Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Award for K College

K College Entrance / Media and Arts Centre

Yesterday evening I was invited to the Tonbridge Civic Society Dinner to receive (on behalf of my previous employer Dyer) an award for the Tonbridge ‘Best Building of 2010’. Okay so this award may be restricted to the locale of Tonbridge, Kent but there are a number of reasons why I think it is in fact still quite a significant award. 

  Firstly the Civic Society represents the local community in an area which is traditionally conservative, which is surrounded by beautiful countryside, and which has a strong local vernacular style. In this setting the building we designed is unashamedly modern, with strong geometric lines and a vibrant colour scheme - not something you would necessarily expect the great and the good of Tonbridge to nominate for a prize. 

K College: Entrance Square

  It was not an expensive building either. A great deal of effort was placed on providing value for money in the proposals - it had to be as it was predominantly funded by government money through the now defunct Learning Skills Council (LSC). Partway through the build the LSC's finances all but collapsed with the result that funds were withdrawn from the majority of Further Education projects running at the time. K College was put on hold for a number of months but was fortunate to be one of only seven projects to eventually receive a green light to continue. This was not without a further requirement to reduce construction costs by approximately another £1M, achieved by completely changing the services strategy from a centralised air handling plant system to a system utilising localised ventilation heat recovery units and cooling. The fact that the building was able to accommodate these major changes (with construction of the concrete frame complete) without appearing to be severely compromised is testament to everyone involved and I would like to think also to the robustness of our design.

  This was my first Revit project. I taught myself Revit over about 4 days over the Christmas holidays (2004-5?) and went headlong into using it to design and manage this complex circa. 23,000 sqm building. Fairly risky perhaps but without it we really would have struggled to meet the requirements of a tight design programme, regular client and user group meetings together with the politics of a Planning Submission and producing the information necessary for the LSC funding application.The K College project was certainly a success for Revit - at least until the end of the Detailed Design stage after which we produced the tender and production information drawings using AutoCad.
K College Revit model cut-away

When it comes to using powerful software systems for designing I think there can sometimes be a tendency for the design to look like it has been produced using a particular product - this is particularly evident when designers first get their hands on a new programme and aren’t able to easily ‘bend’ it to their will. It’s possible that such a criticism could be levelled at our design for K College - certainly there weren’t too many design ideas there that stretched the Revit tools a good deal further than what was available almost ‘straight from the box’. However, if K College does in any way look like a Revit building I think this has more to do with the fact that our concept for the building: that it should be simple, flexible in use, and built using repetitive component parts intrinsically matched with the underlying philosophy of the component database driving heart of Revit’s structure..

The final image below illustrates perfectly one of the great advantages of using a programme such as Revit for design. This is a scan from the College's own internal magazine - they took our original artist's impression of the building (produced from our Revit model) and place it together with a photograph from the actual building taken from a similar position..

K College Revit model cut-away

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The beginning..

So it is finally time for me to enter the blogosphere.. My name is Stephen Blowers, this year I'm getting married (in June), hoping to finally build a house (which I've been designing and re-designing for three years), and I have in the last five weeks left my job of 10 years as an Associate Director at Dyer (architects) London, along with a colleague, to set up our own practice Design-Cubed ( So this year should be a breeze!

As an architect the majority of my experience has been at the front end design stages of projects developing fairly large scale complex buildings with clients, users, and various interest groups. Unlike many others I almost fell into architecture by accident having started my University education as an electronic engineer (that lasted about ten weeks). I took my first degree in architecture in Liverpool, UK and then spent about 5 years doing various jobs: teaching maths at an international school in Switzerland, starting up (and closing) a company which developed electronic car security devices, truck driving, to name a few before returning to the world of architecture where I've been ever since..

I have a great interest in software. Unlike traditional architects I never really felt comfortable drawing. In order to be able to design I had to find a medium in which I was comfortable and could express myself with. In the early days that medium was balsa wood and cardboard but I never really had the patience to build great models that way and besides once a model was built I was reluctant and a bit lazy to make changes to reflect changes or develop a design. I therefore learned in the early years of design software to use computers to sketch out my ideas - something which my tutors and fellow professionals at the time told me you couldn't really do. I found that I could never really get what I wanted out of one programme but could produce great things if you worked between a series of different ones and used them differently to how they were really designed to be used.. Today I produce the majority of my work using Revit, 3ds Max, Photoshop (still probably my favourite piece of software), After Effects, Premier and InDesign, oh and sometimes Sketch-up too ..

So this is my first entry and I'm not yet quite sure what the focus of this blog will be. I'm sure I will write some entries about how I use Revit and some thoughts of how I go about using for a concept design focus rather than a pure documentation tool. I think this will also be about starting a new practice and seeing how it develops (believing that it will) and some updates on house building (if I can finally get all those ducks in a row). Most of all I hope I manage to keep at it - consistently writing has never been a strong point of mine!

Until the next post here's an image that demonstrates the sort of work that I do. It was a competition proposal I worked on at Dyer about 18 months ago for a Leisure Centre (swimming pools, leisure pool, fitness suites etc) on the north east coast of England. The building was designed over about four days in Revit, then rendered in 3ds max and for this image composited in Photoshop..