• typology: a sustainable model

    Environment, Environmental Design

    OSM DISTINGUISHED LECTURE SERIES

    Huat Lim 12th September 2008 Singapore NUS.

    EVOLVED TYPOLOGY : BLUEPRINT AND PRIMER FOR A SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURAL WORK

    We start by asking the question: What is typology, and why has this anything to do with Sustainability? Why Type?

    I commence by saying that architecture is largely about people. I learnt this from Norman Foster, the one thing I remember him saying to me when I was working on the Stansted Airport project, amongst many others.

    We look back to an early village scene, and we reflect on our countryside and the villages. We see here the blueprint for a new evolved typology. One which takes us back to an awareness of of environment one that begs the question of how much we really need to put into our ecological and typological models before we stop and ask, is this what we want, is this enough or have we gone too far with development.

    Building typology has always been of interest and as a study for architecture, because it begs the question of whether works of architecture need for classification and grouping to serve its their purpose or if types are necessary in order to validate their functions. So we ask, what is type? Are private houses a building type and do typifying shapes and built forms add any value to buildings? Indeed none whatsoever. By conforming it to any one type of building does not make the work any different or better in any way, let alone give it any more meaning or validation to its functions.

    What of the Indian Teepee, is this not the first boutique hotel, or can it be that we have moved on in our visual representation of comfort. Is it not the 4 star hotel we know today?

    What then of the tented structures in villages where children gather to hear stories from their teachers, how is this different from the university we know today. Again has our visual representation made this structure less of a typological model for a school then the megalomaniacal structures we see today in colleges.

For a long time we always have visual representation for many of the buildings familiar to us hospitals, schools and restaurants, etc. to each we emphasize visual interpretation. now it is more difficult to differentiate between two buildings simply by type. We think the visual representation of architectural works has evolved greatly, houses are of myriad shapes and forms, they defy classification. We can no longer rely on typological sets to differentiate one work from another. Perhaps definitions of buildings or their classification has become totally defunct and unnecessary. We conclude at this juncture typology is no longer a means for us to define a building. How do we proceed then to define a building if at all, and why do we chose to give building definitions in the first place, often one is asks, what is it for? How does all this relate to their sustainability.

By examining typological sets, or typology we gain a deeper insight if not appreciation of how buildings are perceived, and how their rapidly changing forms and articulation and evolving character has given us the means to comprehend them, or perceive them. Our own evolving needs have given buildings their new typology strain, and with this we propose they have become more sustainable today as a type then they have ever been before. How is this? We propose that it does not matter if what a building is meant to do has nothing to do with how it looks. There is little to find in the shape or fenestration of an iconic tower to suggest that it is a commercial building or a residential tower. It has become increasingly more difficult to predict the look and shape of the new museum. Hospitals are so advanced today, their designs warrant the same planning principles as a four star restaurant or a boutique hotel in many instances. Therein lies the question of typology and how their relevance has become very questionable in defining the ideal building, the sustainable built form.

There are no apparent parallels between Farnsworth House and a Palladio Villa, none whatsoever to say they belong to the same set. Both are exemplary models of sustainable architecture simply because both have their own infinite ability to deal with change, from their original residential use to the new commercial renovations without need for major alteration of its parts, let alone the envelope. We have come to accept these models as infinitely superior works of architecture simply because they don't actually bear any resemblance to each other and therefore attest to possibility that there is perhaps no such thing as an ideal house type. Surely at this point we see that the correlation between building function and its representation has been completely severed over recent times? These thoughts, derived from an appreciation and study of building typology, and the necessary classification of buildings in order that we can begin to appreciate them or better understand their qualities are examined and put forth here for development of our idea, that a sustainable work is necessarily one that has no need for a specific definition of its type nor its generic functions. It should merely be derived from ones awareness of its durability in terms of its long term use, and its inherent ability to change, adapt, redefine and replace or restore itself to suit the current need.

    We ask another question: Do buildings have an expiry date? Do they need an expiry date? Unfortunately many buildings do, herein the question of maintenance, durability, costs of replacements, energy, demolition costs, renovations, enhancements, etc. How easily we see house owners go about the renovation of their dwellings with little consideration for waste and pollution. We see so much of what we specify today in housing development projects go to waste the moment the Owners take possession of the building, what if we left the designs bare and what if we didn't put up a gate design or timber stairs. Can there be a model for housing schemes where we can reduce waste of natural resources? There probably is. We have to go back to our earlier models.

