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Goodbye to “Modern Architecture” 2011-04-26

Posted by clype in Articles of Interest, Humanities.
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Next to London Bridge station, a glass monster is rising from the ground. At 72 storeys — 310 metres  including a spire on top — The Shard will be the tallest skyscraper in Europe when it is completed in 2012.

Guests of the hotel chain Shangri-La on the 52nd floor will enjoy spectacular views, and passers-by will see an impressive sight; The Shard is made up of 11 200 panes of glass, each cut to a slightly different size, slotted together into nine sections of façade that appear to prop each other up.

It is a ‘work in progress’, but developer Mr. Irvine Sellar’s magnum opus could already be one of the last monuments from an era when building with generous amounts of glass was possible.

Building regulations enacted 2010-10 mean developers have to make projects 25 per cent more carbon efficient.

Glass structures that leak heat in winter and require cooling in summer are increasingly tough to get past officials — so they are more expensive.

‘We believe the gas-guzzling glass box is dead,’ said Mr. Ken Shuttleworth (‘Ken the Pen’),who designed the London’s iconic ‘Gherkin’ (The Swiss Re Building at 30 St Mary’s Axe)  for Foster + Partners, and who left to create Make Architects and declare the skyscraper dead in London.

‘This is a “sea change” in modern architecture and the only responsible way forward in a world of increasing concern about climate change and global warming.’

Mr.Sellar is a self-made property tycoon who started in the 1960s by selling flower-power flared trousers on Carnaby Street. He bought the land where The Shard stands in 1998, but had to wade through a long planning process and a 10 million GBP public inquiry before he got the green light in 2003-11.

The tower, designed by the Italian architect Mr. Renzo Piano, uses enough glass to cover eight football pitches. Each pane was cut by a factory in the Netherlands and fitted in a particular order to create the impression of shimmering.

One of the problems with buildings featuring large floor-to-floor windows is ‘solar gain’: on a cloudless day, the sun radiates in and the structure traps the heat, turning into a giant greenhouse. Air conditioning has to be used to cool it down, guzzling energy. Mr.Sellar’s team used three layers of glass to minimise the warming effect.

Between a double-glazed inner layer and a single outer layer is a cavity containing motorised roller blinds. The blinds are activated when the sun comes out and roll away when the weather is milder, cutting the need for artificial lighting. The cavity itself has to be cooled as the blinds absorb heat.

The Shard uses natural ventilation, bringing air in through ducts at floor level. A building’s resistance to solar gain is calculated by its ‘G value’, which measures the fraction of radiation allowed in.

The average double-glazed office has a G value of about 0.34. The Shard’s is lower, at 0.12, meaning it lets in less radiation and so needs less air conditioning. Triple-glazed windows are about 50per cent more expensive than normal ones.

Mr.Jack Carter at Renzo Piano Building Workshop said:

‘The key thing is the intelligent system [that operates the blinds]. If the building didn’t have that active element, it wouldn’t work.’

Mr.Sellar’s team had to comply with 2006 building regulations rather than today’s, which are stricter.

To get approval, a developer has to create a mathematical model of a building, factoring in its location, and show how much carbon will be released during its operation over the course of a year.

Five years ago the rules gave developers soft targets in areas such as lighting and boiler efficiency, meaning they had extra carbon to play with when it came to a building’s exterior. Last autumn, an update to the building regulations asked developers to use a quarter less carbon across the board, although it left room for case-by-case variations.

The rush of planning applications filed in advance of the change showed the impact it would have on property companies’ designs.

[Artist's impression of Walkie Talkie Building]

The skyscrapers due to sprout into London’s skyline by 2014, notably ‘The Cheesegrater‘ at 122 Leadenhall Street (Richard Rogers — Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners) and ‘The Walkie Talkie’ (Rafael Vinoly Architects)at 20 Fenchurch Street, were conceived several years ago and feature bold glass exteriors.

However, developers who submit planning applications today will find their designs more constrained.

Building regulations are expected to get 25 per cent tougher again on carbon emissions in 2013.

Mr James Thonger at Arup, design engineer on The Shard, said:

‘As all of these regulations come in, we will be seeing a different type of building emerge.

‘The love affair with all-glass buildings has lasted but it’s now close to the end.

‘We would certainly expect that by 2013 it will be extremely difficult to get an all-glass building through the regulations.’

[picture of 5 Broadgate]Swiss bank, UBS’s new headquarters at 5 Broadgate, designed by Make Architects and being built by British Land and Blackstone, shows how office blocks of the future could look. It resembles an aluminium cube with slots for windows. In an attempt to reduce solar gain, only a third of its surface will be glazed.

The 65 000 m2 site, due to be opened in three years, has come in for criticism. Mr.Rowan Moore, the architecture critic, described it as ‘an aloof fortress’, while Sir Stuart Lipton, Broadgate’s original developer, called the scheme ‘the worst in the City for 20 years’. UBS believes the external design, along with internal measures such as rainwater recycling, will cut the bank’s carbon dioxide emissions by 65 per cent compared with existing offices at the site.

The project received planning consent last week, but aesthetic considerations could yet scupper UBS’s idea. English Heritage, the government’s architecture watchdog, is considering listing the Broadgate complex in a move that would block the building’s construction.



1. Trevor - 2011-04-27

Quite right too; it’s good to have an iconic building, like the so-called gherkin, but the shad, the walkie-talkie and the cheesegrater? Come ON, there can only cheapen the skyline, and weaken the impact and effect of the gherkin. It’s an individual aesthetic choice to some extent, but it is also how these buildings work in a more general context. In my opinion, they are too near the gherkin, and London will be devalued by them. The carbon footprint too means that London’s image will be tarnished for years to come.

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