Salvador Dali

Great Design

Salvador Dali is well known for his completely bizarre, surrealist artwork. If you want to step into the eccentric mind of Dali himself, there is no better place to visit than the Dali Theatre and Museum which holds the largest collection of his major works. The museum can be found in the heart of Dali’s hometown, Figueres in Catalonia, Spain. The creation of the museum was Dali’s single largest project.

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Dali was very passionate about how he wanted the museum to be perceived, saying “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who have come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” This is exactly how I felt after going to the museum as a young child, and when I visited for the second time recently, I experienced that same feeling once again.

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It is not like your average art museum, it feels more like a theme park than a gallery. When you enter you find yourself in a  courtyard enclosed by curved stone walls with gold figurines standing in the window ledges four stories high. However the first thing your eye is drawn to is the taxi in the centre. This is one of Dali’s three-dimensional artworks, known as “Rainy Taxi”. There are two mannequins inside the taxi and as the name suggests, when you put a euro in the slot, it rains inside the taxi. When I entered the courtyard, the sight of the taxi took me back 10 years ago when I had first witnessed this installation. The interactive element made this artwork particularly memorable to me and I remember being taken aback when it had rained inside the taxi the first time. I believe Dali’s ability to throw aside normality is what makes his work so unique.

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Wandering through the maze of corridors and rooms, I came across a wide range of paintings, sculptures, jewellery and some things I could not even categorise. A classic painting that I feel represents, what I can only describe as the absurdity, of Dali’s work is his ‘Soft Self Portrait with Fried Bacon’. This utterly bizarre painting depicts Dali himself, sporting his famous moustache. There is a lot of mystery as to what message Dali was trying to put across by making his face look like it’s melting or sliding off, with crutches seeming to hold it up. He often used ants as a symbol of decay but the ones crawling around his eye socket seem to be attracted to food sources. It’s as if Dali is offering his skin to be eaten, just like the bacon in the painting. Some say this may be in reference to him opening himself up for the media to feed on. Dali’s paintings are notoriously puzzling and this is what makes them so engaging.

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In one of the larger rooms in Dali’s labyrinth museum, I looked up to see a magnificent painting covering the whole ceiling. Known as the ‘Palace of the Wind’, this painting depicts Dali with his wife, and lifelong muse, Gala. Dali has used forced perspective to make it appear as though the painting continues high up, beyond the ceiling. I find this effect really impressive as you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the illusion of its enormity.

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My personal favourite of Dali’s artworks is “The Persistence of Memory”. Unfortunately this is not displayed in the museum as it has been in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1934. It is one of Dali’s most recognisable works and is often called “Melting Clocks” or “The Soft Watches”. Dawn Ades, the British art historian and academic, wrote that the soft watches are an “unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time”. However when asked if this were true, Dali denied it, saying the clocks were a surrealist perception of a Camembert melting in the sun. The strange human form in the centre of the painting, which appears to have one closed eye shown with eyelashes, suggests a dream state. Therefore the clocks could be representing the passing of time you experience in dreams, fluid and indefinite. I really like the originality of these clocks which has led them to become a kind if emblem of Dali’s work. 

When walking out of the museum, I felt like I had been in a dream state myself. I had just experienced the unforgettable world of Dali, captured within the walls of his theatrical museum. It is unlike any other art museum I have been to. I found the museum’s unique and unforgettable design successfully mirrored Dali’s weird but wonderful artistic style.

 

Sagrada Familia

Great Design

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When visiting Barcelona, I could not resist going to admire the famous, towering cathedral, known as the Sagrada Familia. This was the second time I had been to see the magnificent structure and once again sections of its grand exterior were concealed with scaffolding. Although the construction of the cathedral began over 130 years ago, it is not yet complete. I was bewildered by this, I understand these things take time, however the Taj Mahal only took 20 years to build so I was intrigued to find out why this was so much longer.

