I am furniture is a handmade or industrially sculptured heating appliance which the designer Bas van Raay would also like to be recognised as furniture. They are designed for ‘plug and play’ and are therefore mobile. The unit heats up the direct surroundings where you work, eat or sleep instead of entire buildings, reducing energy use. I am furniture is available in four different designs; Little Sister, Big Brother, Siamese Twin and Parents, all offered in several colours.
Professor Michael Fourman, head of E-Science at The Informatics Forum, claims he works in the best building in Scotland. Few would argue, including the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, which last year gave the Potterrow Building the Andrew Doolan ‘Best Building in Scotland’ award. With its transparent atrium, internal spiral staircases and roof terraces (where departmental barbecues are a frequent occurrence) overlooking Arthur’s Seat, Potterrow is Edinburgh University’s latest asset and the first phase of a major new masterplan. The Informatics Forum, which forms part of the new development, has been designed to stimulate cutting-edge scientific research – in this case, into informatics (artificial intelligence and robotics).Considering the university’s standing as one of the world’s most advanced research organisations at the forefront of the virtual community, Potterrow is very much married to its physical surroundings. As Rab Bennett, director of architects Bennetts Associates, explains, this sense of place was important from the outset: “We were always keen to retain the area’s historic urban grain.”The Informatics Forum has been built where a disused car park used to be, on a key pedestrian route to the city centre. The building is spread across two sites, with a public square in the middle designed as a diagonal through-route to bring people through the square and connect the building with Edinburgh’s centre. “Little, informal pedestrian routes are a part of this area of Edinburgh and we wanted the ground floor of the building to really give something back to the street,” project director John Miller explains. As well as a café and forum, commissioned artists will be generating work for a ground-floor gallery space to communicate what goes on in the building.While the researchers overwhelmingly work from cellular labs and offices, animated corridors around the building make the journey around the quadrangle as interesting and interactive as possible. Group networking spaces littered with brightly coloured cushions and coffee points are visible from every floor. “It sounds like rhetoric, but in an environment like this, bringing people together is how the next big ideas happen,” Fourman explains. There are close to 60 different nationalities, and between 500 and 600 researchers working in the building, from a range of backgrounds including chemistry, geography, art, medicine, maths and IT.The department wanted a space where everyone would congregate in smaller groups, both formally and informally, and wanted to aid this process through architecture. “We have been researching these ideas about office buildings for years, so this was music to our ears,” says Fourman.The ‘wormhole’ staircases, hung from the edge of the floorplates, are designed to make the floors less isolated from one another. Fourman produced a mathematical diagram of how limiting it is to only aggregate people horizontally, and how many more places people encounter one other if you introduce an easy vertical dimension. “It has changed the way the building works – you get used to nipping between floors,” Fourman explains. “The places without them feel less connected.” John Miller thinks that Fourman’s equation “should be fundamental to educational and health buildings. With increasingly fancy ways of communicating at a distance, architects have increasingly been asking the question: ‘Do we need buildings at all?’ I think this building shows you need both.”A post-occupancy survey by an architectural psychologist, using RIFD tags voluntarily worn by staff, should throw up interesting results about how the building is being used, and how the design has worked.“The Holy Grail for architecture is the scientific relationship between good design, improved productivity and occupant wellbeing,” explains Miller. “This is an important project for office and educational building design.”The informatics building was first to get an Excellent BREEAM rating in Scotland, and it also achieved this rating for its construction – despite it not being part of the guidelines when the building was designed.The building incorporates thermal mass, mixed ventilation and composite heat and power. “The university’s specialist environmental coordinator had the foresight to insist on common-sense, centralised building measures,” says Miller. “This will ensure it performs well, long after we have handed it over.”For the exterior, Bennetts Associates was faced with the challenge of finding a facade to fulfil civic demand: as well as being part of a historic university, the building sits in the most historic part of Edinburgh, just on the edge of a world heritage site.“Most of Edinburgh is built from stone from a quarry in West Edinburgh that ran out years ago, although there are two or three creamy sandstones that are relevant to new buildings in Edinburgh,” Miller explains.As a result, the natural stone for the facade came from Germany and was pre-cast in Belgium – one of only three places with the facilities to create such large-scale pieces. In a comparatively economic route, the whole facade was shipped to Leith, and transported to Edinburgh, where it was erected in one whole piece, “without even need for scaffolding,” as Miller explains.Phase two will see another department built, facing onto the courtyard, which will be covered in polished white cast stone, and planted with silver birch trees. “It won’t be one of those stuffy educational institutions with a great placard on the wall,” Miller says.In fact there is nothing stuffy about this research institute. Science and maths are the lifeblood of the informatics school, Miller explains, and for ten years they have been researching intelligent buildings, the kind that greet you as you walk in the door, and tell you who is in and out of the building. “The technology is all there, and it’s the intention of the department that with future funding it’s all unrolled in this building.”
