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Friday, 23 September 2011

Mud Brick Architecture of Yemen

By Howard Meadowcroft, February 28, 2010
Wadi Daw'an
Wadi Daw'an
Yemen has a unique architectural heritage. The master builders and craftsmen have learnt how to build to suit geography, location, the climate and available materials.
Yemen has a unique architectural heritage, one from which we can learn and draw inspiration.
The practitioners, the master builders and craftsmen have learnt how to build to suit geography, location, the climate and available materials. They have by necessity had to “work with” the local conditions and in so doing have developed over generations knowledge and craft specific to the locality and people.
This is exemplified in the Wadi Hadhramaut, an area of Eastern Yemen at the edge of the desert or “Empty Quarter”,where it becomes a plateau cut with deep valleys or “wadis”. As the source of water and therefore food, all settlements occurred along these wadis, both buildings, agriculture and the way of life adapted to the extreme conditions, hot and dry with one short sharp rainy season.
The centrepiece and best known town in the area is Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage site, known in touristic terms as “The Manhattan of the Desert”,a walled town of approximately 500 houses which rise up to ten storeys from the wadi floor. These traditional “tower houses” accommodate livestock and storage on the ground floor and living quarters above. Often there is a social space, the “majlis” with a terrace on the top floor. In Shibam there are also mosques, schools and administration buildings. Shibam is built solely of mud bricks made by hand and baked dry in the sun.
Buildings made from earth tend to be associated with mud huts and to be seen as primitive and unsophisticated; the architecture of the Hadhramaut shows you otherwise revealing the versatility of mud brick and you get the impression that almost anything can be done with it.
Mud brick skyscrapers of Shibam 
Mud brick skyscrapers of Shibam
Further up the wadi is Sayyun the main town and capitol of the area,a busy “working”town of mud brick buildings and further on is Tarim a city known architecturally speaking for its vast palaces. They display intricate and ornate decoration which attempts to recreate in mud the classical motifs of European colonial architecture in India and Indonesia, where the building’s owners will have made their fortune. The Yemenis are known for working abroad to support the family back home hence the array of influences brought home to celebrate their success. The string of small towns along the Wadi Daw’an [a tributary of the main valley] are made up of houses that look as if they have grown over generations. They are often in spectacular locations and as an ensemble look as if they have grown out of the landscape.
The tradition of construction using mud bricks continues today in the area; a visitor can see old buildings being repaired and extended, new buildings in the existing towns and even new settlements. When a building is to be replaced and renewed it is demolished and the earth is re-used. In common with the rest of Yemen there was a period of building with concrete frame and concrete blocks-introduced 40 to 50 years ago-thought to be quicker and cheaper to build but also seen as the “ modern way” and “as its done in the West”. But this way of building is “thin”- heat passes thro’ easily-it needs energy hungry air conditioning to keep it cool. By contrast the mud brick buildings keep themselves cool; it happens “passively”, it is an inbuilt part of the design.
Tarim - ornate detail 
Tarim – ornate detail
The mud brick buildings have thick walls often a metre and a half at the bottom tapering to half a metre at the top. The mass of the walls is ideal for keeping the inside of the building cool; window openings are kept small and located to avoid direct sunlight and have ornate wooden lattice which provide shade as well as privacy. Taller buildings also have a shaft adjacent to the main staircase which acts as a chimney for “pulling” a breeze thro’ the building, cooler air at ground level being drawn up thro the building.
The layout of the buildings -close together, means they provide shade for one another and also shade the ravine like streets in between. After a long and still continuing experiment with “western” construction the Hadhramis have recognised the inherent qualities of their mud brick buildings, and although the latter are more labour intensive and slower, [in the past a tower house may take five to eight years to build] there is also an inclination to return to the traditional way.
