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Contacts Book: David Storring, director of sustainability at Morris and Company

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Circular design and systems are key to Morris+Company’s ethos, enabling it to work sustainably with steel and concrete as well as structural timber

Bespoke Concrete 

We have been working with precast concrete facades on several projects, particularly on larger-scale buildings. This offers, within constraints, the delivery of off-site manufactured lower-carbon solutions, while creating delight and interest through colour, texture, and relief. There is a lot of innovation within this arena now, with new research coming through on cement replacement technology. 

We enjoy working with Bespoke Concrete: they are artisans of their craft. As a small company it is nimble, and the workshops feel more like craft rooms than a production line. 

  • Detail of pre-cast textured concrete spandrel panels by Bespoke Concrete on a pre-tender mock-up of bays of the Featherstone Building.
    Detail of pre-cast textured concrete spandrel panels by Bespoke Concrete on a pre-tender mock-up of bays of the Featherstone Building. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Precast concrete base for the Energy Hub and community centre at Elephant & Castle, created by Bespoke Concrete.
    Precast concrete base for the Energy Hub and community centre at Elephant & Castle, created by Bespoke Concrete. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Bespoke Concrete samples of different concrete mixes.
    Bespoke Concrete samples of different concrete mixes.
  • Detail of polished concrete sample by Bespoke Concrete.
    Detail of polished concrete sample by Bespoke Concrete.
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We have worked with them at early stages to help create the concrete mixes, and to help write the specification for tenders. They also worked on the precast concrete base for our Energy Hub and community centre at Elephant & Castle, where the concrete is heavily diamond-polished to reveal red granite aggregate inside. 

For the Featherstone Building at Old Street in London, designed for developer Derwent London, we created a scalloped precast spandrel panel as a reinterpretation of Victorian warehouses’ decorative arched windows. As part of the design process, the developer commissioned a 1:1 three-bay mock-up of the facade to fully realise the design before going to tender. Bespoke Concrete was brought on board to realise the distinctive textured cured precast elements. 

New terraces created by Littlehampton Welding at 3 Sheldon Square, a retrofit of an outmoded office building at Paddington Basin, London.
New terraces created by Littlehampton Welding at 3 Sheldon Square, a retrofit of an outmoded office building at Paddington Basin, London. Credit: Jack Hobhouse

Littlehampton Welding 

I first worked with Littlehampton over 20 years ago when I was at engineer Whitbybird designing bridges. When you visit its premises it is incredible – you are surrounded by giant sections of steel and beautifully welded structures, including large art installations. It feels like you are really working with craftspeople. 

Morris+Company collaborated with them on 3 Sheldon Square at Paddington Basin, a low-carbon retrofit of an outmoded, hermetically sealed office building where we introduced a series of planted terraces on the exterior. We realised these would be akin to bridge design, with the structure on full display, so Littlehampton Welding became involved through an early pre-construction services agreement (PCSA) alongside structural engineer Heyne Tillet Steel.

  • Steelwork is suspended on catenary cables from cantilevered steels on the roof.
    Steelwork is suspended on catenary cables from cantilevered steels on the roof. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
  • Terraces for 3 Sheldon Square under construction at Littlehampton Welding.
    Terraces for 3 Sheldon Square under construction at Littlehampton Welding. Credit: Edmund Sumner
  • Terraces for 3 Sheldon Square under construction at Littlehampton Welding.
    Terraces for 3 Sheldon Square under construction at Littlehampton Welding. Credit: Edmund Sumner
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Littlehampton Welding worked closely with the design team to create the bespoke steelwork suspended on catenary cables from cantilevered steels on the roof, and to avoid loading the railway passing underneath. We were acutely aware that steel has a high carbon content, and we needed to use it sparingly and in the right places. Following the principles of bridge design, we sought a slender, beautifully detailed structure where the lattice on the underside of the balconies becomes a fifth facade, and to refine all the junctions and reduce the size of all the steel members. 