Flexibility, on the other hand, and the famously known open plan typology, are concepts of the late eighties for office designs, IBM Cosham for one and the new B1- type offices in the UK has indeed brought about successful applications and introduction of new and refreshing planning guidelines. The workplace has evolved to become a new typology for comfort, and productivity rolled into one. No longer is the office environment stale and devoid of the familiar pleasures of the home, like the kitchen [pantry], and the living room [the reception and lounge]. Break out areas, yet another concept has seen their implementation in many an organisation's most recent interiors. We saw Norways' Telenor building and their telephony companies embraced this concept and also how these models have suddenly become the new standard for office plan.

    These are concepts that have slowly eroded the older meaning [or typology] of offices, and their outdated typological models. Modern day workplaces and home spas are the new typological sets, and the are inevitably more sustainable than their forebears. They have evolved and become hybrid buildings in many ways. Herein the new research and proposition. We can examine why this hybrid typology have become infinitely more durable than their earlier examples. Indeed if we remove the need to typify or classify buildings we almost immediately make them less specific and therefore more responsive and future proof and hence more sustainable than if we confine them to a very specific brief.

Often a house is demolished after a new owner moves in. This is the problem we want to address. Often the lifespan of poorly designed buildings, like many hotels and offices built in the 70's have seen irresponsible demolition and extensive refurbishment. This is largely a very energy intensive activity, totally irresponsible and has contributed to great destruction of built environments and added much to the destabilisation of neighbourhoods and demography. Not only is such acitivity pollution to the natural environment it also brings about the need to re-instate new energies into what was already displaced in the first intervention.

    Putting back what we take from the environment is what we think architects can do to help us make it more sustainable. A built work must put back into its development more than what has been taken out from it, whether there be trees or the use of natural materials. herein lies the next set of investigations.

    Sketch of the duyong restaurant was prepared immediately upon receiving details of the site and the context took precedence almost without hesitation. The curvilinear shape of the partition and screens derive the inspiration from the boat building culture of the local villagers. Above everything else we wanted something that echoes the quiet but sophisticated traditions of wood carving and boat building still prevalent in this part of Malaysia.

    Screen and Partition details of the Duyong restaurant [located in Terrenganu, East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia] show a wooden structure forming a dividing wall between active zones and private rooms.

    “We were inspired by the local village fishermen’s boat building art, partly because of the way they work with the wood, and partly because of the extraordinary precision found inside the curved forms of the ribs. We wanted the restaurant to reconnect to something from the region, so that the design has elements belonging very much to the genius loci of the village, not something we could simply pluck from the air; we didn’t want anything to just suddenly come out of the woods…”

    Conservation, and preservation of the local 'patterns' of this fishing village and the fishermen's art form and the resulting socio-typology appears to give some thing back to the environment, it provides for some sort of continuity and therefore sustainability.

    project samples: [begin]

    [project 1: boh visitor centre]

    The Boh Visitor Centre was a project that started out as a test for whether a visitor centre could actually be built on s site that had access limitations, and that surrounding buildings were to be preserved and left untouched, amongst these were an office, an old factory and some chalets and quarters for the estate workers. Since the Owners had wanted a new facility, there had been at least three previous designs and attempts to convince the Board of Directors to proceed with these proposals.

    zlgdesign's successful proposal comprise a long building, taking the visitors [albeit forcibly] through a retail area before they can come to see the old factory, a building not to be demolished at any cost. From this zlgdesign proceeded to design a modernist box, long and narrow, taking the view that simplicity was the best answer to the problem.   During the process of construction as architects we insisted that no tree be cut, and that all construction work be carried out with minimal disturbance to the livelihood of the workers there. To that we retained all existing buildings that were meant for workers squatters, where they stayed for at least 50 years. The new building avoided the removal or destruction of these huts and shelters. Even the old warehouse and toilets and store room were kept exactly where they were. During construction the original offices where the Client worked did not have to close down, they could continue to operate the business without any interruption. The Project took in the demography of the place and the people.   The materials used for the building were taken mostly from the local area, the contractors were also form the nearby estate. With that most of the work were given back to the people of the region. Fallen trees and old wood were recycled from the estate to give materials for the facade. Only the simplest technology were required to assemble and create this new wall. The new toilets were naturally ventilated no complicated fans and ventilation systems were needed inside this building to keep it fresh and clean. The entire building glazing were kept open and transparent to bring in natural daylight. Tall windows throughout the Project meant little or very low energy levels were required to operate these premises. Energy conservation is therefore a very important aspect of this social Project.

