In the beginning... Having worked with Robin Partington Architects (RPA) since the start of Januray 2010 it seems logical that I quickly get up to speed with the past 10 months, before diving in mid-October with tales of nonstop deadlines, 16hour working days and minor incidents involving scalpels. (*Please note some details have had to be omitted or had names altered for conﬁdentiality purposes. This blog is for academic purposes only and cannot be used or reproduced in the public domain under any circumstances).
JANUARY My ﬁrst month in this new and rapidly expanding practice has been varied and fast paced. As an emerging practice during the lull of the recession it is unique. Currently hugely under re-sourced for the scale and volume of work we are undertaking the practice is due to expand sixfold over the next year. The projects being under taken are of a large commercial scale, this is unusual for a new practice. However, as the individuals forming the practice have a tremendous portfolio of design, clients have proven faithful to their project’s architect rather than the practice itself. I am working full time on Broker Square*; a mix-used scheme in Puddington*, consisting of a central tower, two residential buildings and an ofﬁce building. This is a major development affecting the urban fabric of North West London and the surrounding context. The project is a redesign of a scheme which has already gained planning consent. With two buildings reaching completion the client hired RPA to consider a redesign to improve the standard of design and cost for the remaining four. Having been convinced by the feasibility report carried out by BFLS, the client* have tasked us with redesigning all four remaining buildings and take them to planning by the end of the year. We are currently focusing on the central tower. This is a 40 storey building whose use is devoted primarily to the high end residential market with a boutique hotel on the lower ﬂoors and a Sky Bar crowning the skyscraper.
Aerial View showing the site
Finding the form This exercise is driven by a combination of instinct in ďŹ nding an attractive form for the tower whilst balancing the need for effective ďŹ‚oor plate sizes in relation to the core provision. I made several foam models of the tower to develop her â€œwaist lineâ€? from Dolly Parton to Kate Moss or in more architectural language, efďŹ ciently balancing the NIA to the GEA. Personal ReďŹ‚ection The practice is vastly different to my previous job where I was one of ďŹ ve, in a small ofďŹ ce specialising in small domestic alterations, such as loft conversions and extensions. In my ďŹ rst month I went from hating my new job; the odious commute from my home in Surrey to the centre of the capital, intimidated by the architects, all of whom who had a signiďŹ cant amount of experience under their belts, and overwhelmed by the terrifyingly large scale project to...LOVING it. By February I had settled in, felt at ease with the collection of Architects in the ofďŹ ce and became ofay with London public transport. I still had a long way to go with getting my head around the project, the scheme itself but also the complex computer network ďŹ ling system. This sounds triďŹ‚ing but it is vital organisation for any project, but especially one of this scale; dictating the name of every ďŹ le you create and its location so that anyone at anytime can locate work.
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The curved form minimises the apparent bulk of the building, never presenting aggressive corners, and always receding when viewed from a distance. It also presents a reduced footprint at ground level.
FEBRUARY Sketch Models and Diagrams I have been producing sketch models from foam and card to convey a concept or idea to the client or to test ourselves. The form of the buildings are evolving to respond to the site and the brief demands. This method of working - sketching in plan, section and elevation on yellow trace; then building in 3D is incredibly clear and quick. Facade Development We have been looking at the faĂ§ade articulation for each building to understand how they can maintain a common language between them but allow their distinct uses to be conveyed. The use of rhythmical louvres and cladding panels to break up the large and expansive facade has been employed. The cladding panels straddle two ďŹ‚oors to visually reduce the heights of the buildings which range from 14 to 40 storeys. The material choice of the cladding will vary across the scheme from the porcelain tusks of the tower to the warm and earthy ceramic on the riverside residential building. Consented Scheme Comparisons RPAâ€™s redesign of the Broker Square development must compare favorably to the consented scheme. The amount and nature of land between buildings, devoted to the public realm, must be a positive attribute to the scheme. I assisted in studies which compared the public realm between schemes and the amount of ďŹ‚oor plate provided by each design. An additional restricting factor placed upon our design is the height of the consented scheme.
Personal ReďŹ‚ection: Over the last month the practice has continued to expand with people from Fosters, BFLS and Farrells. This has been fun from a personal perspective - getting to know new members of the team but it it has been causing a certain amount of disruption with architects of a similar level competing for superiority. I cut the top of my ďŹ nger off whilst making a model - great hilarity was expressed by all and I had a lovely a trip to A&E. Câ€™est la vie!
