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DESIGN DIARY SOFT ECOLOGY >> Work completed during MArch 2 <<

THOMAS DRAPER Design & Make / Primer / Thesis

Design Diary

SOFT ECOLOGY A log of the investigations that I have undertaken during this year of the Welsh School of Architecture completing Master of Architecture Year 2. The diary begins with a small two week task through to the final direction that my design thesis has taken. The diary ends before the conclusion of the thesis and final completion of the design, it simply shows the thoughts and routes that I have attempted to incorporate. This document can be read in conjuction with entries made on With thanks to the support from my tutor Wassim Jabi throughout the course of this year.

Design & Make / Primer / Thesis



DESIGN & MAKE Introduction ................................................. 03

Process ......................................................... 04 Outcome ...................................................... 06 Conclusions .................................................. 07

PRIMER Recursion introduction .................................. 08

Heighway curves ........................................... 10 Possible Applications ..................................... 12 Device design ................................................ 16 Testing models .............................................. 20 Final primer model ....................................... 22 Conclusions .................................................. 25

THESIS Introduction ................................................. 26 Site .............................................................. 28

Site erosion ..................................... 31 Digital geometric response Natural response Human response Site characteristics ........................... 37 Geology Bathmetry Physiotopy Wave Defration Site Section ..................................... 42 Flora & fauna ................................. 44 Psammosere environment Halosere environment Materiality of site ........................... 48 Eroded materials Fluvial mud Site Plan ........................................ 52 Context ........................................................ 54 Program & History ......................... 55 Clients & economic power ................ 56 Current situation ............................. 58 Client requirements .......................... 60

Iteration 5

Precedents ..................................................... 62 Ice link Stilt housing Glenn murcutt Soft ecology ................................................... 66 Sustainable aims Platforms & Land growth Project Proposal Design development ....................................... 72 Images of Design Progress Final Direction ............................................. 78


Ephemeral architecture : Particle tension


Design Make / Primer / Thesis


INTRODUCTION The task was to build an installation that investigated the idea of Ephemeral Architecture. The concept was to model a snapshot of something that is ever fluctuating and changing. We decided to digitally model our given site of several ex-office spaces within one of Cardiffâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Victorian Arcades. Within our digital model we calculated DayLighting Levels and also virtually recreated a sound-wave travelling through the rooms. Then considering the meandering paths of circulation through the rooms we combined the data to produce a flowing, organic form within the computer. We then attempted to construct this form, but remained with the initial concept of a piece of Ephemeral Architecture by making the structure completely removable - producing concrete nomadic anchors and steel hooks to connect to the existing building fabric temporarily. The idea being that when the installation is complete it would leave no trace. The form was built over two and a half days using purely industrial clear tape and industrial packing wrap. This choice of materials was to create a translucent shape that would still allow a hint of the original walls and ceiling behind, giving a sense of being frozen in a moment. The exhibition itself included a film that was projected onto the tensile packing wrap in the final space with sounds gathered from the Victorian Arcade below that decay in quality along the journey of the sound-wave.


soundwave being modelled in the spaces via ecotect


timelapse of exhibit construction


OUTCOME & CONCLUSION The Design & Make project came to an extremely satisfying conclusion. It began to establish an idea in my head of taking digital data and patterns and transforming these into something that was more tangible and inhabiting real space. The installation was well received and managed to capture the essence of something frozen in time, ripped from the calculations of computer software and taken into the human realm.



group project consisting of; Thomas Draper, Edward Dyhouse, Mark Ratke, Alex Antoniou, Ben Hansen, Alex Brooks, Teck Poh Kang own work; 3D Studio Max model & renderings, Ecotect model & analysis & renderings & animation, Time lapse photography, final video creation via Sony Vegas photographs courtesy of Teck Poh Kang & Edward Dyhouse


Recursion : An investigation into recursively generated geometry


Design Make / Primer / Thesis


INTRODUCTION The beginning of the Primer began with the allocation of a word that has parametric connotations. That word was RECURSION. This is a term that is given to something that is defined in terms of itself. That is, a thing that is composed of smaller versions of itself. I became attracted to fractal geometry, which is formed from mathmatical equasions that create patterns that can repeat on themselves to infinity. The patterns often appear to branch repeatedly and as you zoom in on the elements, the same pattern reappears again and again.

Fractal patterns exist in the real world around us, examples being the pattern of growth of plants and trees and the crystalisation of snowflakes in clouds. They take a simple geometric set of rules and apply them repeatedly to make the shapes more and more complex and detailed. For example the snowflake above starts as a triangle, then a triangle is formed on each of the edges of the starting triangle, then triangles on the edges of those triangles and so forth to infinity. Each time this process is applied it is referred to as an ITERATION.


