Saturday, 23 July 2011

Social Entrepreneurship : The British Museum Proposal

 This is an idea based in the concept of social entrepreneurship and seeks to raise funding for a museum through a commercial venture. Think of it as a form of commercial exploitation where a learned institution exploiting commerce to raise funding. This already happens: The Great Court at the British Museum is a separate legal entity to the rest of the museum and a global conglomerate leases and operates the café and restaurant within the space. The thing is, I have two sisters who have worked at the museum and both say that they constantly receive complaints about these operations, so as someone involved in restaurant design with contacts in this area I could see that there was an opportunity.
                 At first I went the route of trying to get a sub-lease on one of these operations, but there is kudos involved for a global conglomerate, so that wasn't an option. I then looked at trying to find a space within the museum, but they need more space and are trying to build an extension. So, I had to think of it another way.
                   Visitors numbers for the British Museum in 2012 are predicted to be in excess of six million visitors so there is a captive audience and as the Great Court can get hot and stuffy many prefer to sit outside when the weather is good. So, I looked at placing a temporary pavilion outside the main entrance on the East lawn, positioned so that it does not have an impact on the front entrance.

              To present any proposal the figures have to balance. So, I looked at how this would break down: A café/restaurant that served alcohol in this location might reasonably expect to turn over £15,000 per week. Multiply by 52 weeks gives a total of £780,000 = 2.6% of visitors spending £5. So, if we estimate an approximate build cost of £200,000 we would arrive at £580,000. Subtract a rent of at least £60,000 (it may be possible to negotiate this to (£100,000) and (working on £60,000) would give a figure of £520,000. Deduct approximately £40,000 for legal fees etc., planning and conservation permissions and other expenses, this figure is reduced to £480,000.
               If we allow say £100,000 for additional running costs, then we are looking at a clear profit before tax of £380,000 in the first year. And as the building is moveable, if the operator wants, after the first year they can take it away and sell it. Or, if it's popular, negotiate another year. In austere times of volatile investment this could look like a relatively less risky investment.
For the museum, they get £60-100,000 to add to their yearly budget and all they have to do is reach an agreement. In addition to this there is a proposal for a profit sharing agreement on profits in excess of £100,000.

Originally I thought of the building as a sculptural object, but the British Museum is Listed Grade I and as anything in this location would require Planning and Listed Building consent and this would need to be obtained with the minimum of fuss. So, something was needed that did not try to compete with the main building, that could be seen as part of it and yet was distinctive enough to attract visitors without the need for signage.

 The pavilion is sited a little like the temple of Athene Nike on the Acropolis in its relationship to the main building, playing a game with the reference embedded there. So, from the street the wall of 360° revolving aerofoil doors contain, on one side, resin panels of the Parthenon marbles, emulating the freeze on the portico. Although this might sound 'tacky', few people might realise that the bust of Rameses in the Great Court, at the entrance to the Egyptian Galleries, is actually a resin replica. This use of the Parthenon panels is also conscientiously contentious and that is good for business.

                          But the front elevation is not static, the doors revolve 360° and the internal panels are fret cut, back illuminated ancient scripts. There is a whole thought process associated with the scripts that I won't go into here – but these panels are presented in a modern way that at night could be very dramatic, illuminating the way with words.
                          The building when viewed from the museum has a very different character: that of a glass cabinet, similar to those inside the museum – only here, the people inside the cabinet are the objects to be observed against a revolving backdrop of classical art and illuminated scripts.

                          The pavilion is designed to be installed in 3 days, so as to avoid fuss at the main entrance to the museum. The factory finished modules are delivered to site in two sections, craned into position and bolted together. The external decking, in pre-formed panels, is then fixed into position. Some on-site finishing would be required, but it is expected that the factory finished module could reduce build costs by 45%.

                 If you have been following this, it is not the aesthetic that is important; the initial decisions in the scheme were only a way of moving the project forward with the minimum of dispute on proposing anything in such a 'sensitive' location. What is important here is the idea: in austere times companies are actively looking for less volatile investment opportunities, museums are looking for funding, and designers are looking for work. So, the idea is for designers to be more pro-active and create the opportunity. The idea works anywhere there is available space and visitor numbers to make the figures balance. Designers! Artists! Architects! Be pro-active: COPY THIS IDEA. Find a local institution that needs funding and propose your own scheme. Viva Social Entrepreneurship! 


    Thanks to Nicolas Durand at Social Entrepreneurship for adding this to the magazine.

    Thanks to Social Entrepreneur magazine for tweeting this post.
    If you are not following them - you should be....
    Thanks also to Conrad Harrison at metamorph96 for the tweet!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Bar Bar Brighton

Designalexable has been busy and recently completed this unusual little operation which seeks to be a counter service vegetarian diner operation serving tasty tapas style food in stylish surroundings. The  design is derived from the compact form of the building, a deep slither that gives a critical dimension across the width, that controls everything.
It was important, from a trading point of view, that the bar be both the kind of place people might want to have a quick lunch and at the same time the bar needed to transform itself into an exclusive operation at night, a kind of stop on the route to somewhere else. This duality led to diner style booth seating - a style that is very good at this kind of transformation (I  like the diner shots in the film 'After Hours').
To stop the claustrophobic feeling of being in such a deep narrow unit we wanted to mirror all the walls so that there was this multiple reflection a bit like that Brian Eno 'No Pussyfooting' cover. Then we took the idea of printing on mirrors, like those mirror pictures of Monroe and James Dean that were popular in the 1970s. Ditching the frames, oversizing the images and using stylish modern graphics rather than the usual Hollywood icons, we found that we could give the place an identifiable image on a very tight budget.

The Axonometric view above gives some idea of how narrow the unit is and so how difficult it is in design terms to actually fit in this type of operation. The stairs in the bottom right lead down to staff area and prep + stores and have an escape route leading to the street. The Fire Enclosure is situated at the base of the stair so that it allows maximum area around the public toilet.

More on the Santiago Townhouse

It was great to see that Vectorworks, who produce the modeller software I used for the project, supported the scheme by making a post on Twitter. Many thanks to everyone at Vectorworks!

For those of you that didn't see the Santiago Townhouse article in the Daily Telegraph - it looked like this:

You can still vote up to the 22nd July 2011 - so please support this and follow the Link:

 This should take you to a page that looks like this (see Left).

There has been a lot of interest in the whole concept, because the way that the building is constructed reduces costs so that this is effectively affordable housing that can be constructed very cheaply. The design and the materials make the building very low maintenance and some of the Green innovations are currently with the patent office. More on that when we have some protection in place.