Evaluation

Image from ' London City Hall, 'Someone has built it before' 'http://archidialog.com/tag/london-city-hall/

Fig 1Image from ‘ London City Hall, ‘Someone has built it before’ ‘http://archidialog.com/tag/london-city-hall/

ECO-TECHNIC VS ECO-CENTRIC 

 

McLennan states, Sustainable architecture, ‘is an approach and not a style’[i] and various architects take different approaches to achieve sustainability. There are multiple forms and it is difficult to put a certain architect into one branch of sustainable construction but Guy and Farmer[ii] break down the variations into 6 main groups of distinction. Each of these modes of ‘green’ architecture have their separate pros and cons and no method is specifically more correct. The London City Hall falls into the group Guy and Farmer[iii] name ‘The Eco-technic’ a method of sustainability, led by British architects such as Norman Foster, Richard Rodgers and Michael Hopkins. This technique of sustainability aims to ‘maximize the efficiency of building in spatial, construction and energy terms’[iv] and finding success and thus sustainability through ‘reduction of building energy consumption, material-embodied energy, waste and resource-use reduction’[v] they do this in the belief that using technology creates efficiency and thus sustainability. As Norman Foster remarks

‘Since Stonehenge, architects have always been at the cutting edge of technology. And you can’t separate technology from the humanistic and spiritual content of a building’[vi] .

This view is largely criticized by the opposing faction, the ‘Eco-Centric’ (Guy,Farmer 2008) which revolves around various theories but center to it is as Guy and Farmer state ‘ Harmony with nature through…buildings with limited ecological footprints’[vii]. This work relates back to architects such as Mike Reynolds, who’s “EarthShip” designs can be seen in Fig 2.

 

THE LONDON CITY HALL, SUSTAINABLE ?

London City hall falls quite clearly into the ‘Eco-Technic’ bracket and has many technical merits that promote sustainability. The ‘radical shape of the building minimizes the surface area… the high performance façade ensures excellent energy efficiency’[viii] and evidence shows that the borehole system produces exceptionally less waste than the main alternative, ‘ The energy consumption and C02 emissions per kWh of groundwater cooling are around 3.3- 50 times less than that of the vapour compression system’, see Fig 3. This alongside the natural ventilation process, use of the heat from the computers  systems and recycling the ‘grey water’(Foster 2003)[ix] all contribute to the building using ‘ only a quarter of the energy consumed by a typical high-specification office building’ [x].

Yet this form of technological sustainability brings much criticism. Its technical functions and extensive use of steel, ‘structural frame- 2100 tons, Reinforced -1950 tons’[xi] are criticized by the eco-centric principles, as Sue Roaf comments, Steel and aluminum have ‘very high environmental impacts as a result of their initial manufacture. Their extensive use in buildings cannot be considered ecological’ [xii]. This is reinforced bt Papanek[xiii] statement that it is not merely the end process which causes pollution, the eco-technic architect needs to consider the ‘exhaust fumes from automobiles, the smoke from factory chimneys, chemical fertilizers…the pollution falls into several phases’[xiv]. The embodied energy of steel can be seen in table 1

The dependence and focus on technology itself is criticized too. As Mclennan states the belief that,

‘it is not possible to build sustainably with the same design and construction processes that have created the environmental burden in the first place’[xv]

Papanek[xvi] talks of the ecology side of architecture calling for a move away from technology, to revert away from these un-natural designs, using technology as foster states like ‘parametric modeling…for designing complex curved forms’[xvii]. Papanek[xviii] demands a return to the organic form, away from ‘the threat of bigness’[xix] towards a more ‘organic shape which he believes ‘conferred greater psychophysical comfort on its inhabitants’[xx].

 

POLITICAL PROPAGANDA?

Designed to emphasis mayor Ken Livingstone’s return to power, Norman Foster’s London City Hall proposal was chosen from a list of more than fifty projects. The transparency of the building had a significant impact in deciding whether it was suitable for the needs of the mayor or not. Lord Foster has worked side by side with the mayor to “develop a comprehensive set of policies and proposals that will improve London’s air quality”[xxi]. The idea of revealing the democratic progress for everyone to see was embraced quickly by the London citizens (“City hall is highly accessible building that draws the public into close proximity with the workings of the democratic process”[xxii]) and so the accessibility and democracy characteristics of the newly city hall contributed in achieving the ‘Red Ken’s glass testicle’ just fine. A building made entirely of glass that was both sustainable and nice to look at had risen from the ground.  Even though from the outside the construction looks transparent and accessible, it is in fact private and most of the façade is opaque.

