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By createstreets, Aug 3 2017 11:25AM

By Jeremy Musson

I have always thought the most significant quality of architecture is that it is the most practical and purposeful form of art. It meets needs, it is present, unavoidable, it frames lives - and has framed past lives, and will frame future lives, whether street, palace or church. We just cannot avoid it, while sculpture and painting, even installations can be easily ignored. Architecture may be an art form. It is also a service industry.

I have been an active conservationist, a field in which good understanding, and documentary-based research is vital; if you could not muster a reasonable and reasoned argument about the significance of the building under threat, it was in effect a lost cause. I was also, in the 1990s, a curator of historic houses and landscapes for the National Trust, where we debated endlessly the relevance and impact of those buildings and these places on their various audiences. We certainly felt then that our research and understanding was key, but we also recognised that you need no knowledge at all to respond to a building or a physical place.

One of the areas of great interest to me, has always been what the designer and builder intend, and how did they express that, how did their contemporaries react and respond to the building, how did it look to them, what did they say about how it functioned? We may read a building for its references, to say, dynasty, or to religion, or to the classical or gothic world, but it also contains in its story, numerous other dialogues, which change over time. It is this sense of the ‘residence’ of past lives and works which Ruskin and William Morris championed so fervently in the nineteenth century, and which frames both the world of conservation and the world of curatorship: the defence of authenticity and legibility.

David Hockney once observed that the art which survived from ancient cultures did so because either it was created in durable materials, or because it was loved – or venerated. In the complex field of preservation, I would champion love or affection, as a method, and the love, which springs from knowledge, is the best of all.

For the past two decades, 12 as a specialist writer-editor on the staff of weekly Country Life magazine, I have pursed the history of hundreds of buildings, and in more recent years I have lectured to undergraduates, postgraduates, experienced house curators, interiors designers, and many other audiences. I have both supervised and supported other researchers, and led teams working on conservation management plans and statements, which seek to understand and outline the protection of that significance. I have explored aspects of the historic house, church and wider urban contexts too. Historic buildings are the points on our cultural maps by which we can - and do - explore the past and define the present.

I have been especially interested in the intersections of architecture, art, and ideas, and written on the houses of the British aristocracy and squirearchy (and aspects of their social history), but also on the houses of artists and writers. I have written about English, American and European subjects, from obscure, Norman manor houses to the house of Goethe in Weimar, from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge to the water gardens and house at Ninfa in Lazio.

All of these projects have been explorations of meaning through buildings and the experience of buildings; how buildings work, and how they work on the observer and the visitor. I have become increasingly interested in the sharp rise in ‘cultural’ tourism, in an ever-wider awareness of the significance of architecture and urban character when visiting European cities (and how tourism impacts on that significance and character).

Architectural history needs to be anchored in the real world of builders, owners, developers, regulations, of contemporary fears and vanities. It reflects its time and, in turn, shapes it. This is why it is exciting to be involved in a new initiative in the field of architectural history, which embraces European and North American topics. The Gothic cathedral and castle, the renaissance villa, the baroque palace and church, the impact of industry and religion on nineteenth century European architecture, and the evolution of the very idea of the significant past will all be explored, as will the influence of the classical world, the architecture of the colonial era, Beaux Arts in the US, and the meaning of modern in architecture. Architectural history is, for me, one of the best routes to understand the world we inhabit, as well as the world we would like to inhabit. It’s a lot more than pretty pictures.

Jeremy Musson is an architectural historian, writer and broadcaster. More information about his new MA course at the University of Buckingham, London Programme on the history of Western Architecture is available at:

The course’s evening seminars and discussions for the 2017/18 programme will be led by some of the outstanding scholars of today, covering topics from the medieval world to the mid-twentieth century, and will provide a framework for the individual student’s dissertations.

By createstreets, Aug 1 2017 05:11PM

Professor Philip Steadman of UCL set out to discover whether high-rise buildings are more energy-intensive than low-rise buildings. He and his team found conclusively that the answer was yes, and energy could be saved by encouraging low-rise buildings instead of skyscrapers.

A new study at the Energy Institute, University College London, has shown that office and residential buildings use more energy in operation, per square metre of floor area, the taller they are.

The work was divided into four parts.