    We used a steel framed design to minimise impact to the natural ground. The foundation design was simple, the footing were made from simple concrete pads, and the steel structure was light enough to maintain the balance of the terrain. Any heavy soil work would have caused unnecessary drainage costs and risk or soil erosion and flooding to the villages below.

    The steel work also made it easy to cut out areas where there are trees, so that they need not be removed or relocated. In the early planning stages the plan geometry was drawn up specifically to avoid clashes with trees already in the estate. The steelwork also allowed for a fast construction without waste of manpower.

    Visitors were not allowed to bring cars right up to the centre, they were required to walk up the slope and this made it more enjoyable for visitors who may now appreciate the site more intimately. The decision not to bring the cars up was a good one as we were able to keep the original character of the pedestrian walk way up the slope, which was very small and narrow. Widening this would have made it impossible not to cut the hills. This Project has succeeded to preserve the natural ecology of the place.   Boh's elegantly designed terrace gives visitors opportunities to look into this awesome tea estate. The specially designed bamboo ceiling and cement boards and the simple black stained wooden floor boards are altogether a sustainable design solution for a building which could easily be taken to be as old as the estate but looking new and fresh from its execution and details. It offers a large deck which is breathtaking space for enjoying tea.   The Linkages between buildings in the BOH Visitor Centre are kept to a minimal design, mainly of wrought iron and steel rails painted in a dark grey and galvanised to prevent corrosion. The landscaped courtyards and under croft of structures are carefully planted give a natural setting to bridges and natural finished concrete ramps, these are later painted in a receding dark grey. In some places the concrete walls express their wooden formwork and bamboo laminates. The roof profiles were cut to avoid existing trees and other site features and frame the sky in a jigsaw fashion. Daylight penetration into the building have been kept to a maximum to reduce contrast between outside and inside lighting conditions. Ceilings are finished to a simple adornment of natural bamboo and white plaster, they define zones for various programmes within the Centre.

    Today much of the wood log facade has taken a slight faded and worn look, which is nice, it gives depth to the design, and has sine attracted some visible 'vandalism', personal 'markings' and so called intervention, again, the design has matured and given the project its necessary quality and timelessness.

    This project has somewhat been a very special building in that it serves the purpose to bring about awareness of the natural environment which was the tea Estate, and also to bring forth the enjoyment on the other hand of a facility that has long been neglected by the general public. This building made it possible for a public building to be beautifully designed so that architecture can be enjoyed without great expense of money and public funds. A cost effective design that looks good, and that provides for an awareness of what good design can bring to the public without heavy costs.   The architecture is set to change people's mindsets about affordable buildings, and how sustainable designs can be simple and unencumbered or complicated. It clearly shows how the simplest means can enhance the natural environment and promote a high quality design without an unrealistic budget. The building plans are rather ingenious in that the structural floor allows for cutting out of the decks to accommodate many of the existing trees around the very tight site.

    The BOH Visitor Centre has already been accorded two prestigious awards recently; the Barbara Cappochin Foundation Award and also the Cityscape Real Estate Corporate Award presented in Italy and in Singapore respectively. Boh also won a Malaysian Architectural award for best building in 2007 under the Commercial Category.

    [project 2:challenge park]

    Challenge Park was conceived for a long time to serve the younger community at Putrajaya, the new capital city of Malaysia. The two facilities, comprising the Wall Climbing centre and the Skate park, together with the Dirt Bike Trail, and many other Xtreme-Games has been under construction for two years now, and should soon be seeing the completion of the superstructure phases later this year, slated to complete in late 2008. Never intended to be anything but a truly sustainable building with low-energy systems and technology applied for the ventilation requirements and support facilities.

    The materials used are naturally expressed, and columns are of the thinnest sections and the roof constructed of the most basic lightweight metal decking systems. No apparent decorative painting has been required for any of the exposed structures, and low maintenance finishes appear throughout the scheme so that with time we see no need for any major refinishing in the near future. Finishes can take a lot of punishment and wear and tear, as is expected from a building of this nature, programmatically designed to engage human physical intervention and contact. In a sense, the building is expected to rapidly age with time and weather and use to look as if it was there for a very long time.

