Proteus Architects

taller buildings, lifts and spacescrapers

 architecture, Facts, General, Green, International, Technology  Comments Off on taller buildings, lifts and spacescrapers
Jul 312013

There are some great stories when it comes to the evolution of the lift. There was Elisha Otis who ceremoniously (and sensationally) had the lift cable cut while he was in the lift to prove his new brake system worked. Or the fact the lift shaft was actually invented 4 years before the first modern lift. More poignantly, the lift (or elevator in American-speak) enabled taller buildings and denser cities which some argue has led to a fatter populace.

Archimedes’ screw is the precursor of lifts, using technology to lift up, or elevate, items efficiently. And as technology boomed, so too the height of buildings. There are a dizzying array of types of lifts now, and their presence is being felt even inside our homes. To get more people up faster, there are double decker lifts (no triples as yet) as well as sky lobbies so that occupants need to change lifts to go higher. The limited height of lifts enables 3-stage buildings which are a conglomerate of dumped buildings on top of each other in order to reach ever higher (hotels on residential on commercial).

tallest buildings

Currently the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, standing at 828 metres has 57 lifts and has a top speed of 10 metres per second and this building has the record of the longest travel distance of a lift – 504 metres. (The fastest lift however still belongs to Taipei 101 in Taiwan at 16.83 m/s). This appears to be the limit, or was…

Buildings have now been restricted (more-or-less) by the current cable technology – it is not hard to imagine how heavy the cables are. Steel cables (called ropes) account for around 3/4 of the moving mass. The larger the travel distance, the longer the ropes, the heavier the mass, the larger the motor, and the more expensive it is. And counterweights only do so much. Eventually, steel could snap under such loads.

On 22 May 2013 works commenced on site on the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Its height? 1000 metres.

Kingdom Tower, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Kingdom Tower, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Taller however does not necessarily mean better. Neither does it necessarily mean prettier. To prove this, one only has to look at the proposed Changsha Tower in China, designed in a Brutalist style and reminiscent of the older Adventures of Superman with George Reeves. Thankfully, construction has stalled on that project.

cable ‘break’-through

But now – buildings are set to take the next leap as another breakthrough in lift technology arrives. Otis, the largest lift manufacturer in the world (from the US) has been beaten to the punch by their rival Kone (Finnish) who has announced it has manufactured a system that can raise a lift up to 1000 metres, doubling the current design. Their development laboratory is actually is 333 metre deep mineshaft in Lohja and the new cable is made of carbon fibre instead of heavy steel. The weight of carbon fibre ropes (called for now the UltraRope) are 60% lighter (resulting in around a decrease in moving mass of 90% over longer distances) and have far greater tensile strength. The have a high friction coating, double the life span (also meaning less maintenance) and as a result of being lighter uses far less electricity.

Tall buildings are designed to sway but with carbon fibre resonating at a different frequency to other building materials, it means tall buildings will sway less in high winds. This means that tall buildings will not need to be shut down as often in high winds.

the sky is no limit to skyscrapers

In theory, cables do not need to remain with buildings. In 1895 it was proposed to build a tower to geostationary orbit. Now space lifts are getting more attention and further development of carbon fibre could be the way using carbon nanotubes or boron nitride nanotubes which are even stronger for their weight. At the end of the cable would be a counterweight far into space. Competing forces of gravity on earth and centrifugal force from the spin of the earth would keep the cable under tension. Climber cars would then crawl up this tether into space.

Space elevator

Space elevator

On other celestial bodies where gravity is weaker (such as the Moon or Mars) currently available Kevlar would be strong enough.

All of this means taller buildings and perhaps the end of earth-constrained building. Either way, the term skyscraper may need to be re-named – to spacescraper.


Jul 262013

The thief Prometheus stole fire from the gods and presented it to mankind, and as his penalty for giving us civilisation, Zeus had him summarily tied to a rock and had his liver eaten daily by an eagle. Raw. And his liver grew back so the eagle could continue its feast.

So goes the ancient Greek myth anyway. Having received fire, we brought it first into our caves and then houses and it kept us warm and helped to feed us. In short, we depend on and need fire to survive. And we still celebrate it by enshrining it in our houses, in hearths. Of course hearths now have a more generalised meaning as a homeplace or household.