MARCH Sky Bar Westminister City Council are keen to see the development of the sky bar on top of the tower. They see this as a highly attractive addition to the tall building; celebrating views over Westminister and creating a focal point to the Puddington* Basin development. The ﬂoorplan of the skybar is heavily restricted by the lift overruns from the core yet we cannot build above it as we are limited by the height of the consented scheme. Moving ofﬁces This month we have moved ofﬁces, having outgrown our ﬁrst home the basement of number 40 Bedford Square, beautiful but impractical. We boxed up our computers (and two apple cinema screen displays!) and trundled down the road to New Oxford Street! The ofﬁce is on a single ﬂoor and whilst having none of the character and warmth of Bedford Square is an open plan functional ofﬁce space. We had a mini party, with about 15 members of staff at this point, we have expanded three fold in the last three months. Modelshop Manager I have been appointed manager of the modelshop. As we have just moved ofﬁces I have put in a considerable amount of work this month ensuring we have a fully functioning, equipped and safe sketch modelshop. After forming a stock list and basic equipment provision I have set up accounts with wholesale material companies and professional model makers. I record all orders placed and received in spreadsheet format to in the long term streamline the stocking process. With a limited budget I have focussed on the essential items but hope to purchase a second hot wire cutter and fume extractor in due course. My role also includes introducing new recruits to the modelshop and ensuring they are given adequate training and a health and safety induction alongside an awareness of modelshop etiquette.
Personal Reﬂection I was thrilled to be made modelshop manager in our new ofﬁce. I am concerned, however, about ﬁnding the time to fulﬁl my duties on top of my role as “resource” for Broker Square*. It was my birthday (21 plus 12 months) this month and I made a “cascade of cupcakes” for the ofﬁce. I think they went down well.
APRIL Presentation documents This month I have been organising, collating and assembling the material for a variety of presentations. This has involved acting as a key point of contact within the team. Black and Yellow Diagrams. To explain the design development in a clear and basic way we have used a simple but effective diagramming technique. These diagrams aim to convey one idea each and should be read as a design journey. I spent several weeks carefully drawing and photoshopping each image a consistent style. Greater London Authority (GLA) Presentation This document was set up to form the basis for the design and Access statement which will be submitted in planning. I liased with the planning consulatants, and the client in order to collate the information required for the GLA. This included our initial design brief, the local and wider context and the site history. The design was then presented in a concise manner starting with the wider site strategy before zooming in to more detailed design decisions including facade treatment and material choices for each building. Wind Testing This month I visited Anamos, the smoke testing wind tunnel in St. Albans. To test the location of the building entrances and their respective wind pressures, we placed a 1:300 model of the scheme in the wind tunnel to experience and watch the ﬂow of air across the scheme. The curved form of the tower was designed to allow wind to ﬂow around the building and disperse. With minimal vertical wind funneling. The close proximity between the buildings had the affect of accelerating the ﬂow of air between this was due to areas of higher and lower pressure causing a suction affect. Personal Reﬂection This month I have worked less on a speciﬁc building and have become more of a general resource, assembling documents for the master plan of Broker square. This has been enjoyable and I am now a dab hand at Indesign. It has, at times, been frustrating being the one putting the images into the ﬁnished format as it is the last task, so often I have felt like I can begin my tasks for the day as others end theirs. There is at present no overall coordinator for Broker Square* Robin (Partington) continues to head the project but this has been a strain on his time as he has the rest of the practice and business to run and for the team it is difﬁcult as he is (understandably always available for advice when needed.
MAY The Core The core in the tower has been a difďŹ cult element to resolve. This has been mainly due to communication difďŹ culties with our consultant lift engineers. The net to gross ďŹ gures must be economically viable, it is therefore essential the core be as efďŹ cient as possible as it drives the efďŹ ciency of our ďŹ‚oor plate planning and ultimately justiďŹ es the curved form of the tower. To convince the client as to the success of our triangular core within the circularly planned building we taped out the layout at 1:1 in the ofďŹ ce car park. This gave us fantastic insight into the scale of space we were designing which a simple plan or model could not do. This photograph (right) shows the three core, the hotel, residential and service lifts. The core is also part of a primary structural strategy so although the hotel lifts drop off after the tenth ďŹ‚oor the reinforced concrete runs the full height providing stability and riser provision. Company Progress This month has seen many late nights and hard work to meet deadlines. However in our latest practice catch up the bank were reported to be delighted with our progress; we are within 4% of the initial business plan. Less than 5% of new businesses manage to sit in this bracket in the ďŹ rst few months. This is very positive as we continue to recruit. Trip to the Gherkin Courtesy of Robin Partington I organised to go to the Sky Bar at 30 St Mary Axe as a research trip and for fun! This gave me a greater understanding of the scope and quality of design that our practice is capable of achieving. I found the entrance sequence from Ground Floor through to Skybar confusing and an aspect that we will improve upon in the tower. Personal ReďŹ‚ection This month has been tough, at times I have felt like a ďŹ‚oating resource within Broker Square* rather than having a speciďŹ c role. This is probably because the team has expanded with senior architects and so there is less work to delegate to junior members. This has however been disheartening as I was once one of the key members. This month it has been difďŹ cult with personal relationships within work. The squabbling for hierarchy amongst the project architects of each of the four buildings is ongoing and this creates a tense atmosphere in the ofďŹ ce and I do ďŹ nd this intimidating and it is damagingly counterproductive.