The fractal that interested me for its properties such as tesselation and its regular grid-like form is known as the HEIGHWAY CURVE. A real world example of this fractal occuring is taking a long strip of paper and folding it over on itself again and again. With the resulting small strip, you unfold from the centre and rotate 90 degrees, this forms the first iteration. This process of unfolding from the centre and rotating 90 degrees is shown in the images above. There is a limit to how many times you can fold the paper, so we can model the unfolding on a computer - as if

you had folded a strip of paper of infinite length, an infinite number of times. Shown below. The resulting form after each iteration is simply a more complex and detailed version of the shape of the prior one. This can be seen on the third row of diagrams. By scaling up and rotating 45 degrees after each unfolding a constant shape can be seen with the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;grid of squaresâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; simply getting smaller and creating a more denser mesh. This TESSELATION can be seen on the opposite page.



POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS FRACTAL LANDSCAPES One possible option to take the Heighway Curve forward was looking at the overlaying of two consecutive iterations of the pattern - as shown on the right, and creating a triangulated mesh that can become manipulated. This was inspired by the abstract projects of Aranda & Lasch shown at the top of the opposite page. With the mesh laid flat on a ground plain I did a few tests of manipulating points on the pattern following rules established by the number of lines meeting at that point. It had potential for becomming a landscaping strategy although it was simple and static and did not convey the dynamic nature of the Heighway Curves. However, being a space filling curve the pattern could determine the arrangment of public plazas pver a large master plan or on a smaller scale skate parks depending on its inversion.

Combination of the 7 and 8th iterations of the Heighway Curve overlaid.


Precedent; Aranda & Lasch swimming pool concept takes the principle of extrducting a net created by a fractal pattern. They have also used the technique for wall displays. It has an aesthetic of decay and disintegration. I like the mysterious atmosphere this creates, but not the static appearence of the scheme which my own experiments also suffer from.


POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS DYNAMIC FACADES The other application of the geometry I investigated was using the pattern as a sort of louvre system or interactive facade that would react to the changing light over the course of the day. The pattern would iterate over the glazing creating a denser mesh that would block out more light and create interior shading. It would also provide a dynamic and every shifting facade that would create an intriguing experience to inhabitants.

Low iterations at dark conditions

The images to the right are a theoretical spacewith such a facade system experiencing increasing light levels from dawn to mid-day. I wanted to attempt to create a working model of this idea, however I realise that these renderings are a very literaly and clunky interpretation of a delicate pattern and that they, in the end, are not the direction I want to take my thesis in.

Medium iterations with increasing light conditions

Early facade renders


The theoretical facade situation visualised at high lux levels with sections of the facade louvres closed at their highest iteration forming a very obstructive grid.


ITERATING LIGHT FILTERS So I decided that the louvre concept was something I could investigate as a delicate real object, not something trapped within a computer. My aim then became to create a appliance that could react to changing light conditions. The device would dynamically iterate the pattern as the lux level increased creating a denser ‘mesh’ of the geometry and give shading. I took three low iterations of the Dragon Curve that could be overlaid. I then divided these onto vertical axels that would allow the pattern to become ‘louvres’ and open and close. Then finally I removed any elements that were repeated from the earliest iteration within the later ones. This meant that it would mean as the first layer closed that would create iteration 5, with the largest components, providing the least shading. As the second layer closed when the light level increased, this together with the already shut first layer would create iteration 7 and provide more shading. Then with all three closed at the highest light level iteration 9 would be produced and the most shading provided.


Exploded Axonometric of the pattern that was used on the louvres


ELECTRONIC CIRCUIT DESIGN I only had a basic knowledge of electronic circuitry. I needed to create a circuit that was capable of opening a louvre at a low level of light and closing it a high level. It also needed to have an adjustable sensitivity. The diagrams on this page represent the evolution of

the circuit as I created one of the test machines. Eventually I had to move even more complex to achieve the adjustable sensitivity but I was able to finally reach my goal of how I wanted the device to operate though testing a research into the necessary components.


TEST DEVICE DESIGN Initially I built three test devices that were housed in three independent wooden frames as shown in the construction axo on the right. After constructing these machines (shown on the following pages) I learnt lots of lessons about the positioning of the light sensor, the design of the mechanical system at the top and the best place to locate the electronics. Therefore I was able to create one final device that was the culmination of the Primer investigation that was much more refined than the initial three.

Test device construction


Mechanics of the test machines / The three seperate test devices

The three devices lined up to create the iterating effect



A responsive device that iterates the Heighway Curve in response to light


Design Make / Primer / Thesis


FINAL OUTCOME After lots of struggling to create a working version of what I had envisioned that was refined and clean, I managed to construct my final Primer model. I chose to make the frame much thicker and more substantial than the test models as the weak rods and mechanics could be easily damaged through use, storage and transport. This manage to create a heavy frame that contrasted with the internal delicacy. I used a bulb that I wired to a dimmer switch in order to simulate changing light conditions and demonstrate the machine. And each of the three louvre systems is calibrated to a different sensitivity thanks to the use of potentiometers integrated into the sensor circuits.

