December 23, 2013

Life, In a Nutshell by 4240 Architecture

Guest blog post by Terra Krieger Mazzeo

“What do I make of all this texture? The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here...”  - Annie Dillard

In 2009, several colleagues at 4240 Architecture and I entered our first international design competition—a proposal for the sustainable city of the future—for the Nordhavnen district in Copenhagen, Denmark. We started by asking ourselves a fundamental question: What’s needed in order to sustain life here? Struck by the world’s spiking population (coupled with the shrinking available surface area), we founded our proposal on two assertions:
  1. A direct connection to local food, water and energy sources—those things that sustain life—is the foundation of authentic sustainability.
  2. Healthy populations grow in direct proportion to the productivity of the surfaces that sustain them.

This New York Times infographic shows a disconnect between the world’s most-populated regions and those with sustained food production.
We applied these fundamental truths to the design of modern cities, and recognized the importance of increasing the urban surface area. A radical increase in the performance of the urban surface, the theory went, could accommodate rapidly growing populations.

The resulting design proposal was a meditation on texture: the deeper the texture, the greater the urban surface area, the more life this surface could gather and sustain life, via food, water and energy. We analyzed how many calories of food, gallons of water and BTU’s of energy the average Dane needs, and scaled the surface texture proportionally (seen below, from less performative to more performative):

Smooth (Xm2), Bumpy (2Xm2), Loopy (4Xm2), and Super-Rough (16Xm2)
The Nuthouse
We derived these strategies from nature. As an example, a hickory nut we found on the site of a tiny guesthouse became its organizational principle. Two protective outer shells of board-formed concrete protect and camouflage its spiritual center: a reflective pool, central fire, energy storage and living quarters.

The exterior surfaces of the concrete shells are carefully pocked to create right-sized spaces for birds, bees and bats. Through this habitat creation, the Nuthouse becomes an active, organic participant in its site. We discovered the following: when texture contributes to supporting life, it moves beyond mere decoration and toward a moral imperative.

Life gathers in the gaps and cracks…

Terra Krieger Mazzeo is design director at 4240 Architecture and director of Architecture for Humanity Denver. She can be reached at or on Twitter @needles_eye.

Slideshow: Takapuna House, Auckland, New Zealand

Statement by the Architect:The existing house at the beach at No 25 William St sits at the top of a lawn that is open to the Takapuna beachfront. This is now one of the few sections the opens so generously onto the public domain. This is seen as a positive gesture to the public space of the beach front and recalls an historic house type which is now rare in this region. This lawn or green space features a simple concrete path that extends to the beach from the house. The intention is to retain and extend this green space and the axial path from the beach through to the William St address. This strategy involves opening the sites up to each other and linking them with a consistent landscape treatment. There are two significant trees at each end of the combined site. These are to be retained as they are large scale plantings that will book mark the site. Similarly two traditional outbuildings are to remain at either end of the house on the front section.

Linking the buildings on the two sites. An extended pathway from simple materials is to link the buildings on the two sites. The new buildings will be detailed to merge with the land form or , conversely, be strongly defined objects on the lawn and path. They are to be simply clad in robust, weathered hardwood panelling buildings with a concrete base. These materials are found from the existing “bach era” landscape as we’ll as the foreshore and neighbourhood. The minor dwelling near William St at No.27 is to be clad in naturally weathering brass or copper metal panel it is intended to sit close to the retained large Puriri tree and form a detail on the site, a notional gate house or street elevation.

Respecting the local scale. There are to be three discrete house forms. These have a combined plan area which is similar to the two existing dwellings to be removed. The new from adjacent neighbours and occupies the approximately back third of it’s section. The House at No. 25 although significantly larger than the existing bach or cottage will be over 1200mm lower than the existing roof ridge. (At 8m wide it will be over 3m narrower when viewed from the beach than the existing house. It will however be 3m longer that the original house on the site. Relative to the neighbouring houses it is smaller in all dimensions from the neighbours either side.)