We liken this project to a form of palimpsest – we are adding another layer of history to the building, but the original facade can still be read. We managed to retain the existing facade, which retrofits of this type often send to landfill. The project was also quicker to complete than replacing the facade would have been and so quicker to return to the market. We are interested to see if there are more opportunities for this alternative approach to retrofitting. 

Cowley Timber developed the bespoke system for the sculptural timber roof of Alfriston school swimming pool, designed by Duggan Morris Architects.
Cowley Timber developed the bespoke system for the sculptural timber roof of Alfriston school swimming pool, designed by Duggan Morris Architects. Credit: Mark Haddon

 Cowley Timber 

When we – as Duggan Morris Architects – designed the swimming pool at Alfriston School, a special educational needs school in Buckinghamshire, we sought an all-timber design. Focusing on biophilia and wellbeing, we required a design that could be fully fabricated off-site, using repetition to create efficiencies. We in brought Cowley Timber at an early design stage alongside engineer Elliot Wood. I am always keen to involve specialists early as it helps to unlock problems; we did the same with Cowley Timber when we were designing the CLT-vaulted Wildernesse restaurant for a later living scheme in Sevenoaks.  

  • Timber model of the roof and wall structure for Alfriston school swimming pool.
    Timber model of the roof and wall structure for Alfriston school swimming pool.
  • 1:1 scale model of a junction between the wall and roof structures for Alfriston school swimming pool.
    1:1 scale model of a junction between the wall and roof structures for Alfriston school swimming pool.
  • Installation of prefabricated wall and roof components for Alfriston swimming pool roof.
    Installation of prefabricated wall and roof components for Alfriston swimming pool roof.
  • Cowley Timber was involved at an early design stage in the development of the CLT-vaulted Wildernesse Restaurant.
    Cowley Timber was involved at an early design stage in the development of the CLT-vaulted Wildernesse Restaurant. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
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At Alfriston, we worked closely with them to develop a bespoke system for the origami-esque, sculptural timber roof, using just two triangular panel types, that were then mirrored. Cowley worked with us to refine the panel sizing for optimising transportation and partially developing the secret jointing of multiple timber glulam beams at the complex angled nodes. They also helped develop the tender drawing so that this detail would be included as part of the tender, removing the risk of the design not being realised as it was intended. 

Alfriston Swimming Pool has been an extraordinarily successful building – a calming, biophilic space for pupils that has also helped pay for itself through community access and after school hours activities. We need more fabricators like Cowley – agnostic timber innovators. 

Window Circularity research project by Morris + Company for the use of components identified for potential re-use by demolition contractor John F Hunt Group.
Window Circularity research project by Morris + Company for the use of components identified for potential re-use by demolition contractor John F Hunt Group.

John F Hunt Group 

As a practice Morris+Company has a key focus on circular design principals and developing systems of circularity, and there is typically a real lack of voice and conversation with the demolition contractors, and little to no route back to market that works in the current demolition system. That is where John F Hunt comes in – these are forward thinking ‘breakers’ who want to be part of the design conversation at the beginning of the ‘making process’.

With the firm's group sustainability manager, we are now part of a round-robin email that markets to a large group of contacts, communicating what has become available from their sites. At one point there were hundreds of sash windows in good condition, and we, as designers, worked with the contractor to seek opportunities to unlock the potential for their re-use, developing partitioning units and modular meeting rooms to offer to market as an alternative to base product. 

It should be possible to close the loop. Category A (Cat A) strip-outs offer myriad re-use opportunities, and often include products that have never been used. A returns policy to manufacturers should be more prevalent on such products, enabling potential re-use and re-sale, hopefully with warranties. We know this is achievable through our own fully circular studio fit-out in Mare Street, Hackney. Discussions with suppliers' manufacturers and demolition experts at the initial stages of design enabled us to source and procure pre-used materials and fittings. For example, the strip lighting in Mare Street was sourced from a Cat A strip-out of a large corporate commercial scheme in Fitzroy Square, central London. 

David Storring is director of sustainability and innovation, Morris+Company, and Y3 Arch design technology co-ordinator at The Bartlett 

As told to Pamela Buxton 

 

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