Final mechanics overlapping with each other

The louvre pattern - open at low light



OUTCOME & CONCLUSION I feel that I had a strong journey through my Primer, at the outset I struggled to find a theme to work with the word Recursion that gave me much to work with. I looked into extremely complex fractals and also recursion through mirrors and film, but when I starting looking into the logical L-System Fractal progressions I felt that I could attempt to use them for an architectural purpose. The Heighway Curve, although very limited in its uses in the world, appeared to have a strict 90 degree grid established and that is what turned out to be my reason for choosing it. Although I went down a route of designing a light sensitive facade, I think I began to realise building the actual devices that this was something more simple and less literal - I was taking something that only the computer was capable of doing - iterating between different versions of the fractal patterns, and making it into a working physical piece. It was becomming responsive not just to the click of a mouse, but to a real stimulus - light. But that stimulus could be anything: sound, human presense, or many others. I am proud of the investigation I took, and went from having no prior knowledge of this field or fractals in any depth, to being confident in understanding their characteristics and abilities. Finally I am happy with what I produced in the end, a model that I feel I crafted to a high standard that works just as intended.



Sensitive adaptation for a changing landscape


Design Make / Primer / Thesis


INTRODUCTION The primer had led me down a road of using digital patterns to respond to external factors. That light filter that I constructed was a physical piece that brought the dragon curve fractals out of a computer and into the real world. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s practical application was clearly limited due to its extreme complexity.

Spurn Head is a cyclic land feature that houses several important pieces of infrastructure that hold a local and national importance. With the continuing encroachment of the sea and the failing of old coastal defences, the spit of land is nearing the end of this iteration of existence.

I decided the aspect that I found most interesting was the reaction and response that the device had to light. As I began to develop a thesis the idea developed that the architecture I designed should be responsive to an external factor. I wanted to push this further though to a physical condition that had a tectonic feel. The idea of a site that moved and developed over time would pose this challenge, and on such circumstance that could cause this was coastal erosion. Through research I discovered the Holdeness Coast and the fact that it is the fastest eroding coastline in the UK, and on its southern-most point is the fragile peninsula named Spurn Head.

The unique opportunities of a changing landscape and the need to adapt the existing site facilities presents a requirement for an innovate architectural response. This should deal with ideas of working with a delicate site and ecosystem, using soft ecological means of stabilising the ground and assisting with the regrowth of the land feature whilst also responding to exposed climatic conditions and a range of building functions.


kingston upon hull

the river humber



north sea fetch WIDER SITE Located on the East Riding of Yorkshire, Spurn Head (or Point) is a spit of land composed of deposits of boulder clay eroded from the cliffs of the Holdeness coast to the north. Approximately every 200 years the entire peninsula grows across the mouth of the Humber estuary until it becomes too thin and elongated and the North sea breaches its length and washes the majority of it away. The nearest large city by land is Hull, which is a major industrial port and uses Spurn as a natural break water for its visiting vessels.


spurn head


1:10000 site model


SITE EROSION The rate of erosion of the cliffs that compose the Holdeness Coast is approximately two metres a year. Although that can vary from static to ten metres depending on seasonal variation and human intervention. Because of this, Spurnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s base is frequently cut through leaving the spit to be washed away by the forces of the North Sea. Its tip is anchored on a reasonably consistent location that is protected by a deposit of hard glacial morraine. Therefore it is theorised that the spit will reform first as an arc of islands that are slowly rejoined which can be seen on the plan on the right.

protect and stabilise for regrowth, adapt to continue use during the time of transition


Chinese agricultural workers protect their farmland from desertification

A bridge between the Primer investigation and Thesis


Design Make / Primer / Thesis


Utilising the dragon curve l-system fractal from my primer studies to respond to erosion rates.

USING A DIGITAL GEOMETRIC RESPONSE ON A SHIFTING SITE The patterns that I had investigated in the Primer had a big factor in directing me over the year. I decided to look into ways that perhaps they could be integrated into my less ‘digital’ approach and site as it was developing. I was looking into adaptive methods for coping with changing landscapes and discovered methods of erosion reduction implemented by agricultural workers in China - see the manipulated image on the left. I was drawn to it by the rigid grid like formation of the straw planting. It breaks down the landscape almost like a fractal pattern, and with a little photoshop I was able to integrate the Heighway Curve on top of the image making the Chinese grid seem more responsive and adaptive. If this was implemented on a theoretical sand dune system - like those found on the site at Spurn Head, it could analyse and respond to erosion rates, becomming denser at higher and steeper locations which are more at risk. With a tactical use of Flora erosion and movements could be sensitively decelerated in these areas allowing the landscape to become less at risk from over erosion like at Spurn.

