for what it’s worth

stories and stimulus from a consumer insight consultant

Cameron Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity – offers real food for thought

I go to loads of events, conferences and talks, and although I always have the best intentions I very rarely get round to writing up my notes for you to enjoy. This time however the talk I went to this evening was so amazing it would be wrong not to share! The event was at the RSA to honour Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of the truly incredible Architecture for Humanity, with the RSA 2009 Bicentenary Medal.

I’ve been a fan of the non-profit design organization for a while now, ever since I learned about their tsunami relief project (thanks to Design Museum’s Designer of the Year competition) and love getting their newsletters and wishing I was clever enough to enter their design competitions, but this was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see Sinclair in action – and I think I love him!

The video gives you a pretty good overview of the way the organization works, and is definitely worth watching – but it was the content of his talk that was even more powerful. Here are my jumbled notes, I hope they make some sense and give a bit of an insight what was a truly eye-opening and inspirational hour it was, and I highly recommend you watch the video when it’s up on the RSA site (probably in a week or so)

– Architecture for Humanity has helped somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million people so far

– It is a decentralised network of people using their architectural skills to make a difference – 72 local chapters 5383 volunteers – they were surprised to find that the majority are licensed architects (67%) [ie not students], 62% are female, average age is 32 years, 15% are British, and there’s a 50/50 split between those from developed and developing countries

– Aftermath of Katrina was ‘criminal neglect from US government’

– ‘don’t just be the change – be the bank’ – allow people access to funds directly
Lots of the African Americans in New Orleans owned their houses outright (had been passed down through generations) so didn’t have mortgage = didn’t have credit rating, so got nothing to rebuild

– A4H created a library of skills for/ with residents – swapping practical skills – invisible economy coming up to help each other. They found that lots of architects were turning up just to get involved and help rebuild the community

if you don’t build it it doesn’t exist – you can’t just design it you have to build it

– One graphic design student converted 70 pages of government policy into a one page visualisation – this was so powerful for the government A4H managed to force change in policy

– Needed to create homes to be sustainable – to help the families afford the insurance and the energy bills- being sustainable as a way to create equity

– There are 4bn people in emerging middle class – spending money on healthcare, improving homes and education

– In this century we’re going to double the number of structures on this earth – it’s  pretty exciting time to be an architect

– Creative commons architectural ideas – 21000 people involved so far

– A4H ran a competition to design a classroom for the future – connecting with local schools – teachers and students being part of the design team – creating site specific ideas. 1000 teams entered from 65 nations, 250 schools got new designs

– some recent projects: Skatistan, Plastiki, The Homeless World Cup in Brazil

– some brilliant points:

  • It’s better to be the tugboat than the oiltanker – we can move much faster with the ebb and flow
  • It’s better to have 5billion clients than 50
  • Culture is an aspect of sustainability – everything is local – people interpret religion, community in diff ways
  • A strong society creates strong economy
  • There is no such thing as the 3rd world
  • Your client is your design expert
  • Ethics is aesthetics
  • We build communities not destinations
  • Instigate the no asshole policy – don’t work with them, don’t take money from them, don’t hire them

Filed under: collaborative working, creative ideas, good, Uncategorized, , , , ,



Yesterday saw an auction of Japanese art and design in London, held by Phillips de Pury & Company. Among the 195 lots sold was this Paper Tea House by Shigeru Ban, the master of architectural creations in paper. A stand-out piece among the paintings and figurines, and a surprising choice by the architect himself; forsaking his use of tubular cardboard construction for an interlocking square structure, it’s not often you can buy an starchitect-designed building- and take it away with you! This one however is only for indoor use, making it an art investment rather than a practical piece, as reflected in the closing price of £31,700.


From the auctioneer:

Phillips de Pury & Company is pleased to announce that it will be offering a important piece of architecture by one of the most celebrated architects working today, Shigeru Ban, in its forthcoming London sale, Kyobai: The Art and Culture of Japan.

A tea house, constructed of square paper tubes, is a structure designed for indoor use measuring just over 5 meters long. Housing a table and four stools, the house also features a waiting area with a bench in keeping with tea ceremony practice.

