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  1. The Sky's The Limit
    Thursday, May 31, 2012
  2. Why does it look the way that it does?
    Thursday, May 17, 2012
  3. Housing Today and Tomorrow
    Monday, May 14, 2012
  4. Welcome
    Sunday, May 13, 2012

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  1. Donna Rankine on Housing Today and Tomorrow


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The Sky's The Limit

I was lucky enough this week to come across a documentary on TV about the first journey around the world in a Zeppelin Passenger Airship (BBC iPlayer). I found it moving and it had me thinking about it, and how wonderful it looked.

The time was 1929 and it was the airship Graf Zeppelin. Only nineteen years earlier the Ford Model T was introduced, and in 1929 there were over fifteen million of those society changing machines. At the turn of the century buildings in the city of Chicago began to reach for the skies thanks to the technology of the steel frame, the elevator, and the curtain wall. At the beginning of the last century, the new technology was profoundly visible and in the case of the Zeppelin, spectacular. So it can be understood how such things captured the imagination of the young, especially those who designed.

Almost at once they had so much to be excited about. It must have felt to be an age where human success and achievement was inevitable, made possible by technology. The writers of the new genre Science Fiction, Jules Verne, H G Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs et al may have come across more as predictions than fiction.

An optimism and looking to the future gave birth to a new way of thinking about design in the environment and this is typified by the almost hysterical Futurist Movement ( and the more rational Modernism that came to dominate much of western thinking.

The Zeppelin circumnavigated the globe, like a herald proclaiming the arrival of a new world that could not be ignored. Technology was seen as a benign force of progress and achievement, leaving the past behind and only looking forward and off course, upward.

I have to mention the Empire State Building (Shreve Lamb and Harmen) with it’s Zeppelin moring terminal, facilitating the arrival of guests via passenger airship.

Perhaps one day the passenger airship as a concept, will recover from that terrible day in May 1937. Things do seem to be happening in our old air ship hangers: Maybe we could see them in the skies again. Whatever the future it surely cannot be denied that eighty three years ago, when most did not own a car, and most streets still had gas lighting, the sight of the airship above must have been truly inspirational.


Why does it look the way that it does?

Every building has a story behind it. This story leads ultimately to the resulting form. The most successful and aesthetically pleasing will have a story that is well considered and consciously known by the architect from inception to completion. And so an architect should be able to tell you why his building looks the way it does, even if it is not easy.

Designs are based in ideas that should be able to stand the most rigorous tests. It is those ideas and concepts that have the most resilience that survive through to the completed building.

To anyone who wishes to truly understand the architecture of a building, then the answer is found in it’s history, in the story behind it. Some buildings could contain an entire thesis, indeed there are those that embody a whole ideology.


Barcelona Pavilion, Falling Water, Katsura


Housing Today and Tomorrow

The RIBA has launched a new campaign to increase awareness of the importance of quality in the design of housing.


I also read that the RIBA asked via a YouGov Survey, what are the things one looks for when considering buying a new house. The most important items was inside space, and private outside space. In 1961 a report was published by the Parker Morris Committee entitled “Homes for Today and Tomorrow”. This influential report analysed how people lived from a spatial point of view, for example, looking at what furniture was needed, what activities occurred in each room, and the movement in and around the house. It is notable that much of new housing of recent years fall short of the standards of this report.


It is interesting, how the Parker Morris Standards, as they have come to be known, are again being used as a reference point. An example being The Office of the Mayor of London adopting a design guide for housing that aims for 10% more generous than Parker Morris.


The design of housing has been an important area of architectural debate, and the above are just a few examples of initiatives that have to happen if we are to improve the nations housing.


There is much history, and many examples of how designers have reacted to the challenge of housing. The arguments surrounding social housing are well documented, with reference to slum clearance schemes such as that in Hulme, spearheaded by Alice Coleman in her book “Utopia on Trial”. A main concept being “defensible space”, and the importance of those who dwell, take spatial ownership, and therefore feel compelled to relate to the physical environment, as opposed to being alienated.


One is reminded that such “defensible space” has to be an intermediary between what is the essential privacy of the home, and the public realm outside. Of course this is the private outside space talked of above. The garden, the path to the threshold, the journey to the centre of the dwelling, the in between space.


All these ideas are well versed. There is nothing new. They are archetypical in nature. What does change is technology, economics, energy needs and resources, and these things change the way people behave. A truly sustainable house is one which has the archetypical minimal standards of Parker Morris and a respect for the essential psychospatial requirements of being human. The new technology and the accompanying ever changing reinterpretation of such places should not challenge, but enrich them over time.


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