By morphing a tesselated ‘sheet’ of iteration 5 fractals to match a terrain it can begin to react to the patches of erosion.

By iterating to functions 7 and 9 the net becomes denser and more protective of the sand beneath.

Then following the grid, tactful planting of suitable plants perform soft ecology to stabilise the sand.

Erosion is most prevelent on raised areas or areas that currently lack vegetation.

This study is based on a sand dune system such as the ones found on the Spurn Head site.



Vegetation on a coastal deposition and erosion site can stabilise the mobile terrain and allow for the colonisation of higher species on the landscape. This process lowers the pH level and raises the soil nutrition level until the inenvitable encroachment of the sea exposes the infrastructure of the colonising plantâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s root systems.

stages of marram grass pioneering


Settlements have existed in one form or another on spurn head for centuries. Over that time the residentsd have learnt the lesson that an unstable site proves a very difficult beast to tame. Modern thinking has leant towards adaptive responses that can react to changes rather than the old method of control. This is shown in the development of the road to the tip of the peninsula.

road alignment over time



Measuring the factors of a changing landscape


Design Make / Primer / Thesis



Due to the rare conditions at Spurn, it is an excellent casestudy for geographic and biological processes on coastal environments. Its flora and fauna represent an example of colonisation and pioneering in biology. By studying these methods that the vegetation uses to stabilise an inhospitable shifting terrain combined with human reactions that have been adapted over generations of experience, I hope to be able to develope a sensitive response where it is needed. However, in order to do this I must complete a comprehensive study of the many other site characteristics which I have proceeded to investigate on the following pages.

marram grass


VARIATIONS IN GEOLOGICAL STABILITY This diagram identifies the variations in the geology of the spurn head site. it identifies the most at risk point which should be the starting point for the habitat protection.

humber river deposition

intertidal zone

spurn point

beach + tidal deposits (mud-flats + sand) storm beach deposits (erosion zone) blown sand

dry land

till, devensian man made ground

increasing stability

tidal flat deposits


area of weakest geological strength


diagram composed from current british geological map data


BATHMETRY The underwater terrain of the Humber Estuary shows the main drainage channel below the spit of Spurn Head.



PHSYIOTOPY This map represents the suitability of the environment in the estuary for the amount of flora & fauna that it supports.

over capacity

under capacity



The incoming waves are deflected South of the spit thanks to the deep underwater channel in the centre of the estuary, which means in storm conditions, the worst is diverted away from Spurn Head.



The site is sandwiched between two different successional habitats that give fantastic examples of the ability of nature to survive in inhospitable conditions. Generally lower ‘pioneer’ species begin to transform the ground into more habitable conditions. the higher species begin to provide nutrition to species that give natural beauty to the site. The final stage is known as the ‘climax community’ of species, and this occurs at the centre of the spit for both cases. On the West (left) is the Halosere, a salt marsh saline environment that grows land out of the mud flats, on the East (right) is the Psammosere, a sand dune saline environment that colonises and catches blown sand onto the spit and builds the land vertically. These two processes are continually at battle with the encroachment of the sea and move gradually westward.

Movement of the Spit due to erosion / deposition







Panorama at the section cut.



ground pH level

ground stability

SAND COUCH GRASS shallow root systems ; can handle high alkaline pH levels erosion rates




deep rapid growth that can handle upto one meter of sand deposition a year

more acidic low pH plants with rapid growth that smoother the lower species













fast horizontal spread creating a carpet over the unstable sand



interference from human activities or animals, such as rabbits can cause established dunes to collapse

last horizontal spread creating a carpet over the unstable sand










This page compiles the range of species that occupy the Halosere or Salt Marsh / Mud Flat side of the spit. Here a large amount of easily accessible organisms such as the lugworm provide nurichment for a large amount of migratory birds. Whilst a succesional series of plantlife stabilise the mudflat and allow land expansion.

fig. 3.1 Calidris Alpina

fig. 3.2 Tringa Totanus



fig. 2.6 Phylum Annelida

fig. 2.7 Carcinus Maenas



Consumes nutrients from the sandy mud ats, fed upon by birds, sh and used as bait by shermen.

Matures in the protection of the salt marsh grasses then grazes on the mudats at maturity.

fig. 2.1 Chlorarachniophytes

fig. 2.2 Pucinellia Maritima



Green algae grows on the surface of the mud ats in the pools of stagnant water. it provides a nutritional base to the food chain.

Develops in clumps were areas of decaying algae have created humous. this collects mud and builds a base for higher species.

Ground pH Level

Diversity of Permanent Fauna



fig. 3.3 Branta Bernicla

fig. 3.4 Saxicola Rubetra



fig. 2.8 Pyronia Tithonus

GATEKEEPER BUTTERFLY Flourishes in the scrubland wildower areas on the periphery of the salt marsh.

fig. 2.3 Aspartina Anglica

COMMON CORDGRASS fig. 2.4 Salicornia

fig. 2.5 Aster Tripolium



Begins to compete with the salt marsh grass via height to gain better light.

