the end of the day if you strip away all the trappings and the expectation of a “Friends-style” lifestyle you are left renting one private space, a small bedroom. And with stipulations like you need to be between 18 to 36 years, they are more like self-servicing ghettos. Affordable housing it is not.




Cycle Path Heaven

The second Bicycle Architecture Biennale (BAB), is an opportunity to review innovative new designs for cycle paths around the globe, and glory in the cutting edge design being lavished on such functional travel.


NEXT architects, an award-winning international firm curated the current crop, with eleven of these projects being fully constructed designs, while four are design concepts. One I would add to the list is the fabulously integrated cycle path on the Pont Adolphe bridge in Luxembourg. From local studio CBA Architects, led by Christian Bauer, it integrates a pedestrian and cycle path beneath the original 153-metre-long bridge, which was built in 1903. Talk about designing to a brief, far more impressive than being able to design from the ground-up!

Is the trend for cycling generating such innovative designs or are the innovative designs stimulating cycling. What are your thoughts?

Yorkshire Sculpture Park II Images

Image from our visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park .

Henry Moore – Reclining Figure Connected Forms
Henry Moore Reclining Figure
Henry Moore – Reclining Figure
Moore – Reclining Figure Bronze – Detail
Moore – Large Two forms. And an obliging sheep
Damian Hurst
Mark Di Suvero. The Cave.
Capper – Tread Pad
Capper – Tread Pad
The Weston – Car Park entrance
The Weston

Leaving the high-rise behind

You might not recognise the name, Michael Wolf, but you will probably recognise some of his work, hauntingly detailed work of city-stressed commuters and high rise mega buildings.

Architecture of Density 39, 2005. By Michael Wolf
Architecture of Density 39, 2005. By Michael Wolf

There is a fascinating quote from an interview with him that “As a photojournalist I was always aware of composition in my photographs, and one of the things I always liked doing was not letting the viewer be able to escape from the picture. So as soon as you have sky there, you look up and you can leave the picture in some form. It’s the same with the architecture. If you have the sky and the horizon, you know approximately how big it is, and there’s no real illusion there. By cropping it like that, I’m not describing the building any more, I’m creating a metaphor.”

Tokyo Compression 18, 2010. By Michael Wolf
Tokyo Compression 18, 2010. By Michael Wolf

Stunning stuff. And a lasting legacy to leave behind.

High Fives

The proliferation of City high rises has stimulated the need to identify new and distinctive features. Perhaps the most challenging is the glass indoor climbing wall at 22 Bishopsgate, Central London.


The melding of social and business features, the introduction of work/life balance with the yoga studio and juice bars, along with the hipster friendly cycle park, all lends itself to the vision of improved lifestyles. But really, at 400 foot up there’s a glass wall to climb up, is that ultimate posing or just terrifying? Maybe there is a nice coffee lounge you can hang around in while watching others, or maybe they seal the whole area off to avoid vertigo and panic attacks.


It all comes with the ubiquitous viewing platform, even higher up. I’m waiting for the Instagram moment a free climber scales the outside, while inside terrified climbers hug their holds tighter, chalk puffs smothering the glass!



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.

Port of Antwerp

Port of Antwerp

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, has been announced as The Design Museum’s  design of the year 2017, from a huge selection of that year’s best designs.

There are six broad categories to accommodate such a wide inclusion. Which range from the almost ludicrous, such as the Premier League on-air branding, to the now outdated Pokémon GO. There are the contemporaneous cultural curios like the “Pussyhat Project” and “Professional Women Emoji”. Then there are the potentially practical and useful such as the “Avy Search and Rescue Drone” and “The Pilot translating earpiece”.  The latter sounds inspired from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and I thought the Babel Fish had been around since the 1970’s?

Avy  Search and Rescue Drone

While I do appreciate there are more humanistic and beneficial designs, such as the Warka Water concept,  I do like a dash of big bold architecture. But rather than the actual winner, for me it’s the Port of Antwerp.


I love the striking soaring skyline, and somehow the bold structure fits the skyline, or should that be the waterline. It would be fascinating to take the tour and discover what the inside is like, a great posthumous homage to the imaginative designer Zaha Hadid.