Winter fire and a glass of red

Cold winters, warm fire and a glass of red are common in Bowral

Evidence of pre-historic man-made fires are in evidence on all five continents but luckily the technology of fireplaces has improved such that the toxic smoke exits the building far more effectively. Chimneys were invented around the 11th century in Europe but being expensive to build and maintain didn’t go into general use until much later.

Eventually the fireplace received more decorative features and began to become more widespread. In the Renaissance, architects designed fireplaces, most notably Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren who integrated the look of fireplaces into the home.  Further significant developments of the fireplace included the hood and chimney, the raising of the grate which improved airflow and venting, as well as materials and design.

It has come to the stage that fireplaces are the central part of the house again and are driven primarily by aesthetic considerations. Now the choices are quite surreal with electric, ethanol, gas or traditional wood fires predominant. Naturally each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Minimalist design has eroded the traditional decoration around the fireplace but with the additional leap in technology so has the efficiency.

Today, some fireplaces equipped with windows and a cleaner burn can get as high as 80% efficient and only need one or two firings a day to get the room to a constant room temperature. That’s a far cry from the 15% efficiency in standard construction. Fires can also be controlled by smarthouse systems and controlled remotely by your phone or tablet.

There is not much that can compare to having a warm wood fire in the middle of winter. Now we can lounge by a warm efficient fire in the depths of winter, drink a glass of wine and think of the Titan Prometheus and toast he and his liver in good health.

red tape in construction

 architecture, Australia, General  Comments Off on red tape in construction
Jul 102013

Re-work in construction is a costly business – an example being when a builder fails to measure twice before building a wall and then having to subsequently demolish and build it again. The cost naturally is borne by the builder if it is their fault and the total mounts into the $billions each year. A total waste of materials, as well as mind and body resources. However when requirements and therefore the time and cost is foisted upon others is when the line has been crossed and this is the point at which I consider red-tape is far is more onerous. While re-work is caused by the perpetrator and has a direct line of responsibility, the other is thrust upon others. And worse, the cost of this red tape is eventually borne by the client.

Today I lodged a letter at the request of an unnamed Council to support a Section 96 submission in Sydney’s north for a new house. Now council’s can and do request this additional information all the time – it is standard and allowable under the Act. What seems as quite incredulous in this day and age are the submission requirements in order to satisfy their request.

The Council  request for this information (of which my submission happened to be all of 3 pages!) is for 5 hard copies as well as a CD of the document in PDF format. CD’s? Of course it is no problem to me and takes little time, but can we move into the 21st century please? CD’s? Why not email, dropbox, a flash drive. It may as well be a 3.5″ or even a 5.25″ floppy disc. Tape drive or morse-code anyone? And if I didn’t lodge the CD, then they will outsource the scanning of one of the hard copies (of which you must supply 1 more hard copy for this sole purpose) and charge you for it.

floppy disks

…was floppy disks, now CD’s… but do we really need to hand over outdated media?

Naturally every Council has their own requirements, and they range from USB drives to electronic lodgement, while some do not require electronic copies at all.

The example I gave above is just a tiny example at the small end of the scale. When submitting a DA for a new house, the number of forms and checklists that must be submitted is forever increasing. By taking this same house, the actual DA required the following documentation:

  1. DA Form.
  2. Checklists.
  3. Letter of authority from the owner.
  4. Political Donations form.
  5. Drawings – Architecture (8 x A1’s) – 5 copies.
  6. Drawings – Survey – 5 copies.
  7. Drawings – Landscape Architecture – 5 copies.
  8. Drawings – Stormwater – 5 copies.
  9. Drawings – Shadows at 0900, 1200 and 1500 hrs at the equinox.
  10. Statement of Environmental Effects (50 pages) – 5 copies.
  11. Geotechnical Report (40 pages) – 5 copies.
  12. Bushfire Assessment Report.
  13. Arborist report – 5 copies.
  14. External Finishes Schedule – 5 copies.
  15. BCA Statement – 2 copies.
  16. Traffic and Parking Report – 2 copies.
  17. BASIX Certificate – 5 copies.
  18. Montage of the proposal – 2 copies.
  19. Model of the proposal.
  20. Notification drawings at A4 – 10 copies, and and don’t forget…
  21. a CD of the above.

