1. A Personal Proposition – Architecture for Good

Architecture is perfectly placed to make an impact on the impending crisis of climate change in a post-peak oil future, and not just allow survival of humanity but allow us as a race to thrive. It is art, science and engineering conjoined, with an acute awareness of the environment, networks, systems, social psychology, economics and politics.

It is perhaps the only profession, which can have such an impact on so many diverse aspects of not only day-to-day life, but also leave a legacy for future generations.

Architecture needs to diversify, make use our skill set we, our position in society to become leaders in the progress towards a better habitable environment for mankind and the biosphere.

My personal proposition has developed over the time of my March, highlighted by the almost complete inaction of the profession to move forwards at a productive rate. Since I wrote my dissertation at undergraduate level titled ‘Are we doing enough? How climate change is affecting residential architecture’ very little progress has been made nationwide towards reducing emissions and improving efficiency, despite the technology being available readily. The achingly slow movement of antiquated systems of regulation, policy and government are stopping progress. The system needs an overhaul, and it is dependent upon architects, as apparent design team leaders to push through change from the top down.

If not us, then who?

2. The Design Studio Context

Crash Test

The ‘Crash Test’ studio in which this Macclesfield Silviculture project resides has the aim of ‘testing’ solutions to problems that are a resultant of the last 150-year industrial charge. It aspires to engage with the post-industrial urban landscape typical of the developed world, created by the once rich manufacturing sectors becoming globalised and leaving a derelict wasteland in its wake. By encouraging sustainable technological interventions, it looks forward to create closed-loop utopian cities from this abandonment that are resilient, economically productive and will thrive in a post-peak oil world. Using research as a basis for decision-making, an in-depth understanding of these unproductive ageing urban environments is formed, along with the historical, geographical, economic, social and political forces which shaped them.

The Crash Test design studio has enabled me to pursue my architectural and wider interests throughout the course, with its weighting towards sustainable technologies allowing me to delve further into reading material around the subject, from high tech solutions through to the simple processes required to produce materials. The courses involvement in regeneration of landscapes has enabled me to study in detail, and thus further understand the outside influences, which can affect city and town environments, and the importance of allowing the development to occur organically, rather than through forced change. This understanding has been composed into my final design project, with the townscape regeneration becoming a staged and natural growth thus retaining the genotype of the town whilst adding to its stability, diversity and resilience to climate, economic and social changes.

3. The Design Thesis

Macclesfield Silviculture – RE:FABLAB

RE:FABLAB  It is a human centered, co-operative managed re-fabrication laboratory focusing on the sustainable use of timber-based technologies to create; a ‘learn/grow’ – ‘develop/design’ – ‘participate/produce’ facility. Using Silvicultural principles. The RE:FABLAB will utilize the surrounding landscape, historic links, networks and systems to not only rebuild Macclesfield’s existing post-industrial urban fabric and create a resilient, a low carbon town, but an environmentally aware, participatory, socially-responsible community fit for a post-peak oil future.

Over the next 50 years the population of the planet will rise to 9.3 billion by 2050 and with peak oil approaching, an impending energy supply crisis. The resultant is a growing trend towards city living. Climate change will lead to unpredictable more extreme weather events and with the rising cost of living, small ex-industrial communities such as Macclesfield will be in danger of abandonment. The largest burden on these towns is their existing building stock; inefficient and ageing, expensive to maintain, heat and inhabit. By 2050, 85% of the existing building stock in the UK will still be standing, consuming the same energy and releasing the same emissions.

The cost of renovating this stock will rise due to imports becoming cost-prohibitive as the global economy goes into decline. This unpredictable future will draw investment and population away from small towns towards the growing metropolises. It is a problem that is only now beginning to be addressed by the architectural profession. Building in resilience to the existing urban fabric is essential if we are to retain a historically rich and varied landscape with thriving communities outside of the mega-cities of the future.

Can we rely on the economic pressures of rising fuel costs alone to drive the adaptation of these historic landscapes to climate change and energy use reduction, or will this simply further delay adaptation? Will it result in the governmental subsidy of energy being demanded in order to stabilize the countries semi-rural populations and avoid the mass migration of people to cities, leaving barren landscapes once littered with communities.

A concept of top down application will drive this change, and guarantee stability of communities and economies outside of the vision of the individual, before a tipping point is reached. It is a complex problem with many facets of causality and variance, from global economies to socio-economic preferences, to which a single quick fix is elusive.

Previous attempts at the regeneration of urban landscapes has involved the creation of a single key catalyst intervention, one on which the hopes and dreams of communities, developers and architects are pinned. As it is a single entity, it can only achieve only within its limitations and after being unveiled to praise and fanfare, fades to become another failed economic burden on the very community is was designed to aid.