When traditional industries fall into decline this sometimes heralds the end of prosperity. Mid Wales can count itself lucky that alternative sectors are being supported.As Nick Capaldi, chief executive of the Arts Council of Wales, says, “The creative industries are big business in Wales. I’m convinced that it is creativity that will pull us out of the recession.”In fact, according to Creative and Cultural Skills in Wales, total employment in the creative industries is over 24,000, an increase of nine per cent between 2006 and 2008.Some of this activity is being supported by Aberystwyth University, in particular by its Arts Centre, which is the biggest in Wales.The Arts Centre is thriving and buzzing with activity, but much of the art is transient - temporary installations and performances. The centre’s director, Alan Hewson, is keen to capitalise on the buzz and promote continuity: “We wanted to link with the community and to grow a cultural cluster in Aberystwyth.” Hey presto, a new row of work units to appeal to these creative types, sitting in grassland just above the arts centre.Designed by Heatherwick Studio they are intended to make the most of the setting and the £1.1m budget. “Alan (Hewson) wanted low-cost and special,” says Thomas Heatherwick. His solution was to structure the buildings to make them relatively cheap, and to hunt down a fancy cladding to make them special.So rather than building a single tall block, the 16 units are housed in eight 80sq m bungalows, meaning there was no need for costly disabled access to the upper floors. And rather than a conventional skin, this one is metallic and crinkly. “Stainless steel is brilliant because it lasts forever, but we couldn’t afford it,” says Heatherwick. “Then we found a rolling mill in Finland which rolled it just 0.1mm thick, the thickness of a coke can.” That meant that they could secure all the metal cladding for just over £20,000.Back in Heatherwick’s London studio, designer Tom Chapman-Andrews worked on building a machine that would create a natural ‘crinkled’ quality in the stainless steel. That machine was then installed on site, and could ‘crinkle’ the 100m-long rolls of 1m-wide strips, which were used whole on the buildings.The idea is that the series of little waves down the roofs and sides of the buildings reflect everything around them, from the sky to the leaves on the trees. “When you get the reflection with the leaves, the units sort of vanish,” says Heatherwick, “and they grab all the light and the colours of the sky and throw them back.” And the leaves will be more present once the 100 saplings which have just been planted grow.To insulate them, the steel cladding was sprayed inside with the same CFC-free liquid foam used to insulate pigsties.Inside, these units are a simple, white-washed affair. As Heatherwick points out, “Our role was to make a simple, flexible space. When we were designing, we didn’t have a brief for who the tenants would be.”But what each occupant does have is plenty of light from the windows and skylights, a long narrow workspace, sink and shared WC.For some tenants, this is luxury indeed compared with their previous set-ups. Perhaps the most high-profile is the painter Mary Lloyd Jones, who before this, was working out of a basement. “In the summer, sometimes the natural light was OK. But it was a bit dusty,” she says.The benefits of being here is the light, she adds, “and the distance from the back to the front wall, because to consider a composition you have to be able to step back”.Her studio is full of her large canvasses, just as textile designer Becky Knight has pinned her wall hangings on the walls of her space. She too was in a basement, which she shared with mice. “Here, I can be more organised and professional about my work and enjoy coming to the studio rather than fighting against the space,” she says. Along one wall on shelving, boxes of colour co-ordinated fabrics are stacked; they are no longer being eaten by rodents.Both Lloyd Jones’s and Knight’s studios are bedecked with the tools of their trades - pots of paintbrushes standing on a desk sourced from a theological college in one, and a sewing machine in the other.Some of the other businesses based here are more conventionally office-like, such as Honno, the women’s publishing cooperative, the Arts Agency (which has taken a double space), and Pixel Foundry.The latter is a TV and video production company, which was formerly run from a forestry commission shed that had been an Italian prisoner of war camp. “It was very cold,” says Pixel Foundry founder Pete Telfer. Their new space is decked out with contemporary blond shelving, grey carpet and red fabric armchairs. And unlike the artists, they have put blinds up at the windows, for the sake of their computer screens.For social enterprise Phoenix Cymru, this is the first time they’ve had a space to call their own. “It’s been a real revelation to have somewhere to call home,” says Mark Giddens. The enterprise records promos for local bands, hence the home-made sound absorbers on the wall, and the rolled-up duvet in the sink. “When the rooms are empty they have a lot of echo,” says Giddens. The plan now is to build a booth to isolate drummers.The units were completed before Christmas and all are now occupied. While tenants appreciate the benefits of their new location, it’s early days for any cross-fertilisation, but as Lloyd Jones says: “There are people with different skills here and that makes it interesting.”And perhaps if phase two - a communal meeting house - gets the go-ahead, such exchanges of creative ideas will be even more likely. However, given that these units took three and a half years from design to completion, and six years from when the arts centre started planning, these tenants shouldn’t hold their breath.
In these tough economic times, when it’s hard to know what’s round the corner, many people are understandably reluctant to put down permanent roots in terms of where they work.
Edinburgh is often described as the city with the perfect balance between all things traditional and contemporary, and is often considered one of the most picturesque cities in Europe.
Fashion may come and go, but if you have got the basics right, then you are set for life. For the new headquarters of Swedish fashion giant H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) in Stockholm, Reflex Arkitekter opted for reserved over racy, for an interior that is oh-so-Scandinavian – clean, bright and minimal, interspersed with graphic punches of solid colour.
At about four or five most mornings, Eric Parry leaves his tiny flat in Golden Lane, Islington, and makes the brief walk to his office to start work, popping back for breakfast later before resuming his day.