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As it turns out, The Sagrada Familia has a long and eventful history. In 1874, Josep Maria Bocabella began campaigning for a new cathedral to be built after being inspired during a trip to Italy. Architect Francisco Paula del Villar made plans for a standard gothic revival church and the cornerstone was laid in 1882. However he resigned just one year later and Antoni Gaudi took over. After receiving a notably large anonymous donation, he drastically changed the original plans to create something much more extravagant. From 1914 onwards, Gaudi gave up all his other projects and dedicated his time to the construction of his magnificent cathedral. Unfortunately in 1926, he was tragically killed in a tram accident. At this point only a quarter of the structure was complete. He was buried in the crypt in the Sagrada Familia and his body still remains there today.

After his death, it was up to his close collaborator Domenec Sugranes to continue Gaudi’s vision. However this task drastically increased in difficulty after all of the original plans were destroyed in a fire in 1936 started by anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. There have been several head architects over the years, each attempting to give Gaudi’s vision justice. It’s a bit like Chinese whispers though and there has been some controversy over if this has been done successfully. In 2008, over 100 members of Barcelona’s art and architecture community signed a manifesto protesting what they viewed as errors in the direction of the design. Also the director of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Manuel Borja-Villel, said “What they are constructing has little to do with the spirit of Gaudi. It has more to do with building a tourist attraction and for propaganda purposes”. I can see the point he is making, it is easy for projects like these to become all about making money. The Sagrada Familia hasn’t exactly been a cheap build either. It is estimated that it costs approximately €25 million a year to continue construction. However, surprisingly, it has always been privately funded and never received any financial support from the government.

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The cathedral is to have 18 spires when complete, currently only 8 have been fully constructed. These spires are to represent the Twelve Apostles, Virgin Mary, Four Evangelists and Jesus Christ. The height of the spires vary and relate to the hierarchy of each religious figure. The spire that symbolises Jesus Christ is to be the tallest, reaching 560 feet. This will make it just smaller than the tallest point in Barcelona, Montjuic Hill. This was deliberately specified as the architect believe that nothing man made should surpass what was made by God. I think this is a beautifully considerate approach as it really appreciates the importance of the natural world over man made structures. 

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I’ve never made it inside the cathedral, the day I visited the tickets had already sold out by 11am. This is no surprise, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Barcelona, with more than 3 million visitors every year. However I have read about the magnificent interior. The ceiling has been designed to represent trees, which is classic for Gaudi who was often inspired by nature. The 200 feet vaults create a space which symbolises a spiritual forest, with the columns mimicking tree trunks that branch out into the ceiling. Not only is this visually stunning, this design is also practical as it removes the need for buttresses which are a common feature of Gothic architecture.

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In terms of maintaining Gaudi’s vision, from my perspective the structure does have strong visual links to Gaudi’s architectural style. If you compare it to the Casa Milà, one of Gaudi’s earlier works, the aesthetic similarity is hard to ignore. I have a lot of admiration for the visual impact that these buildings make, they may be a little grander than my usual taste but I can’t deny their architectural beauty. 

If construction stays on schedule then the structure is expected to be complete by 2026, 100 years after Gaudi’s death. I’m sure I am not alone in saying I look forward to seeing Gaudi’s masterpiece finally standing free of any scaffolding so that it’s great design can be fully appreciated.

 

Revolving Doors

Great Design

Revolving doors are something we encounter on a daily basis, but have you ever thought about why they were invented? If you think about it, they are quite strange. Who’s idea was it to replace a simple hinged door with some rotating panels of glass that form strange compartments for people to squeeze into and move along with just to enter a building. The idea was first patented in 1881 by the German inventor H. Bockhacker for his ‘door without draft of air’. However this did not take off. Then in 1888, American designer, Theophilus van Kannel received a patent for his improved ‘storm door structure’ that was later renamed the ‘revolving door’ we know today.

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Van Kannel’s design consisted of a three-way storm door that had weather stripping to ensure a sealed fit with the outer frame. This provided great energy efficiency as heat was significantly reduced compared with a normal hinged door. However this was not the main motivation for his invention. Van Kannel’s idea routed from a social phobia. There were two social interactions that he passionately hated: having the awkward ‘no, you first’ conversations with other men when approaching a door and the expectation to hold doors open for woman. It is no surprise that he never married, however he did dedicate most of his life to the invention and perfection of his design.

