Site-responsive architecture

Tuesday 29 Mar 2011

Irving Smith Jack Architects have forged a reputation for researching and producing innovative, site-responsive architecture in sensitive environments

Irving Smith Jack Architects operates out of Nelson, a provincial city in New Zealand surrounded by 3 national parks, 4 regional parks and numerous coastal marine reserves. With many projects in these pristine and isolated areas, they have forged a reputation for researching and producing innovative, site-responsive architecture in sensitive environments.

The Nelson region includes a substantial resource of plantation timber and a timber laminating plant which produces engineered timber with enhanced structural properties. Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) is a sustainable resource that allows for prefabrication, transportation and erection on remote sites with conventional carpentry skills and minimal environmental impact.

Following experimentation on a smaller scale, in 2007 Irving Smith Jack Architects used LVL as the key structural component for an isolated new house with boat only access. At Kumutoto Bay Beach House, structural LVL post and beams were exposed to support and brace inverted timber roof trusses. Roof and wall glazing illuminates the structure to delineate house areas and transpose the surrounding forest against the timber interiors.

Kumutoto Bay Beach House was recognised with the Supreme Award at the 2007 New Zealand Timber Design Awards. In 2008 we won a national design competition run by the NZ Government for New Zealand’s Landmark Timber Structural Building at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. This three storey building, completed in 2011, pioneers world leading timber structural design with damage avoidance seismic.

Innovative post-tensioned structural timber shear walls enable the use of straightforward prefabricated post and beam gravity frames, immediately legible in simplicity. The timberwork, while up-scaled, speaks of domestic timber structures, developing the notion of a crafted provincial vernacular to de-institutionalise the community teaching environment. All structural components are grown, milled, manufactured and erected within an 80km ‘Radius of Resource’.

All timber is fundamentally local, acting as a carbon sink; the foundation stone of an environmentally sensitive design philosophy. Passive approaches to daylighting, ventilation and shading are combined with double glazing, high insulation values and extensive thermal mass to reduce energy use. In the light of this year’s earthquakes in Christchurch and Japan, Irving Smith Jack Architects' sustainable, efficient and seismically responsive solution is helping to change the philosophy toward timber use in multi-storey buildings.

Their process of research and innovation in the use of materials to facilitate sustainable site-specific architecture is applied to all projects, be they in the wilderness or the city, local or international. Recent projects include the Fridge House fabricated from freezer panels and able to be heated with a single bar heater, and a prefabricated concrete house which received commendation from The NZ Concrete Society.

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