Offers colour and variety to the salt marsh and attracts a multitude of insect wildlife such as butteries and moths.



Rapid erosion of materials.

MATERIALITY OF THE SITE The highly exposed nature of the site causes rapid and unexpected changes of situation for buildings and their materials. it makes an interesting comparision with the typical weathering that is experienced by materials. The bricks on the left are an example of part of the construction of a collapsed building on spurn point due to the retreating coastline. The lumps of wall have undergone attrition and been worn and rounded into a form of a boulder which we would not expect from a clay brick material. They appear soft and doughy. To compare with usual wear the matrix on the right was composed from a study at an architecture reclamation yard in Tremorfa, Cardiff.

studies completed at cardiff architectural reclamation yard in tremorfa.


unintended damage

human usage

material weakness u nw o r n head piece


fig 2.1

fig 1.1

fig 2.2 lichen & moss bioligically weathering the edging

extremeties of detailing have been r u b b e d s m o o t h through use, removing the finish and s o fte n i n g the wood to touch.

fig 2.3

fig 1.2

manual damage from later construction with cement mortar

fig 2.4

fig 1.3

fig 2.5 physical impact damage shattering the brittle fired clay.

fig 1.4

ďŹ red clay edging blocks

top piece of the post has b e e n r u b b e d spherically smooth, removing any indenations or imperfect i o n s making it very ergonomically suited to the hand and inviting more use.

fig 2.6

bannister end posts

steel radiators


Recreating Intertidal movement

FLUVIAL MUD EXPERIMENTS In order to understand some basics about a material that was very key to the site, I decided that I would conduct some basic experiments with fluvial mud. Mud is bonded together through static electricity and flows like a viscous liquid when it is saturated by water. With pressure it becomes more solid and resists the compression allowing objects to ‘float’ on top of it. Its tightly bonded structure also causes it to be very ‘sticky’ and coat any objects that touch it. I visited Penarth Mud-flats outside of the Cardiff Bay Barrage to collect samples of fluvial mud deposits that are similar to those found on Spurn Head. I then used these samples to recreate a mud-flat environment in my bath, which I was able to test various simple forms during tidal situations - by filling and draining the bath with water repeatedly.


Firstly two cuboid forms placed on the mud that were relatively large for the scale of the environment. The increased pressure from a small base area meant that they simply sank as the water was filled and drained. Lower profiled forms were then tested, however this time a com-

parison in mass was used. A heavy clay form was used at the top and a wooden piece below. Neither form sank into the mud due to its pressure being applied over a larger area, however there was a distinct distance difference with the lighter wooden piece moving much further with its low den-

sity. This creates an arguement for looking into potential bouyant forms that can be held in place with ballast until required to float. Finally the last forms I test with were profiled and smaller than the previous two. As if the form had been broken up into several

independent pieces. These forms travelled forwards slowly with the water drainage but at differing rates showing there would have to be consideration for this fact and if there were to be connections between they would have to be flexible.



SITE PLAN With all the data I had researched I produced a very large site plan (this page only features a small section of it) that shows the various risk factors of the length of the peninsula. Over this I laid the Heighway Curve to represent the landscaping strategy that should decelerate the erosion in these high risk areas. Risk was assessed by factors such as the geology, land heigh and gradient & vegetation cover.



Rehousing of multiple pieces of infrastructure on a disintigrating site


Design Make / Primer / Thesis



BIRD OBSERVATORY Spurn Head is a stop off point for migratory birds that are heading southwards in Autumn. Due to its prominent Easterly location and mud flat marshland providing an excellent feeding habitat it attracts thousands of birds. Due to certain wind currents very rare specimens can be spotted from the spit attracting keen ornothologists. It is also a great area for a research station to monitor bird migration levels.

Average Autumn Morning : 3000

Occasional High Count

: 15000

CULTURE + KNOWLEDGE The observatory completes scientific research and an education centre for the public about the history of the landscape and its unique flora and fauna. PUBLIC SAFETY The coastguard station provides emergency response to any public or private vessels in difficulties at sea.

LIFEBOAT & RIVER PILOT STATION Located in a prevelent position on the edge of the Humber River, with fast access into the channel or the North Sea. Originally built to assist vessels in distress approaching the port cities of Hull and Grimsby on the River Humber, but in more recent times it assists have extended to the North Sea gas drilling platforms and their associated vessels. The Humber Estuary forms the gateway to some of Britainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s largest port towns of Hull, Grimsby and Immingham. Approximately 10% of all marine goods traffic passes through this area of water. Spurn Head provides a good vantage point over the whole estuary and is a good launch point for Vessel Traffic Service boats when necessary. ACCOMODATION Due to its isolated nature the facilities also will have accomodation for the personel and their families.