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Other than tackling his social nightmare, there was a much more impressive benefit that Van Kannel’s revolving door offered. By installing a revolving door instead of a hinged door in a building it is estimated to have energy savings of 30%. This is because when you open a regular door, there is high air flow exchange, making it hard to maintain consistent indoor temperatures. Revolving doors significantly reduce this as there is never direct exposure between the inside and outside of the building. They also prevent the transfer of noise, dust, rain and snow entering a building. These benefits make a revolving door seem like an obvious replacement for a hinged door in any building, however there are some key flaws with Van Kannel’s energy saving design. 

Firstly there is the concern of fire safety. Using a revolving door is not a speedy procedure and only a limited number of people can fit in each compartment. This makes it a useless fire escape and additional swing doors have to be installed on the side. However, the biggest issue with revolving doors is simple. People don’t use them. Funnily enough, having been designed to deal with a phobia, revolving doors themselves seem to cause many phobias. It’s not unusual to be afraid of revolving doors. Why do people find them so terrifying? Well the most obvious reason is the concept of having to enter a small compartment which does not suit anyone suffering from claustrophobia.  Also having rotating doors can cause you to trap your arm, leg or even clothing in the door. Then there’s the possibility of getting confused whilst being spun around in this glass structure and ending up missing your exit and finding yourself standing outside again looking like a complete idiot. Not going to lie, that has happened to me before… Finally there’s the social fear of getting stuck in a small space with a stranger, a bit hypocritical considering the whole idea was to avoid awkward social situations.

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However, considering how how much energy can be saved from using a revolving door, which offers both environmental and financial benefits, surely there is a way to encourage people to use these intimidating devices. There was a study carried out in 2006 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which found that only 25% of students chose to use the revolving door when there was a normal door beside it. The researchers then put up a sign that encouraged the students to use the revolving door by emphasising the energy saving benefits. The revolving door usage subsequently increased to 58%. This experiment was repeated a few years later at Columbia University in New York by graduate student Andrew Shea. Initially only 28% of students were opting for the revolving doors. Andrew’s thesis involved the subject of designing for social change and as a result he created an aesthetically pleasing sign, again informing the students of the benefits of using the revolving door. Usage increased to a staggering 71%. 

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I think it’s fascinating that something as basic as a simple sign can make such a difference. Although some of us do claim to be legitimately afraid of revolving doors, I think most of us are just sub-consciously avoiding them for no real reason. I have to admit, I’ve never really considered the environmental benefit that revolving doors offer and I think awareness of this does need to be increased. So if you have a revolving door at your uni or office, why not put up a sign and encourage people to use this great energy saving design.

 

L.C. Tiffany

Great Design

I think an important trait of ‘great design’ is the ability for a product to withstand time. Over the decades, many products have surfaced, had a period of popularity and then been discarded as tastes have evolved. For a product to still be appreciated hundreds of years after it was first introduced is something I find truly fascinating. Although designed over 130 years ago, Tiffany lamps continue to have a place in the home today.

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These beautiful statement lamps were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the late 19th century. Tiffany started out as a painter before branching out into interior design. His interiors, often featuring stain glass windows, lead him to become very successful and he even designed for The White House. In the 1890s, Tiffany decided to focus on designing lamps which would champion his stain glass aesthetic. It’s worth noting at this point that Tiffany came from an exceptionally wealthy background. His father founded Tiffany & Co who’s designer jewellery I’m sure you’re familiar with. Growing up in a rather lavish lifestyle had a notable influence on his work and can be seen in the intricately detailed lamps he designed. He had a great appreciation of the arts and crafts movement and it’s fine craftsmanship which led him to create these beautifully crafted pieces. 

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The form of the lamps is very organic which clearly reflects his main inspiration – nature. The dragonfly lamp in particular is one of my favourite designs, I love the blue colour palette that is reflected in his glasswork. The iridescent finish of Tiffany’s work is what makes his lamps truly unique. His trademark ‘Favrile glass’ was created through a unique process involving exposing molten glass to a combination of vapours and metal oxides. This glass texture was developed to imitate glass natural stones such as agate.