The earth for the mud bricks comes from the wadi floor ready saturated after the rainy season; concrete construction uses imported cement which takes energy in both the processing and the distribution. The mud is mixed with chopped straw and water and then spread into simple wooden moulds on the ground to bake hard. The bricks are more like flat cakes approximately 45 centimetres long by 30 cm wide, narrower bricks are made for the upper storeys . They are 75 to 100 cm thick. To make a wall they are laid interlocking with a mud mortar and then rendered with a finer mud layer to make the wall smooth. But what stops it being washed away?– It’s a common question. The answer is-the type of earth, which is just the right combination clay and silt and sand – it just sets very hard and although a thin outer layer may get washed off during the rainy season it is basically waterproof. Even the flat roof? The roof and parapet walls at the top of the buildings are the most vulnerable area- an earth building needs “a good hat and boots”-the boots are a stone built plinth, often the first two metres of the building above the ground, which stops moisture in the ground rising up and provides protection from abrasion by people and animals. The hat- the roof- is also covered in mud, with vulnerable parts such as parapets coated with a high quality lime render called “nurah”.
A visitor will notice many lime kilns as well as fields of mud bricks drying in the sun. Sometimes nurah is applied to the whole roof surface; it is built up in layers, increasingly more refined and then painstakingly “polished” using a specially shaped stone. The nurah is also used decoratively: around windows and doors and it is also nurah from which the intense decoration of the Tarim palaces is made.
Mud bricks drying 
Mud bricks drying
Due to its World Heritage status Shibam in particular has received a lot of attention. In an effort to preserve the city the city wall and the adjacent road and terrace to the wadi have been substantially rebuilt and a piped water system and sewage system has been introduced. It is said that the increase in waste water directed into the ground has upset the buildings’ foundations and is indicative of how carefully balanced the centuries-old set up has been. Shibam was a trading town on the Frankincense trail from East to West and would have been a busy place….but essentially the town had to be self sufficient -in what is a remote location. In the past there would literally have been no waste-even human waste was collected and dried and used for fertilizer or fuel. All resources would have to be carefully and efficiently used. Water in particular – evident throughout the area are a system of terraces and walls around fields and channels which harness water from the wadi in spate during the rainy season. Crops have been adapted to grow in soil drenched just once. This traditional system has largely been superseded by mechanical well technology which has enabled the irrigation of crops, although again this has caused a lowering of the water table to levels that in some areas are considered critical.
Example of contemporary mud brick architecture in Hadramaut 
Example of contemporary mud brick architecture in Hadramaut
So what can we learn; that there is an alternative to one size fits all modern construction-a traditional material can be adapted to new uses and can incorporate modern systems but with care; there is an alternative to the “out with the old and in with the new” approach- one which offers continuity so people can not only see and feel a link with the past but with the continuation of the skills and craft it can be part of daily life. Finally we can be inspired by building in earth-a misunderstood material…..for even in Yemen there is a saying “better a house of stone than a palace of mud”. From an ecological perspective it is the most versatile of materials….it is on the site to begin with, it uses the suns energy in its processing and if and when the building is redundant it does literally return to the earth without leaving any “footprint” at all. Mud brick offers a more gentle and satisfying way to build and develop in the modern world than people perhaps realise.
Howard Meadowcroft is a UK based architect
All photographs courtesy of Howard Meadowcroft

