Backless Bag Lunches
The forecourt of Chifley Square is described (AA Mar/Apr 98) as “a realm for public relaxation”. In the café perhaps, but certainly not on those backless benches set in a vast acre of bare stone: the steps to the building might be more popular. Sydney desperately needs places where people can take a break from their activities-in the open, comfortably (psychologically as well as physically), sheltered from the sun in summer and winds in winter. Farrer Place is ruined, and the Pitt Street Mall, too, when the train comes through. Australia Square continues to reign supreme as a recreational space.
Please, designers, spare a thought for the officer worker with a bag lunch.
–From Margaret Ferrie, Oatley, NSW
Credit The Builder
Re your Nudel Bar article [AA Mar/Apr 97]: As a builder who has often worked on modern architectural construction, it would be great to acknowledge the builder in credits.
–From Laurence Aboukhater, Melbourne
AA Prize Absurd
I am writing about the AA-awarded prize [AA Mar/Apr 98] to an idea for a glass-box art gallery consisting only of ramps or staircases and entirely devoid of display space.
We must be grateful that such hare-brained ideas remain unbuilt; but why award prizes to ideas that should simply be laughed off the stage as nonsense?
It is unfair to encourage students to think that such self-gratification can be classed as architecture.
–From Peter Kesteven, Shenton Park, WA
Professor Ian Lowe’s recent television link-up (a national seminar organised by the RAIA) was a most interesting event that demonstrated the potential of the technique to enable an expert to simultaneously tell his story in 30-plus locations over the length and breadth of Australia without spending extra time, money or energy in separately visiting them.
In general, much of what Professor Lowe had to say was relevant and important but when he attempted to deal with specifics and the properties of building materials, he was often wrong because, as so often happens, he tended to rely on a not-always-correct interpretation of data from the dominant culture of the cold-winter northern hemisphere.
He correctly advised energy-conserving designers to take note of the construction techniques used in vernacular architecture, but then went on to ignore his own advice by advocating heavyweight construction in cold climates and lightweight construction where it is usually hot. The truth is exactly the opposite: in northern Europe and America, where winters are cold, vernacular construction uses a timber frame and adds lots of insulation; but further south, where summers are hot, we find that massive masonry structures dominate.
At the risk of repeating facts well-known to members of our profession, northern winters are cold during both night and day and, if heating energy is to be conserved, it is important to lose as little of its as possible by providing lots of insulation, which is most easily fitted into a frame made from abundantly available timber. In most of the hot parts of the world, the hot days are followed by cool or even cold nights and, in these circumstances, good orientation and thermal inertia associated with massive masonry structures can be used to maintain reasonable comfort without the use of much heating or cooling energy.
In the humid tropics, neither insulation nor thermal inertia is of much use to the designer who is trying to provide the optimum internal environment without too much artificial cooling. In those circumstances the need is to provide for the maximum use of any natural air movement. I know that Prof Lowe operates from Brisbane, but that is not in the humid tropics and one has to go further north before the beneficial effects of heavy masonry construction are lost.
About 50 years ago, as an architectural student struggling with design exercises and the fact that we had often not yet learned some of the correct technical details of how to put a building together, we used to tell each other not to be too concerned because: ‘I’ve got my emotions and a fat black pencil, do not confuse me with the facts’. This was a statement believed by most architects. Those working in the energy conservation environment who advocate using lightweight materials to ‘touch the ground lightly’ will find that much of Ian Lowe’s technical information from the seminar will certainly satisfy this criterion and they will not be confused with the facts.
–From Tom McNeilly, Kew, Victoria
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