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Tiffany was a part of the ‘aesthetic movement’ and that is very clear in his lighting designs. I think that’s what makes his lamps so timeless, they are just so classically beautiful that they haven’t been affected by the changes in style over the decades. The influence of nature played a big part in this, the natural environment isn’t something that goes out of fashion.

Unfortunately if you are now keen to get your hands on one of these stunning lamps, you better start saving. Original Tiffany lamps can be extortionate, costing thousands and in some special cases selling at auction for over a million. This kind of price is just unrealistic for the common person. I guess one way of looking at it is most people who own an original Tiffany lamp have had it in their families for generations. It’s the kind of object you would put in your will, intended for your next of kin to inherit.

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Tiffany lamps are, in my opinion, exemplary examples of design. As much as my environmental side is questioning the necessity of these lamps and why their price is so high, I can’t help but be in awe of their undeniable beauty. They are the kind of objects that bring many people real joy to look at and I think that is an important feature of great design.

Air Conditioning

Great Design

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Walking down the street in peak summer temperatures, you will often find yourself escaping the heat by side stepping into a shop or public building. The cool air in these spaces isn’t there by chance. Although often visually disguised and forgotten, air conditioning is something we often rely on and you may not realise how big an impact its invention has had on our lifestyles, architecture and even demographic globally.

Initially air conditioning wasn’t designed for people, it was designed for paper. In 1902, a young engineer, Willis Carrier was asked by a printing company in New York to design a system to help dry ink in the heat. The humidity levels in their factory were causing issues when they were printing in colour because each colour had to be printed separately and the paper would warp in between, causing misalignment. Carrier developed a machine that circulated the air over cooled coils, maintaining a constant humidity level. This was a great success. However, this cooled printing room was not only helping the printing process, workers started spending their lunch breaks there, enjoying an escape from the humid heat.

By 1906, Carrier started to realise the potential for his new machine and seeked out new customers that would benefit from its cooling capabilities. During the summer months, movie theatres were really struggling to make any business. Imagine a room with no windows and lots of people crammed inside, theatres were the last place you’d want to be on a hot summers day. Carrier sold his machine to theatres across the country and this is the first indication of how much influence air conditioning could have. Now that theatres were nice and cool, they became the first place you’d want to be on a hot summers day. Advertisements were put out with images of people sitting in their coats with icicles hanging off them, enticing customers to escape the heat and enjoy a film. Thanks to air conditioning, theatres were now booming with business in the summer and this is when the tradition of the summer blockbuster was born.

Originally, buildings were designed around the climate they were built in, known as vernacular architecture. Buildings in a hot climate were built with thick walls and windows facing away from the sun, with outdoor courtyards and corridors incorporated into the floor plan to allow cold air to flow through the space. However, after air conditioning started to expand beyond cinemas and into a wide range of public and private buildings, this approach to architecture was put aside. Huge skyscrapers, encased in glass windows, started to rise in places like Dubai. The idea of central courtyards were abandoned and without the need for windows to provide cool air, rooms formed deep inside buildings, with no sign of natural light. Without air conditioning, these types of buildings would be uninhabitable in the heat. We could now control the climate inside and this removed the need for vernacular architecture. Cities across the world, in a variety of climates, started to look very similar. Traditional buildings for specific cultures were dying out. It could be argued that air conditioning was responsible for completely transforming the architecture of our cities today. It is fascinating that something that was originally designed to dry ink had the capability to completely change architecture on a global scale.

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The transformation of architecture isn’t the only big impact the invention of air conditioning had. In America, the hotter southern states were now more inhabitable thanks to air conditioning. This resulted in a big shift in the population between states, inevitably impacting voting patterns. Now that is was more pleasant to live there, a large amount of conservative retirees moved to the south. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president and some say his success is thanks to air conditioning causing the migration of ‘votes’ from the north to the south. It is hard to comprehend how a relatively simple invention had such a huge impact on a political level.

Air conditioning should definitely be considered to be great design. Its invention has had a positive impact on many sectors. It is beneficial to health, with lower mortality rates during heat waves. Exam results are higher in cases where students are working in cooled rooms. There is a proven relationship between keeping cool and productivity. Air conditioning in offices has lead to much higher productivity rates. It has also allowed people to live comfortably in hotter climates which has increased the amount of land available for housing, always welcome in a growing population.