1. An analysis of operational energy use in some 700 UK office buildings of varying height

2. A statistical analysis of operational energy use against height of all residential buildings, grouped at the level of neighbourhoods, in twelve London boroughs

3. A study of the relationship of built form to density

4. An analysis of the possible physical causes of the observed increase of energy use with height, using computer simulation. This work continues.

1. Energy Use and Height in Office Buildings

The first part of the study looked at energy use in office buildings. Energy use and floor area data for the sample of office buildings come from three sources: Display Energy Certificates, the Better Buildings Partnership, and the London Mayor’s Energy Challenge. The buildings are all in the UK, the majority in London. They range in height from 2 storeys to more than 30 storeys. Some are air-conditioned, others mechanically or naturally ventilated. Some are commercial offices, others public. Their dates of construction range from pre-1900 to the present. Of the 700 or so buildings selected, electrically heated buildings account for 15% of the sample. These are being studied separately and have been excluded from the analyses presented here.

Figures 1, 2 and 3 show mean annual electricity and fossil fuel use (kilowatt hours per square metre) and carbon emissions (kilograms of CO2 per square metre) against building height, the heights being aggregated into five bands. The fossil fuel is almost entirely gas. Consumption of both fuels has been weather-corrected to account for the buildings’ locations and the metered year.

Comparing buildings on 6 storeys and fewer (‘low-rise’) with buildings on 20 storeys and more (‘high-rise’), electricity use in the high-rise is nearly two and a half times greater than in the low-rise (a 135% increase). The increase in fossil fuel use (by 40%) is less marked. Carbon emissions are more than doubled going from ‘low-rise’ to ‘high-rise’.

Figures 2 and 3 show the effects of the use of air conditioning on energy use and emissions (again excluding electrically-heated buildings). Comparing the trends, it can be seen that the increase in electricity use is more gradual in the buildings without air conditioning, but that it reaches a similar value to the air-conditioned buildings at 20 storeys and above. (It should however be noted that almost all of the tallest buildings have air conditioning, so the results for this height group should be treated with caution.) Emissions from the ‘high-rise’ air-conditioned buildings are more than one and a half times greater than in the ‘low-rise’ air-conditioned. In buildings without air conditioning, this difference is much greater (with the proviso above).

2. Energy Use and Height in Residential Buildings

A different approach has been taken to energy use in the residential stock (houses and blocks of flats), since it proved difficult to obtain data on actual electricity and gas consumption for large numbers of individual buildings. In these circumstances, the project has used statistical methods to study the relationship of the combined energy use of all domestic buildings to their collective built form, within Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) in twelve London boroughs. An LSOA is a spatial unit designed for Census purposes: in residential areas it would contain typically between 400 and 1200 households. Data are publicly available on total quantities of domestic gas and electricity supplied to LSOAs.

Figure 4a shows how building height (number of floors) is distributed in the twelve boroughs. See how the heights in lower-density, predominantly residential boroughs like Wandsworth and Hackney are clustered around 3 and 4 storeys; while in higher-density boroughs like the City and Westminster, there are more taller buildings, many of them blocks of flats. Figure 4b shows total consumption of domestic electricity and gas by LSOAs in the same boroughs.

A linear regression model was used to assess the relative impacts on electricity and gas use of a series of factors including the height, volume, and exposed surface area (walls and roofs) of buildings, as well as some non-geometric variables including numbers of residents and percentage of dwellings having central heating. There was a very marked increase in gas use with height, but only a small increase in the use of electricity. (These are the opposite trends to those found in offices, where electricity use increases steeply with height.) The regression model showed that in areas of London where residential buildings are generally taller, the addition of an extra meter of height adds 0.9 MWh/year to the gas consumption of an LSOA.

[These two studies considered only energy in operation, not ‘embodied energy’, that is the energy used to produce building materials and in the construction process. Previous work in Australia has shown that energy embodied in office buildings over 40 storeys was some 60% greater than in offices below 7 storeys.]

3. Density and Built Form

Many people believe that high densities can only be achieved with tall buildings. This is by no means true in all cases. Density is powerfully affected by built form. In the 1970s Leslie Martin and Lionel March showed that, all other things being equal, slab blocks could achieve higher densities than towers on the same sites; and that court forms could achieve higher densities than slabs. The ratio between the densities of the three types of form (courts: slabs: towers) could go as high as 3: 2: 1. Meta Berghauser Pont and Per Haupt have recently measured the densities of large numbers of Dutch residential estates and have provided empirical confirmation of these counterintuitive theoretical findings.

