The programme of technical research concerns the support of sustainable communities through the development of building systems that address the issues of carbon emissions, embodied energy, consumption of natural resources, creation of employment and resistance to natural disaster. We have initiated and led a number of research programmes, securing funding and bringing in collaborators from academia and industry as necessary. This work was shortlisted for the RIBA Presidents Award for Outstanding Research.
In order to create successful and sustainable communities technical solutions need to be combined with cultural knowledge and the programme of cultural research mines a wide range of resources that offer lessons in designing for location and climate and in the relationship between local culture and global advances.
Selected research projects are illustrated below.
The j.Pod is a low-cost, low-carbon, prefabricated timber construction system that uses home-grown timber to create an earthquake-resistant structure that can be fabricated by low-skilled labour using simple tools. Japan has a tradition of timber construction and a land mass that is seventy percent forest but languishes as an untapped resource as the construction industry has moved towards steel and concrete and timber imported from North America. As a result its carpenters have become de-skilled. The j.Pod was developed to redress the balance back towards the use of this natural resource, low in embodied energy, low in carbon emissions. Selected projects that have used the system are highlighted below.
Kyoto University; Fukuyama University; Konoike Gumi; Torisumi Shuseizai; Torisha.
The system comprises a series of structural rib frames that have been designed to resist lateral deflection without the need for bracing or wracking partitions. This allows the design of open-ended, structure-free spaces, ideal for classrooms and similar uses. Kyoto University has used the system to build free-standing seminar rooms within its campus.
Forestry Research Station
A forestry research station built in a remote part of Wakayama Prefecture using local timber for both structure and cladding. Access to the site was limited to forest tracks and the structure was erected in less than a day using prefabricated frames assembled into pods that could fit on the back of a small truck.
Forty units of social housing built in a timber-growing region of Hyogo Prefecture using local timber, fabricated by a local manufacturer and assembled by local contractors to provide affordable housing for the community.
Care in the Community
This prototype unit for a charity that operates care homes for the severely disabled is designed to provide the opportunity for independent living within the community or adjacent to family members. As well as the benefits of affordability and ease of erection with minimum site preparation, the absence of any requirement for internal, structural partitions provides complete flexibility and barrier-free accessibility
Small, affordable houses constructed from local timber were once commonplace in Japanese cities but, since the 1980's, they have been disappearing to be replaced by developers' apartment blocks. Seen as backward and structurally unsafe in earthquake conditions there has been little interest in saving them and no policy of retention and refurbishment by the Japanese government. Japanese house builders are amongst the most advanced in the world but they offer a product for the suburban affluent. For the young, the old and the less affluent residents of desirable inner-city locations the choice has been stark and is illustrated by the first image: accept the slab block on offer or hold out against the steamroller of 'improvement' and become marooned in an ageing and potentially unsafe house.
The second and subsequent images show a neighbourhood not 10 minutes' walk from the first, where the j.Pod was used to structurally stabilise and reinforce each house to Japanese earthquake-resistant standard. The houses thus having been made safe, the residents were able to secure government funding for their general refurbishment and improvement.
Further testing and development of system using home-grown Scottish timber.
Strathclyde University; Glasgow Caledonian University; Buro Happold
In Search of In'ei
An analysis of the meaning of In'ei, as used by the Japanese novelist, Jun'Ichiro Tanizaki in his influential essay, In'ei Raisan (In praise of Shadows).
Mukogawa Women's University; Glasgow University; Arata Isozaki.
The Family, the House and the City
An examination of the Azuma House, designed and built by the Japanese architect, Takamitsu Azuma and its relevance to the creation of successful urban communities.
Rie Azuma; Yushin Toda