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It’s not all good news though, there are some issues developing with air conditioning. Firstly, it’s worth considering the fact that in order to make inside cooler, you make outside hotter. This has resulted in actually increasing the outdoor temperature. A recent study found that the night time temperature in Phoenix, Arizona increased by 2 degrees thanks to air conditioning units. However the biggest problem associated with air conditioning is the amount of power required to run the units. Although the units are becoming more efficient, the scale of the problem is too high. 75% of homes in America use air conditioning. The electricity powering these units is often reliant on the burning of fossil fuels which has a huge carbon footprint. We have actually trapped ourselves in a corner here as there are now so many buildings world-wide that we are completely dependant on air conditioning. So it is difficult to reduce the environmental impact it is having.

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The original design of air conditioning was not intended for such large scale applications and it’s starting to catch up with us. So what can we do? The development of ‘greener’ technology has allowed air conditioning to become more efficient so I guess one approach would be to continue to improve the design to minimise environmental impact. However, I think it’s worth looking at embracing some aspects of vernacular architecture in our future designs. Simple changes, such as the way a building is angled to create shade, can make a huge difference. I’m not saying we should abandon air conditioning completely, but I think there are ways we can reduce our reliance on it through thoughtful design.

Kintsugi

Great Design

We live in such a throwaway culture these days, if something breaks it is instantly considered useless and we simply discard it. There is a lack of respect and care towards our belongings, we are never satisfied and always looking to buy something new. I really disagree with this attitude and believe we need to view more of our belongings as lifetime objects that can be passed on to the next generations. We need to reduce the waste the human race generates which is polluting our environment. Sometimes looking back in history can teach us important lessons that will help us to protect the future of our planet.

Originating in the 15th century, the Japanese art of Kintsugi, highlights the importance of not only repairing objects but using it as an opportunity to enhance them. This technique involves using lacquer mixed with powdered gold to repair broken pottery. The lacquer is used to bond the broke pieces back together, with the gold making the cracks aesthetically pleasing. The practice is linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi which is all about seeing the beauty in flaws and imperfections. Kintsugi is all about emphasising the cracks rather than trying to hide them. Often we wouldn’t want to display a broken object but in this case the scars of the object are accepted and even shown with pride.

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The irregular golden trails are unique for each piece as it is dependant on the way the object shattered which is entirely random and impossible to replicate. I think the idea of every piece having its own story and its history being on show like that is a beautiful concept. We have been living in society that pushes for perfection and measure success on this. We all have our scars and as this is slowly starting to become more accepted in modern society I don’t see why we can’t apply it to products as well.

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Another fascinating aspect to the practice of Kintsugi is the time and patience required. Instant gratification is something we all expect these days. Waiting isn’t something we have to do often with the development of modern technology. The lacquer used to bond the broken pieces together is very slow to cure. It is applied in layers, with each layer taking up to a month to dry. After all the layers are finally finished, the piece needs to be carefully sanded so that there is no discrepancy between the gold filler and the original piece. This is a hard and time-consuming process but the results are stunning. In most cases the object actually looks better with the addition of the gold than before it broke.

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I believe the important message from Kintsugi is that objects should be treasured and if they are damaged then they should be repaired in a thoughtful, beautiful way that embraces the scars that are left. You should buy an object with the intention of keeping it or passing it on to others, landfill should be avoided at all costs. In an attempt to reduce the waste we are creating I think we should change our perspective when it comes to the ownership of products. If we own something then we are responsible for it and should treat it with respect and not get caught into the idea that imperfections are a negative feature.

 

 

Bombay Sapphire Distillery

Great Design

Connecting old and new buildings together can be a very tricky thing to pull off. I have seen, as I am sure you have to, many failed attempts of this popping up all over the UK. To achieve a successful integration of these two contrasting types of structures requires a very considerate design. In my opinion, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Hampshire, designed by the Heatherwick Studio, is a great example of how to do it well.

