And finally…

A (sometimes) light hearted look at the weird and wonderful world of construction

And finally… Computer algorithms used to design prefabricated studio

A company which uses computer algorithms to create customised prefabricated dwellings for homes has completed its first project.

Deezen reports that design-build firm Cover has created a 320-square-foot (30-square-metre) studio in Los Angeles which serves as an office and music studio for an Oscar-nominated sound editor.

The white rectangular structure consists of a steel framing and floor-to-ceiling glass. Inside, the building’s single room is fitted with wooden flooring, contemporary decor and built-in storage. An air-tight building envelope and a radiant heating-and-cooling system help keep energy costs low.

The unit, which took three months to design and build, was assembled in Cover’s LA factory and then shipped to the site. The project cost $110,000 (£83,450), which included foundation work.

It is the first completed unit by the company, which produces customised backyard homes often referred to as accessory dwellings — touted by some as a way to increase density and provide affordable housing in growing metro areas.

Ranging from 100 to 1,200 square feet (nine to 111 square metres), the dwellings can be used to accommodate guests, in-laws or rent-paying tenants, or they can serve as studios, workshops, pool houses or lounges.

“Cover sets out to make living and working in a thoughtfully designed and well-built space a reality for everyone,” said the company, which was launched in 2014 and is backed by venture capital funding. The cofounders, Alexis Rivas and Jemuel Joseph, have architecture degrees and formerly worked at design studios.

The company uses digital tools to streamline the design and construction process. Clients provide details – such as design preferences and site conditions – which are fed into a proprietary computer program that generates multiple design options. Within days, clients receive renderings and plans, along with a full quote.

After the design is chosen, Cover obtains the necessary permits, installs the foundation, assembles the structure in its factory, and ships the components to the site. Assembly and installation take 12 weeks, according to the company.

“Unlike other prefab companies and builders, Cover is a technology company first, armed with a team of full-time software engineers, designers, manufacturing engineers and architects who have developed technology that streamlines the entire process of designing, buying, permitting, manufacturing and assembling Cover units,” said Rivas.

The Cover dwellings are the latest in a series of projects that utilise generative design tools, which experts say could transform both the physical world and the role of the designer. The emerging technology uses algorithms to generate every possible permutation of a design solution.

And finally… The Architect’s Home in the Ravine painting goes under the hammer with £14-18m estimate

The Architect’s Home in the Ravine, 1991

A painting by Scotland’s “most valuable living artist” which refers to a building in Toronto will come to auction next month with an estimate of £14-18 million.

Born in Edinburgh in 1959, Peter Doig first came to prominence after winning the Whitechapel Award in 1991, and recent years have seen significant demand for his works by international collectors.

Sotheby’s said the painting marks an important milestone in the artist’s career since it dates from the year of the highly prestigious award.

The auction house added: “The Architect’s Home in the Ravine refers to a building remembered from the artist’s childhood in Canada – the home of Eberhard Zeidler, which is situated in the wealthy Toronto suburb of Rosedale. However, whilst this is the stated subject, the eerie mood and the composition can be better traced to a celebrated building by architect Le Corbusier, the Untié d’Habitation in Briey-en-Fôret in North-East France. In the summer of 1991 Doig visited this site as part of a team of artists and architects working on its restoration; the building had been derelict since 1973. He was struck by the view of the modernist building from the dense surrounding forest. It appeared just out of reach; at once threatening and inviting, comforting and obscure.

“Le Corbusier’s building at Briey is referenced in the The Architect’s Home in the Ravine through the coloured panels that bedeck the front of the house, only just visible through the thickets of forest. Doig would refer back to the building repeatedly and in more explicit terms in the celebrated Concrete Cabin paintings that were executed between 1992 and 1996. This conflation of physical experience and emotive recollection is typical of Doig. He is an artist of oneiric atmosphere whose works are as much meditations on the concept of memory itself as musings on previous personal experience.”

Other paintings by Doig include Iron Hill (1991) which became the first work by the artist to sell for over £1m at Sotheby’s auction in 2006, and Rosedale (1991) which established a new $28.8m auction record for any living British artist last year.

Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s European Head of Contemporary Art said: “The Architect’s Home in the Ravine undoubtedly ranks among Peter Doig’s greatest works. Standing in front of it, it is immediately clear as to why he is considered one of Britain’s foremost living painters.”

The Architect’s Home in the Ravine returns to auction on 7 March to lead Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Contemporary art.

And finally… Interactive ‘crystal rock’ facade planned for new office building

Architects at MVRDV have unveiled plans for an office block with an interactive mirrored facade and open geometric core designed to display back images of its location and surrounding landscape.

Dubbed the “crystal rock” by the Dutch architecture firm, the facade of the Milestone building in the city of Esslingen in southern Germany will be formed from fritted glass containing photovoltaic cells that will reflect back images of the city.

Extruded and indented blocks on the square grid of the facade will give the building a 3D profile that the architects describe as a “pixelated map”.

Passersby will be able to use their phones to interact with the facade, which will be printed with QR codes that reveal information about the city.

“This building shows Esslingen to all people who pass by on trains and will become a new symbol to reflect its past heritage and future’’, said Winy Maas, MVRDV co-founder.