The architect’s ‘paper architecture’ comprises an ongoing series of structures using paper tubes as the main building material. Spanning a number of uses from multiple refugee housing solutions for disaster zones in Rwanda, Japan, India and Turkey to a collaboration with Frei Otto for the Japan Pavilion at the Hanover Expo in 2000 to his current satellite office that that sits on the roof of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the use of paper by Shigeru Ban has been a pivotal design solution with firm ethical footing.

Low-tech, adaptable and recyclable, the paper constructions address the current trend of high-tech, high-impact and unattainable design that has been so prevalent in the contemporary architecture. In addition, the use of the material presents, in each application, an engineering challenge that Shigeru Ban continually masters. His paper tube buildings have been admired for the ultimate breakaway from the confines of traditional materials to create light-filled, stimulating buildings with unsurpassed sophistication.

Paper tea house by Shigeru Ban will offered with pre-sale estimate of £20,000 – 30,000.

via Dezeen

Filed under: arts & culture,


London’s Serpentine Gallery has finally disclosed the name of the architect for this year’s Summer Pavilion. Following on from last year’s highly successful collaboration by Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen, Frank Gehry will be building his first ever structure in the UK, and keeping the collaboration in the family he will be working alongside his son, Samuel Gehry.

The gallery explains more about the intended structure:

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2008 will give London the first example of Frank Gehry’s spectacular architecture. The highly articulated structure – designed and engineered in collaboration with Arup – comprises large timber planks and multiple glass planes that soar and swoop at different angles to create a dramatic multi-dimensional space. Part-amphitheatre, part-promenade, these seemingly random elements will make a transformative place for reflection and relaxation by day, and discussion and performance by night.

Frank Gehry said: “The Pavilion is designed as a wooden timber structure that acts as an urban street running from the park to the existing Gallery. Inside the Pavilion, glass canopies are hung from the wooden structure to protect the interior from wind and rain and provide for shade during sunny days. The Pavilion is much like an amphitheatre, designed to serve as a place for live events, music, performance, discussion and debate. As the visitor walks through the Pavilion they have access to terraced seating on both sides of the urban street. In addition to the terraced seating there are five elevated seating pods, which are accessed around the perimeter of the Pavilion. These pods serve as visual markers enclosing the street and can be used as stages, private viewing platforms and dining areas.”

Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion

Filed under: arts & culture, worth seeing,


the public

The Public is a new creative centre designed by Alsop architects and due to open this summer – in West Bromwich. Not the first place you would expect to find one of Britain’s largest cultural buildings, the £40 million space encompassing a gallery, theatre, event space and cafe on the outskirts of Birmingham hopes that by becoming a creative landmark it will inspire the local community and encourage social and economic regeneration.

According to the architects:

The Public represents a radical gesture for community architecture, born from the conviction that architecture can be a catalyst for regeneration and renewal.

The scheme uses an ‘H’ frame which supports both roof and curtain wall, which is clad in black and pink sinusoidal steel. ‘Jelly Bean’ windows punctuate this wall, with pink glazing, and cluster around a ‘mother Jelly Bean’ window which marks and lights the main entrance. A pink glass skirt surrounds the box at ground level drawing the public into and through the space, reclaiming the ground plane.

Beyond the skirt two large zinc-clad sculptural elements, the ‘Rock’ and the ‘Sock’ and a third cushioned element, create an extraordinary spatial and visual experience. Linked by a snaking ramp and topped by a series of hung Lily Pads, the interior, whilst meeting the functional requirements of the building, enlivens the visitor experience with dramatic and exceptional interventions. These elements variously contain event spaces, workshop space, services, toilets and a gallery for local exhibitors.

The Public represents both a starting point and an opportunity for the people of West Bromwich, reinforcing the towns eroded sense of identity.

th public-alsop

Public Gallery

Filed under: arts & culture, creative ideas,



Madrid has unveiled it’s latest addition to the global arts scene in the form of the CaixaForum, a Herzog & de Meuron designed contemporary art museum housed in a converted 1899 power station. Costing $94m the museum was funded by the Caixa Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Spanish bank Caixa d’Estalvis, and one of its main functions will be to show selections from the Foundation’s own impressive collection of more than 700 works of art. The Art Newspaper reports on the impressive architecture:

The building—one of the city’s few remaining examples of historically significant industrial architecture—was acquired by the foundation in 2001. The 19th-century brick walls have been retained, but raised on piers so that visitors can walk underneath the building. There are two underground floors, while a two-floor attic storey of rusted iron surmounts the original building.