The amount of paper required and printing generated requires trees felled en masse when all Council’s sprout their environmentally sustainable credentials. And this is not to mention the time required to print and sort and staple. And then there is the cost, all borne by the client or developer.

So what can be done about all of this red-tape? I am sure all of these reports and details are mostly read and digested, but sometimes they are not.  DA approvals are always laden with many conditions (sometimes 200 or so) many of which are already dealt with by the drawings and are often automatically generated by a computer upon the request of the assessing officer/s. The new Planning White Paper will relieve much of this with all Council’s having to have the same set of standard conditions, but that has its problems as well. In the meantime, we have to print and copy as requested by the authorities.

Let me know what you think – do we have too much red tape?


the latest in solar energy news

 Australia, Facts, International, Technology  Comments Off on the latest in solar energy news
Jun 212013

Solar panels have gone through somewhat of a craze over the last 5 years. From just 20,000 rooftops in 2008 to more than 1,000,000 rooftops in April 2013, that is an increase of 4,900%. But even with this massive growth, it still only accounts for 1.2% of Australia’s electricity needs. This increase will naturally slow down since NSW has scrapped its overly generous Feed-In-Tarrif scheme.

Still, there are approximately 10% of all houses fitted with the panels according to the Clean Energy Council. This equates to enough electricity being generated by renewable sources during this period to power the equivalent of more than 4 million Australian homes.

Solar Map of Australia

Solar Map of Australia

The price of panels has also been going down, though we could wish they went down as fast as the increase in number of installations. This was due to the price drop from the Chinese manufacturers who flooded the market.

In New South Wales, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) was investigating the controversial solar feed-in tariffs, and are now reviewing submissions in the determination of a fair and reasonable value for electricity generated by small scale PV systems for 2013-2014. According to IPART the fair and reasonable value determined by IPART must not result in any increase in electricity prices in New South Wales, and must not be funded from the New South Wales Government budget.

Energy Matters has calculated that if all 400 of available roofing were to be used for solar panels the amount of energy produced would supply around 135% of Australia’s residential electricity needs. They said this would lead to a decrease in electricity prices – the cost being just 7 cents per KWh. Currently the cost is around 40 cents per KWh (depending on location and provider).

Australia has just one manufacturer of solar panels left – Tindo Solar, based in South Australia.  Although small by world standards – they employ just 16 people – they have capacity to manufacture 200,00 panels a year.

So let us know about your experience with solar panels – are they everything your though they would be?

china to demolish 700 mountains

 General, Green, International  Comments Off on china to demolish 700 mountains
Jun 172013

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, or more precisely prior to its translation “Yu Gong moves the mountains“. So it was said of a peasant named Yu Gong after he struggled to move two mountains that were blocking entrance to his home. 2 mountains – that’s nothing. Now China is planning to flatten 700 mountains and spend  AU$3.6 billion in the process, to be orchestrated by the government of Lanzhou, a provincial capital in China’s arid northwest.

China intends to flatten 700 mountains for new metropolis

China intends to flatten 700 mountains

The development, named the Lanzhou New Area of around 130,000 hectares, will house a new metropolis and in doing so is planning to increase the region’s GDP by AU$44 billion by 2030 according to the China Daily. The development was approved by China’s state council and will be its fifth state-level development zone and the first in its interior.

The first stage of mountain demolition commenced already in October 2012. China’s home grown “Donald Trump” – Yan Jiehe heads one of China’s largest private companies – the Nanjing-based China Pacific Construction Group. He is known as an ultra-ambitious and talented pilot through the country’s “guanxi”, or personal connections. In 2006 the respected Hu Run report named Yan – then worth about AU$1.3 billion – as China’s second-richest man.



This latest plan has received plenty of criticism as the site sits on the Yellow River, threatening more environmental concern and increasing its deadly silt level. Lanzhou is also home to 3.6 million people and they dubiously enjoy what the WHO regards as the worst air pollution in China. We guess metallurgy, chemical and fertilising production will do that. In fact experts have raised concerns about whether the project is environmentally viable. Gansu is an arid province, scoured by sandstorms and surrounded by deserts. The criticisms also includes the lack of water in the area and the financial risk of building a city in a desert – have we heard this before (Las Vegas)? The China Pacific Construction Group naturally dismiss these concerns and promise that their “protective style of development” will make things better than before.

