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Research

1. Lemon factory extension, Messina, Sicily, Italy (2007)

Martin works for Urban Future Organization (UFO), an internationally networked architectural practice involved in advanced digital design and fabrication. This new administrative wing is being added to an existing factory outside Messina in Sicily, sitting adjacent to a production building which is actually Italy's largest producer of lemon juice and lemon extracts / essences. The brief was for a sequence of flexible spaces to house the reception area, staff offices, meeting spaces and canteen, along with a swimming pool and a fitness centre. The interior of the building reacts to the requirement to keep the spaces fluid and able to change their use over time. The project is currently on site and scheduled for completion in Spring 2008. In terms of research questions investigated, the key ones were how to develop new techniques of modulation design and structural design in what is a highly active earthquake zone, and then - given this crucial demand - how to create a new kind of flexible spatial organisation for a rapidly evolving company.

In its design processes, the Lemon Factory has to be understood as part of a line of projects being carried out by the UFO practice and by similar entities - such as Ocean or Foreign Office Architects - into free-form, fluid and linear architectural forms, allying to this the pursuit of new forms of digital design and manufacturing in architecture. This project has been exhibited like other UFO project in important events such as the 2004 Venice Biennale, 2006 Beijing Biennale, and also in books like the press through articles such as in Building Design(7 March 2003, pp. 12-15). Urban Future Organization is a collaborative practice in which Martin and Yau are senior design figures, both being equally responsible for designing major projects such as the Lemon Factory near Messina.

2. Sarajevo Concert Hall, Bosnia Herzegovina (2004)

This design - which won an international competition in 1999 - has been very substantially reshaped and improved by UFO to prepare it for construction. As a scheme, it extends the public surface of Sarajevo into and under the ground, forming a continuous space for the foyers, auditorium and service areas, as well as an outdoor landscape above which bleeds into the surrounding park. The open landscape allows an unobstructed flow of people across and within the site, creating a new public square. The underground planning eliminates the impact between the concert hall and its adjacent buildings, as well as the need for external facades. The ground acts as a thermal mass which increase the energy efficiency; solar gain is minimised, and overall the building environment is stable and controlled. Acoustically, an underground concert hall needs no sound reductive eternal envelope since earth possesses such good inherent acoustic properties.

Research-wise, the key issues were how to develop a concert hall design to meet the strictest energy performance standards, and how to achieve advanced acoustic performance in a major international venue. In both goals, research into aspects such as optimum acoustic performance was carried out with specialists from Arup Engineers, world-leaders in the field. Again, the building represents a thoroughgoing investigation into fluid architectural design, aided by digital software and manufacturing, here linked to the latest research in concert hall acoustics. The Sarajevo Concert Hall has been written up many times, and its latest phase is described in: World Architecture(May 2002, pp. 22-24); Building Design(7 March 2003, pp. 12-15); etc. As well as winning the original international competition, the reworked scheme was exhibited in the 2004 Venice Biennale and 2006 Beijing Biennale, amongst other public outings. Again, Martin and Yau are equally responsible for input to the revised design.

3. Generative Components, 2006 Beijing Biennale, China (2006)

Generative Components is the name given to a new kind of computer-aided-design software being pioneered by Bentley Microstation, and which is currently being beta-tested by leading international architectural practices such as Foster and Partners or Kohn Pedersen Fox, as well as in educational institutions like the University of Westminster or the Architectural Association's Design Research Laboratory. In basic terms, the aim of Generative Components is to switch architects away from previous types of digital design software - which have relied on points and vectors, and thus simulate analogue drawing techniques - and replace this with the algorithm-based, parametric modelling of more advanced software which can quickly generate a number of alternative design proposals once it is fed a set of defined input parameters. It constitutes a sea-change in the way that digital design can be conceived and executed in architecture.

Urban Future Organization (UFO) is heavily involved in the research and development of Generative Components, both through their practice's design projects and their postgraduate teaching at the University of Westminster and elsewhere. UFO's work in terms of developing Generative Components was given special prominence in their exhibition stand in the 2006 Beijing Biennale, and some of their work was included in the catalogue for that show. In addition, this work - in which both Martin and Yau are closely connected - has been displayed publicly in various other exhibitions in Europe, USA and Britain. The innovative digitally-generated design work of UFO was specially selected by Zaha Hadid as a guest critic for inclusion in 10 x 10_2: 100 Architects, 10 Critics, (Phaidon, 2005, pp. 380-3), this book representing a survey of the world's most promising architectural practices.

4. Mulini Valley water power project, Amalfi, Italy (2005)

As an award-winning design by an invited international multidisciplinary team - which was led by an Italian architect, Luigi Centola, and an Italian academic, Mariagiovanna Ritano of Salerno University, with Enric Miralles also involved - this proposal looks into a number of crucial issues in energy conservation and architectural sustainability. The refurbishment of disused industrial buildings in Italy was set as a competition brief, with individual areas then assigned to teams as specific locales for investigation. The parts of this project designed by Urban Future Organization (UFO), which were for a youth hostel and a paper production facility in an old paper mill, respond to the current trend of what is called agri-tourism. They also reinstate the original spaces of the buildings by assigning them with new uses and new relationships to the landscape. Much of the UFO construction would be submerged underground to improve energy performance and to integrate better with the beautiful natural surroundings. The scheme thus blends innovation with contextualism.

Here the main research issues involved were how to develop a model of sustainable architecture that could meet the most stringent energy performance standards, and how to find innovative uses for neglected industrial buildings in an otherwise highly developed country such as Italy. As part of the ongoing search for digitally-derived and fluid architectural forms that is being pursued by UFO, this scheme thus adds in another, more ecologically orientated dimension. Not only winning its section of the original competition, the overall project was then also awarded the HOLCIM Foundation's European Gold Prize for Sustainability and was runner-up internationally in the HOLCIM Foundation's Global Silver Prize for Sustainability. These prizes represent the highest worldwide standard of thinking in terms of environmentally sensitive architectural design. Martin and Yau were again equally involved in UFO's contribution to the project.

Publications

For details of all my research outputs, visit my WestminsterResearch profile.