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The founder of the Heatherwick Studio, Thomas Heatherwick, is considered to be one of Britain’s most significant designers. He has been a part of many well known projects such as the New Routemaster bus and Rolling Bridge in London as well as projects further a field such as the Seed Cathedral in Shanghai. Heatherwick is known for his controversial design approach which has in some cases not been successful. For example, ‘B of the Bang’ which was a sculpture in Manchester had to be taken down when it started to fall apart and the Garden Bridge proposal (a pedestrian bridge over the River Thames) which was abandoned in 2017 after £37.4m of taxpayers money had all ready been spent.

However, on a more positive note, The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is one of my favourite Heatherwick projects. In 2010, Bombay Sapphire invited Heatherwick to design their headquarters, distillery and visitor centre. The project consisted of the renovation of a collection of derelict red brick buildings at Laverstoke Mill and the addition of glasshouses to host the plants that flavour the premium gin. The original buildings had been built up over 200 years, resulting in a sprawling maze covering the river below. In order to create a more simplified site, Heatherwick focussed on revealing the river once more and using it’s path to organise the layout. Although all of the grade 2 buildings were conserved, others were removed to allow the countryside views to be seen even from the heart of the site – depicted by a central courtyard. I think this is a lovely approach as it’s important to encompass a building’s surrounding scenery so that it is appreciated from various vantage points around the site.

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I am focussing on the main focal point of the project which is the sculptural glasshouses that appear to ‘grow’ out of the red stone buildings. The structures remind me of something you would see in a sci-fi film, but for some reason they seem to integrate really well with the older buildings that surround them. There are 2 separate glasshouses, one for tropical plants and the other for mediterranean plants, which allow the key botanical ingredients required for the gin to be grown on site. The glasshouses are constructed from 893 individually crafted pieces that are held in place by bronze-finished stainless steel framing with a total length of over a kilometre. According to Heatherwick, these unique structures are inspired from the “ambition and energy that the Georgians and Victorians had” who were responsible for the surrounding buildings. There is definitely an energy to these structures, the dynamic frames create a sense of movement. I really like how Heatherwick has considered the history of the site and has used this to influence the design of the glasshouses.

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What is really special about the design of these glasshouses is the fact that there is a strong emphasis on not only how sustainable the distilling process is but also the glasshouses themselves. Heatherwick worked with the Carbon Trust to include a number of sustainable design features that have resulted in the botanical distillery being the first facility in the drinks manufacturing industry to be awarded a BREEAM ‘outstanding’ rating for sustainability. The glasshouses are heated using hot air from the distillation process that is channeled from the older building through large pipes that are built into the metal framing. Heatherwick describes the link between the older building and the glasshouses as an “umbilical connection” which I think is really lovely analysis as the heat from the distillery is feeding in to the warm climate that is required for the plants to grow. The structures also have built in photovoltaic cells (solar cels) and a water turbine to generate electricity to provide power to the site. Electricity is also a generated using a biomass boiler which recycles the plant waste from the glasshouses. I really appreciate the circular approach that has been made when designing the site, using the sun, river and plants to provide power. 

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The self-sufficiency of the distillery is really clever and I love how Heatherwick has considered what opportunities there are from the distilling process to create an energy cycle. There’s something special about integrating a modern structure into a historic site which not only embraces the past but has an emphasis on the future as well. The glasshouses are not just a beautiful sculpture but also very practical and have some clever engineering incorporated into them. This site represents the fact that we shouldn’t forget our past but we should learn from it and make the necessary changes to create something that is not only pleasing to look at but also has a minimum carbon footprint and the ability to provide for itself.

V&A Dundee

Great Design

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Recently I was in Dundee visiting my sister and couldn’t resist checking out the V&A Museum. It only opened in September this year and is Scotland’s first design museum. It is considered to be an international centre of design for Scotland so I was excited to visit. Obviously there are exhibitions inside that I could talk for days about but this blog post is actually about the building itself.

There was an international competition for who would be responsible for designing this building to reconnect the city of Dundee with its waterfront. The winner was renowned award-winning Japanese architects Kengo Kuma & Associates. Kuma is also the architect who is responsible for designing the New National Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Japanese design influence is very evident in the shapes and materials used in the building and I can’t help being reminded of my visit to the Japanese House during the London Design Festival.

