Monday, 31 December 2012

Geordie Jettons and alternative Tyneside currency

Turn of the 19th-20th Century Jetton token used as a form of local currency and accounting (in this instance for the now closed JT Parrish Department Store along Shields Road in the east end of Newcastle). Sometimes used as currency during times of coin shortage and now as a remnant of a medieval system of recording transactions getting a fresh level of interest due to local currency and LETS falling outside of the national tax system for now. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Bicycle taxidermy

Humane if a little strange. Turns out that this is what architects end up doing in a recession. Order your own here.

Clough Williams-Ellis Celtic Architecture

Inspiring view from FAT on a recent visit to Port Merion and the architecture of the 'village' got me visiting a few old Norn Iron examples of his work such as the Causeway School and Cushenden Village. Yet perhaps the most like the village in north Wales is the Scientology Church in Belfast that has been the home of a recent film showing of the prisoner. There should be more of an overlap between film and churches. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Carbon Emissions Modelling

An amazing model to visualise carbon emissions at the city scale. Sound research that is getting to look more like SimCity every day.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

James Cochran 3D Street Art

A very cool idea for 3D spray painting by artist James Cochran a recent follow on from a series of London riot inspired portraits. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

MMC and Low Carbon Housing

In a seminal book from 2004, Woudhuysen set out the benefits of off-site manufacturing for construction around the themes of quality, speed and cost but also an agenda that “… prefabrication must deliver an urbanism that people will prefer over patterns of development from the past. Housing must be designed for prefabrication so as to be: larger … better … sharper …. cheaper … faster … smarter … and easier”. We are presenting at the UK Passivhaus Conference this week on our own experiences on this theme and where MMC can bring benefits to delivering low carbon and passiv housing. 

Ref: p293 in; Woudhuysen, James and Abley, Ian (2004) Why is construction so backward? (John Wiley, Chichester). 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Living on Spaceship Earth

Following the thinking on space architecture as a potential future for life on earth, we've been looking at some inspired aesthetic and functional space structures. Like the idea for a Helicopter House by Future Systems that draws inspiration from the Apollo landing craft and the floating spaceframe platform by N55 that like Voyager has it's own soundtrack. Is this the future for habitat in a future extreme habitat or just a cool retro space reference that exploits prefabrication?

References: Fernie, Jes (2006) "Space Art". Blueprint October pp 82-88. ArtSudjic, Deyan (2006) Future Systems (Phaidon Press, London).

Sunday, 21 October 2012

From Earthrise to a Small Blue Dot

Reading about the journey of Voyager leaving the edge of the solar system and remembering some of the amazing aspects and images of the journey so far. Perhaps the best image is looking back to the couple of pixels that represent the earth as a 'small blue dot' in the image below - as described by Carl Sagan.

A relative close up of the same image of the earth in context together with a family portrait of the planets passed by Voyager - a view from 6 billion kilometers.

The amazing aspect is the human content of Voyager 1 and 2. Sagan placed on board the ultimate mix tapes of the music of the species (with a strong bias towards Bach) as a set of gold records to represent the planet and a message in the very unlikely event that they are ever discovered. Yet there is also the probability that Voyager will last for millions of years, and far outlast the earth. They may well be the last evidence of our species in the universe once our small blue dot is gone. It is all about perspective on our spaceship earth and how we understand ourselves as a species and as a planet. Carl Sagan's description of the 'small blue dot' and the accompanying images are as inspiring as Stewart Brand's interpretation of NASA's 'Earthrise' view from Apollo 8 moon mission as Spaceship Earth.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Passive Straw Bale Self-build

Does this project have it all? I always assumed there was some conflict between the cost and affordability aspirations in the self-build tradition and the need for technical performance and innovation in materials and supply chain. Then I found this project in a recent book by Jessica Kellner that demonstrates low cost passive design principles using local straw bales and a great reclaimed grain silo (although this later conversion is cool but not passive principles). Why didn't this make it onto 'Grand Designs' - apart from being based in Idaho that is? 

Reference: Kellner, Jessica (2011) Housing Reclaimed: Sustainable Homes for Next to Nothing (New Society, Gabriola Island).

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Non-viable Urban Space

There seems to be a reactive planning trend to addressing non-viable spaces in our cities.  Non-viable in the sense that there is clearly demand for space but the space is unaffordable either due to the low incomes of potential creative and SME users or that property owners have over-valued the space on the back of a retail boom.