December 2, 2013

Raouche Skywalk designed by Ayoub Sarouphim

The Site:
The Rock at Raouche, also nicknamed the Pigeons’ Rock by locals, is located off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon. It is a natural rock formation made of two masses that emerge approximately 45 meters above sea level. These formations have become an iconic natural feature of Beirut’s landscape, and their location near Rafic Hariri International Airport provides a unique vantage point for incoming flights. The sunsets behind the rocks have become quite famous, attracting tourists and natives to this scenic spot. The Rock at Raouche has even become a hotspot for local daredevils with an underground diving competition from the top of the rocks. Currently, the limited amount of land around the Raouche Rocks is overgrown with wild plants and weeds. Visitors have to conquer dangerous terrain near the edge of the cliff to find the perfect spot to observe these scenic vistas.

Raouche Skywalk Concept:
The Rocks at Raouche is one of the few public gathering places in Beirut where divisions that typically define the daily lives of the city’s inhabitants are left aside, allowing visitors from all walks of life to enjoy the peaceful environment. The overall design of the Raouche Skywalk is based on the circle, a symbol of unity. The design includes a transparent walkway that spans over the Mediterranean and provides visitors with unprecedented views of this landmark. In addition to reviving one of Lebanon’s most famous landmarks, this concept will offer a unique stage for public and private events, such as official ceremonies, concerts and other cultural celebrations. It will also include an integrated visitors center and room for exclusive retail, dining and entertainment venues overlooking the beautiful Rock at Raouche.

Design Aspects:
The arch, with its two points of support, provides minimal impact to the site and holds a suspended glass walkway that spans over the Mediterranean. The walkway is made of structurally-sound, custom glass panels that provides unique views of the water below, the cliffs and the Rock at Raouche. A ceremonial central bridge extends from the land to the suspended glass stage, and the glass skywalk is connected to the visitor’s center by a pedestrian bridge. They both rest on stilts to cause minimal impact to the ground below.


Ayoub Sarouphim graduated from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik with a DESA in Architecture and holds a Master’s of Arts degree from the Media Arts & Technology department at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is currently a principal at RTKL in Washington DC and has been designing projects around the world for the past 10 years.

November 23, 2013

BIG Wins Competition for the Museum of the Human Body in Montpellier, France

BIG + A+Architecture + Egis + Base + L'Echo + Celsius Environnement + CCVH have been announced winner of the international design competition for the new Cité du Corps Humain (Museum of the Human Body) in Montpellier, France.

The Museum of the Human Body, which will be part of the newly developed area Parc Marianne, is rooted in the humanist and medical tradition of Montpellier and its world renowned medical school, which dates back to the 10th century. The new Museum will explore the human body from an artistic, scientific and societal approach through cultural activities, interactive exhibitions, performances and workshops.

The 7,800 m² (ca. 84,000 sqf) museum is conceived as a confluence of the park and the city – nature and architecture – bookending the Charpak Park along with the Montpellier city hall. The building’s program consists of eight major spaces on one level, organically shaped and lifted to form an underlying continuous space. Multiple interfaces between all functions create views to the park, access to daylight, and optimizing internal connections.

‘Like the mixture of two incompatible substances – oil and vinegar – the urban pavement and the parks turf flow together in a mutual embrace forming terraced pockets overlooking the park and elevating islands of nature above the city. A series of seemingly singular pavilions that weave together to form a unified institution – like individual fingers united together in a mutual grip’, explains Bjarke Ingels.

The museum’s roof functions as an ergonomic garden – a dynamic landscape of vegetal and mineral surfaces that allow the park’s visitors to explore and express their bodies in various ways – from contemplation to the performance – from relaxing to exercising – from the soothing to the challenging.

The façades of the Museum of the Human Body are transparent, maximizing the visual and physical connection to the surroundings. On the sinuous façade that oscillates between facing North and South, East and West, the optimum louver orientation varies constantly, protecting sunlight, while also resembling the patterns of a human fingerprint – both unique and universal in nature.

