Friday, 21 November 2014

It's not much to look at....#takeover

I seem to sort the buildings in Bristol into the following categories: old, ugly-old, new, and ‘that looks nice’. A master of nuance, I am not.

I commute alongside many others spewing from the south of the city into the centre; we are a mass of people funnelled together by the roads, buildings and water. It’s only been in the last few weeks – since being asked to write this post, and subsequently realising how little I know about architecture - that I’ve really considered this.

Having walked the same route daily for over six months now I feel pretty confident I’m going to make it to work every morning – it doesn’t really change. The only variables are the amount of slow travellers and the tight-lipped suits desperately trying to overtake them. However, every few months we find our path literally disappears before us.

It’s only happened a few times in the four years that I’ve lived in Bristol. Momentarily, there is devastation: children cry, adults become agitated and there is a collective sense of anger. Eventually, we’re allowed to continue on our journey at which point the crowds surge ahead with some people running and bikes becoming entangled with limbs. I am, of course, talking about The Old Junction Lock Swing Bridge between Mshed and Arnolfini.

I’ve got a bit of a thing for bridges - I once wrote an entire article for Rife magazine about my love for the graffiti-ridden bridge down by the Create Centre. Regardless, the swing bridge that my commute relies upon is a strange beast. It’s not much to look at, nor is it something that tourists will go back home screaming about. Most people using it probably don’t even consider there’s a significant amount of water right beneath their feet, and why should they? 

When I have been unfortunate and arrived just as the bridge is – you guessed it – swinging round to let a stupid boat into the harbour, it’s been a strange experience that emphasises the necessity of infrastructure (I hope that came across as if I know what infrastructure means.) There is a fragility exposed when you have to stop and wait for something so big and important to move back into position before you can move on. It isn’t cumbersome in the slightest, it’s actually quite nifty, just like the dude manipulating the controls – though I’d work quickly too if I had a large crowd of people starting to push at the barriers like a scene from World War Z.

I didn’t intend to write this post entirely about a bridge. I wanted to talk about how I feel like I belong to a city that I didn’t grow up in, how at 24 I’m not sure if I still count as a ‘young person’ and then I wanted to conclude by saying that it doesn’t matter what a city’s architecture looks like, it’s about what the people inside the buildings are doing. Instead, I just wrote about a bridge and its impact on my daily life.


This blog post was written by Jon Aitken @jonbehere for #takeover

Friday, 14 November 2014

My new home (Hanham Hall) #takeover

My family and I have a habit of being quite the movers, we don’t spend too long in the same area or even in the same region, moving to Bristol from the north about four years ago. For three of those last four years, we lived in Kingswood, an interesting area northeast of Bristol. But in August of last year moved about three miles down the road to a place called Hanham Hall.
As the name suggests, Hanham Hall is situated in Hanham. It’s a 10-minute walk from Longwell Green and is right next to a cycle path that runs along to Central Bristol, so in terms of transport and location it is ideal.

But you might have noticed that there is something slightly unusual about Hanham Hall, in that the houses don’t look like your usual Victorian semi-detached house that you’d find when you wander around Hanham.

Hanham Hall is a new type of housing development that is all about sustainability and being as green as possible. The whole ethos of the development is to use as little and to reuse as much as possible. Each house has access to a solar panel on the roof, to help reduce the amount of fossil fuel based electricity used by the residents. There is also an on-going drive for us to recycle as much of our waste possible which is supported by the strong sense of community that living here gives you.

When we moved in a year ago, construction was still going on, and so we got to watch each house go up, get finished and its new residents move in as part of our everyday routine. Every now and then over the course of the summer there would be a barbecue that all the residents, both new and incumbent, would be invited to. It felt like we were a family that was growing together. These small social meets were imperative in making sure that everyone knew each other and felt welcome here, which is why you would never walk past any residents here without saying “Good morning!” before grumbling about the weather in true English fashion and getting along on your way.  

The thing about living in a place like this is that you don’t quite realise how unusual it is, this is just something that happens after living here for so long. I’ve always forgotten about how weird this place is until one of my friends gives me a lift or comes over. I’ve had a mixed range of reactions, usually confusion quickly followed by sudden realisation that it is a pretty unique place. I think by far the most memorable reaction was when my friend’s dad said “the houses look like small ski-slopes!”.

The last year I’ve spent living here has been the most eventful and possibly the most important so far and so until we up sticks and move once more, I am happy to call Hanham Hall my home. 

This blog post was written by Shape My City participant    Hani Salih  @HaniDanikwoBear for #takeover

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Workshop 8 - site visit to Skanska construction site

Our final Shape My City session took a slightly different twist with the group venturing away from the architecture centre gallery to visit a Skanska construction site based nearby on Queen Square.

The aim of this session was to give the young city shapers an insight into the construction side of the built environment sector, to compliment the knowledge they have gained from previous sessions on design and placemaking.

When we arrived at 66 Queen Square we were greeted from behind the hoarding by Ben Yates and Simon Dawson, construction managers for Skanska. Simon and Ben showed us through to the site office where the group started by brainstorming their stereotypes of ‘building sites’. These included wolf whistles and a very male dominated working environment. These stereotypes were challenged through the site visit -not a single wolf whistle was heard and Ben and Simon explained how the construction industry was diversifying its workforce and how there are a huge range of different job roles within the construction sector that appeal to all sorts of people with different skills and interests.

The city shapers were keen to see behind the scenes of a live construction site, but before we donned the hi-vis jackets, Ben and Simon gave the group a bit of background to the site. 66 Queen Square is currently owned by the development arm of Skanska. Skanska is an international construction company which is currently responsible for the development of new school buildings across Bristol.
Skanska purchased 66 Queen Square as a derelict heritage building from Bristol City Council. 