Lifeboat Operation Log

The vessel traffic services enable the port towns of Hull, Grimsby and Immingham to operate combined with the natural breakwater of the spit itself it provides an economy to the estuary towns.






as a well respected yet small charity the bird observatory should play off the fact that the improvement of facilities would increase visitors and potential profit.

economic power potential profit

low The spurn bird observatory set up a charity organisation named the ‘Friends of Spurn Bird Observatory’ in the late 1990’s. The aim of this charity was to raise funding for the inevitable rehousing of the main observatory buildings when the sea finally claims them. The observatory itself has an understanding of the need to rehouse its facilities as frequently its established bird watching hides are washed away to sea. Therefore with private donations and a grant from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust who protect the peninsula, funding for the visitor’s centre and backroom research facilities should be able to be raised.






one of the most recognisable charity’s in the UK has more economic power and a commitment to their only full-time crew, however their service is almost non-profit.

The RNLI are a charitable organisation established in 1824. They are renouned and respected service along Britain’s coastline for saving countless lives over the past two centuries. The spurn head lifeboat is the only full-time paid RNLI crew in the UK. Their regular call-outs into the dangerous and busy Humber river shipping channel require them to be ready at all times. Through charitable donations and legacies the annual budget of the RNLI is 150 million pounds. This stretches their money rather thinly across the entire country’s 235 stations however the importance of rehousing this station and its associated housing should be noted.

managing several of britain’s largest ports, the wealth of the ABP is much greater than the two charity organisations plus the aim to keep the humber estuary navigable provides much yet more opportunity to make profit.

FInally the ABP operate the Humber River Traffic Services on the spit. These ‘pilots’ navigate, direct and monitor the intense shipping operations into the Humber Estuary. The value of these ports is high to the British Economy with 20% of all cargo passing through them as well as an important ferry link to Europe. It is therefore a very lucrative move for the ABP to maintain the safety and efficiency of the ports via a suitably located control centre on Spurn Head.









Spurn head provides an interesting mix of client requirements and backgrounds. With its central estuary location it is an important vantage point for emergency response, and with its wide calm mudflats and mobile sand dune environment it encourages inhabitation by rare species perfect for study. Therefore the thesis will have the challenge of reaccomodating four distinct functions shared between three clients and three programs.

25m2 footprint

1 permanent resident


PROGRAMMATIC BRIEF The four functions can be grouped into three main collections of spaces.

COASTGUARD + RIVER TRAFFIC SERVICES River based monitoring and rapid response to issues within the water. The river traffic ‘pilots’ and lifeboat crew are on duty 24 hours a day, they must be ready to respond at any time to an emergency.

Grouped together on PLATFORM 1

BIRD OBSERVATORY AND RESEARCH LABORATORIES The slow and methodical land and air based monitoring of the bird observatory forms a more calm and relaxed affinity with nature and the beauty of the site. It also provides the public function of the building with an exhibition space, cafe, gift shop and restroom facilities.

Grouped together on PLATFORM 3

RESIDENTIAL ACCOMODATION + LANDSCAPING MAINTENANCE With permanently staffed emergency facilities in an isolated environment, permanent accomodation for the personal and their families must be provided for the coastguard and river traffic pilots. Also a house for the full-time bird observatory warden and finally rental units for visiting ornothologists and students.

Grouped together on PLATFORM 2



Amazon Yagua housing during floor conditions the accomodation is protected.

Learning from existing projects sensitive responses.


Design Make / Primer / Thesis



Vernacular Architecture To deal with seasonal variation in water levels, yagua indian tribes within the brazilian rainforest. This vernacular architecture uses a chunky solid timber frame and a heavy thatch roof. all the buildings within their small inclusive communities are built in this methodology with variations in privacy achieved through different facade coverings using timber, foliage or completely open. The pieces to take from these evolved structures is the idea of lightly touching the earth to allow natural processes, in the case flooding, to occur and also the raised network of walkway connections and â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;bolt-onâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; facade and special components.

timber gangways create a network above the ground connecting certain elements

the framework of the structure is inhabited with bolt-on additions such as the stairs and cladding

the basis of the house is a simple space frame that has little contact with the ground through pad foundations

the main components consist of a raised and protected habitable area, a transitory area below that is raised on a plinth of earth to aid drainage



Glenn Murcutt Glenn murcutt’s attitudes to architecture are to work with the landscape, and to ‘touch the earth lightly’. Murcutt works with the tones and forms of the environment. His building is constructed of a lightweight steel frame with a minimised concrete building footprint. In combination with its low physical impact, it also takes advantage of several passive methods of building operation such as collecting rainwater for drinking and toilet flushing and also an extended roof to prevent solar gains.