The jury, headed by the City’s Mayor Ms Hélène Mandroux, chose BIG over 5 other shortlisted international teams and praised BIG’s design for combining innovative, environmental and functional qualities. The new Museum will contribute to Montpellier’s rich scientific and cultural heritage, attracting tourists, families, as well as school classes, academics and art lovers. Construction is scheduled to start in 2016, and the building will open its doors to the public in 2018.

The Museum of the Human Body follows BIG’s experience in Museum Design as well as contributes to BIG’s growing activities in France. BIG recently completed the Danish National Maritime Museum, in which crucial historic elements are integrated with an innovative concept of galleries. Other current cultural projects include the LEGO House in Billund, the recently announced Blaavand Bunker Museum in Western Denmark, and MECA Cultural Center in Bordeaux, along with EuropaCity, an 80 hectare masterplan on the outskirts of Paris.

BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group is a leading international partnership of architects, designers, builders and thinkers operating within the fields of architecture, urbanism, research and development. BIG is led by partners – Bjarke Ingels, Andreas Klok Pedersen, Finn Nørkjær, David Zahle, Jakob Lange, Thomas Christoffersen and Managing Partners, Sheela Maini Søgaard and Kai-Uwe Bergmann – with offices in Copenhagen and New York. In all our actions we try to move the focus from the little details to the BIG picture.

BIG credit list:
Partners in Charge: +Bjarke Ingels, Andreas Klok Pedersen Project Leader: Gabrielle Nadeau Project Manager: Jakob Sand
Team: Birk Daugaard, Chris Falla, Alexandra Lukianova, Oscar Abrahamsson, Katerina Joannides, Aleksander Wadas, Marie Lançon, Danae Charatsi, Alexander Ejsing.
Client: Ville de Montpellier

A+ Architecture (Local Architect)
Egis Bâtiment Méditerranée (Structural + MEP engineers)
Base (Landscape Architect)
L'Echo (Financial Consultant)
Celsius Environnement (Sustainability Consultant)
Cabinet Conseil Vincent Hedon (Acoustic Consultant)

November 19, 2013

A GREENBUILD Preview: Transparency and the Green Building Evolution

By Frank O’Brien-Bernini, Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer at Owens Corning

It is an exciting time in the rapidly evolving green building industry. The world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building – Greenbuild – starts on Wednesday. This 12th annual gathering of all those involved in sustainable building is expected to bring 30,000 architects, builders, facility managers, educators and green innovators from all over the world.

I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to deliver a master keynote address at the Indian Green Building Council’s Green Building Congress 2013 in Chennai, India (Asia’s largest green building conference and exhibition). While certainly smaller than Greenbuild, the passion and drive to build better, more efficient buildings is equally strong. The creativity and results in this challenging environment are massively impressive.

Now back to Greenbuild! Much discussion is bound to center around the very influential LEED v4, a new set of performance standards for certifying buildings that is set to launch at the show. The launch of LEED v4 is an important milestone for the industry and in the evolution of green building. Over the years, when new LEED standards are adopted, building practices have followed.

Transparency and LEED v4As sustainability is increasingly integrated into all the decisions we make, in both our personal and professional lives, transparency has become a critical requirement for doing business. The new LEED v4 rating system has elevated the role of product disclosure and product transparency, and it encourages all those involved in a building’s construction to be as forthcoming as possible about the products they annual gathering of all

LEED v4 rewards progressive building architects, designers and builders for projects that meet these new guidelines. As a result, the built environment community is abuzz with acronyms such as EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations), LCAs (Life Cycle Assessments) and HPDs (Health Product Declarations).

EPDs, which inform us about the environmental impact of a product based on its LCA, are quickly gaining momentum in the global construction community. At Owens Corning, we are at the forefront of developing and publishing EPDs. At Greenbuild this year, we will announce a new EPD for our FOAMULAR® XPS product – an industry-first for foam. Last year we set the bar with industry-first EPDs for our Unfaced and Kraft-Faced EcoTouch® Fiberglas Insulation and Unbonded Loose Fill Insulation.