To find a solution to this typical regeneration model, I studied Macclesfields past, with an eye to resilience. Its past is filled with cottage industries relying on locally sourced labour and materials in sustainable volumes connected by historical networks within the surrounding landscape. Using this concept from Macclesfields own past, my thesis aims to test if locally abundant supplies of timber can be used to build in resilience to the landscape for the future.

The research of timber production brought to light the concept of ‘Siviculture’, well know in the arboriculture sectors but not outside. It details the methods of sustainable and productive harvest of timber whilst taking into account diversity of species, environment, climate change, eco-systems and other factors. It also highlighted the importance of Mycorrhizal networks, which themselves support Silviculture, whilst creating resilience in organisms by sharing resources between the many,

Taking these concept and applying them; the well-rounded sustainable regeneration model and interconnected networks which create resilience, as a whole principle under the banner of Macclesfield Silviculture, is a fitting way to confront the towns current and future dilemma. The principles of Silviculture have operated as a tool kit throughout the design process, with its methods of staged regeneration setting out the road map for how the town can begin to rebuild and flourish as a emergent, low energy & sustainable society, whilst maintaining resilience to social and economic shifts and the as yet unknown extent of future climatic variance.

4.Technical & Technological Questions

Research2

The early design development process has been primarily based in a data research format, with the mapping of networks, flows and site analysis to identify a need. This need has then been analysed with respect to resilience, and the use of Silviculture and timber as a solution. Knowing the buildings guiding principles and aims, it was possible to begin to form an idea of the size of the site required for the task of rebuilding Macclesfield.

The site was chosen for a variety of reasons. It was a site that has recently become available due to the closure of a haulage company and thus designated for industrial land use. Whilst an application has been lodged several times over the past 15 years to develop the area for residential use, it has always been declined. It is also the only point in Macclesfield where it is possible to gain access to the three primary transport networks; rail, canal and road, and the river for hydroelectric power. It is open to the countryside to the East, creating an opportunity to open a new link to an other wise under utilised green space close to the town’s main access routes.

These stages of development where pen and paper, notation based, as well as using the Adobe suite of packages to create maps and graphics, (Illustrator & Photshop) and to investigate the network possibilities, site services, subsurface build-up and geography, with compilation in InDesign. At this stage Autocad was utilised to study site specific ground topography (slopes, falls and elevation changes) creating an idea of what ground works or level changes would need to be incorporated. Sketchup was utilised for sunlight studies at an early stage as well as wind direction and flood risk.

Analysising my ‘Macclesfield Silviculture’ research document, and by applying the Silvicultrual principles, the building strategy, and the requirements of the spaces within it were formed. This began as the 2D massing of area’s, and the arrangement of spaces according to their individual requirements, relationships to others, access (to networks), acoustic & light levels, public and private spaces, as well as correlating these with the sites external factors; such as nearby residential areas.

At this stage the development moved into a 3D phase using ArchiCAD and Sketchup, and the adjustment of massing arrangements with regards to overshadowing, light penetration into the interior of the building, sightlines and the movement of personnel and materials. An understanding of internal dimensions, the heating and cooling demands of spaces led to a façade system being developed with CAD 2d drawing and 3d modelling.

Throughout, constant checks were applied to the process; that of sustainability, efficiency and adaptability for future use and of course regulations dictating escape and safety. Other aspects affected the design, limiting the span of beams in order to keep column sizes small; the creation of a structurally efficient but elegant design solution to maximise natural daylight to all internal spaces, and the stacking and grouping of alike services to create service cores.

With energy efficiency being key, sustainable design principles, such as a natural ventilation and thermal mass were drivers to the design from the beginning, and care was taken to control the negative effects of excessive solar gain, heat loss and thermal bridging. Services integration was included also, with provision for ducting being incorporated into floor to ceiling heights, and adequate provision for service risers being allocated.

5. Further Development

Community Led Interventions

If the opportunity to continue with my thesis were to present itself I would:

– Investigate how to create a system that would allow a self-generating RE:FABLAB. By constructing and reforming itself repeatedly from a shipping container sized CNC machine, through stages it will grow to become a permanent intervention. This would allow other cities to renovate in the same way as Macclesfield by providing them with a physical tool kit to transform their town.

– Place further emphasis on the study of individual building types, creating a set of detailed specifications for the renovation of different typologies

– Develop a hands-on renovation project through links with a community group or charity, and test the principles of Macclesfield Silviculture in a live project.