the building embeds itself lightly in the terrain and it collects water from the roof in a reflecting pool which lowers its visual impact.

although raised the house is low in profile to not compete with the natural beauty

steel columns resemble the forms of the surrounding trees

the main body of the building is raised above the earth



Lateral Office Architects Lateral Office take on the extreme climate of the Arctic to create a proposal for a link between Alaska and Russia. This is a historic crossing point between the two continents of America and Russia and has many political and cultural connotations. The delicate snaking form is isolated in the summer, like a floating strip of island but in Winter it becomes embedded in the ice flow. It survives in two conditions, isolated and entrenched. This is achieved by a technological solution of high tech habitation units that are raised above the possible ice level that provide a sealed environment for when the temperatures plunge.

the dramatic bridge connects two landmasses during the warmer months.

the bridge is isolated in the melted ocean during summer

during winter it becomes embedded within the frozen sea

the icelink also monitors the ice movements and sea levels. it observes the flow of ice below it during the non-winter months. it is a very romantic take on climate change research


Working with ecology to help save a fragile landscape.


Design Make / Primer / Thesis


SUSTAINABLE AIMS & LEARNING FROM SUCCESSION My aim is to have a wholistic attitude towards the environmental characteristics of the project. a combination of being adapted to the exposed climate and isolation of a community on spurn head; with the need to have very little impact on the sensitive habitat that the site provides for the important flora and fauna. The project will therefore take a large stance of choice of materials and building footprint in order to minimise the impact on the landscape that could interfere with any of the natural habitats. The fact that the project brief includes a community also means that there is going to be a constant requirement for energy and a produc-

tion of waste and pollution by the proposal. I am to minimise this factor with the integration of renewable technologies into the building fabric. I intend to do this in a way that is taken from the process of the plant succession in the Halosere and Psammosereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s of the spit itself. Integrating the buildingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s servicing into the structural elements which then create a network which can support the habitable rooms. See the early iteration of bouyant tanks with various building functions below. Finally the most important aspect of the environmental brief is the attitude towards the shifting site. using soft ecology the stabilisation of land should protect the unique site.

early bouyant tank variations which lift the building above the ground and water.

cold storage hot water storage reserve diesel storage potable water storage integrated solar heating bouyant when emptied


INTERTIDAL PLATFORMS & PASSIVE LANDGROWTH So through all this research it seems that the location for the building in relationship to the spit of Spurn Head is behind its shelter on the mud-flats. Here a floating platform can support a building - both as structure and incorporated infrastructure, like a pioneering plant species. Then the inhabited rooms spawn above it. In the intertidal zone of the Mud-flats, the building is able to move with the landscape, pre-empting the Westward movement using the water flow for movement when needed, rather than requiring large scale intervention to move if based upon the peninsula itself. Behind the platform and its umbilical bridge will begin the landscaping strategy to encour-

age land growth - from mussel beds which accumulate mud up to the tactical planting of the sand dune plants. All allowing the natural movement of sediments and fauna around the site but preventing the future break though of the landscape.




Placing ropes into a gridded network and adding larval stage mussels will allow for the development of a bed colony that assists in the stabilisition of the mud flat behind the floating platform.

mussel beds


After the mussel beds have become assisting in the build up of mud mounds, salt marsh grass can begin the successional process of transforming the flats into a salt marsh.

salt marsh

To prevent the rapid removal of ground from the front of the system, tactical planting using the grid system, will decelerate the erosion, allowing the natural processes to continue in a managed fashion.

sand dune


Reaccomodation with respect to the site PROJECT PROPOSAL The aspirations of the project is to create architecture that is able to respond to a changing site. The site I have chosen is environmentally very significant, it has large quanitities or rare wildlife and provides a natural breakwater that has helped for the safe development of the Humber River port towns. Therefore I am looking to work with the site in a ‘soft’ manner. Using methods that have minimal impact on the natural activities of the site, and also work withe the geographical processes that are continuously affecting it. At the same time, combining four different functions into one architectural language that allows them all to co-exist and perhaps gain benefits from each other unlike their current independent states. Not only will the building respond to the directly changing land beneath it, but it should also be reactive to the environment. Spurn Head is an exposed location to brutal North Sea weather conditions, but at the same time offers a beautiful landscape that should be embraced by the architecture, it therefore goes to stand that the building would benefit from being able to adapt on a day to day basis to the surrounding conditions.

In a similar vain to being able to respond to the extreme climatic variations, the materiality of the construction should be able to cope with the rapid erosion processes that occur on the site. Either through accepting that impact or by resistance to shelter the interior spaces. Although the processes of weathering and erosion are fast on the site, the cyclic nature of the spit and its history of inhabitation are not. The design of the building must respond to trends of demands in occupation with an expansion or reduction of facilities with changing need if it is to remain relevant as the it responds to the landscape. The final aim for the project would be to look into helping to ‘heal’ the spit of land using ecology in order to maintain its future as a bird migratory site and natural barrage over the river estuary.


