Nord

Thoughts on Texas

Recently, Richard was fortunate to make a trip to Texas to see work by some art and architecture heroes.

The Nasher Sculpture Center and Garden by Renzo Piano and Peter Walker respectively is an oasis in the middle of downtown Dallas. The architecture is subdued and elegant, almost deferential to an amazing garden where Mr Nasher has adopted a Noah’s Ark approach, though he only has one of everything (Moore, Hepworth, Rodin, Serra, Leger etc).

Renzo also gets in on the act along the highway in the sister city of Fort Worth, designing a respectful Pavilion accompaniment to the beautiful Kimbell Museum by Louis Kahn. To pass an hour or two in and around Kahn’s building is a very calming experience, the simplicity of the detailing in noticeable contrast to the Pavilion’s overtly displayed precise engineering.

On via planes and automobiles to Marfa, a place in the middle of nowhere that is hard to describe. Surreal, charming and surprising is a start. It was put on the map by Donald Judd of course and a visit to the Chinati is a pilgrimage that will live long in the memory. As will Robert Irwin’s invited piece, truly somewhere between art and architecture, something to experience if you possibly can.

The takeaway from these visits is that whilst they are all impressive in their own way, beautifully executed simplicity wins every time, in every context, be it city centre, suburban or rural.

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The Carpenter, The Joiner and The Furniture Maker

The recent Building Crafts College end of year show at Carpenters’ Hall was a fitting culmination of a year of training, teaching and guidance from the dedicated tutors at this specialist college which Nord is proud to support. The show demonstrated the breadth of skills developed at the BCC ranging from carpentry and copper pipework to fine woodwork and furniture making.

The joy and reward of making things and seeing things made reminds us how important it is to keep cultivating and advancing the technical skills and trades that underpin our construction industry. One of the reasons for starting our Help for Apprentices Fund was to make sure that the enthusiasm and latent talent in young adults was captured and nurtured, particularly at a time when the shortage of construction skills is becoming ever more evident. Investing in school programmes, apprenticeships and other training courses ensures that the talent pool is supported, which in turn brings huge benefits to our sector.

We were similarly heartened by a recent trip to the Southwark Construction Skills Centre at Elephant and Castle. This training hub, housed in a dedicated facility at Lendlease’s Elephant Park regeneration site, was established by Southwark Council in partnership with Lendlease to provide on-site training. It is estimated that 60% of those that pass through the Skills Centre – whether they be school leavers or older trainees –subsequently move into an employed role. So not only does the industry obtain those much needed construction skills, but the local economy and community also benefit through employment gains.

The capabilities of the skilled maker are not however limited to the construction site. The talented final year students of the BCC’s Fine Woodwork and Furniture Making programme moved their exquisite pieces from Carpenters’ Hall to the New Designers exhibition at The Business Design Centre. It is here that the very best in innovative and original furniture and product designs are showcased with offerings from other universities, colleges and design schools. But as lead tutor Neil Austin explained, all the students on his course first needed to complete a joinery programme so that their technical expertise complemented their creative and design skills.

The pieces exhibited were exceptional and finished by the students themselves to an exacting standard. Two pieces were picked out by John Lewis as part of their top ten show highlights. And one of these pieces also received the prestigious Made.com award for the standout design of the entire show. Congratulations to Rowena Edwards and her mobile drinks unit which we hope will be put into production soon.

The impact of the skilled maker cannot be underestimated. They bring expertise and innovation to the sectors in which they operate and enable our construction, architectural and design industries to thrive. Trainees, apprentices, students and post-graduates contribute in a vast number of ways but rely on the support of specialist teachers, government funding and the private sector to nurture their talent. Investment in today’s makers contributes to tomorrow’s economy. And we are delighted to be a small part of that cycle.

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The Office and Place

Our thoughts turn to the new 500,000 sq ft Foster-designed, London HQ for Bloomberg and the news that whilst housing 4,000 staff it won’t have any significant canteen spaces. By not providing vast dining options, Bloombergers will be encouraged to get away from the office and physically leave the building at lunch, and presumably at other times.