I was lucky enough to be visiting the V&A on a beautiful crisp day. As my sister likes to tell me frequently, Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland and I have to say it was proving itself on this day. The clear blue skies created the perfect background for the contrasting geometric lines of the building. It was that perfect lighting for taking photos and I was in complete awe of the enormity of it all.

The form of the V&A is certainly unique, Kuma says it was inspired by the cliffs on Scotland’s north eastern coastline. The museum is built over the River Tay like the bow of a ship which acts as a reminder of the shipbuilding days in Dundee. I would say the most distinctive feature is the cladding. There are 2,466 panels that have been created using pre-cast reconstituted stone running horizontally around the building. What I was surprised to discover is that there are NO straight external walls. I thought the whole building was very angular and only after I discovered this was I able to appreciate the more organic form.

When entering the building, you walk through a modest entryway which opens up into an impressive space. The external cladding is mirrored internally here, this time made of wood rather than stone. This creates a warmer, more welcoming atmosphere suited for the interior. The ground floor consists of a cafe and shop with a staircase leading up to the exhibitions. What I found bizarre was the lack of windows, considering the museum was built on the banks of the River Tay with the potential for stunning views. However as I made my way up the stairs I discovered tiny hidden windows disguised among the cladding. These created perfect little snapshots of the view, almost like a picture frame. In a weird way the lack of windows actually made me appreciate the view more, the tiny windows taunting me with glimpses of the water. Walking up the staircase I was also able to get close to the panelling that lined the walls. I was distinctly reminded of shutter blinds when I looked up at the panels overlapping each other. I couldn’t resist the temptation to try and move them as they looked like they were on a hinge. However they didn’t budge and I was left looking like an idiot…

After wandering around the exhibitions I spent some time walking around the exterior of the building. Just to the left of the entrance there is a tunnel-like opening in the centre of the building. Walking through this space is a unique experience, the cladding surrounds you, reflecting in the water on either side of you to create an illusion. The triangular archway frames a view of the Tay Road Bridge. Again I must say I was lucky with the weather, I am sure the experience would have been rather different in horizontal rain, but the view was quite outstanding. 

Of course I can’t help adding in the fact that the museum uses renewable energy in the form of geothermal energy. That’s got the building some brownie points from me when considering the design. Thirty, 200m deep holes have been dug into the ground, with heat pumps installed on the roof. The pumps draw heat from the ground to provide heating for the building in winter. They also transfer excess heat from the building in summer down into the ground, not only cooling the building but also storing heat that can then be used in the next winter. I think it’s so important that any modern building should really consider it’s carbon footprint and it should be designed to minimise this as much as possible.

Although the form of the building could be considered quite intimidating with it’s strong, sharp edges, I have to say I really think it works well in it’s environment. The position and angle of every piece of the structure has been considered in a way that embraces the waterfront and creates these unique views. As a DESIGN museum, a lot of pressure is put on it to be well designed. I believe it has been successful in this. I love how the modern aesthetic still manages to encompass the heritage of the city and the nature surrounding it. As a design museum, I really think it’s important that it offers an experience and the V&A certainly does that.

Nest Learning Thermostat

Great Design

Saving energy is something every homeowner wants. Any product that can offer the chance to save money on energy bills is very desirable. The Nest Learning Thermostat is a great example of this. It is a market leader in smart thermostats and this blog post is going to look at the reasons behind its success. I have to admit now, I am slightly bias as I am lucky enough to have one of these installed in my flat. Not exactly what you would expect to find in a student flat but I’m not complaining.

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So first let’s answer the question that I’ve had many people ask me when visiting my flat. ‘What is that round thing on the wall?” To be fair I would also be intrigued by the futuristic looking ring that lights up as you approach it. According to Wikipedia, yes I actually had to look this up even though I own one, the nest is an “electronic, programmable, and self-learning Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat that optimises heating and cooling of homes and businesses to conserve energy”. To be fair that is exactly what it does. I feel like the best way to analyse this product is to look at its features.