A spreadsheet model has been developed in the present project, incorporating Berghauser Pont and Haupt’s ‘Spacemate’ tool (Figure 6). This allows the user to specify a total floor area for a building, and the size and shape of the site. The model then determines the number of storeys needed to accommodate this floor area in a range of built forms - either towers, slabs, courts or cruciforms. Plan depth, and the spacing between a building and its neighbours, can be controlled. The building form is shown graphically, and its position is plotted in the Spacemate graph whose axes measure Floor Space Index (density) and Ground Space Index (ground coverage).

It is thus possible to work out, for a given site and a specified density, what range of built forms is available to the architect and developer. Given that the project has found large increases in operational energy use with increasing height of buildings, this density work shows how lower-rise buildings could in many circumstances reduce energy consumption without sacrificing density. Tall towers could be replaced with slabs or courts in many actual and planned developments in London, to provide the same floor area on the same sites. These options depend critically however on the sizes of sites.

4. Simulation studies of the possible physical causes of increases in energy use with height

The studies of both offices and dwellings have shown that energy intensity increases sharply with height; but they have not provided a full explanation of these results. Notice that in the case of the offices, the cause is not that the taller buildings tend to be air-conditioned and the lower buildings tend to be naturally ventilated: the effect is seen in non-air-conditioned buildings of all heights. Analysis also shows that the explanation is not to be found in the different ages of the office buildings, nor in the fact that taller offices are more likely to be ‘prestige’ buildings – whatever exactly that means – as indicated by their rateable values. Rateable values are low for buildings on 6 storeys or fewer, but otherwise are broadly unrelated to height. On the other hand, glazing proportion does increase systematically with height, as might be expected, suggesting that one cause may be to do with heat loss and heat gain.

At present it is only possible to speculate: but there are potential physical effects relating to height in itself that could be at work. Specifically there is a general increase in wind speed and a lowering of average temperature with increasing height above ground, to which taller buildings are more exposed. Buildings that rise above their neighbours are also not as overshadowed, and experience greater solar gains. It seems possible that such effects have not been properly allowed for in some previous exercises using simulation models. The effects can however be modelled. Work is in progress to investigate these physical hypotheses for a sub-sample of the offices, using two different customisations of the EnergyPlus tool. The geometry of the target buildings and their neighbours is being taken from the 3DStock model of London.

For a longer version of this essay, please visit the UCL Energy Institute’s webpage here. Enquiries to Philip Steadman (


This EPSRC-funded project ran at the Energy Institute from December 2015 to April 2017. The research team included Philip Steadman, Ian Hamilton, Daniel Godoy-Shimizu, Homeira Shayesteh and Stephen Evans at UCL; Graciela Moreno at LDA Design; and Michael Donn at Victoria University Wellington (New Zealand). Energy and floor area data for offices were kindly made available by the Better Buildings Partnership and the London Mayor’s Energy Challenge. We are grateful for special help from Chris Botten of BBP and Paul Ruyssevelt of the Energy Institute.


M Berghauser Pont and P Haupt, Spacemate: The Spatial Logic of Urban Density, Delft University Press, Delft 2004

S Evans, R Liddiard, P Steadman, ‘3DStock: a new kind of three-dimensional model of the building stock of England and Wales, for use in energy analysis’, Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 2016

I Hamilton, S Evans, P Steadman, D Godoy-Shimizu, M Donn, H Shayesteh, G Moreno, ‘All the way to the top! The energy implications of building tall cities’, CISBAT 2017 International Conference, Lausanne, Switzerland

L Martin and L March eds, Urban Space and Structures, Cambridge University Press 1972 pp.35-38

G J Treloar, R Fay, B Ilozor and P E D Love (2001) ‘An analysis of the embodied energy of office buildings by height’, Facilities, 19, 204-214

By createstreets, Jun 16 2017 03:00AM

Here is an article we pubished in the Estates Gazette on 10 May.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING: Are you in heaven or are you in hell? Are towers good for you?

