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I always enjoy talking to users of high profile architect’s buildings. I was having a conversation with someone who works for the New York Times as we strolled past Central Saint Giles, Renzo Piano Building Workshop‘s latest project in London, the subject turned to what is was like to work in the New York Times Building. Amongst what was a suspected reply of how comfortable it was, with great views and its beautiful external aesthetics was the building’s inability to deal with the New York winter.

One of the building’s key design features is a ceramic screen over a glass curtain wall system (shown above) which is used for daylight harvesting. Basically ceramics have a high thermal mass (they hold on to heat for longer) and so create a thermal boundary between the glass and outside. What was clearly not thought about is that ceramics, as well as holding onto heat very well also hold on to cold very well. This has resulted, so I am informed, with sheet ice forming on the ceramic screen during the colder winter months and the building having to close its main entrance for health and safety reasons (so you don’t get chopped in half by falling sheet ice). I suppose even the most highly regarded architects occasionally miss a detail.

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As discussed in The Minaret, it is the only structure synonymous with a mosque. The inclusion of this feature is strengthened because of its integral use in the Environmental Design strategy. It is a simple brick tubular tower with an intricate water-jet cut stainless steel perforated grill set to a six pointed star pattern in plan as the crowning piece. This patterned sheet acts as the outlet for the prayer space’s passive ventilation strategy.

With one of the aims of the the proposed mosque to combine the Minaret with its ventilation system based on precedents like the Contact Theatre, employing a strategy that is appropriate is crucial. Above is a sketch of simple stack effect ventilation taken from Environmental Design by Randall Thomas. I have been fortunate enough to have discussed such methods with Randall. They are both interesting and can improve the energy efficiency of a building dramatically if considered from an early stage of design. It is essential that all architects understand at least the basic principles upon which methods such as this are based.

The Contact Theatre, Manchester by Short & Associates is a very good example of passive ventilation. The principle behind the mechanically assisted natural ventilation system of the Contact Theatre is quite simple. External cool air is brought in through a series of ground level vents which are fed to under the seating. As the air heats up is rises but the extraction is through constructed H Pots above the theatre. These H Pots create a negative pressure from cross winds to suck the air out, however this is sometimes assisted by mechanically by fans in the base of the stack. Above is a sketch showing the passive of air through the main theatre space.

Essentials to all architecture is an understanding of technical details. In basic terms how the thing keeps dry, warm and stands up, however this should not sacrifice the aesthetics of a building, a balance must be found between the two. I think this roof by Nissen Adams Architects as part of their 2008 conversion for the Philips De Pury & Co Auction House is beautiful. The enchanting part of it is that the iron structure is all original with new double glazed units placed on top to preserve the industrial appearance but with much better insulating qualities. This is no easy feat either with most double glazed units normally housed in large chunky frames which would have destroyed the appearance of such an elegant roof.