Wienerberger Brick Award 2012 | Interview: NORD Architecture, Glasgow Winner “Non-Residential Building“
NORD (Northern Office for Research and Design) Architecture, Glasgow
The office takes great inspiration from the UK’s legacy of ‘making things’. The understanding and passion for materials, technological innovation, for detail, craftsmanship, texture and pattern is something, which underpins the work of NORD.
NORD are often provoked and inspired by social and cultural issues inherent within the contemporary city and this allows a response in form and materiality. This has led to the development of a series of buildings, places, products and objects, which respond to 21st century needs but celebrate the British tradition of craftsmanship and love of materials. With a foundation in delivering award-winning architecture and commissioned research into the built environment, NORD architects are driven by an aspiration to create genuinely unique architectural solutions.
You have received this year’s Wienerberger Brick Award 2012 in the category „Non-Residential Building“ for your project “Primary substation for Olympic Park in London and the Stratford City development”. What does this award mean to you? Have you already received an additional award for this building?
Alan Pert: To receive any award for a project is obviously extremely flattering but to receive an international award of such standing is obviously even more so. The substation has been recognised quite widely including with an award from the Royal Institute of British Architects and it was subsequently ‘long-listed’ (on a list of 19) for the Stirling Prize, which is Britain’s most important architectural award.
How you came to this project and what was set out in the customers’ brief? Was it for example the strong emphasis on environmental issues of the specifications? Was anything predetermined as regards the materials to be used for the project?
Alan Pert: We were awarded the project in competition and certainly our original scheme was very much focused on sustainability, but we also had a particular response to the context and an approach to how this context would change over time, being an Olympic site. An Outline Planning Application had already been approved before the competition so there were some constraints but essentially we had a free hand in terms of materials. Our original scheme used a variety of materials but this was refined through the process, resulting in the completed scheme.
While we’re on the subject of material, why you have chosen to work with clay products, precisely this type of dark facing bricks close to other buildings made of glass or concrete? Can you describe bricks’ particular beneficial characteristics? In what way you have been influenced by the great tradition of British industrial architecture and why?
Alan Pert: Brick brings with it a number of qualities, which we believed were appropriate to the context (both historical and physical) and the requirements of the brief. There is an inherent familiarity in the texture, the module, the jointing and in the understanding of its manufacture and the construction of the finished work and this makes allusions to history.
It’s also a dense material and we were interested in the notion of weight and permanence on a site on which there was little or no existing context and on which the main event of the Games would be so fleeting. One of the challenges was to create a building, which will continue to be appropriate when the site has been developed after the Games and from which other buildings can draw appropriate reference. London also has a long association with brick construction and we noted its use on nearby buildings, especially in more detailed work around window openings and doorways.
This quality of brick to be articulated in many different ways was also a crucial factor in its choice. We’ve used various bonds and systems throughout the building, allowing us to stretch the performance of the material and to make it work in a number of different ways – as a screen, load-bearing wall, surface, roof etc. That brickwork can take on such a variety of roles afforded us a concision that would only have been possible by using a single material. Britain’s rich history of brick-built utility buildings obviously added an additional dimension to the contribution of the material and again responds to NORD’s interest in familiarity and craft.
How important was the architecture of the building by its heaviness and monolithic simplicity, for all involved parties? Can you explain the challenges of this project?
Alan Pert: We were able to convince the Client Group, who were very good, fairly early on of our thoughts in terms of the appropriateness of the material and of the form and articulation. Being such a widely used material meant there was no mystery to its construction, which obviously had advantages in terms of timescales and budget as well as ongoing maintenance. The weight of the material (and particularly its use on the brown roof) also had additional benefits in terms of a security strategy, which is a further consideration in a building of this type. The building had to perform a number of different roles, both aesthetic and technical and we were able to make the material respond to all of these challenges.
Can you describe the basic layout of the building i.e. what does it house, what it is supposed to serve as well as how did you combine these functional aspect with more aesthetic considerations and how did you arrange things spatially?
Alan Pert: There are significant technological requirements in an electrical substation, which can’t be compromised – for example transformers have to be ventilated and have particular space requirements and there are the security considerations we’ve mentioned. These are largely set out in the brief and then the Design Team looks at the most appropriate or new ways of achieving these goals, so on this project the collaboration with the engineers and the rest of the team was paramount. We decided early on that the building shouldn’t try to outshine its neighbours, that it should carry honesty appropriate to its context within a family of infrastructure works that facilitate the activity of the area. Aesthetically then we wanted to bring a clarity but also a subtlety to the building which we hope elevates it beyond a purely functional building to a work of architecture.
What was crucial that you use the brick in variety of ways that one gets the impression that you consciously exploited all its qualities and characteristics in the various parts and zones of the building in order to bring the strengths of this material to the fore (i.e. load bearing element and decorative element and also in the airy zones, where the construction of the wall serves to ventilate the building)? Please could you talk us through the abovementioned areas of use and their quality?
Alan Pert: Absolutely we were interested in making a single material work for us in as many different ways as possible to give us the clarity in the final building that we were looking for.
We did various mock-ups and had lengthy discussions with the engineers, contractors and brick layers to determine the best ways to make the differing elements work, and of course we drew and modelled various ideas both physically and in CAD form.
The building is stratified in terms of its function and we wanted to articulate this. The ventilation towers have quite constrained technical requirements in terms of open area and air flow so had to be carefully considered and that then has consequences in practical construction terms which have to be factored in as well. The brick actually extends beyond the building to form the surrounding ground plane which heightens the impression of weight and permanence that we were looking for and again this was a function to which the material is well suited.
Going back to your architectural office: Can you explain your specific working characteristics of your practice? How would you describe your architectural ideology?
Alan Pert: NORD is a Glasgow based architecture & design practice. With a foundation in delivering award-winning architecture and commissioned research into the built environment, we are driven by an aspiration to create genuinely unique solutions and places founded on evidenced social, economic, and environmental principles. While we’re dedicated to the realisation of buildings and masterplans, the practice also operates in areas beyond the traditional boundaries of architecture, including exhibition design, renewable energy, technology, product design, curating, sociology, policy making, publishing, and graphic design.
Additionally I have a role as Director of Research at the Department of Architecture at the University of Strathclyde where a multi-disciplinary approach to practice is influencing and shaping future development which should be not only environmentally, but also economically and socially sustainable.
As such NORD is characterised by a breadth of intellectual perspectives, a focus on technology and an emphasis on innovation and creativity (design). This complements our interest in familiarity, materials, process and craft, which have been discussed.
What will be your next projects? Please could you describe it in few words?
Alan Pert: We’re very lucky to have some great projects in the office at the moment. We still strive to work at a number of different scales and across a number of sectors because we feel we can then bring more to each project. This cross-fertilisation, both from within the industry and from outside has always been critical to our approach.
Currently we have great opportunities on small-scale art works in collaboration with some fantastic artists, as well as having domestic work about which we’re very excited. Beyond this we’re working on a historically important film theatre in Glasgow and a very large commercial/retail project, which will have a significant impact on the City.
We’re also moving into healthcare with our work on the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow which we’re very happy to be doing and to which we hope we can bring benefit to a very worthy and important cause.
- Alan Pert
- Christian Dusek
About this entry