Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Shard

'The Shard' is a nickname coined by Renzo Piano from English Heritage's derogatory comments about the design of his skyscraper looking like 'a shard of glass', assuming this was a bad thing.

This informative video below shows the construction sequence of the building, showing a slipform core with skeletal steelwork following alongside. The benefits of slipform are the speed of construction and the structural strength of one solid piece of concrete as opposed to many different core sections stacked on top of each other.

Another good feature about the video is the time line at the bottom, that seems to be accurate judging from construction updates on this this website .

Construction update 24/10/10

What I like about the design is that it isn't a perfect pyramid - the curtain walls aren't flat from top to bottom, they taper slightly, creating interest all the way up the tower. They also cantilever, as the photo below shows:

The image also shows the quality of the glazing on the tower. It's so easy to dislike skyscrapers because they dominate their surroundings, and contribute little to the public realm around them. The Shard seems to embrace the public by inviting them up to a viewing gallery, in perhaps an alternative to The London Eye to give people a different aerial view over the city. The cladding looks crisp even early in the construction stage, and the detailing at the top where the curtain walls all join at different levels looks really interesting:

I look forward to exploring this building when it's finished in 2012, and seeing London from a fresh angle. I enjoy looking at construction updates, as new buildings are so often viewed as only computer renderings or the final, finished product. I will check up on the website (linked above) every few weeks to see how the project is developing.

I think this concept sketch (parti) is beautiful, and surprisingly informative. It shows the different curtain walls, the cores, notes where the public observation galleries are, and shows the public realm beneath the skyscraper. All of this is evident in such a small sketch, something I hope to achieve with my own in future

The building's official website:

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Architecture of Ant Society

This short blog looks at the way ant society functions, and how it is so similar to our own. This blog is loosely based on today's technology lecture, by Dan Kelly.


I've always been interested in the architecture that animals create. From termite mounds to beaver dams, animals have always been successful at changing the landscape around them to suit their needs. Ant colonies create huge underground cities, and I watched a documentary about this, part of which I have rediscovered on youtube. The documentary team pumped gallons of concrete into a disused ant colony, and once the concrete had dried, the surrounding soil was dug out to reveal the disused city - its many chambers, routes and networks:

(please watch!)

'There are sub-terranian highways connecting the main chambers, and off the main routes are side roads. The paths branch and lead to many fungus gardens and rubbish pits. The tunnels are designed to ensure good ventilation, and provide the shortest transport routes. Everything looks like it has been designed by an architect, a single mind'

The ant colony moved forty tons of soil to create this city, digging eight metres into the earth and building fifty metres of pathways... But aside from all the documentary's facts about the vast heights, lengths and weights of the city, I was much more interested in the fungus gardens and rubbish pits, and the ventilation systems the ants used to provide clean air eight metres underground. The more I read up on ant society, the more parallels I found between their society and our own.

Ants build houses and communal spaces, they build bridges, even boats. Their waste goes to waste disposal areas, and they farm (fungi) to provide food. They form symbiotic relationships with other insects and fungi, cooperating with other species to help the success of the colony. The baby ants are cared for by nursing ants; and if an ant is infected with an illness, it will be carried away far away to protect the overall health of the colony.

Ants also social-network. If one ant detects danger, it will release pheromones to the next ant, who will pass the message on (and on) until the whole colony is aware of any potential threat and can respond to it.

Ant society is not just limited to one city state either. Collaborations sometimes exist with nearby colonies, and this BBC news report lists a few 'mega-colonies' that exist around the world, whereby ant colonies can stretch for hundreds, even thousands of miles, and are made up of countless cities.

'It now appears that billions of Argentine ants around the world all actually belong to one single global mega-colony'

It's a strange feeling that beneath our feet lies a society nearly as developed as our own, in my opinion similar to early homosapien societies (such as the early Mayan/Incan), based on a class system, where everyone knew their rank in society and every action was ultimately intended to benefit the development of the whole community. Basic society requirements such as a place to live, a place to work, a ruler to rule, slaves to enslave, water and food needs, waste disposal, a place to be born, a place for the dead ... are common in both ant society and human society.

I really look forward to new discoveries about this mega-colony, and how the different city states function with one another.  Do ants only stay in their own cities? Do they receive promotions taking them to bigger cities? Do they even holiday in different cities within the colony? ...I really hope so.