JUNE Presentation to CABE I was heavily involved in the preparation for the presentation to the Commission of Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). The format was pre-prescribed to be 12 A1 boards. I collated the images to be used on these boards and actively assisted in the layouts. I also was given the task of coordinating myself and four other team members in the production of the 1:100 site model including the landscape. This was a daunting task as there was not enough allotted time or information from the external landscape architects. I accompanied the project leader to CABE the night before to set up our presentation and arrange the models and sample materials so that the panel members could clearly read our design journey. Nursery Design After the emphasis on presentation material and page formatting it was a delight to be given a design exercise. I was given the brief for the space and use requirements for three categories of infants for a nursery. This is part of the community space offering we are creating in order to provide adequate amenity for the residents of Broker Square. This was a thorough and enjoyable task and I created a convincing layout which met the brief. Work Hard Play Hard This month we formed our novice Softball squad and I have been appointed vice-captain for the team. This involves subbing for the captain when he cannot make a ďŹ xture and ensuring team moral is kept high. I have designed the company logo and polo-shirts. My enthusiasm and dedication to the practice was noted in my review. Personal ReďŹ‚ection This month I have continued to work predominantly on presentation material for presentations to CABE and Westminister City Council (WCC) rather than assisting on the design of a particular building. Whilst I enjoy working directly with Robin (the director) and our new project leader brought in to oversee the whole project, I would rather focus on a single building to improve my design and technical knowledge.
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JULY Presentation to the Ofﬁce This month we have been given the task of presenting to the rest of the ofﬁce “Broker Square*”. With only a few hours notice and a slot of half an hour we had to pull together rapidly to distill the information from all four buildings and divide up the areas. I was given the task of presenting the inside of the tower. Having worked consistently on the layouts for the Hotel and Residential apartments since day 1 I was able to explain the thought process that has driven the anthropologically focused rooms. Residential Layout Design The layout of the single bed, two and three bedroom apartments are vital to maximising the potential value of each unit. Celebrating the circular form of the building whilst creating realistically buildable units is a signiﬁcant challenge. There are certain rules we have implemented as guidelines - Including designing along the radial grid lines, minimising circulation space and maximisng the amount of facade in the hierarchically most valuable living areas.
Boutique Hotel Layout The hotel rooms are designed to celebrate the radial nature of the building by positioning the bed facing the facade. The level of privacy for guests has been optimised by creating a service zone for porters or waiters allowing the guest to lie uninterrupted as room service stocks the mini bar or clears trays.
Sketch Model of Hotel Layout
Sketch Model of Residential Layout
Final Pre-Planning Deadline The 15th July is “D-Day”for the pre-planning submission deadline. This is the last opportunity to submit all information to Westminister City Council (WCC) so we have worked ﬂat out to prepare all the drawings and documents for the ﬁnal questions the client wants to formally ask WCC prior to submission in Autumn. Cardiff Interview Having applied way back in February I was pretty sure I hadn’t got an interview for Cardiff so was delighted when I heard I had. It was very difﬁcult negotiating time off work to prepare my portfolio and attend my interview, I felt work could have been a lot more cooperative and encouraging than they were. However, everyone seemed pleased for me when I was accepted. Personal Reﬂection This month I have been working solely on the tower. I have very much enjoyed getting in to a more detailed level of design on the tower. I have attended meetings with the hotel operator who are informing our programme for the basement and ground ﬂoor layout. The basement has been a very complex area of design as it is a shared basement for all four buildings. This shared strategy has required a greater level of cooperation and communication than the four project leaders have been able to give. The overall project leader has been replaced this month.
