What a global pandemic can teach us about our buildings

The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, causing chaos, terror and sadness throughout the world. Some of us will endure the minor convenience of having to stay at home, others will pay a much higher price.

The lockdown is changing the way we live and work, at least temporarily. It is also giving us time for reflection. I am fascinated by the buildings that we live in, work in and play in, and have been thinking recently about what lessons we may learn during these difficult times.

Friends and family are all-important

During this lockdown, we will be kept in close proximity to some people, and kept at a distance from others. We look forward to the day when we can mingle again, freely. This distance, and the fact this virus will claim thousands of lives, will hopefully remind us all how important these people are.

I have previously written that the dinner table is the most important feature in a home (Faris Mousa: The Most Important Piece of Furniture in Any Home) because it is where I spend time with my family: cooking, chatting, even doing our homework. I try to design all my homes with social elements, encouraging people to come together. Let’s hope we all make the most of being together when we have the opportunity.

Public buildings are an important part of society

There is nothing quite like being denied something to realise how much you value it. During this lockdown, this is true of all manner of places: bars and restaurants, sports stadiums, libraries and galleries, even gyms.

Some buildings are merely functional, some are beautiful, too. Beautiful buildings even bring in tourists from around the world, that’s how much we value them.

Let’s remember how much we missed these places. As individuals, let’s make full use of them when they’re once again able to open the doors (they will certainly appreciate the income) and as a society, let’s appreciate what an important role these buildings play in our daily lives, and give them the attention and investment which they deserve.

The best YouTube channels for architects to watch

My most recent blog discussed podcasts for people with an interest in architecture (Faris Mousa: The best podcasts for architects to listen to). Podcasts are popular with busy people as you can listen while undertaking your daily routines, from DIY to exercising to commuting.

Now I am turning my attention to YouTube channels, which coincidentally comes at a time when we are all being encouraged to ‘self-quarantine’ and stay at home. So here are some great content creators who can help you explore the world of architecture, whether or not you’re indoors by choice.

The B1M

A British-based channel which looks at the construction (and sometimes deconstruction) of buildings around the world, including Olympic stadiums, airports, skyscrapers and bridges. A new video, usually no more than 10 minutes in length, is published every Wednesday.

30X40 Design Workshop

This American channel explores the day-to-day work of architects and helps students understand what the role involves and keeps professionals informed of developments. It includes how-to guides, answers common questions and reviews popular tools and platforms.

Dezeen

Dezeen is the most frequently-updated channel on this list. It publishes a mixture of up-to-the-minute architecture-related news, interviews with prolific industry professionals (many award-winners among them) and also feature-length documentaries on important topics from sustainability to the demolition debate.

Architectural Digest

The popular magazine, known for showcasing the latest trends in architecture and design, has a channel which takes you inside some of the day’s hottest properties. It’s an opportunity to look inside a variety of very expensive and exclusive homes, many of them owned by celebrities.

How to Architect

A great educational tool created by a seasoned and award-winning architect who is keen to share his knowledge and experience with the next generation. The channel shares the same name as his popular book, and is designed to help people at the beginning of their careers. It includes some fascinating studies on buildings and how they have been designed to combat particular challenges.

The best podcasts for architects to listen to

In 2020, there’s a podcast for every occasion. They’re relatively inexpensive to make, and easy to access – you can listen on your way to work, at the gym, or while doing DIY or jobs around the house. That means there’s a show for every interest, and architects and people interested in architecture are well catered for. Here are some of the more popular shows freely available today.

The Architecture Happy Hour

Offered in bitesize chunks, Happy Hour won’t take up too much of your time but does give fun and informal insights into current architecture stories, ranging from career advice to buildings in the news (see Faris Mousa: The Notre Dame fire was a tragedy and a cause for optimism)

Buildings on Air

For something more in-depth, Buildings on Air offers lengthy shows in which the hosts and a varied cast of guests discuss a wide variety of architecture-related topics.