“The façade with fritted glass will have QR codes integrated on to it informing visitors about Esslingen’s people, landscape, and histories which makes the building an interactive library for all.”

The buildings’ volume is pushed inwards to create a fragmented façade, an ‘Esslinger grotto’ that reflects its actual topography and forms an open public walkway right through the centre, marking the location of the central district. On upper levels, offices are located and envisioned as light, attractive and flexible spaces that are customisable for different users to create combinations of work and life. On the ground level, the crystal rock façade opens up to the public square in front connecting the city to the building and provides public amenities including a café, restaurant and meeting areas.

The Milestone’s partly mirrored-transparent façade integrates technology and sustainability with the use of fritted glass to reduce overheating, PV cells to store and generate energy, and finally, QR codes which carry information about the city in a pixelated map spread across the building making it both visible and readable. The three-dimensional map is located on the lower part of the building extends to a height of 40 meters, and with stairs and terraces, it forms a publicly accessible core that tenants and visitors can walk up to take in views of the vineyards and surrounding hills. All of these sustainability features in the façade all the potential for the building to become partly self-sufficient in future.

The transparency of the façade allows an interaction between inside and out, whilst reflecting the daily interactions in the square thus turning the front of the building into a new meeting point. In contrast, at night, the building becomes illuminated through its façade and is a new beacon for Esslingen. For train travellers, the current beacon being a large chimney of a former knife factory with the abbreviation of the factory name on its side, spelling the word DICK, which means ‘big’ in German.

MVRDV was commissioned to work on the project by investors RVI and construction will start in 2020.

Images courtesy of MVRDV

And finally… Cover up

A property developer has been ordered to pay nearly €5.5 million to a group of graffiti artists after destroying their work without warning.

The street artists took the developer to court after 45 separate artworks were whitewashed as a precursor to the redevelopment of a site.

Judge Frederic Block, of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, said the artwork in Long Island City was a “prominent tourist attraction” and the public was robbed of a chance to “say its goodbyes … and gaze at the formidable works of aerosol art for the last time”.

In a 100-page decision, he said developer Gerald Wolkoff should have waited 10 months until he had acquired permits for the demolition.

The judge awarded $150,000 for each of the destroyed artworks, for a total of $6.75m.

And finally… Graffiti tribute to V&A Dundee architect

A Dundee graffiti artist has paid tribute to Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the designer of the £80.1 million V&A Museum of Design on the city’s waterfront.

Artist SYKE created the black and white portrait of Kengo Kuma on a wall near Seabraes, less than a mile from the flagship building.

SYKE, whose real name is Symon Mathieson, told The Courier: “He has designed a stunning building for our city.

“This is just a little way of saying thanks.”

Kengo Kuma visited Dundee last week to inspect the completed V&A building.

Images courtesy of SYKE on Facebook.

And finally… Duty of scare

1120 Westchester Place, Los Angeles (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A couple who purchased a $3.2 million mansion are suing the brokers for failing to disclose that it featured in a popular horror TV show — plus, they add, it is actually haunted.

In 2015, Dr Ernst von Schwarz and Angela Oakenfold became the inadvertent owners of the Rosenheim Mansion at 1120 Westchester Place in Los Angeles, which starred in American Horror Story in 2011.

According to their lawsuit, the house has become a “macabre tourist attraction” for fans, who regularly “trespass, attempt to break in, and [create] a significant nuisance”.

Their attorney, Doug Vanderpool, told The Real Deal that the sellers and brokers had a duty to disclose the building’s role in the show.

He added that the seller and brokers failed to mention the house was haunted by “two ghosts”, though this does not appear in the lawsuit.

In a 2011 interview, American Horror Story actor Evan Peters said of the mansion: “It’s just a creepy house, it’s so terrifying, with that wood everywhere. I would never, ever want to live in that house.”

Dr von Schwarz and Mrs Oakenfold say they do not plan to sell the mansion, but are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

And finally… 130-metre ‘golf ball’ concert venue plan for London

A giant glass spherical concert venue that could rise taller than St Paul’s Cathedral is being planned near the Olympic park in Stratford, East London.

Dubbed The Golf Ball, early designs for the distinctively shaped 20,000-capacity arena seen by the Guardian, are being prepared for the sports and entertainment firm Madison Square Garden Company (MSG).

Reaching at 130-metre tall, the venue would be 19 metres taller than St Paul’s Cathedral, and more than double the height of the nearby stadium, now home to West Ham United.

The architect or the office behind the project has not yet been announced publicly but MSG has reportedly commissioned London-based office Populous, who are best known for their large-scale concert venue designs and stadiums.

The proposed plans have not yet been submitted for consent to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which is the planning authority for the Olympic park area. “But they appear to be in tune with the LLDC’s policy that the car park site should be used for “large-scale town centre use with supporting elements,” according to The Guardian.

And finally… Housebuilder uncovers Iron Age chamber on Isle of Lewis

A 2,000-year-old underground chamber has been uncovered during work to build a house on the Isle of Lewis.

The Iron Age soutterrain was revealed during the digging of the foundations for the property in Ness.