The new area “will lead to an environmentally sustainable economy based on energy-saving industries” including advanced equipment manufacturing, petrochemical industries and modern agriculture, wrote Chinese Central Television on its website.

What do you think – incredible foresight, a waste of money, or needed development in an impoverished area? Let us know below.

Jun 062013

I stumbled over this artist some time ago – he is Robert Rickhoff who seems to be an incredible photo manipulist. Some misplaced items appear where they should not so to draw your attention to the absurd. It appears that this is yet another modern art form gaining in popularity and acceptance and is becoming more pervasive through common photo software.

Caution Sign




Slide Bench


Photo Manipulation by Robert Rickhoff





Let us know what you think below.

May 102013

We have been an early adopter of 3d BIM technology, having used Revit since around 2002 so we can provide virtual designs to our clients and they can realistically see their building  before it is built. The next stage of technology is about to begin with augmented reality (AR).

AR refers to the process of laying computer-generated graphics onto real-world images in realtime. There are two types of AR:

With GPS and location-based technologies, technology originally developed for video and mobile games is combined with positioning software to create new areas of application for construction planning and design.

Vision-based AR uses a device’s camera as a lens through which you can experience an augmented world. To achieve this, a device must process each video frame coming off the camera sensor, compare it with data stored locally or in the cloud, find an object that matches the one in the frame, calculate the device’s relative position to that object, and then draw graphics that appear on top of it.

Hi-tech headsets, while some time away, will eventually come to construction sites and other industrial environments, providing capabilities which we could only dream about a few years ago.

Companies like Google and Vuzix are engaged in the development of head-worn portable computers, which we believe will be the next generation of hi-tech devices to follow the smart phone and tablet computers. It is expected both companies will be releasing their products sometime in 2013.

In architecture is where the greatest impacts will be made – by enabling designs to be uploaded to the glasses and then allowing someone wearing the glasses to view a BIM design or other images superimposed over the real world view of a site. As the wearer walks around the site the view in the glasses will adapt to its surroundings. Once a project is under construction as architects we will be able to visually check designs against what is built.

Google Glass

Google Glass


Other potential uses in the construction industry include property maintenance and services and design of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. The technology will be able to “see-through” walls and floors for locating plumbing and ventilation systems. This allows teams to observe any changes by comparing the on-site location with information that has already been recorded.

Vuzix Wrap

Vuzix Wrap


Similarly a builder will be able to do the same providing faster and more efficient construction times. And the less time architects need to spend on site observing construction of projects, the greater time available to design better buildings. And that is in everyone’s interests.

May 102013

With the federal budget about to be brought down on May 14, the federal government could do far worse than foster an economic environment to make economic conditions more conducive to construction activities. Any austerity measures affecting construction activity will only serve to cut off the nose to spite the face.

A leading indicator of construction conditions throughout Australia has dropped to 7 month lows. Overall construction conditions deteriorated last month for the 35th consecutive month and more alarmingly, the pace of that contraction has sped up.



According to the Performance of Construction Index report published by Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and Housing Industry Association (HIA), in April, the Performance of Construction Index contracted by 3.6 points to 35.2.

In terms of individual sectors, engineering and housing led the decline, while commercial and apartments construction remained in negative territory frustrated by very tight credit conditions, large taxes and stiffingly high regulation. All of this coupled with weak demand resulting from a weak economy and historically high debt does little to stimulate further investment.

May 012013

In April 2006, Apple purchased nine adjoining properties to build Apple Campus 2 in Silicon Valley, USA. Let no-one be confused – this building will be ridiculously massive. And as is not uncommon with ridiculously massive buildings, the construction is already delayed before it even begins. It is now expected to begin construction in 2014 and open in 2016. They will be requiring a similarly massive number of bodies on site to get this completed in 2 years.

New Apple Campus - Render

New Apple Campus – Render

The original land cost was estimated at USD $160 million but additional land purchases were made of another $300 million. The design has already taken several years and the project cost was estimated at USD $500 million – but has already blown out to USD $5 billion!!  As a comparison – the new World Trade Center will cost (only) USD $3.9 billion.