“The fact that its heavy mass is detached from the ground in apparent defiance of the laws of gravity is not a magic thing, given the possibilities of 21st-century technology,” says architect Jacques Herzog, “but a need to explore the limits of freedom. The CaixaForum has been conceived as an urban magnet, attracting not only art-lovers but all the people of Madrid and those from outside the city. We wanted to surprise. A building must be like a new outfit of clothes for the city—always a bit sexy.”

As striking as the architectural conversion is the 460 sq. m, 24-metre high vertical garden that takes up one wall of the square in front of the building. Comprising 15,000 plants of 250 different species, it has being designed by botanist Patrick Blanc.

“The garden is a dialogue with the Botanical Garden on the street and adjacent to the Prado,” says Herzog. “We love to make new things, to experiment with materials and create a very unusual encounter between the rough and the natural, the smooth and the artificial, to incorporate nature so there can be the smell of a garden where you would not expect it.”

The Art Newspaper: Madrid gets a new contemporary art museum- complete with vertical garden of 15,000 plants

Filed under: arts & culture, creative ideas,



Last week thanks to PSFK I was among the lucky few invited for a preview tour of the soon-to-be-opened BA-only Terminal 5 at Heathrow, and the impressive art that has been commissioned for it. If size impresses you then the building itself- a £500mill creation by the Richard Rogers Partnership which we were told several times is ‘the largest freestanding building in UK’ with ‘5 floors each the size of over 5 football pitches’- is sure to wow.

The structure is not only sculpturally beautiful outside and in, but has also been constructed to make the most of its surroundings both environmentally and aesthetically. The liberal use of glass and steel maximises the natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting whilst offering captivating views of the runway to reignite the passion of the golden age of air travel, while attributes including rainwater harvesting and groundwater boreholes will supply 70% of the terminal’s water.

The tour started with an overwhelming amount of data on the new system that BA has put in place to “redefine the passengers’ journey”- including the removal of check-in desks that are replaced by supermarket style groups of self-service kiosks, each group accompanied by a “BA host to assist”. BA estimate that 80% of the T5 users will check-in online, and through their new system expect the whole experience from entering the building to getting through security to take a mere 10 minutes! Not what we experienced however, as journalists are obviously deemed high-risk and therefore we were all thoroughly searched by the very serious security personnel.

Doing their bit for healthy lifestyles, BA have banned “fast-food” from the terminal, so don’t expect a McDonalds or Burger King- however a huge range of healthier-option restaurants including Giraffe, Wagamama and Itsu are available- as is a less than healthy but obviously posh enough to be included Krispy Kreme outlet- and a rather poorly branded offshoot from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, inventively called ‘Plane Food’.


Past the plethora of designer retailers and the ‘largest Harrods outside of Knightsbridge’ we finally reached the escalators that whisk those fortunate fliers to the premier lounges that have apparently cost BA over £60million, and as we walked up the escalator had the pleasure of experiencing the first of the fantastic commissioned artworks- namely the beauty of The Cloud; a kinetic sculpture by design collective Troika which aims to evoke the sensation of elevation as you travel from below to above the clouds as in flight. The 3D structure is covered with over 5000 mechanical flipdots- a technology from the ‘70s still occasionally seen at old train stations- that have been programmed to create a constantly changing and flowing pattern, and amazing accompanying sound.


At the top of the escalator is Troika’s second installation, a 22m long art wall entitled All the time in the world. The wall; a digital world clock made of super-thin electroluminescent sheets, plays with the traditional notion of time zones by replacing the expected capital city locations with exotic and exciting places around the world including natural wonders, great lakes, ancient cities and dream islands. Both pieces elegantly play with technology to revive the excitement and imagination that the travel experience once offered.