While there seems to be lots of ideas regarding the way the spaces could be used, the gap is in the lack of integration with underlying property finance, mixed uses, residential densities and the impacts. The danger is not only criticism of faddism but the lack of legacy and long-term social sustainability. We hear about localising the economy, recirculating finances, bartering and LETS without considering how these underlying socio-economic ideas can creatively benefit our high streets and vacant sites in the medium to long term.

References: Lewis, Tim (2012) "Is this the future of the high street?". The Observer Magazine 29th April, pp22-28. Hatherley, Owen (2012) "The holes in cities need imagination to fill them". Guardian 8 May p30.

Defaced Coins

Some of the current content of British Museum on defaced coinage as part of the suffragette movement, and the criminal nature of defacing coins even for political purposes, reminded me of some of the political coins from my childhood in Belfast. All very tit-for-tat regarding political acts. Would be interested to know if there are any occupy defaced coins out there, or placed in the collection plates of St Paul's during the summer camping on the steps. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Urban Network Analysis Toolbox

Amazing free source software ... network analysis tool from MIT suitable for ArchGIS and available for download here

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Adapting Dwellings to Climate Change

Cost effective retrofitting modeling tool available online here - full of interesting data sets for the effects of a series of interventions to the fabric of different property typologies. Similar to our online fSAP assessed patternbook for existing housing in Leicester but a little more generic ... and a lot more details. Created by the Institute for Energy and Sustainable Development at De Montfort University. Similar to some of the energy efficiency advice provided by New York City, albeit with more energy figures to back up the business justification for investing in fabric improvements.

Space standards with furniture

This is sort of a reference note to point towards the Make Room, an interesting tool to look at internal space standards on a room by room basis. Easy to use and looks good, including the creation of graphic output for your project. One suggestion is to have a look at it alongside GenToo's Swing-a-cat site to ensure space standards are relevant for the UK rather than Canada.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Sustainable Homes Event in Newcastle

Would you like to renovate an inner city terrace and turn it into a housing co-op? Or share a stately home in the West End of Newcastle? Or live on a rural permaculture site in low impact housing in Northumberland or County Durham? These are the types of housing initiatives, based on shared values of community, sustainability and affordability that are happening across the UK, and could be done here in the North East. There is lots of interest in this, here in the North East at the moment, so bring your energy and ideas to this event and help convert this interest into real projects!

Come to this event to: Find other like minded people to work with on a housing projectThink more about what you want from housingMeet others who already live like this and find out what works and what doesn't. Hear about examples of projects across the UK and Europe

The event is on Saturday the 15th of September, Brunswick Church, Newcastle, from 10.30 till 4pm (Doors open at 10am for tea, coffee and registration). There will be a free vegetarian lunch. Children are welcome to take part. We can put on a creche if needed, but if you need that facility please let us know by the 1st of September. Brunswick Church is 1 min walk from The Monument in Newcastle, behind Waterstones book shop, and 10 mins walk from Newcastle Central Station. It is fully accessible for wheel chairs. To register or for more information, please e-mail

If you have a project idea to promote please let us know, so we can make time for you to tell people about it, during the event.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Middlehaven Urban Pioneers - Custom Build Workshop

Interested in custom-build for homes or live / work or business space or custom-conversions? Help us out by taking this short survey. Drop us an email to find out more and come along to this workshop on 9th August.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Newcastle Affordable and Sustainable Housing

Some interesting thoughts on affordable housing and alternative options to 'area based regeneration' in Newcastle.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Roosevelt Village passive design housing

Just discovered a passive design by architect Kelbaugh & Lee dating from 1985. A housing cooperative providing terraced bungalows in a vernacular style (for New Jersey at least) with orientation, solar porches, solar stack, rotary ventilators and solar thermal systems. Seems innovative even now and reminds me of the recent approach by Gentoo for a similar Passivhaus typology in Sunderland.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature

Bubblewrap Camping

Stumbled upon these designer tents when searching for sheds and bubble wrap. Has to be one of the coolest ideas for the summer season or even as low cost affordable accommodation if you live anywhere near London.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Jeremy Dellar's Sacrilege

Life size bouncy version of Stonehenge by Jeremy Dellar, now on show in Glasgow Green and then touring. One of the better ideas surround the Olympics?