1st March 2010

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Revisiting the Hypostyle Hall for an Airport Terminal / Stephan Sobl

By: Lidija Grozdanic | July - 20 - 2011

The terminal, designed by Stephan Sobl, uses the typology of the Hypostyle Hall. The only Hypostyle Hall with two rows of columns on center is one in which the spacing of each of the bays made by the columns are equal or when the spacing between rows of columns in the central space is less than the spacing between the row of columns and the outer walls. This is all to say that the epitome of any Hypostyle Hall is a field of columns and not a volume defined by columns.
The principles of the Hypostyle Hall in the project are addressed using a field of massive and fragile columns that define a variation of spatial and volumetric interiors of the terminal. Denser areas of the field create intimate spaces and become areas to rest whereas less dense areas are circulation routes and contain architectural programs.
Large enclosed spaces provided static spatial formations in the form of a performance hall. While progressing through, these programmatic shifts breakdown in scale into dynamic spaces, such as boutiques, restaurants, nightlife, commercial and event spaces, eventually blending into a landscape underneath the Highline Park. In general, these shifts in program occur through subtle changes in surface performance and yet flow as a coherent entity.

Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem / Chyutin Architects

By: admin | October - 5 - 2010

Chyutin Architects won the international competition to design the new Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.
Architect’s vision:
The Museum of Tolerance is located at the heart of modern Jerusalem, in its rejuvenated city center, on the borderline between the spacious Independence Park, and the urban built environment. The location is a meeting site of three main streets which differ in character and function. Hillel street: a bustling commercial zone; Moshe Ben Israel street: a road crossing the park; and Moshe Salomon street- Nachalat Shiva’s pedestrian mall, a tourist hub, full of restaurants and shops.
The buildings surrounding the museum site have diverse architectural characteristics, representing the history of Jerusalem architecture from the 19th century up today. We wanted the MOTJ building to be integrated into the landscape without overshadowing the preexisting urban setting on the one hand, while asserting its own unique character on the other, an iconic structure that reflects transparency and openness and generates visual interest at close and distant views. The MOTJ is to act as a bridge between the different architectural styles present in its location on one hand, while stylistically using contemporary architectural language and exploring advanced technology and materiality. We wanted the MOTJ building to stand in the warm embrace of the urban fabric and the park around it, shinning as a jewel set to the skyline of Jerusalem.

The MOTJ building is planed to host a variety of different activities: exhibition spaces, an education center, a theater, a multipurpose hall, offices, a restaurant, a gift shop, etc. The activities are diverse in the types of visitor communities they serve, in their operating hours, in their environmental requirements and in their interaction with the urban context. The developed building concept answers the requirements of each specific activity, encouraging undisturbed access for the various communities to their appropriate destinations.
We designed an elongated structure which traces the southern and eastern borderline of the site. The structure orchestrates the three surrounding streets, into a coherent urban space-a new public square for the rejuvenated city center of Jerusalem. The design of the public square incorporates several different elements: a sunken archeological garden, enclosing the remains of the roman aqueduct discovered at the site’s center, a terraced amphitheater, a grove and various public paved areas, for the various activities of visitors.
The building is divided into two horizontal wings: a three floors floating upper wing which hosts the theater and social meeting spaces, and a two floors lower sunken wing which hosts the children and the adult museums exhibition spaces- the so-called “dark box.”. The entrance floor is located at the level of the public square hosts a restaurant and gift shop The entrance floor is leading up to the floating wing or down to the sunken one. A four-leveled lobby connects the floating wing and the sunken one. Part of the floating wing is suspended over ground level, creating a gap, a doorway, from the built city to the park. Pedestrians who are relaxing in the public square or walking towards the park may be enticed to enter the MOTJ building and experience it.

Parametric Designed Jeongok Prehistory Museum / X-TU Architects

By: admin | August - 10 - 2011

The Jeongok Prehistory Museum in South Korea designed by X-TU Architects has been completed and will open its door to the public in the upcoming weeks. The futuristic design that resembles a space ship is located where the first Acheulian hand axe was discovered in East Asia. The museum was conceived to reflect the surrounding landscape by day while serve as a lantern at night.
The museum’s exterior cladding consists of highly polished steel sheets and glass while the interior uses a monochromatic palette of white and grey that highlights the exhibitions. The steel sheets have been perforated following computer-generated patterns to allow controlled natural light into the exhibition halls. The exhibitions focus on the evolution of mankind in the region and feature fossils, tools, and paintings.

Beijing South Railway Station / Weston Williamson Architects

By: admin | August - 12 - 2011

Weston Williamson Architects were short listed to produce a master plan and concept design for Beijing South Railway Station. The design has strong cultural origins and adheres to the axes of Beijing’s planning which fit well within the economic and Olympic Games vision for Beijing. This is the largest station project in China. The design concept comes from the Chinese decorative knotted cross, an important cultural object. Its shape and colour have influenced every area of the design concept, maintaining an idea that is wholly cultural and wholly Chinese. From the original cultural concept, to the selective use of colours and the subtle borrowing of traditional Chinese architectural features such as up-turned eaves, this station building belongs to no other city but Beijing.

London Olympic Pavilion X / James Law Cybertecture

By: Lidija Grozdanic | September - 7 - 2011

To honour London’s imminent hosting of the 2012 Olympic games, James Law Cybertecture has presented an Olympic Pavilion X design to offer a statement of passion and excellence whilst providing a thrilling platform for memorable celebrations by the city and its citizens.
Inspired by the fluid shape of a raindrop splash, Olympic Pavilion X becomes a modern iconic landmark to inject both fun and flair to the monumental Trafalgar Square. With an electrifying exterior façade stretching 375 square meters, Olympic Pavilion X offers functional features of information center, souvenir shop and administration office at the tip of its three separate corners.
In stunning style, Olympic Pavilion X captures the moment of the Olympic summer games to augment a vibrant and intense sporting atmosphere for the crowd. Infused with visual technology innovations, the core auditorium contains an internal 360 degrees display screen, whilst three external visual devices composing hundreds of minuscule LCD monitors are designed to relay and display live Olympic games real-time.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Anisotropia: A Frozen Piece of Music – Busan Opera House / Orproject

