RIBA Journal's new 'Contacts book'

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RIBA Journal's new 'Contacts book' feature sets to explore the value of design collaborations and with whom architects work to bring projects to life.

When Groupwork's pioneering Amin Taha opens his contacts book you'll find Webb Yates Engineers co-founder Steve Webb as one of his trusted advisors. This is what he has to say about their collaboration:

'Some structural engineers are dogmatic, finding architects’ inputs an irksome diversion from their apparently expedient solutions, often already designed in their minds. Steve is one of those people with whom you can sit and talk at length, reworking ideas until you produce one that neither of you would have some to independently – something cheaper, more efficient and with lower embodied carbon.

One example is an unbuilt competition-winning scheme for an underground transport interchange in Sofia, Bulgaria, where the challenge we threw down was how to make a cheaper station, and if possible, avoid the expected architectural language of steel and glass associated with infrastructure since Hector Guimard’s Paris Metro.

Cut-and-fill stations are made by digging a hole, building tunnel walls and floor, then putting a roof on top. Stopping the walls collapsing in the meantime involves temporary works, which can be 30% of the project cost. It occurred to us that instead we could just pile the ground to make walls, dig down a metre or so and then cast permanent roof beams directly against the earth; permanent temporary works, so to speak. Steve suggested casting the stress diagram of a roof, so it’s deeper in the middle and smaller in platform areas, and leaving holes through which to drop diggers. It directly informed the architectural language of the station, of cast walls and ceilings textured by the earth, with intermediate ticket office levels built like support structures in the mining industry. Underground entrances and exits became location-specific, signalled as rugged fissures in the ground – the start of a journey into the underworld.' 

Parts of this article was originally published on RIBA Journal.