Walking through to the First Class lounge, past a set of Front-design collective’s Horse lamps guarding the entrance you are confronted by the amazing Oak Seasons, six etched glass panels by Christopher Pearson. A textile designer turned digital artist, his admiration for William Morris is clearly evident in the incredibly delicately three-dimensionally laser etched screens depicting three seasons in the life of an Oak tree, with hidden details including a football replacing an acorn, a leaf imitating a roadmap of the UK and swig suspended from a branch injecting extra elements of English culture.

Across the corridor to the even more exclusive Concord lounge, the artist’s second commission is a tromp l’oeil relief of the traditional BA crest which has been digitized and transformed into an animated video installation on a 12 minute loop. Entitled Pegasus and the Winged Lion, the characters on the crest play on the idea of Britishness whilst adding subtle humour to the lounge; if you watch long enough you’ll see amongst other things the changing of the guard, a rather big rain cloud and some amazing eccentric inventions!


Other works commissioned include temporary screens by Oona Culley and Robert Orchardson, and Kidzones- an interactive children’s area by El Ultimo Grito, whilst works from BA’s impressive art collection are also dotted seemingly randomly around the lounges- including a Julian Opie found down a corridor, a Damian Hirst that we stumbled across in between two food service counters, and what is sure to be the most expensive art collection in a ladies loo.

All the art has been brilliantly chosen by Artwise Curators, and with previous BA commissions including the likes of Sol Lewitt, Andy Goldsworthy and Tord Boontje, these young artists (all coincidentally RCA graduates- BA supporting another British institution?) are in good company. However this phenomenal creativity is let down by the rather unexciting interior design which despite its obvious excessive price still manages to look decidedly boring and reminds you that despite being open-minded with their walls, BA has a long way to go to embed this thought process throughout.

The debate among us attendees though was why, given the chance to redesign the terminal experience, BA still chose to promote the elitist ideal of art only for the rich. Why were these pieces not available to view from the main concourse? Where were the installations for all? Well there is just one- a Langlands & Bell sculpture that stands on the walls on either side of the entrance to the terminal called Moving World and consists of two luminous arcs of neon signs that spell out airport codes from around the world. Cleverly playing on the language of codes- in travel, in art and in society today, the all-inclusive artwork was commissioned by BAA (not BA!) and is described as ‘a dynamic metaphor for the ever-intensifying network of global communication and exchange- the defining characteristic of our age’. I guess BA didn’t get that bit.

See more about the building at

Filed under: arts & culture, , ,


According to the Sunday Times, planners at Broadland district council in Norfolk have just approved a 22-home “green hamlet” designed by Conran & Partners, Terence Conran’s architecture and design studio, to be built in natural clearings in preserved woodland a few miles from Norwich. With these homes – 17 detached, plus a terrace of five affordable houses – Conran, the creator of Habitat and a major design force in many UK households, is putting his stamp of approval on affordable housing and sustainable living:

The Drayton scheme is the pilot for a larger eco-community of 4,000 homes, and Conran & Partners is part of a consortium of players in the housebuilding industry hoping to work with one of the developers chosen to build one of the 10 zero-carbon eco-towns planned in Britain.

“I passionately believe that as designers – whether we are working on buildings, products or even modes of transport – we have a great deal of responsibility to find eco-friendly solutions to the serious and real problems that threaten future generations. Eco-towns are going to be very much part of the future, and it is vital they are affordable and comfortable and that they function as places to live in their own right.”

The Drayton hamlet is a mix of three, four- and five-bedroom homes. No trees will be felled to make way for the properties, which will have pitched clay-tile roofs and be finished in render and timber cladding, with triple glazing and an array of eco-features. The hot-water system will be solar-powered, and rainwater, harvested and stored underground, will be used to flush lavatories and water gardens. The homes will be as airtight as possible and highly insulated: wood-burning stoves and small gas-fired boilers will provide top-up heating.

The big question is: will his eco-homes sell? They’re not cheap. The price of the smallest three-bed detached is expected to start at £300,000; a five-bedder will cost £500,000, and prices for the affordable homes are yet to be finalised. Given that five-bed new-builds in nearby estates are priced at £350,000 and the average house price in Drayton is £250,000, others aren’t so sure. “Eco-homes come at a premium, and I do not think there are enough people willing to pay those prices yet,” says Dave Richardson, head of group marketing for Howards, a local estate agency. He nevertheless predicts the affordable properties will be snapped up: “If people can have an eco-home and qualify for an affordable property, I’m sure they will.”

