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A
Z
Above and beyond
Current
list Article list

Above and beyond

At Make we’ll always go the extra mile. Sam Potter shows what this looks like, from graffiti-blasting in the steelyards of Wigan to selling flats in London’s Royal Docks.

High-velocity dry ice blasting is the optimum method for removing graffiti from industrial-grade weathering steel. How and why do I know this?

In the winter of 2013 I spent two shivering days in a steelyard in Wigan with a scientist, his frothing tank of dry ice, its appended high-velocity gun, a professional graffiti artist and the chief engineer for the City of London.

This elaborate exercise was the final hurdle in a three-year design process to demonstrate to the authorities that weathering steel was the best material for fabricating 350 linear metres of elevated treetop walkways in the heart of the City of London.

Having justified that the current iteration of the design – revision 35 – was sustainable and cost-effective, eliminated maintenance, and would make a striking backdrop to a new verdant City park, 36 months of work hinged on the ability of a man with carbon dioxide pellets to remove industrial-grade paint from steel without damaging its fine layer of protective rust. Fail and it was back to the drawing board. Pass and it was onwards to the awesome challenges of fabrication and another three years of work.

Much to the graffiti artist’s dismay, it passed.

Now of course we could have selected a standard material and details. But not only would this option have been indiscernible from every other municipal footbridge; it would have also cost more, required more maintenance and had a shorter life cycle.

Every design at Make is unique, and as such delivers a solution that is both a prototype and a finished turnkey product. Achieving this is never straightforward and often requires us to go beyond the traditional expectations of the architect’s role.

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This kind of innovation requires resilience to rejection – behind every resolved Make design are dozens, if not hundreds, of options that didn’t make the cut. This applies to every concept, every layout and every detail. And that’s just the initial design stage.

Working with contractors and specialist fabricators at the pre-contract stage, we then test materials and check that precise geometries, interfaces, fixings and finishes will deliver the performance and appearance demanded.

We don’t stop there. As every delivered design is a prototype, we seek to analyse flaws, learn from mistakes, and, where possible, use our findings to influence the wider design, construction and development industries, including local authority planning policies.

This year the Mayor of London announced that he would be seeking to enshrine in all borough planning policy a requirement to achieve a minimum ‘Urban Green Factor’ (UGF). Working with the City of London, we analysed two of our completed projects, and wrote code for a programme to identify the worst and best outcome scenarios when applying the UGF to a generic development plot. The exercise led us to conclude that the assessment criteria needs weighting in favour of publicly accessible areas to prevent urban greening from becoming solely the territory of private individuals and organisations. The process is ongoing.

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This continued questioning of established methods, models and policy underpins all our work, and often leads to pioneering solutions to aid our clients’ goals. For instance, we recently designed a street of custom-build houses in East London. Uniquely, each house is structurally detached and consists of a simple structural and service infrastructure that enables the end user to configure their home in a number of permutations – and continue to do so over the life of the building, to suit changing lifestyles without impacting on neighbours. This includes the external expression of the building. To achieve this, we had to develop a design code that was sufficiently detailed to obtain full planning consent but loose enough to allow for customisation.

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Once consented, the project progressed to the marketing stage. As the model of housing was unusual, we offered to help the client reach their target audience. They took us literally. So on a crisp March weekend at the Royal Docks, we pitched the product to crowded rooms of eager purchasers and assisted custom-build mortgage advisors. Happily, terms for the sale of all nine homes were agreed over the course of two days.

Simply put, we do whatever it takes to deliver the best, whether that means taking on the role of designer, cleaner, painter, political analyst, gardener or – dare I say it – even estate agent.

Article extracted from Make Annual 14.