Failed Architecture

As the name suggests, this is one of the more informal architecture podcasts, but is very popular with its audience as it isn’t afraid to have frank discussions about architecture and its place in society, and even criticise bad architecture.

Scaffold

Scaffold is a fascinating podcast if you’re interested in learning more about the personalities that shape modern-day architecture and trends, with regular long-form interviews with people in the news.

About Buildings and Cities

This British-made podcast lives up to its name, but there’s much more besides. It’s a podcast about architecture, buildings and cities, from the distant past to the present day, but its hosts are fond of drifting off onto other topics that are just as informative and fun.

99% Invisible

One of the most popular podcasts of the moment, 99% Invisible takes a look behind-the-scenes of the way everyday things are designed and built. This fascinating insight has created a huge audience ranging from industry insiders to the layman and offers something of value to every listener.

What makes a great place to work?

In years past, businesses have used salaries and holiday allocation to attract workers, but in recent times the scope of what it means to be a great employer has grown. One of these trends has been using architecture and interior design to create a fun, productive and rewarding workplace. (Faris Mousa: Evolving Spaces)

Companies such as Google and Facebook have earned a reputation for breaking down barriers of what a workplace can be, and they attract some of the very best talent in their industries. But you don’t have to be a tech titan to create somewhere that your staff are happy to spend time and do their best work.

Here are some key elements that make up a great place to work. You’ll see you can adopt most or all of them within your own company.

1: Fun

Whenever a workplace makes headlines or becomes iconic, it’s the fun elements that people notice, such as multi-floor slides or arcade machines. The science behind this shows that employees who have the opportunity to have fun bond better with their colleagues and time away from their desks makes them more creative. If you can’t afford to turn your office into an amusement park, simple options such as a games console or board games make a good starting point.

2: Nature

The more access to greenery people have, the happier they generally are. (Faris Mousa: The best things in life are free) If you’re fortunate enough to own a complex in its own grounds, you can take advantage by installing a garden, planting trees, and creating cosy areas with benches and outdoor furniture. If not, you can still liven up your interior with office plants which will improve the atmosphere and reduce stress.

3: Lighting

Fluorescent lighting has been an office staple for decades but as technology has advanced its proven to be resource heavy and not all too attractive. Smarter lighting can be more visually appealing, reduce headaches and eyestrain, and lower carbon footprint and energy bills. You can also make the most of your building’s windows to harness natural light, which is the best source of all.

4: Food

Kitchens are increasingly popular in the modern workplace. Not just a kettle and a microwave, but somewhere that food can be properly prepared, and consumed in a social setting. This encourages your employees to take sustenance, healthy options and break times seriously. You can even go one step further by providing fruit, snacks and drinks for free.

Manchester’s most famous architecture

I love traveling to other countries and enjoying the architecture which is borne out of other cultures. (See Faris Mousa: More amazing architecture in Rome)

However, I also love my home city of Manchester and I am fortunate that it is filled with its own fantastic buildings which have emerged over the last 1,000 years. Travel is great, but as this great city proves, you don’t always have to go very far to find something new or inspiring.

Here are four of Manchester’s most famous buildings.

Manchester Cathedral

This origins of this cathedral can be traced back to the Saxons, but the building that stands today was constructed over the last few hundred years. Not only is it a beautiful site with much intricate detail, it’s also symbol of Manchester’s resilience: throughout its history it has survived attacks,bombings and plenty more, but it’s still standing strong.

Town Hall

Completed in 1877, Manchester’s town hall is a fantastic example of neogothic work. The clock tower hosts an impressive 23 bells, the largest of which is 8 tonnes and required great engineering minds to hoist into place. The town hall stands grand and proud in the city’s centre, providing a familiar backdrop for many iconic Manchester events, such as the world famous Christmas markets.