Times: The eco-hamlet that Sir Terence Conran built

Filed under: future cities, visions of the future, ,

Richard Rogers Designs Prefab

Picture_1_15Richard Rogers has partnered with Wimpey homes to produce his first house design for 37 years- a £60,000 house for the new Wimpey
estate on the edge of Milton Keynes. The design is a winning entry for the government’s Design for Manufacture competition– which has granted the construction at Oxley Park. The site will contain 145 homes, 56 to be sold at £60,000 (as part of the government’s affordable housing initiative), the rest estimated at £230,000.

Putting himself in direct competition with the Ikea prefabs, Rogers’s three-bedroom ‘flexi-house’ will enable occupants to choose different wall finishes, change the interior layout as their family grows, and add prefabricated rooms. The architect himself decribes it as “a winning scheme which will deliver flexibility, modern methods of construction and a range of materials, coupled with an ambitious environmental strategy.”

The houses go on sale next year

via The Sunday Times

Filed under: collaborative working, future cities,

Skin + Bones

Whilst in LA for psfk I paid a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art to check out their recently opened exhibition highlighting the connections between and shared inspirations of fashion and architecture.

‘Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture’ presents an assortment of work from contemporary (and a few earlier) fashion designers and architects, grouped together under grandiose titles including Identity, Shelter, Structural Skin, and Tectonic Strategies.


All the usual suspects are represented- outfits by Hussein Chalayan, Yohi Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Viktor + Rolf and Comme des Garcons are displayed alongside buildings designed by Herzog & de Meuron, Toyo Ito, Shigeru Ban, and Zaha Hadid, successfully depicting the overlapping styles and ideas. Interesting additions to the line-up include delicate constructions by Oliver Theyskiens, geometric designs by Yeohlee Teng, and clever  linear cutting from Narcisco Rodriguez.


Attention is paid not only to the individual clothing but the total ‘architecture’ of the fashion shows in the same way that buildings are represented both as a whole and in part stages/ through different viewpoints, helping to understand the importance of interaction in both disciplines. Although a little thin on the ground in some areas (some sections contained only clothing with no or very little architectural interpretation) the exhibition does a good job of showcasing interesting global evolutions in architecture.

New architectural ideas currently in production from Greg Lynn, Office
dA, and Neil M Denari Architects utilising innovative manufacturing
techniques, unexpected exterior cladding, and artistically expressive
design are definitely worth seeing.

It’s a shame that there are so few younger designers from both disciplines included, but the exhibition is still most definitely a success- and the accompanying book is even more impressive than the information on display. If you’re in LA you have until March to visit- if not, lots of the information shown is available online

Filed under: exhibition reviews, ,


Once again London threw open it’s doors for all to see this weekend, and I was first in line for a good nose around! Here were some of my personal favourites-

The Central School of Speech and Drama in Swiss Cottage-

an interesting use of angles and light with 5 floors of transparent, fritted and translucent glass wrapping around the building and folds of concrete creating interesting geometric movement
the front facade at night
the central stairwell

Philip Hughes Studio in Camden-

an open, light space enhanced by clever use of mirroring which extends to the outside of the building. The downstairs is dominated by a freestanding steam room with continuous corian surfaces, creating a soft shape space-age pod in an otherwise linear surrounding
looking down onto the mirrored walls
the pod!

Michaelis House in Ladbroke Grove-

built down instead of up this family house manages to be light and airy despite being boxed in by two town houses. An inventive and ecological use of the space acailable
the entrance

Paradise Park in Holloway-

the most impressive visit all weekend, this children’s centre has a hydroponic garden as its exterior walls, an efficient energy kitchen which is used as a social enterprise for locals to run a fairtrade cafe, and green roofs to help provide habitats for displaced species. The architects explanation for the building also showed just how aware of the needs and wants of children they are- and although the centre is still being added to, it is being utilised and enjoyed by many. What was interesting was how a site that before was unloved and used for burnt-out bikes and rubbish has been appreciated by the community rather than vandalised- it just goes to show how important a little respect is.
external walls are hydroponic garden
social enterprise cafe

  • more information on london open house
  • Filed under: search this out, , ,