Professional Models of the base of the tower
AUGUST This month again I have worked speciﬁcally on 1 Broker* Square The Tower assisting in the interior layout of the tower. I have spent most of my time drawing through more detailed sketch ideas for the residential apartments: 1, 2 and 3 Beds. I have also assisted on the layouts for the standard an premium Hotel rooms on the lower ﬂoors of the tower. These hotel layouts are now pretty much ﬁxed for planning. Struggling This month we were told that if we don’t pull our socks up and work harder we may lose the job. This would be disastrous for our new practice, it would kill any reputation we are establishing before it even begins and we will probably lose our jobs. The feedback we have received from the CABE presentation was damning. It had very little conﬁdence in our scheme and the client feels that a month on we have yet to address the many issues that they raised. After this distressing news I have been working on the resposnse to CABE document with our project leader, co-ordinating the drawings produced by the four teams addressing in point by point form the issues raised by CABE. The client was heavily involved with this document, prescribing the format and we sent many iterations back and forth before he felt we had thoroughly considered and counter argued or accepted CABEs comments. Site Visit I attended a site visit to another residential building, part of the Broker* Square development which was nearing completion. This was to learn from the building as much as possible. I was paying particular attention to the interior layouts of the apartments which tended towards small bedrooms and oversized bathroom. I have also been making some alterations in the sketch modelshop. Helping to install more shelves to provide desperately needed storage. Personal Reﬂection The client is pushing for planning submission at the end of next month! This seems highly unrealistic as the elevations on two of the residential buildings are up for re-design following the pre-application session with WCC. We have worked very hard this month and I do think its unfair that senior members of the team have all had holidays so far this year whereas I have been asked not to take one until after planning, which realistically is not going to be soon. I do at times ﬁnd it difﬁcult to in force some of the modelshop policies, such as tidying up after yourself as I feel a little awkward telling other members of staff to do this and I ﬁnd it frustrating that I frequently ﬁnd myself staying late on top of an already very long day to do this. I must be more assertive. 3D Model showing the unit mix
SEPTEMBER Unit Mix This month I have worked closely with both project architect and client to ﬁnalise the unit mix for the residential components of the tower. This has involved carefully balancing the area requirements and percentage mix of unit types from the client with the need to stack the services and have as much repetition as possible. These requirements must be considered with special regard to the circular plan of the building and the amount of facade needed to ensure adequate daylight into each habitable room. Private Investor Meeting The investor meeting: This month our client was required to present the residential design to the private investor in the project. This is a hugely important meeting which could ultimately stop the project prior to planning if it does not go well. The focus is on 3 Broker Square* which will be the ﬁrst building on site but he has also asked to see residential layouts for the tower. Unfortunately the project architect, with whom I work closely on the layouts for the tower was on holiday. This left me to produce the drawings, I visited other senior designers in the ofﬁce with considerable residential experience for assistance. Basement I have also been assisting in the design of the basement. I have diagrammed out the space and proximity needs of each element of the programme for the basement. This includes various staff back of house facilities and a gym, spa and cinema for the hotel guests. This has been complicated to ensure the service requirements do not overlap with structural plan and the delivery and valeting services. Design and Access Statement Alongside the production of planning drawings I have been working with the project architect on the production of the Design and Access Statement. This is a forty page document which outlines the Masterplan, concept, proposal and technical details. It is one of the many technical reports which the consultant teams are producing (environmental, ﬁre etc) which will be submitted along with the planning drawings. Cardiff A week in Cardiff: I was half looking forward to this and half dreading it. I was exhausted from work having to work doubly hard the week before to compensate for the time lost. However, I did enjoy it and I was pleasantly surprised to ﬁnd how much I have learnt from work which was applicable to the “Project Initiation”. In practice having listened to the client and the quantity surveyor (QS) demand an 80% efﬁciency with minimal core and maximum NIA etc I was able to apply the principles we had adopted in practice to our group’s project. Markups The production of the planning set is drawing to a close as all sheets Section through the building showing uses
are assembled. The project architect goes through and marks-up every sheet, typically composed of six drawings to a sheet and marks them up I then go and edit the drawings accordingly. I am now very familiar with every drawing in our drawing set. I have been coordinating with the project leader and other team members to ensure every sheet is set up consistently, every key, every label consistent and every drawing number listed. The planning deadline was for the end of this month. It turns out this was a ﬁctitious deadline, designed to make ourselves issue as much work as possible. We have been given another two weeks to get the planning submission in. However, it is felt widely in the team that the deadline won’t be until the end of October as there is another potentially contentious scheme adjacent to ours and the planers have recommended that they are submitted simultaneously. Personal Reﬂection This month has unveiled a series of serious ﬂaws in the design management of the tower. There has been little coordination in the design of the inside and outside of the building so that we now have problems producing the planning drawings. The elevations we have shown WCC are composed to express the layering and tactile nature of the form of the tower. The elevation is very successful expressing a more regular composition on the lower hotel levels, with a feeling of solidity and for the higher up residential units the facade becomes more fragmented, less rhythmical and revealing a greater amount of glass so it appears lighter weight. Balconies further enhance the textured nature of the facade, like caves carved out of the cliff face. However, when we started to draw all 40 storeys of cladding in plan it was incompatible with the unit layouts, for example internal walls meeting windows and balconies in units which were too tight on NIA to carry one. This has been a nightmare to resolve. It has meant that we are no longer providing a third of the residential units with balconies and have re-drawn and re-drawn cladding plan and internal layouts. The problem is that the internal and external concepts contradict themselves. Internally we are going for as much repetition as possible for unit types and stacking the units vertically to have as little problems with running services as we can manage. Yet externally we are trying to break up the repetition so as not to have additional strong verticals which will aesthetically increase the height of the tower. I am absolutely exhausted. It is quite hard to stay enthusiastic about work when we are working to non-stop deadlines, most of which turn out to be false. I have also been working incredibly hard and long hours and it is hard to stay cheerful when you are told you are not working hard enough and will have to stay really late all week (when I’ve already been at my desk since 6.30am and its 8.30pm).