Local archaeologists, husband and wife team Chris and Rachel Barrowman, are recording the soutterrain.

Mr Barrowman said theories on the purpose of the stone-lined, flat stone-roofed structures included storing food.

He told the BBC: “They are usually associated with what are known as Atlantic roundhouses, or wheelhouses, of the later Iron Age.

“If this one was associated with a roundhouse it is likely to have been cleared away by now.”

Mr Barrowman said the well-preserved structure is the sixth to be recorded in the area.

The soutterrain would most likely be filled in and covered over to preserve the archaeology following a full survey, the archaeologist said.

Construction of the new house would then continue as normal.

However, the local authority archaeologist is due to liaise with the islander building the house on the way forward.

And finally… Shark scales could inspire next generation of wind turbines

Engineers are taking inspiration from an unlikely source to create more aerodynamic machines.

A study of shark skin conducted by a team of evolutionary biologists and engineers from Harvard University has led to a new structure that could one day improve the aerodynamic performance of planes, wind turbines, and cars.

The research, carried out in collaboration with the University of South Carolina, is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

“The skin of sharks is covered by thousands and thousands of small scales, or denticles, which vary in shape and size around the body,” said George Lauder, co-author of the research. “We know a lot about the structure of these denticles — which are very similar to human teeth — but the function has been debated.”

Most research has focused on how these denticles reduce drag, but the team instead looked at whether they might also be increasing lift. They used micro-CT scanning to create images of the denticles in three dimensions, and then 3D-printed them onto the surface of an airfoil.

“Airfoils are a primary component of all aerial devices,” said August Domel, co-first author of the paper. “We wanted to test these structures on airfoils as a way of measuring their effect on lift and drag for applications in the design of various aerial devices such as drones, airplanes, and wind turbines.”

The researchers tested 20 different configurations of denticle sizes, rows and row positions on airfoils inside a water flow tank. They found that in addition to reducing drag, the denticle-shaped structures significantly increased lift, acting as high-powered, low-profile vortex generators.

Vortex generators are used in cars and planes to alter the air flow over a moving object and make it more aerodynamic. “These shark-inspired vortex generators achieve lift-to-drag ratio improvements of up to 323 percent compared to an airfoil without vortex generators,” said Domel. “With these proof of concept designs, we’ve demonstrated that these bioinspired vortex generators have the potential to outperform traditional designs.”

Lauder added: “This research not only outlines a novel shape for vortex generators but also provides insight into the role of complex and potentially multifunctional shark denticles.”

And finally… Disused mine shafts to become green energy stores of the future

A Gravitricity plant visualised within a rural edge landscape setting

Former Scots mining communities could find a new lease of life – with old mine shafts turned into hi-tech green energy stores.

This is the plan of Edinburgh start-up Gravitricity, which has just received a £650,000 grant from Innovate UK, the UK government’s innovation agency, for its plan to harness the power of gravity to store renewable energy.

In a case of ‘what goes up, must come down’, their technology uses a massive weight suspended in mine shafts to capture green power, and then release it in seconds.

If Gravitricity’s plan succeeds, the technology could breathe new life into former mining communities, and with it jobs and economic activity.

The UK funds will enable them to start building a scale demonstrator later this year, and find a site to install a full-scale prototype by 2020.

They are now on the look-out for investors, including those who can bring mining experience to the team, and suitable shafts to trial their technology.

And once they have proven the technology in old mines, they then plan to sink new shafts to store energy wherever it is required.

Gravitricity managing director Charlie Blair at Newtongrange Mining Museum

“As we rely more and more on renewable energy, there is an increasing need to find ways to store that energy – so we can produce quick bursts of power exactly when it is needed,” explains company managing director Charlie Blair.

“So far there is a lot of focus on batteries, but our idea is quite different.

“Gravitricity uses a heavy weight – up to 2000 tonnes – suspended in a deep shaft by cables attached to winches.

“When there is excess electricity, for example on a windy day, the weight is winched to the top of the shaft ready to generate power.

“This weight can then be released when required – in less than a second – and the winches become generators, producing either a large burst of electricity quickly, or releasing it more slowly depending on what is needed,” Blair explains.

“It’s a simple case of ‘What goes up, must come down’,” he says.

Unlike batteries, the Gravitricity system can operate for decades without any degradation or reduction in performance, Blair states.

Of course the idea of using gravity to store energy is not new. Britain already relies on a number of pumped storage hydro schemes, such as Ben Cruachan, where water is pumped uphill to be released when required.

“The difference is we don’t need a mountain with a loch or lake at the top, and we can react much faster,” says Blair.

He says the biggest single cost is the hole, and that is why the start-up is developing their technology utilising existing mine shafts, both in the UK and also in South Africa.

As the technology advances, the cost of drilling will reduce significantly and will allow them to sink purpose-built shafts wherever they are required, the company claims.

The start-up plans to build models from 1 to 20MW, and estimates each ‘Gravitricity Energy Storage System’ will last up to 50 years.

Later this year they will build and test a part-scale demonstrator, and they are currently short-listing a number of disused mine shafts for their first full-scale working prototype in 2019/20.