Initially they had to dig bore holes to see if the site was contaminated, do lots of surveying and liaise with conservation team of Bristol City Council. The site is an 1830’S terrace of Georgian buildings and Skanska are refurbishing much of the old building and adding a modern extension to make high end offices. Work started on the site in June 2013 and the project will cost approx. £13 million over 2 years.

The design team for the project are AWW Architects and there are two distinct sides to the building which integrate with two different street scenes:
  • Queen Square side with a Bath Stone fa├žade in keeping with Georgian heritage of Queen  Square
  • Kings Street side which has to compliment the Tudor exteriors of the existing buildings

Two important elements of the development are heritage and sustainability:

       Heritage – Skanska have had to work closely with the conservation team at Bristol City Council who advise that you 'can add to a heritage building but you can’t take away'. Skanska needed to try and keep as many of the original features as possible and restore elements such as wooden beams and traditional plaster in the old part of the site. Parts of the building needed to be made much stronger – floors/ceilings in the old part of the building needed to be reinforced.

       Sustainability - as a company Skanska are proud of their green credentials, and have been named the greenest company in UK across all sectors. The Green features of 66 Queen Square include photo voltaics on the roof, reduction of air loss and the majority of the exisitng building being recycled.

The Shape My City team then donned their hi-vis jackets and were given a fascinating tour around the site exploring the restored heritage parts which will serve as stylish board rooms with views over historic Queen Square, the basement which had 18 meter deep piles driven in to the ground and the infrastructure of the new open plan office spaces.

Ben and Simon also introduced the city shapers to an important tool for modern design and construction: Building Information Modelling or BIM. BIM generates 3D digital modelling of buildings and it is changing how buildings, infrastructure and utilities are planned, designed, built and managed. Simon demonstrated BIM in action on an ipad that he took around the building, showing a digital version of 66 Queen Square, which included being able to look through walls to see hidden services. The Government has set targets for the industry to use BIM more and Skanska won a BIM award for 66 Queen Square.

Personal career stories – Simon and Ben (Construction Managers)


Simon and Ben are construction managers for Skanska, then kindly shared a bit about their career paths with the Shape My City group……

Simon liked maths at school and went on to study civil engineering as he liked the idea of not having to work at desk all the time. After graduating he worked for Kier Construction on a £25m extension of Science Museum in London, which included have to move the huge steam train exhibits!  He then then went on to work on a range of other projects: an army barracks project of 584 bedrooms, an office block in Birmingham city centre, and then on to the Skanska Bristol School programme where he worked St Mary Redcliffe School, followed by Bath Spa University.

Simon’s career advice was to 'go for what you are interested in and enjoy, and don't drift …think about what you are interested in and where you want to get to – you don’t want to find that in 10, 20, 30 years you end up thinking ‘how on earth did I end up here’ and not enjoying what you are doing’.
Simon shared that some of the more challenging parts of his job are 'relying on other people, being out in all weathers, days when concrete doesn’t arrive on time or teams of painters fail to turn up – and having to manage all these logistical elements'.

Ben initially wanted to join the air force but had asthma so he decided to study engineering and law at university. After going travelling he started work for Skanska where he has worked his way up to his current position.  Ben said the the good parts of his job are 'working with good people, the satisfaction of working on buildings like schools which impact on people’s live positively – this makes you proud and it is motivating'.

Ben shared that the down sides of his profession are that 'sometimes you have to work out in the wet and cold, travel long distances for work, and that the construction industry is vulnerable to recessions'.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

What is architecture and why should I care? By Cai Burton #takeover

To lots of young people, the world of architecture seems completely alien. Even to me, it conjures up images of middle class white men in their 40’s discussing buildings in an office. It feels like it’s a world that you can only unlock after 7 years of training, and it’s only then that you can begin to grasp what it’s about. So let’s find out what architecture is.
I started by googling it and came up with this definition:

the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.”

Okay. That’s true. Architecture IS the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings, but it’s also so much more than that.

It’s about places. It’s about the spaces in between the buildings. It’s about the communities and interactions that take place in them. Architecture is as much about the buildings as it is the people inside.

Architecture plays a huge part in our lives and in ways that we don’t even realise. Walking down a street seems like a completely simple moment in our day, but we don’t realise that this street has been designed to be like that. Those lamp posts have been placed exactly where they are. Those trees were planted exactly there. It’s all been designed to look the way it does. It is the reason why small music venues feel intimate and personal, whilst massive arenas feel impressive and inspiring. Each of those was designed to evoke those feelings. 

This is why architecture – in my opinion – is the most important art form there is.
But why should we care? I mean – sure, these spaces were designed like that and to make us feel certain ways, but why does it matter?

At the end of the day, we – as young people – can live our lives in a city content with the architecture around us, letting other people decide what it is that we want.

Except we don’t have to. Okay – to design a building you might need a seven year degree or something like that, but you don’t need a degree to have your say. 

Throughout my experience with Shape My City, the one thing that all of the experts and professionals have told me is to just “go for it” and to do whatever it is I want to do, and those are words to live by.

We have spent far too long letting the middle class white men decide what it is that young people want from a city. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to young people, and I’ve realised that we do have opinions about architecture – we just don’t realise that they’re opinions about architecture.

Young people have a voice and opinion about this. I want to challenge you. What do you want from a city? What do you like or not like about Bristol? 

Why should you care? Because you have an opinion about it, even if you don’t think you do!

This blog post is written by young Bristolian and Shape My City participant Cai Burton @CaiBurton

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