The Stairs

By | November 18, 2017

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The Stairs
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Occupying what was originally a C19th warehouse, offices of Paul McAneary Architects.

This project is the result of recession economics – as young architects, survival required creative thinking beyond the drawing board – applying business to architecture – by looking at every angle, this project was conceived. PMA had outgrown its first office but were forced out due to the landlord raising the rent by 50 per cent. Paul negotiated a substantial rent free period with a new landlord in lieu of substantial transformation of his dilapidated listed warehouse building. Economically, traditional procurement would not have been feasible for PMA. The creative solution, from both design and economic perspectives was for this young architects practice to setup a design and build company – which has since went on to build 2 further small projects. On top of this the procurement of construction materials was a further economic issue. As architects we wanted the highest spec for our office but were economically challenged. Recycling was employed on a massive scale. Off cuts of reconstituted stone became the kitchen and bathroom tops. The 3.2m high glass facade of the office was even recycled from another project – making the project feasible. It has to be said that over the 2 years we have spent slowly building the office – we have probably learned more from our experiments than through any previous education by experimental building our own office. Two days after the completion of our new basement we suffered a massive flood from the building above us. The office was 200mm deep in water – we lost much research – but this was actually an opportunity for us to redesign some of the destroyed built details that we had thought of better solutions since completion – the greatest test of all. Indeed the experiments have become very important to us as a practice and they continue – as we have built, what we call our ‘laboratory’ – a workshop in our new basement where we constantly run tests, make mockups and explore detail before construction as well as make architectural models. A sky light has been introduced into the ground floor ceiling to the rear of the office, bringing light to the full extent of the plan. It is placed above a design room, directly above a glass box down into the basement level laboratory. This connects all the levels of the project, and providing a second shaft for architectural models to be dramatically raised through. To make the basement level functional, it was imperative to increase the height of the room and bring natural light. PMA used a special fibre reinforced concrete floor, that could be cast as a tiny 70mm thick slab – that avoided underpinning costs. The open space is designed for exhibitions and presentations, with clean light walls and completely adaptable lightng – 4 light wells and a structural glass and structural metal mesh floor will bring the maximum amount of natural light possible down, whilst connecting the two areas of the office. The ground floor facade has been developed following secure by design consultations with the Police as the passageway outside the office suffered drug dealing, prostitution, and urination due to its location on a dark back alley in London’s West End. The facade is made from solid oak beams that respect its neighbours, finished entirely flush, removing many nooks that facilitated crime and the glass being full height, gives a sense of overlooking that has reduced crime level significantly. The light natural coloured facade that has oak and unpainted render has not suffered typical graffiti (it would appear graffiti artists respect the integrity of natural elements). The results of the facade, that has been installed for a few months now, is that it has changed the atmosphere of this medieval narrow pedestrian passage way and countless passers have made the effort to come and tell us of their delight and how they feel safer whilst applauding the design.
[Open House London]

After nice discussion of Adaptive Optics with UC California Santa Cruz Professor, I post blurry image taken through bug screen of my motel room. Demonstrates looking through turbulent atmosphere.
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University of California, at Santa Cruz, has a big astronomy department. It has a center devoted to seeing more clearly. Called the "Center for Adaptive Optics." I stopped into the center and ask if there was a museum, or interpretive center.

The receptionist said nothing much was on display, but "wait a minute." She made a phone call and found a professor that invited me into his office.

We had a good talk.

I had learned some about Adaptive Optics in college astronomy classes. A fascinating topic. Sort of like looking through the bug screen of my motel’s bathroom, astronomical telescopes get a blurry view of the universe as they look out through Earth’s turbulent atmosphere.

Blurred view through the bug screen of my motel room.

Adaptive optics is a "space age" technology that clears up the blurry image and allows telescopes to see more clearly what’s in the universe.

Interesting to note that this same technology can also be used to peer through the murkiness of the human eyeball.

Eye surgeons and optometrists can use it to get a clear view of the retina. Good for eye surgery and other things.

This may soon revolutionize optometry.

Here is a case where space research can help us with down to Earth problems, such as poor eyesight.

The professor explained quite a few things to me.

When large observatories, on Earth, look at the universe, they have to look through turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere. This makes the images fuzzy.

To the rescue comes "ADAPTIVE OPTICS;" a "high tech" system for cleaning up the image.

Here is, sort of, how it works. At least what I think my blurry mind can remember.

A mirror inside the telescope quivers like, say, a blob of jelly?

Maybe it’s more like a rubber blanket.

Wobbling and wiggling, the mirror contorts into various shapes.

Faster than blinks of an eye.

If you were to look at your face, in such a mirror, your face would look like it was quivering also.

What good does this do?

Well, the quivering mirror is precisely controlled, by computers, to compensate for turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere.

This "cleans up" the image.

Specially designed quivers, in the mirror, can compensate for quivers in the atmosphere. This makes the image almost as sharp as if the telescope was located in space, where it would not have to peer out through the atmosphere.

The whole thing is kind of like a dance.

Wobbling air causes the image of a star to bulge in one direction. The mirror bends another direction to make it look like nothing happened.

Choreography at the finest level.

How does the mirror know which way to bend?

High speed computers.

Also the observatory shines a light (actually I think a laser beam) into the night sky. This light reflects off a layer of air creating a spot in the sky that looks like a star.

A small telescope, at the observatory, watches this artificial star like a hawk. Each time the star wiggles, quivers, twinkles or what ever, the telescope passes the information along to the computer.

Like a split second choreographer, the computer tells the quivering mirror which way to dance in order to clean up the image.

The mirror is like a rubber blanket with hundreds of little "actuators" (magnet controlled pistons) on its back side. The mirror dances, squirms or what ever it needs to do to keep a clear image.


Good that this technology can also be used for clearly seeing things as close as the retina in our eyes. The retina that is normally obscured by fluids in the eye.


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