Section through Sky Bar
Getting up to speed... OCTOBER First week: Holiday! Hello Africa! (Well, technically Tunisia, but doesn’t Africa sound far more exotic!) Back to work. I was glad to have missed a very long week, bookended by two working weekends, but am now struggling to keep up with the pace. The client has decided that every unit in the tower must have at last one fully disabled bathroom. This means re-visiting every residential unit (all 222) and adjusting it to provide extra bathroom space. This has been a time consuming task that has meant re-drawing all the unit layouts. This again relates to the balance between elevation and plan. The mix at the very top of the building stated four bed duplex units, we have however omitted to design these up until now. This is having a major effect on the design of the facade at the top of the building, which has until now been composed by eye. Design and Access Whilst the project architect for the tower has been designing the top duplex units with the help of an interior design specialist. I have been continuing to work on the design and access statement for the tower. There are four separate planning applications for each building of the Broker* Square developemnt and there is a fair amount of repetition where each discusses the Masterplan and basement servicing strategy across the site. I have been working closely with the other three building’s design teams to ensure consistency early on ensuring that there is a high level of consistency in terms of content order and document layout across the four building’s design statements.
Ground Floor Plan
Typical Hotel Plan
Drawing Submission Friday 22nd October - We have submitted the ﬁnal planning drawings to the client. After sending the drawings for a test print the client ﬁnally gave us the green light to send to the printers on Friday. We all went to the pub at 6! Modelshop I have tried to regain control of the modelshop this month, being snowed under with work I always ensure we have enough materials in stock but I haven’t been in to tidy for a while, it is a state, with more site models being built for competition entries and new projects coming in, we do not have sufﬁcient storage facilities. I have asked each team responsible for a site model to build a box for the model so it can be stacked and stored without damage. I hope this will be successful. I have also developed a system where each box will be labeled with the project name, number and an image of the contents. Design and Access Statements Submitted Last Friday in October. A week before our deadline of the 5th November the client has returned all four documents with no further
Typical Residential Plan
Sky Bar Plan
comments! Hurrah! We celebrated by having a mini ofﬁce Halloween Party, we carved pumpkins, drank beer and ate treats! A fun way to end the month...now for Stage C! Personal Reﬂection I am thrilled and relieved planning has been submitted. I have also noticed that due to all the time I have spent on Indesign i am becoming something of the ofﬁce expert and I quite enjoy sharing tips I have discovered. I am slightly apprehensive about what happens next; I know it is in our contract to work on the stage C report for the next two weeks but then I am not sure what I will be working on. We have not been told what we will move on to. I am really keen to gain experience passed RIBA stages A-C but think this is unlikely given that the ofﬁce only has one (huge!) Project on site. I have been very wary this month about balancing work with study time. When the deadline for the Project initiation loomed I mentioned that I would be unable to work the weekend prior to the Monday 18th submission as I had part 2 work to do, this was met without support or interest. I do feel let down by the practice at this point. I have been involved right from the beginning and care a great deal about the success and future of the practice and I have invested so much extra time into my role but now I need support in return I feel I am regarded as a troublesome “resource”.
1 Broker Square Mixed use Hotel and Private Market Residential
2 Broker Square
3 Broker Square Residential (market, social rented and affordable)
6 Broker Square Residential (affordable)