The new campus, on a site now totaling 70 hectares, is planned to house up to 12,000 employees in one central four-storied circular building of approximately 260,000 sq.m, which will include a 5,575 sq.m dining facility for 2,100 sitting people (plus additional 1,750 seat capacity outside), be surrounded by extensive landscaping, and offer parking both underground and in a parking structure. Other facilities include a 1,000 seat auditorium, 28,000 sq.m of R&D facilities, a fitness center, an orchard, and a dedicated generating plant as primary source of electricity.

Intelligently, Jobs once said : “It’s a circle, so it’s curved all the way round. This is not the cheapest way to build something.” Every pane of glass in the main building will be curved. Normally, the German company Seele who is producing the curved glass deals ‘in terms of square feet’ but it now has to manufacture something like six square kilometres of glass to cover the building. They now have to double its factory capacity to finish the project – a project in itself.

There will be 10,980 car spaces and they will plant an additional 2,494 new trees. Ridiculously massive I think we can all agree, but I wonder if the delay is partially a result of the massive fall of Apple stock over the last few months. Time for a new iPod/iPad/iMac release to pay for this i-Massive HQ.

Does it fit into its surroundings or does it dominate it? Does it look out of this world – why should it? What do you think?  Let us know below.

the new 2013 BCA and NCC

 architecture, Australia, General, Project Management  Comments Off on the new 2013 BCA and NCC
Apr 302013

The all new 2013 National Construction Code (NCC) comes into effect from tomorrow – 1 May 2013. Every newly designed building must now comply with this new version.

What is the NCC?

The NCC is an initiative of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) developed to incorporate all on-site construction requirements into a single code. The NCC comprises 3 volumes: Volumes One and Two (the Building Code of Australia – the “BCA”), and Volume Three (the Plumbing Code of Australia – the “PCA”).

  • Volume One pertains primarily to Class 2 to 9 buildings
  • Volume Two pertains primarily to Class 1 and 10 buildings.
  • Volume Three pertains primarily to plumbing and drainage associated with all classes of buildings.

All three volumes are drafted in a performance format allowing a choice of Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions or flexibility to develop Alternative Solutions based on existing or new innovative building, plumbing and drainage products, systems and designs.

The NCC retains the same dual approach to compliance incorporating some degree of flexibility, so that—

  • if compliance is achieved with the Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions, then the proposal is deemed to have complied with the relevant volume of the NCC; or
  • if an alternative approach is desired, you have the opportunity to do so but the proposal must meet the Performance Requirements.

By using the performance-based system, the means by which the proposal will achieve compliance must be selected. This will be by either—

  • a deemed-to-satisfy solution;
  • an Alternative Solution; or
  • a mixture of deemed-to-satisfy and Alternative Solutions.

If an Alternative Solution is chosen, an Assessment Method must be chosen which satisfactorily indicates that the Alternative Solution will meet the relevant Performance Requirements. The nature of the Assessment Method will vary depending on the complexity of the Alternative Solution.

We have done many projects where alternative solutions are proposed and have been approved. A BCA compliance consultant will help in this regard.

Pan House, Chatswood

Pan House, Chatswood: one project where alternate solutions benefited the design

What is the biggest change to this BCA?

Without doubt the major change to this new BCA will be the new requirements for windows built above a certain height above the outside ground level and the associated barriers or screens required.

This is a noble attempt to prevent many falls resulting in injury and death. The ability of windows to be opened will be limited to prevent these falls from occurring. How this impacts on BCA ventilation requirements is still to be seen. It is to be noted that this is for bedrooms and childcare centres only at this stage. As always – ensure you gain the best advice possible in this regard to see if your situation requires it.

What other changes are there?

There a host of other changes including

  • accessible requirements into schools and other facilities;
  • braille indicators and door furniture requirements;
  • flood hazard area requirements;
  • footings and slabs construction

Make sure you comply

This is only a short post about the changes, and as such, please consult the NCC in detail. As always, every building must be designed to comply with the provisions of the BCA, and now the NCC. This doesn’t mean existing buildings must be made to comply – there are exceptions. To be sure, ask us and we can help out.


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