By: admin | September - 3 - 2011

Anisotropia, the design for the new Busan Opera House by Orproject is based on Klavierstück I, a composition for piano by Orproject director Christoph Klemmt. It is based on a twelve tone row which is repeated and altered by the different voices, in order to create complex rhythmic patterns.
Anisotropia becomes the physical manifestation of Klavierstück I, a frozen piece of music. The design for the Busan Opera House is based on a simple strip morphology instead of a twelve tone row, which creates the facade, structure and rhythm within itself, its repetition happening in space instead of time. Layers of the strips form the façade structure, and the shifting and alteration of these patterns results in the formation of complex architectural rhythms which are used to control the light, view and shading properties of the façade.
Klavierstück I uses a twelve tone row which starts with the lowest key of the piano. After its first cycle the row gets repeated, though shifted up by a halftone. However rather than translating up every tone by a halftone, only the lowest tone of the row is translated up by one octave. Like this the row remains the same, but its range has been shifted.
In the next repetition this shift continues, but the range now also gets reduced in its size: The lowest tone gets translated up by one octave again, and the second lowest tone gets dropped out, so that only the remaining eleven tones of the row are played. Instead of the twelve tones the range now only covers eleven tones, and also its length is reduced accordingly.
The range of the twelve tone row continues to be reduced and shifted upwards until only one tone is left in each repetition of the original row. Then the range grows again, and still moving upwards goes through further modulations: The different voices of the piece are starting to separate, the size of the different parallel ranges starts to diverge, they move around each other, until finally they grow together again, still moving up and their range fading out with the highest key of the piano.

Piano Piece No.1 is based on a simple row of the twelve tones, but by shifting and translating its range of influence, complex and continuously evolving rhythmic patterns are generated and turned into a floating field of sound.
Structure + Light
The proposed façade structure becomes the physical manifestation of Klavierstück I. Instead of on a twelve tone row, it is based on a strip morphology made from curved steel sections that creates the facade, structure and rhythm within itself. The repetition of the lamella happens in space, instead of the repetition in time of the twelve tone row. Parallel layers of the strips form the façade structure, and the alteration of its patterns results in architectural rhythms which are used to control the light, view and shading properties of the façade.
The positioning of the façade walls has been developed according to a custom written flow simulation. The algorithm describes a flow that is influenced and altered by a set of deflectors, which each act according to the magnitude of their attraction and the area of their influence.
The distribution of the programmatic elements on the site is used as the deflector set that guides the flow of the rhythm lines which originate from the sea. On their way towards the city, the lines flow around the building elements such as the theatre and auditoriums, splitting up and being diverted by the deflectors.
Orproject: Ho-Ping Hsia, Christoph Klemmt, Rolando Rodriguez-Leal, Rajat Sodhi, Natalia Wrzask, Christine Wu
Structural Engineers: Arups Structural Engineering, London
Theatre Consultants: Arups Theatre Consulting, Hong Kong

Hybrid Diamantenbörse is a Voronoi installation in Frankfurt

By: Lidija Grozdanic | September - 2 - 2011

The project was designed by a team organized by Prof. Dr. Markus Holzbach at the Offenbach Academy of Art and Design. The parametric engineer for the project was Xing Wang. The  design was exhibited in Frankfurt in January 2011 and it explores the structure andcombinations of cellular geometries, completely relying on computational design.
The project’s aim was to build a pavilion inside Diamantenbörse in Frankfurt. It was based on mobius geometry with 3d voronoi pattern structure. It tried to integrate special light effects for the media show during the exhibition. The 3d vronoi pattern structure is manufactured as straight wood panels by 5 axis milling machine and assembled on site. In order to save time and material, most parts of the wood panels were cut under 3 axis cutting method, only the both ends parts of the panels with slope are cut through 5 axis setting.
The task was to generate the complex 3d structure in a parametric way, and also prepare the fully detailed CNC manufacture files for the CNC lab. The parametric solution for this system gave the possibility to adjust the structure many times on different design stages.