I guess the main feature of the Nest, as suggested in the name, is it’s ability to learn how you live and adjust the temperature accordingly. It can build you a heating schedule after just one week of monitoring your lifestyle. This may seem a little creepy but it can tell when you’re out and will switch to eco mode. I don’t know about you, but when I first moved in I was a bit weirded out by the fact that my thermostat knew when I was out the flat based on sensors and my phone’s location. However I have to admit I was converted when I started to see benefits of this in the form of my energy bill. It also has a good balance because although it builds you a schedule, you can adjust it manually either on the thermostat itself or on the app. This helps to steer away from the idea of a robot taking control of your heating which would attract some controversy.

nest hand

The user interface is one of the main reasons I love this product. You can change the temperature easily by turning the ring. It’s hard to describe but it makes such a satisfying clicking noise. So satisfying that many of my friends like to play with it and set it to ridiculous temperatures which I don’t realise until I am roasting in my flat. The simple turning mechanism is such great design, it has just the right amount of resistance to not spin around too much but it turns so smoothly. Another cool feature of the user interface is it’s ability to sense when you are approaching/passing it. It’s like it reads your mind, you don’t even have to be that close, I just walk past, look at it and it lights up, showing me what the current temperature is. This is such a clever little feature, however, like many of the features, it’s really not necessary and a bit excessive but I guess that’s what makes the Nest stand out against it’s competitors.

nest app

Another great feature of the Nest is ability to control it from an app. This may sound ridiculously lazy, like why would I use my phone to adjust the temperature when I could just get up and walk into the hall to adjust it manually, but what’s actually really useful is I can change the temperature of my flat from ANYWHERE. I have been guilty of using the app in lectures on a cold winters day when I want to return to a warm flat. It really is a luxury product, it isn’t necessary to be able to do that but I have to say it is a welcome feature.

Of course one of my favourite parts of the Nest is the leaf feature. You get rewarded a leaf every time your thermostat is set to ‘Eco Temperature’. This can happen automatically when you leave the house or you can set it yourself . ‘Eco Temperature’ is a low temperature which you can choose yourself, I think mine is at 17 degrees celcius. This helps you to save energy when it is a little warmer, It’s especially useful during those rare but appreciated heat waves we get in Scotland. Each month you get emailed a Home Report which tells you exactly how much energy you have used that month and on what days and what times. This is useful to keep track of how much energy you are using and makes you more aware when you may have been a bit generous to yourself with your heating. 

Nest say that an independent study showed that the thermostat saved people an average of 10% to 12% on heating bills. They also claim that in under 2 years the thermostat can pay for itself. I have to say I am not surprised by this, I have noticed a dramatic decrease in my energy bills since using the Nest. My flat has single glazing so it can be tricky to efficiently use energy, however the Nest does help a lot to prevent excessive use of the heating.

Overall I think the Nest is a very clever product. It’s aesthetic is so simple and unassuming but it’s technological capabilities are extensive. Although some of the features are a little over the top, they do make the nest a unique and special product to have integrated into your home. I believe it is a very forward looking design and benefits the user not only by saving them money, but making their daily life that little bit easier and adding an aspect of luxury to their lifestyle.

 

 

Totomoxtle

Great Design

totomoxtle-legacy-table-detail

This is my last post from the London Design Festival, I promise. When walking around the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition, the beautiful colours in a piece created by Fernando Laposse really caught my eye. Totomoxtle is a new material that has been created from husks of Mexican heirloom corn. These husks, which would normally go to waste, are peeled off the cob, ironed flat and glued onto backboard. The gorgeous autumnal colours from the corn really do make this material unique. The puzzle-like geometric pieces fit together to create a mesmerising pattern that you don’t often associate with natural materials.

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Although the aesthetics of this material are very appealing, what is even more rewarding is the motivation behind this project. As a community project, Totomoxtle is focussing on supporting traditional Mexican Farmers who have been hit hard by the introduction of genetically modified corn. I was clearly very unaware of the different breeds of corn, having only really come across the generic yellow cobs in the supermarket, so discovering the extensive rage of colours from deep red to almost white surprised me. These colours really highlight the diversity of corn as well as raising awareness of the hard times that are facing the Mexican corn industry.

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What I really love about the material Fernando Laposse has made is not only has he created some beautiful objects but he has also done it for a good cause. There’s nothing better than a win-win situation and Totomoxtle has certainly achieved this!