Nevertheless, it was “designed not only to underline political integrity and transparency but also to make an iconic statement about the aesthetics of sustainable architecture”[xxiii].  “It started out by being a building that would use only 25% of the energy required by a comparable structure”[xxiv] but Norman Foster managed somehow to make it look beautiful as well.

When decided to build a new city hall, it was nothing to do with the old one which was still in good condition to be used, but the Greater London Authority needed to be less invisible and have more power within their office and over the outside world.

It is known that every important meeting is taking place in a discreet space away from the curious eyes. What Ken Livingstone had in mind when collaborated with the architects was to create the impression of an open space with no intrigued spaces, when in fact what he did is as secret as the Palace of Westminster. The heart of the building or the debating room(the room of power), way too spacious for its purpose, is only used once a month, the small important meetings being held in the offices. Moreover, the paradox is that the mayor asked for an offices smaller than the one he was initially given, one that will not have a view to Big Ben and Westminster.

Its low point is that it is trying too much to look powerful, special and different and to reveal the apparent workings when in fact everyone knows how powerless the mayor truly is and that in reality it is just another dull city hall.

‘’ The success or failure of City Hall will largely turn on whether it can be as open and democratic as it should be’’[xxv].


[i] Mclennan, J. The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. Bainbridge: ECOtone, 2004, pg 5

[ii] Guy, S. Farmer, G. Reinterpreting Sustainable Architecture: Theories, Discourses, Practices, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008,

[iii] Guy, S. Farmer, G. Reinterpreting Sustainable Architecture: Theories, Discourses, Practices, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008,

[iv] Guy, S. Farmer, G. Reinterpreting Sustainable Architecture: Theories, Discourses, Practices, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008,pg 142

[v] Guy, S. Farmer, G. Reinterpreting Sustainable Architecture: Theories, Discourses, Practices, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008,pg 142

[vi] Williamson, T. Radford, A. Bennetts, H.  Understanding Sustainable architecture, London: Spon Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2003. Pg31 (direct quote from Norman Foster)

[vii] Guy, S. Farmer, G. Reinterpreting Sustainable Architecture: Theories, Discourses, Practices, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008,pg 141

[viii] London City Hall, Key Facts [Online] [Accessed: 20/11/12]

http://www.london.gov.uk/city-hall/the-building/key-facts

[xii] Roaf, S. Fuentes, M. Thomas, S. Eco House 2: A Design Guide Oxford: Architectural Press,2003

[xiii] Papanek, V. The green Imperative,Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture, Thames and Hudson, 1995

[xiv] Papanek, V. The green Imperative,Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture, Thames and Hudson, 1995. Pg29

[xv] Mclennan, J. The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. Bainbridge: ECOtone, 2004, pg 86

[xvi] Papanek, V. The green Imperative,Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture, Thames and Hudson, 1995

[xvii] Foster, N, Architecture and Sustainability, Pg 8 [Accessed: 20/11/12]

http://www.fosterandpartners.com/content/essays/Architecture%20and%20Sustainability.pdf

[xviii] Papanek, V. The green Imperative,Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture, Thames and Hudson, 1995

[xix] Papanek, V. The green Imperative,Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture, Thames and Hudson, 1995 Pg 25

[xx] Papanek, V. The green Imperative,Ecology and Ethics in Design and Architecture, Thames and Hudson, 1995 Pg 98

 

[xxi] Merkel, Jayne “Along the Thames, Foster and Partners puts a new twist on government and gives green a different shpe with the highly accessible London City Hall” Architectual Record, vol.191, no.2 (Feb 2003) p.110

[xxii] Foster, Norman “City Hall in London” Detail vol.42, no9 (Sep 2002), p.1086

[xxiii] Kong, D (2010) “City HallAbitare, 507 (Nov 2010) p.137-139

[xxiv] Foster, Norman “City Hall in London” Detail vol.42, no9 (Sep 2002), p.1086

[xxv] Glancey, J “The helter-skelter from outer space” Guardian (May 6th 2002), p.12-14

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