Frothy coffees. Funky spaces. Great neighbours. Green roofs. Walking to everything. Watching the sun go down from your exclusive eyrie. To read the PR patter of a hundred sales brochures right now is to realise that high-rise heaven is round the corner and up the lift-shaft. We have learnt, proclaim sleek developers and confident architects, from the mistakes of the past. This time people will be happy and the windows will clean themselves.

Are they right? Some market signals are hopeful. There is a market for top end residential flats high in towers. In modern, high-end, well-managed London developments with a reliable lift, each floor is typically worth 1.5% more. Some robust sociological studies show that middle income or wealthy residents can be very satisfied with their homes as long as the blocks are well managed. And recent city-wide data shows that crime, particularly burglary, can now be lower in high-rise buildings compared to other housing. With more prosperous residents, controlled access, more expensive management and street locations, high-rises can be very safe places to live.

However, take the long view and the data is more disturbing. What is the evidence of the experience of living in high-rise or large blocks on wellbeing and correlated factors such as children’s progress, physical activity and social interconnectivity levels? Clearly people can be happy in towers and miserable in houses and vice versa. However, our study, Heart in the Right Street, has reviewed 85 peer-reviewed academic studies which contrasted socio-economically comparable groups living in high and low-rise accommodation. Sixty-seven (79%) found that high-rise residence was negatively associated with some aspect of wellbeing. Nine (11%) found no association either way. And nine (11%) found a positive association between high-rise residency and wellbeing. Living in large high-rise buildings is less popular for most, associated with higher levels of stress and mental depression (particularly for women in families), is normally inimical to effective child-rearing and seems to be normally associated with lower levels of social capital. Nor does very recent research suggest this is changing. One very recent study (though imperfectly controlled) found that Vancouver high-rise residents were less likely than those living in detached homes to know their neighbours’ names, to have done them a favour, to trust them or to believe that their wallet would be returned if lost locally.

Why is this? Three reasons stand out. Firstly, it often seems to be much harder to bring up children in large blocks of flats. Children go outside less when they live in high-rises. They spend more time playing alone or in restricted play. This is not without consequences. One controlled study, compared mothers of under fives in the Newcastle estate of Cruddas Park. Some 62% of mothers living on the sixth floor or above reported difficulties with the ‘play, health [or] personality’ of their children; 53% of mothers in high-rise below the sixth-floor reported issues. However only 3% of mothers in houses reported issues.

Secondly, when the internal scale of a large building matches their external scale, towers can “atomise” and dehumanise by taking away from residents control over who they will meet as they travel between their flat and the public realm. The can increase withdrawal and anonymity and decrease friendships. Residents may meet more people but they will know fewer of them. Research suggests that “the richest social environments are those in which we feel free to edge closer together or move apart as we wish”. However, living in large buildings can undermines these bonds of social interdependence. And society needs these bonds. Professor Robert Gifford has cited a very wide range of controlled studies that make this point emphatically. In one study, those with garden flats had three times as many friends in the building as those on high floors. In another study residents of low-rise buildings had 50% more local friends than residents of high-rise buildings.

Thirdly, bigger more complex buildings cost much more to manage. A 2012 Cambridge study found that service charges rose as densities increased. One very experienced architect concluded that “it is inevitable that tall buildings have much higher management costs”. This seems to be particularly the case as high-rise buildings age. Service charges in the Barbican Centre’s Shakespeare Tower are £8,000 a year. This is fine if residents or owners can afford it. But if they can’t, the communal area can become pretty unpleasant. This was what happened following the last high-rise boom. What is the long-term outlook for luxury towers in a post-Brexit outer London?

Flats in ultra-high density buildings have their place in the modern city. The platonic ideal of the high-rise resident will usually be a male, prosperous, childless, second-home owner. Towers can work. But they are clearly, statistically, not for everyone. Sip carefully because the coffee isn’t as frothy as it seems.

By createstreets, Jun 9 2017 07:22AM

What does the hung parliament and a likely minority Conservative Government propped up by the DUP mean for housing delivery and for architecture ?

It’s very hard to be certain (that’s rather the problem with weak governments) but here are a few observations.

Firstly, whatever happens they’ll be a new housing minister. Gavin Barwell lost his Croydon Central seat on Thursday night. They’ll be many from across the housing sector and political spectrum who regret that. He was widely seen as getting on top of his brief and being impressively pragmatic and hard working.