    The architectural language embraced within a strong and disciplined artistic direction supports the view that all columns of varying lengths and girths should be as if they were tree trunks, floor slabs sail above the ground, walls seemingly carved out of the landscape, and ramps and stairs resemble mere folds off the surrounding terrain.

    The Challenge park project is about using natural materials, and reducing buildings to its most basic and fundamental elements, Through this philosophy we believe maintenance and upkeep of structures can be reduced drastically, and manifest the simple concepts of giving buildings its natural features and character rather than embellishing it with 'unnatural' glitter. The new luxurious finish is indeed the weathered look, the 'punished' look of chipped edges of stairs and walls, the occasional hairline cracks or worn floor. [we love the markings already left on the steps and the ramps..they give the building a much needed aged look]

    We wanted a building that would age naturaly with the weather, given the abundant trees and the naturally undulating ground terrain, the specified architectural finishes should work well without much maintenance over the years, and the informal arrangement of columns, roofs and walkways should likewise help the building sit comfortably into the site.

    The site has now progressed to far to show remarkable resemblance of the character of the building to its original modelled shape. Slabs and walls from reinforced concrete and finishes are sparingly finished with absolutely no embellishment of any kind at all, let alone any polished stone or tiling work, only slate for the walls, these have been put to areas requiring weathering, and only as far as is practicable.

    [project 3: point92]

    For Point 92, our most recent project, we return to the new office typology, what makes a great office? Is it really open plan, is it the break out areas, or is there a new direction or philosophy that governs the evolution of workplaces? How does all this give rise to the question of change and morphing of office to residences and how does this relate to the concept presented by Herman Hertzberger in his design for Centraal Beheer, a commercially successful Dutch company known for their advertising campaign. We see in this building visual connectivity, and how multiple levels connect through balconies and niches and interlocking spaces, altogether presenting to users their 21st century workplace, a new way to work and 'play' in the office. Indeed the new typology, but how evolved is this model today?

    With point92 we explore this concept, we looked at our Santa Fe Hotel scheme, with many elevated courtyards and connecting vertical tunnels and airways of plants and vegetation and water features, and we review the Norwegian Telenor model of their multitude of break out areas, and with all of this in mind, we begin to push the limits of a speculative office, with the very low construction budget of USD 90 per sqft, the expectant high yield of investment, and with no risks to the developer, we went on to bestow our project with bespoke design that costs very little money. So much for a design brief. We took the challenge, and met with the Client who reminded us of his brief: make this an iconic building, but remember, we have no money. We haven't forgotten.

    Point92 is a new mould, we will develop this project in terms of its iconic functionality as well as its premium as an prestige and custom designed office development. The building is located in a prime area on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The most visible feature is the external wall elements, to be built partly of laminated marine ply, framed laminated glass and painted cement boards sealed within a black steel framed spandrel window structure. The anticipated target gross floor area is around 158, 000 sq.ft.

    Point 92 is aptly named after a very tight site, which is just under an acre [0.92 acres]. The client wanted an iconic building to draw potential investments for their real estate. The project is located right across from an elevated road and looks out from a cliff into a residential precinct. Point 92 is about blurring the territory between residence and office environment. The volumetric shapes carved from inside the shape of the building gives variation both in terms of spatial organisation internally as well as aspects of views out from within. Each space has its own compartmentalised unique features, some of the floors have their very own internal bridges, voids and double height ceilings, together they form a complex but integrated whole.

    The arrival experience is one of walking through a body of water filled with selected lemon grass species and selected countryside plants, it is then linked from the drop off point to lift lobbies that rise directly into the offices. The underside of the structure is simply a white reflective surface that should be able to show effects of water movements from the landscaped pools below. At night, we contemplate the options to light up this undercroft or soffit to give the building its surreal feeling of a floating box. The facade is composed of 50 % glazing and the rest is of wooden panels or cement boards. The checkered and patterned facade comprising 800mm wide panels allows for deep daylight penetration into the building plan. The block is further supported off a minimum number of columns to express a generous and unobtrusive view of the landscape beyond. The podium structure consists mainly of car parks to be greened on the edges to resolve the connection of the main building to the ground. Point 92's 11 floors, each one different from the other have atriums and voids and terraces that connect one floor to the next and offers many variations to the letting of space and their operations, and final ownership. The first experience of the building is the water body with the lalang designs which resonates with the feeling of walking through fields of grass or better the rice fields of asia, at once recalling the natural phenomena and essences of a sustainable architectural model.