Hastings Pier

So once you get over the shock that the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture was awarded to a Pier rather than a more conventional building (sic) it’s refreshing that something so English, so old-fashioned with its seaside connotations, should be rewarded for re-invigorating and modernising the concept.

Hastings Pier

So what can a modern re-working of a pier do? There seems to be limitations to the actual potential of such a building. Really what can you do with a long line of wooden planks facing over the roiling sea?

Well they seemed to have created a rather large space, that is multi-functional. So they can hold various events and activities there. And there is the deck building which provides the ocean vista. Another plus factor for awarding this building is that we like the idea of restoring something. Hastings pier had been destroyed by fire in 2010 and the resulting re-build process, including lottery funding and a crowd-sourced campaign ensured the modern pier re-opened in April 2016.


Mind you the other 5 buildings seemed to offer little in the way of competition. Monolithic concrete blocks, with Glasgow’s audition for a Russian Kremlin building, and a photographic studio you would want to shoot yourself to get out off, and buildings that seemed to just shuffle into designated spaces but not really occupy their own space. So a pier it is.

Don’t drop your ice-cream on it, it’s an award winner!


Googling Quarters


Plans for the new Google building in London have been released, and while the computer-generated images don’t exactly entrance the eye, it is significant for two things. One, the continued leviathan nature of these corporate temples , and two, the attempt to add a new descriptive word to our language – Landscraper! The term refers to the stated belief that this is a “building on its side”, rather than one just going up. I can’t help but think that someone just tilted the image on their computer screen and thought “OK that will do” and started to add stuff to it, rather than a design philosophy. And no, I don’t think much to the term either!

Following the Apple campus spaceship, these corporate beasts seem to suggest there is no work-life balance, as you can actually live here. With gardens, swimming pools, sports and medical facilities, they create their own gated community of hip young things. Of course, once built they will probably fill it with cubicles, so Dilbert-like. Or maybe worse “hot desks”, though that term is a bit too 90’s, maybe they are referred to now as “co-sharing incubators”. Although that concept defeats me, who gives a damn about the desk, we wanted our own chair! Your floor probably has the latte and chai tea dispenser, so you probably have to wander a few floors up and down, a bit like Tom Hanks (The Terminal) lingering around the place to find a desk, or a coffee machine that does plain black coffee.

These mini-citadels, may not be easy to Create but can be as impregnable to those who work there, as they are to those of us who will never grace their corridors. The sheer scale and complexity defeating the efforts to feel comfortable and familiar. But then you are there to work. So stop staring out those windows!

What’s the time, Mr Wolf?


So central Birmingham is spending £2 million on a clock. Ignoring the contentious fact that this is part of the controversial HS2 project, it does once again raise the question of what public funds should be used for.

The PR spin will say this is a worthwhile project that will provide footfall to Birmingham, based on in-depth analysis that an additional XX visitors will spend YY, that means it will generate Billions and make the £2m a paltry insignificant sum. Except that they are spending an actual £2m, that could be spent on hospitals, libraries, other public services. Any exponential visitors are hard to measure. So here’s a competition – Hull, is the current European city of culture, this year they will get loads of extra visitors. Name one thing that all those visitors are coming for? Thought not, it’s the overall events and activities. Had they spent £2m on a clock, that wouldn’t be bringing in any additional visitors, it would just be one more attraction for those visitors to go too.

But there is another problem with these grandiose schemes. These huge art competitions tend to create a culture of international artists trying to implement challenging schemes to win. And thankfully some of these were overlooked, the train crash one, possibly all too apt with HS2! They are international, they are not local. This clock has nothing to do with Birmingham, it is just an anodyne artwork parachuted into that location. Of course by the time it gets built and modified it will have a developed a local flavour, local voices, but does this really make it unique to Brum? Not really.

Another possible public folly is the garden bridge in London, currently being reviewed to evaluate if it justifies the expense. Couldn’t they just put flowers and greenery on all the existing bridges? Well they could, and that might look really nice. But it wouldn’t be a “concept” would it, so that won’t count.