Victoria Baths

Manchester’s water palace is in the middle of a restoration project with no known end date. It hasn’t been used for its original purpose in more than 20 years, but the fact that millions has been spent working on the building, and that today it host events ranging from nightclubs to cinema screenings proves how well loved it is by the local population. The multicoloured brickwork facade, stained glass windows and tiled interior are breathtaking and I hope full restoration is completed before too long.

Urbis

The Urbis was built at the turn of the millennium and was one of the showcase pieces of architecture that proved the city was bouncing back from the 1996 bombing. It features a fully glass facade, which gives stunning views of the city for visitors, and a unique sloping design. It forms part of a large communal area which is popular with city residents, and to top it all, the building has hosted the National Football Museum since 2012.

An Architect Reflects on the Past Year

As another year – another decade – draws to a close, it’s interesting to ponder the exciting and unknown future which awaits us. But to best understand our role in the world, I think it’s important to reflect on our journey so far.

As architects, I believe we have a lot to be proud of. Some say modern politics is leaving us more divided than ever, but as an industry we have united to support some truly important causes.

The winner of 2019’s RIBA Stirling Prize, awarded to the top architecture project of the year, was won by a council run housing estate in Norwich. It’s unusual for such a ‘modest’ project to win the headline prize, but this one really resonated. It won because it was designed to foster community and to help its residents live greener lives.

In fact, this was a wider theme for RIBA this year: the organisation launched campaigns to both counter climate change, and to promote renovation over demolish/rebuild.

The world is a beautiful place and good architecture adds to it, but bad architecture can take away. And it’s great to see that RIBA is ensuring that we all do our collective best to build responsibly, leaving a healthy world for future generations.

Of course, there is still a long way to go. This is also true of Britain’s homelessness problem, which has grown every year this decade. (Faris Mousa: Homelessness is a growing problem and it’s our responsibility to help) Our most vulnerable people need our help, and it was great to see my hometown of Manchester making noise earlier this year when Andy Burnham announced new measures to help the homeless – and hopefully this inspires other towns and cities to do the same.

Unfortunately, Manchester missed its targets, but I do appreciate that they’re trying. It just goes to show how big the problem is, and how difficult it is to reverse the trend. In the meantime, please do consider donating to charities such as Crisis or Manchester’s own Mustard Tree who are doing what they can to help provide a roof and a warm meal for those in need this Christmas.

All the best for the New Year,
Faris Mousa.

Elements of a Great Modern Home

A new housing development which won the RIBA Stirling Prize for 2019 has been making headlines not only in industry magazines and websites but in mainstream news.

The Goldsmith Street housing estate in Norwich was a popular nomination and most experts predicted well in advance that it would be a clear winner.

I have written in the past about what makes a great family home (Faris Mousa: The Most Important Piece of Furniture in Any Home) so let’s look at what makes this an award winning development

Energy efficiency

Climate change is something which is affecting us all, and for which we all have a responsibility to address. Modern day architects must not only employ sustainable working practices, but also create buildings which are themselves energy efficient.

Goldsmith Street was built to Passivhaus environmental standards, which is considered the ultimate goal. This covered even the tiniest of details, from the angle of the roof designed so that it didn’t cast shade on a neighbour, to external letterboxes which won’t create draughts through the front door. Not only is this great for the planet, but it will save residents an estimated 70 on their energy bills.

Social harmony

The development contains 105 homes, and they have been laid out in a way that encourages social interaction. Isolation can lead to poor mental and physical health, but in this neighbourhood it’s easy for residents to get to know their neighbours. Plenty of green space and childrens’ play areas have been located away from roads, too, which means they’re safe from traffic.

Innovation

There will be many social housing projects built this year and next year, across a great number of councils, by a variety of architects. And the easy choice is to build something exactly like everything else that has gone before. But Norwich’s council members had the bravery and ambition to try something new, and Mikhail Riches Architects and Cathy Hawley had the ability and expertise to create something completely truly original. So by breaking from the norm, the two have created something which benefits the residents, shines a positive light on Norwich, and hopefully will inspire others to be a little bolder.