Secondly, look at the seats that the Conservative lost last night and they were very largely in cities or towns - a whole slice of London seats and others such as Canterbury, Ipswich, Peterborough, Bath, Bedford, Cardiff North. In contrast the seats they gained were mainly rural and in Scotland. The seats of their likely partners, the DUP, are also mainly rural. So the contrast between the mainly urban, metropolitan architectural and housing profession and those of the (admittedly barely) governing parties could barely be sharper. With the AJ poll showing 64% of architects voting Labour, the difference of geography and mindset between the profession and the government has probably never been greater. Rural and suburban government. An urban profession? A challenge for the incoming president of RIBA.

Thirdly, whatever your politics, the whole problem with hung parliaments and minority governments is that they are not very good at getting things done. The smallest number of disgruntled backbenchers can stop a policy in its tracks. And this government is going to have some fairly major diplomatic challenges as well. Most commentators think that the Housing White Paper had quite a lot of good suggestions in it. I fear those that not all of those are as likely to be delivered now as they were before Thursday, particularly any which scare Conservative backbenchers in shires and suburbs.

A final thought. Architects who are looking for areas of likely public sector investment in infrastructure and schools in the years to come. Think about opening an office in Belfast.

By createstreets, Apr 25 2017 01:12PM

Joseph Jutras, founder of the Institution of Traditional Architecture in the Netherlands, writes:

It is a good question and it can be tempting to answer in financial terms. Beauty is good for the local economy, especially when considering property values and tourism. For example, compare tourism in Paris to Brasilia. Or two small cities in Belgium: Bruges and Liège. There is no question that beauty brings in the money. Or perhaps one can go the wellness route and talk about patient recovery times and levels of crime. Or sustainability. Beautiful buildings are maintained. Ugly buildings are demolished and new ones built in their place. However, these approaches are functional, intellectual arguments; and if we are honest with ourselves, they are erected to justify a far more basic truth. We should build beautiful simply because we like it. Beauty brings us pleasure, and that should be enough.

Granted, there is a spectrum of how sensitive people are to beauty. On one end of the spectrum someone might thrive living in a concrete box. On the other end, someone might crumble living in the same environment. Sadly, many do crumble and the social effects are devastating: addiction, depression, suicide, abuse. Naturally beauty isn’t the panacea that will fix all these issues, but it’s clear that beauty alleviates them while a concrete box exacerbates them. For those that can thrive living in a concrete box, let me pose some parallel questions.

Why go to a good movie? Why not just pay the money, sit in the seat for a couple of hours, and watch drivel? You are doing the same thing, and spending the same amount of money and time either way.

Or, why look for meaningful work? Why not just find a job, any job really? If the pay and hours are roughly the same, does it matter if the work is meaningful or if you like your colleagues?

Why eat good food? Isn’t the point of eating just to get calories in your body so you can work, so you can earn money so you can go to movies and buy food so you can eat so you can work…

Aristotle observed that we do many things for the sake of something else. As Julian Baggini writes:

“We eat to live, work to pay the mortgage, study to pass exams and so on. But unless at least one thing is done for its own sake, there is no point in doing anything. Not everything can be a means to an end: there must be ends which are valuable in their own right. So if living must at some stage be valuable in itself if it is to be worthwhile, why not here and now?”

Here’s the trick: with the right attitude many things, even common activities, can be viewed as valuable in their own right. Take eating and exercise for example. Viewed as a means to an end, eating is performed to ingest calories and exercise to burn these calories. However, eating and exercise can be much more than this. Enjoying the ritual of a nice meal and the taste of good food makes life better. Some people run to stay fit and it becomes a chore. Others run for the joy of it and it makes life better – and as a bonus, they still stay fit.

We can look at buildings through the same lens. In their basic sense buildings provide shelter and security. But they can and should be so much more. Beautiful buildings make life better simply because we like beauty. It creates a fuller experience and enhances the simple joy of being alive. As a bonus we get all the good stuff associated with beautiful buildings like financial gain, sustainability, and wellbeing.

So watch good movies, find meaningful work, jog without the headphones, the heartrate monitor, and the GPS watch, eat good food, use the good china, and… for our town planners, architects, and developers; build beautiful! It’s not hedonism (at least not in the current use of the word), it’s humanism.

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