Self-Build Joint Venture

News that the construction industry and government has collaborated in a new joint venture - the self build portal - basically a web site that at the very least starts to encourage a range of different approaches to housing procurement, construction and funding. It seems to bring a lot of information together and provides a pretty good scope for different options that should be considered as the initial stages of any project. Lots of great links to collaborative approaches including community land trusts, co-housing as well as individual plots and projects.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

David Byrne's Coffee Cup Bike Rack

The title says it all. I love coffee, art, bikes and Talking Heads. Find out more here.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Philip K Dick Android Replacement

One amazing research project that seems to have touched a level of popular interest in androids. Just finished reading about the first version and the lost head ... glad to see the project continues.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Signage Art

Love the retro fairground signage medium used by artist Andy Willett. Text messaging up in lights seems much better and more permanent  to me than tweeting. This piece is part of 'Your Life'.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Billion Euro House

Decommissioned Euro notes used in internal and external cladding of this house in Dublin. Work undertaken by artist Frank Buckley appears to be a statement about the obsession with both money and property and their interconnections. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Selexyz Dominicanen Bookshop

Deconsecrated church in the Dutch city of Maastricht that is now used as an impressive bookstore and reading room. Impressive conversion by Merkx + Girod.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Greenlight Festival Posters

We are off to the Green Festival in Leicester this weekend to support the work of Saffron Resource Centre and a variety of activities for large scale carbon reduction for retrofitting and new build development.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The People's Supermarket

An uplifting account of the response to the business rates crisis by the People's Supermarket by Zoe Williams and the level of donations being made to the cooperative. While there are clearly some very interesting aspects to their social business model the real interest is in the top down threat from those risk averse within the local authority and property owners has been well met [at least for now] by the bottom up recognition of an organisation trying to do the right thing. Reference: Williams, Zoe [2012] "Capitalism the cuddly way - and a financial crisis overcome". The Guardian 3rd March p17.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Conway's Game of Life

Just a nice extract that begins to introduce the idea of Conway's Game of Life spoken by John Conway himself. Decision making 'agents' or pixels with only a few rules start to behave in a manner that imitates life.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Pop-up city

Just a lovely example of a pop-up city idea - art and interactive.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Window Farming

Open-source designs for urban [window based] farming, or edible gardening. Simple and slightly beautiful approach to filling up your window space ...

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Air Hotels

Low impact hotel rooms hanging [and thus having living trees as foundations?] from a set by Timecircus. Alternative albeit temporary means of drawing interest to a site.

Straw Bale Dance Studio

One of the most unique straw bale construction projects was this dance studio in a rural Hertfordshire setting. Famously the cheapest lottery funded project it is possibly more interesting for the construction material being sourced [grown] from the next field. There are still a few links to show how the building is improving with age ...

Growing a building

Lots of recent movement[s] and ideas regarding the re-emergence of self building and systems for self building in the Segal tradition. A few articles have pointed towards the work of Dominic Stevens and the clever use of natural and cheap building materials - including plant based roofing / cladding products and soy based blown insulation. Starting ideas for growing our own buildings. Hopefully more thoughts on this to follow ...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Paper Architecture Patternbook

Extract from a paper architecture of Prague. A bit retro and not at all comparable with 3 dimensional printing but as amazing and possibly more understanding.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Mapping stereotypes

Amusing way of finding your way around America. This is probably the least offensive example of mapping stereotypes from alphadesigner, probably because I don't fully understand all of the references. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Prefab Retrofit Pigsty

One of the best examples we have found for how modern methods of construction / off-site methods can be the ultimate in bespoke responses - in this case a listed farm building acting as the external shell with existing openings for timber frame internal structure.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

UK's First Floating House

Interesting and innovative [but slightly Dutch?] scheme from Baca Architects. It is suggested as the first planning permission for a floating house and being located in a flood plain with anticipated rising sea levels and increased flooding it could be one of many.

Middlehaven and St Hilda's Church

Really useful link when exploring old Middlesbrough and historical images of Middlehaven, including this amazing Lowery picture of the old Town Hall and the now demolished church.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

East German Instructional Art

Just an East German 'instructional art' version of Keep Calm and Carry on - unless you hear the air attack warning. Nice example of signage.