We believe at Nord that offices provide more than just somewhere to work. Successful commercial developments make a positive impact on the neighbourhood and support other local businesses and enterprises whether they be coffee shops or key cutters. With international food stations, yoga rooms and hairdressing facilities provided in-house, there is a danger that major new office developments could deplete rather than enhance their local surroundings.

The challenge for developers and owner occupiers is to offer their tenants and workforce spaces which address an increasingly diverse set of workplace needs that stem from the convergence of work and social life. Connection and community are as important in modern office design as natural daylight and generous floor to ceiling heights. We know that we can we make offices to facilitate exchange, collaboration and social interaction, but in doing so are we constructing spaces that are simply too good to leave?

It seems that some of the best ideas are coming out of the co-working operators. They have pioneered the blurring of traditional office spaces, realising that lounges and booths can sit alongside offices and meeting rooms to provide flexible options for working and interaction. Their “members” are afforded a sense of community but not tied to their desks or workstations because of the temporary nature of their leasing arrangements. External guests and businesses are regularly invited in to provide talks or services as part of a regular programme of professional and social events. And local food trucks or catering firms benefit from co-worker custom.

As tenant needs evolve, so developers respond to produce, what we hope, are better buildings. The imposing and cavernous formal reception is making way for a more interactive and fluid ground floor space which is inviting rather than sterile and restricted. Spaces within office developments are more permeable and at their best extend to outside areas giving life to the building and the street. The aim must surely be to create outward facing properties that are vibrant and useful to their location and not isolated and closed to the street.

Dynamic working environments are an active addition to the world of commercial offices. They engage with local businesses in a multitude of ways and foster a sense of community, both for their members and externally. Michael Bloomberg who has been instrumental in the design of his London HQ was quoted as saying that the creation of the new office has been guided “by the principles of collaboration, innovation and productivity”. Sounds a lot like co-working to us!

Images of White Collar Factory courtesy of AHMM

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Visit to The Building Crafts College

Nord established the Nord Help for Apprentices Fund at The Building Crafts College last year and was delighted to visit the Stratford college recently to see how apprentices were benefitting from the scheme.

We have long believed that the expert skills of a stonemason, carpenter, joiner and other craft and construction trades make a genuine difference to the built environment and hope that the apprentices we met could one day lend their specialist expertise to a Nord development.

Our thanks to Len Conway, Principal of the college, for showing us around and for creating this centre of excellence.  We are delighted to play a part.

www.thebcc.ac.uk

White Collar Factory

Richard’s last assignment at Jackson Coles was Derwent London’s White Collar Factory.  We love how the development fits within the London skyline and have been admiring these superb images taken by Mark Tillett of HTS for some time now.

Clerkenwell’s New Addition

The Clerkenwell streetscape is getting an injection of new (or is it old?) architecture with Amin Taha’s mixed use development on Clerkenwell Close.  We are drawn to the remarkable use of natural material and applaud our friend for pushing the design boundary.  We predict a polarisation of opinion on this scheme but any building that sparks debate on the built environment can only be a good thing.

Radical Cities and Activist Architects

Chief Curator of The Design Museum, Justin McGuirk, is also author of Radical Cities a fascinating look at Latin American urbanism and architecture.  From Alejandro Aravena’s “1/2 a good house” to the revolutionary housing of Argentina led by social movement, it’s an eye-opening read. 

The half-building of homes provides an economic solution to the need for low cost dwellings which can then be finished, extended or developed by inhabitants over time adding both value and a sense of belonging.  We like this a lot.

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Radical Cities part II

Although the tactics employed by some local leaders to obtain land for social housing from the government are controversial (see section on Miraglo Sala) there is some light relief – residents in NW Argentina get a choice of revolutionary leader to adorn their personal water tank.

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