    The next experience is its car park facilities, dressed to disappear, covered in grass, and made to sink into the ground, ready to be colonised and overpowered by grass and vegetation, presenting itself as subordinate element, making the building above it more visible, more immediately seen as the iconic element. It is this very feature and 'move' that we think the building lends itself to being green, and that it makes the effort to return what was taken from the ground, nature itself, rock or no rock. We took great pains to reduce granite blasting, and we preserve the site contours as much as we could without elevating the car park to a 4 storey building had this not been possible.

    The facade is the ultimately the one feature that gives it the look and feel of an iconic structure. At once seen as a hedgehog, or an armadillo, it is lifted, and dressed in pointy fenestration design, in places perforated and punctured with elevated gardens and terraces, linked to its interior where break out places are located. These inside outside connections bring about natural ventilation and convective cooling of the terraces. The skin is perforated also to allow air movement through to eliminate the need for forced or mechanical air systems in case of combustion or fire in these zones.

    Point 92 also has the ability to change internally. The voids can be arranged to be externalised, or dressed as exterior public lobbies, which are naturally lit and ventilated or these voids can be used to give place for vertical connectors such as lifts, and escalators or simple stairs.

    Whilst we work towards tightening the budget on this project a new direction has evolved: to cut out facade for areas where we don't really need it and enhance the presence of balconies and elevated external terraces on the elevation. This is likely to bring down construction costs, but more importantly it should also reduce heat build up inside these tall atriums given that we do not wish to use any form of mechanical fans or venting systems to provide convective cooling to these areas.

    Carving out the atrium into the building block as is now the case brings about better internal lighting, and should furhter reduce glare, and help cut electricity consumption greatly due to the deeper penetration of daylight into the floor plans.

    [project 4: kenanga]

    This is Kenanga, close up, the view towards the f/b area where most of the public will come into contact with the building. We hope the immaculately detailed blockwork facade can also be experienced from within the project, casting elaborate shadows and light into what would be over 1 million sqft of unique wholesale retail development with elevated car park for over 2000 in the final phase.

    This project is interesting for its unusual and most historic location, famously known for many many years as a place where all of the main textile merchants of Kuala Lumpur would come to trade their wares, but also for its most unusual scale, a structure that is almost virtually 23 stories tall, over 1 million square feet of gross area, for which at least half are retail lots. Almost everything traded in these stores are textile based products, jewellery stores and small items catering for the local fashion entrepreneurs. Similar centres exists elsewhere in the region, but this would be Kuala Lumpur's first.

    Kenanga Wholesale City is also a building which is to be constructed from natural materials, and fair faced concrete. On most al of the facades, the 400x200mm blocks are arranged in a facade that is left exposed apart from a coat of paint to keep the face clean and without blemish. This very natural approach will be used throughout the entire building including also the interiors which will comprise natural steel framed courts and bridges in the upper floors. The only finished parts relate to circulation elements, as escalators and lifts and some of the very generous skylights and glass canopies, and the bathrooms and toilets. These are in great contrast to the raw or naturally finished materials used for the walls and floors.

    The building is easily very iconic. It has a facade design that is completely extraordinary because of the scale for which blockwork is used to line the elevations of at least two of the facades, in some respects they appear as skin or indeed fabric for this enormous building. The glazed and openable window elements of the facade has been made more attractive by arranging them the most irregular graphic fashion. The 5 levels of elevated car park is accessed through a series of very long concrete ramps, these are lit brightly through the sides of open faced naturally ventilated blockwork. Further up, the Kenanga Wholesale City building are three levels of accommodation surrounding a courtyard. These retail units are meant for recreational, food and exhibition purposes. With the vast amounts of daylight on these levels, and with potential to attract retailers worldwide, this building may indeed become the new Wholesale centre for the region, given its very prime location and its proximity to the city centre of Kuala Lumpur.

    Kenanga's ultimate strength as a scheme lies in its philosophy, and its construction economy and humble approach to design. In Kenanga we took a simple idea and reduce what has been a very complex brief to a very simple and straightforward building, we emphasize the need to be sustainable both in terms of application of materials as it is with how we see it used as a wholesale centre with 1200 car parks. There was very little room for experimentation of its typology as a retail centre after all.

    ©2008.huatlim huatlim

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