Early concept drawing of grouping components into a platform like structure that touches the ground lightly.


Massing models

Design iterations towards a suitable strategy


Design Make / Primer / Thesis


Massing experiments for the three platforms


INITIAL FORMS Early forms of the scheme looked at options that were land based, however the fact that the movement of the landscape would happen around the forms, and not directly affect it until it simply falls in the sea, meant that to fit in with the idea of being able to work with and adapt to the shifting terrain, I would have to design the Early land based scheme

building to be very intensively relocated or design it to be movable. Either way would require a lot of manpower and disruption to the site every few years. I realised that by moving into the intertidal zone I would be able to take advantage of the cyclic flooding conditions to create a building that could float on the mud and

water when necessary and be easily moved as the landscape progressed westward. On the right is the first iteration of such an idea, looking at the form of a shipwreck on the mudflats, these were mud-boats essentially that sat sheltered behind the spit. However

they did not consider the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;touching the earth lightlyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; attitude that I had established for myself and so I had to reconsider the way I could both float on a surface and appear to be delicately and sensitively interacting with it. The following page shows that progression into a more skeletal frame above the mud.


The form moved into the intertidal zone where it could move with the landscape but became a clunky form that embedded itself into the mud

Spurn Mudflat Shipwreck

The program also was split onto the three platforms


Looking at bouyancy given by tanks like oil and gas platforms

Shielding exterior places from wind by placing them on the Eastern side

Beginning to rise the platform above the earth and respond more delicately


Embracing the exterior landscape Creating open interlocking internal spaces

Working with platforms that are â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;sacrificialâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; in high tide conditions


Where the project will be going until the conclusion


Design Make / Primer / Thesis


I decided that the forms I had been creating were negating one key thing, the actual direct location on the site that they were being constructed. The building was going to be in effect inhabit a marine environment. The early schemes had ignored this fact and were simply â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;land based architectureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; placed on stilts above the landscape. So I went and looked at structures more suitable to this environment, and I really liked the delicate engineering of tensile frames that gave the impression of being very lightweight and not pressing too heavily on the earth. They also allowed the buildings to become transparent benefitting both visuals across the site but also reducing wind pressure on

the Western facade. But these forms were also not good enough. Their raised nature completely negated the ground plane. They drew a datum line and the rooms all began to be built on top of this, far above the mud-flats. This was different from ignoring the marine nature of the site, instead it was now becoming isolated above it. I wanted to change this, bring more vertical forms into the skeleton in order to make a better connection with the water and mud that forms a key part of the ecological strategy of the scheme.

The tensile skeleton was to high above the mudflats, it was touching the ground lightly but at the same time ignoring it.




ROOFSCAPE ceramic tiles

I could tell I was getting close to a form that I was happy with, but they were all still too thrown together out of all the components and pieces that I had researched.

Undulating roofscape also contains solar water heating capture for passive building heating

WALLS ceramic tiles + render

I needed to tie them into something that was attractive and was suitable for such a beautiful site. The images on the left show how I began to place a grid on the mud flats for the mussel beds and solve problems with the bridge connection through bare engineering. I was beginning to tie the building more in with the landscaping strategy but it appeared more as a oil-rig than something for visitors to travel to and enjoy their stay.

Protective and specialist elements are cladding in extremely resilient ceramic tiles which resist saline conditions, interior standard partitions are rendered plain white in contrast.

STRUCTURAL FRAME timber + steel Undulating timber balloon frame that responds to occupancy need for space, light and level to water / mud flats. Continued between the breaks in the platform via a steel tensile bridge structure.


On the right I took my final and chosen approach. I had to create a â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;DECKSCAPEâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; for the building to sit upon that undulated and created a terrain that responded to the needs of the occupation in that part of the building, bringing certain elements lower and others higher above the cyclic tidal systems. This broke away from the static megastructure approach of the earlier scheme and created something more delicate, closer to the earth yet interacting sensitively with it that I was finally happy to progress directly onwards with.

timber Creating a terrain for the building that contrasts with the flat land of the mud below, bringing the building functions closer or further from the cyclic water movement.

BOUYANCY LEVEL stainless steel Stainless steel bouyancy tanks connected by large hollow tubes acting as a floating foundation for the building as well as providing liquid storage when the building is remaining stationary.



TO THE END This final page shows an early rendering of the Bird Observatory section of the brief as I was beginning to visualise it. Although far from being finalised I hope to resolve the many issues remaining with its layout and language, but I feel that I have tried many different responses and that this one in begins to tie together the attitudes of the landscaping and building into one whole scheme that will hopefully come together as a strong proposal.


Design Diary  

My final year Design Diary from the MArch 2 course at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University

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