Saturday, 29 November 2008

Nearly new kitchen

The completion of our new kitchen is tantalisingly close now. The installation was delayed by one day, so the fitter started on Thursday, and in two days has most of the work done. At the close of play on Friday, the electrician and the builder were also here, ensuring that we had something that was useful over the week-end. The new hob is working, but so far without the electric ignition, and the sink is plumbed in. It was a great relief to have access to a cooker in order to do a stir fry. The wok burner is great for generating the right kind of heat under the wok. And life with a sink is much more civilised than life without. The washing machine was half set up, but the hot water connecting hose was unusable as it had cracked, and the fitter did not have one with him, so I picked one up Saturday morning after dropping Dan off at the bowling alley for his mate's birthday bash. We're expecting the fitting to be completed on Monday, with some tidying up and a final coat of paint on the walls on Tuesday. Is it going to be possible to get the whole thing finished in 30 days (they started 3rd Nov)? At the moment, it is still looking likely, strangely enough!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Ephemeral buildings

My research and conversations into the nature of the impact of the built environment on the processes that are carried out in buildings is beginning to worry me. I knew for a long time that most buildings are gutted and refurbished every seven years. So the typical building is a somewhat temporary affair, even though the external shell sits on a piece of land for decades, seemingly semi-permanent. Not only are they refurbished regularly and frequently, but also they change hands. So no matter how appropriate they were for one occupier, the next occupier will inevitably find the facility inadequate or inappropriate in some way. When the Private Finance Initiative was introduced as a means of getting the private sector to fund the development of infrastructure, and then charge the public authority for its use under a 30-year contract, we all thought that finally there was a long-term view of infrastructure. But in the event, the deals were re-structured soon after the project was completed, once the development risk had gone, and the Private sector partner would often sell the facility to someone else for them to operate it. So, the engagement was still temporary. Now, I have discovered something else. There are some very good schools around, and they often have very poor quality buildings. Kendrick School, for example, a girls' grammar in Reading, which is one of the highest performing public sector schools in the UK, is situated in dreadful old, poorly maintained and unfit-for-purpose buildings on a crowded site. Failing schools are often provided with brand new buildings, because they need help, but are their results any better with the new building than with the old? If it is the same teachers and the same kids, dealing with the same syllabus, is anything changed? Finally, I learned that a field surgeon on a battlefield in a tent is more likely to succeed in terms of performance metrics thatn a surgeon in a well-equipped operating theatre. So all this leads me to question the permanence and even the significance of buildings in terms of what happens inside them. They now seem to me to be ephemeral things that have little impact on what happens inside them. Can this be true?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A sense of purpose

Our vision for the School of Construction Management and Engineering (SCME) is to grow the strong multi-disciplinary research base underpinning aspects of construction management in which we have developed an internationally-leading reputation. The vocational disciplines around which our work is focused are not usually the focus of research funding in their own right and, therefore, on the face of it, our research and our teaching seem to be in different areas. That difference is more one of perception than reality. The professional institutions are acutely aware of the need for the professions to develop their respective bodies of knowledge. This extends beyond understanding what passes for best professional practice, to understanding the underlying sciences that can explain and challenge professional practice. In other words, the view in SCME is that the construction professions are not academic disciplines in their own right, but fields of application of theoretical frameworks and empirical research methods drawing widely from management, organization, law, economics, engineering, mathematical modelling, and so on. This is why we appoint academics who are specialists in diverse academic areas, with experience of the complexities of the construction sector. Each academic discipline brings a unique insight into the built environment, and the sector is strengthened as a result. It is this approach that makes SCME a world-class leader of the field. We want to continue to bring diverse academic disciplines to bear on the problems confronting the construction sector so that we can develop new ways of working, new approaches to complex problems, based upon robust and rigorous academic research that not only informs that practical world of construction internationally, but also contributes to the theory-building that helps the mainstream academic disciplines to deal with the complexities of the built environment. We seek to develop the professions in the UK and internationally by providing fundamental insights based on rigorous multi-disciplinary research.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Carlo Mollino

A book about Carlo Mollino, a present from Paolo Tombesi, reveals an architect passionate about his buildings, deeply involved in the craft of buildings and of furniture, and whose designs echo the movements and balance of his other great passion, skiing. It is wonderful to read about the people he shared his passions with, and to see the sketches and designs for the buildings and furniture that expressed his feelings for the mountains, the snow, and the movement involved in skiing. The buildings that were built are remarkable, and still look modern. I was unaware of Mollino until now, and looked him up in the internet, where you would be surprised about his great architectural achievements, and about his writings about skiing style. Surprised because the bulk of the results from an internet search focus on the photos of naked women he took later in life, and his passion for fast cars. But what a complete life he lived, spanning so many different interests. And what a legacy he leaves behind.

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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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