Other certifications include HPDs, which represent a complete disclosure of compounds and any identified hazards among the components of a building product. This subject will undoubtedly be discussed during Greenbuild as the process proposed (as of now) does not distinguish the actual exposure or risk of using a particular product. For instance, a compound that has a hazard associated with it as a raw material may be entirely inert in the final product and the current system of reporting does not recognize that. This can unnecessarily eliminate a good product from being used, or, of more concern could allow more hazardous products to “hide” among many products that are inert, as all would carry the same warning. We are all looking forward to that discussion with great hopes that the end result will be an HPD protocol that delivers valuable, relevant, decision-quality information to build better buildings.

Net-zero energy buildings, which are so energy efficient that the balance of their yearly energy needs can be produced with practically-sized renewables, are becoming more commonplace in both commercial and residential sectors. Our Building Science Team is invested in helping bringing Net Zero Energy to the production building process while ensuring that other critical elements, like envelop durability, indoor environmental quality, moisture control, acoustics and comfort are simultaneously enhanced.

At Owens Corning, we are taking a leadership position in establishing sustainability standards for the building industry. As a testament to this commitment, we've earned placement in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI World) in recognition of our sustainability initiatives for the fourth year in a row.

Sustainability-Driven Products and System Innovation
More than 900 exhibitors at Greenbuild will preview their latest product introductions and innovations designed to promote sustainable building. At the Owens Corning booth, we will display several of our insulation and roofing and asphalt building products and systems that meet performance specs, from code built to Net-zero energy, across all climate zones, as well as the criteria to contribute to the new LEED v4. We will be meeting with show attendees to provide them with all of the information they need to meet their needs.

Another trend that continues to grow is the movement toward a whole-system building approach to achieve energy efficiency. Specifiers who choose a systemized solution ensure that all of their components are tested and proven to work together efficiently to provide protection, performance and optimum results. Our ResidentialComplete™ and CommercialComplete™ Wall Insulation Systems, for example, are complete thermal, moisture and air barriers packaged in one energy-saving system.

We also will display our EnergyComplete® Sealant, a breakthrough air sealing solution that helps builders and homeowners effectively achieve optimum energy efficiency in their homes.

Resources for Sustainable Building
In addition to products and systems, we also expect to talk a lot about green building specification resources. At Owens Corning, we offer a robust portfolio of industry-leading resources for builders and architects. For example, our Architectural & Engineering Information Center at is a go-to resource for sustainable building and provides architects and specifiers with instant access to the information that matters.

Architects, specifiers, builders and others in the building community are seeking energy efficient products and resources like never before. As the green building industry continues to evolve, the entire construction community will need to understand and adopt the various transparency tools, product declarations and LEED standards.

We invite you to learn more about the green building industry and discover how our products, systems and resources help achieve high performing homes and buildings that are energy efficient, comfortable, durable and sustainable. If you are attending Greenbuild, we invite you to visit us at booth #2937. We look forward to seeing you at the show!

October 18, 2013

Video: Embassy for Refugees by Natasha Reid

Take a look at these two videos describing the Embassy for Refugees designed by Natasha Reid. For more info check out our post: City Sanctuary Crafted From Common Materials & Complex Modelling

City Sanctuary Crafted from Common Materials & Complex Modelling

Two experimental, sculptural timber pavilions formed an “Embassy for Refugees” on London’s South Bank this summer, inspired by spaces of refuge found in nature. This unusual project, by emerging designer Natasha Reid, weaves together art, architecture, innovative design and socially-engaged practice to explore the idea of sanctuary in the city. The surprising structures, made of a flat-pack kit of over 700 intricate parts, strike a balance between rigorous economy of materials whilst creating delightfully striking organic forms. The fleeting structures will now have a continued legacy as a traveling artwork called the “Transient Sanctuary” which will emerge in a variety of sites around London and the UK, creating new, unexpected spaces and interactive installations exploring the idea of “refuge” in different contexts. The highly inventive design is the culmination of several cross-disciplinary collaborations initiated by architecturally-trained Reid who worked with refugee children and engineers Arup amongst others.

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