KEEP OFF THE GRASS - IT'S THE ROOF
BUILDINGS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY: CENTRE FOR UNDERSTANDING THE ENVIRONMEN T, SOUTH-EAST LONDON; In the first of a series on new architecture, Rachel Barnes discovers an ecological wonder that's got the aesthetics right too
Now the Horniman Museum has been joined by an ecological building. The Centre for Understanding the Environment is made from timber and recycled newspaper - with a grass and wild-flower roof. It does look a little incongruous alongside Townsend's Victorian creation - English Heritage was predictably full of trepidation - but aesthetically the juxtaposition of styles works astonishingly well.
CUE is a light, open, airy space: a little oasis off the South Circular Road. Its relationship with the Horniman's 16-acre garden is plain to see: everything inside is connected with everything outside; interior and exterior are separated only by glass walls and huge picture windows. Fred Horniman would surely have approved, though he lived decades before "green" became a concept.
CUE was commissioned by Dr Elizabeth Goodhew, until recently a curator at the Horniman, who wanted to raise the awareness of ecology through a building with an environmental message in its design. She had been impressed by the nearby London Wildlife Garden Centre, which was designed by Jonathan Hines of Architype, a practice with a particular skill in green design. Hines agreed to complete the CUE building in seven weeks.
"We called it our longest and slowest project ever," he says. The roof is still growing - and it always will be. Built from sustainable timber, CUE is insulated with recycled newspapers and finished with non-toxic organic paint. The roof is irrigated by pond water raised by a pump operated by solar power. When this water evaporates, the building is cooled, an effect which will increase five-fold when the meadow on the roof grows to a height of about 20 cm. (Here there is a setback, as crows have attacked a section of the roof that now needs to regrow.)
CUE's impressive array of ecological features includes an innovative structure of pre-fabricated hollow timber beams and columns that create a system of natural passive ventilation, reed beds to recycle water, and photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. A computer controls the building's use of energy and its air and water movements.
Hines is justifiably proud of his pioneering work. "In our modern, synthetic world, our sense of smell is stultified by a constant battery of pollutants; our sense of touch is diminished by smooth artificial materials, and our sense of vision is over-stimulated by a vast range of fluorescent and synthetic colours," he says. "CUE aims to demonstrate a human and ecologically sound alternative in which, for example, organic paints made from natural oil can enhance and inform our sense of smell; natural materials with a variety of textures and finishes stimulate our sense of touch; and colours, based on natural pigments, create a natural harmony with our sense of sight."
From the outset, CUE was planned as an environmentally friendly, futuristic building. But what makes it especially fascinating is the way Hines has used green materials in such a creative way. The CUE's smell - of fresh air and wood - and its sense of optimism and well-being are remarkable. It is truly a building of the future, and quite possibly a prototype for many more.
!CUE at the Horniman Museum: 100 London Road, SE23 (0181 699 1872). CUE can be seen today, for nothing, as part of "Open House", the annual weekend celebrating and enabling access to hundreds of London's buildings; call 0891 600061 for more details.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens trailer: Luke Skywalker's bionic hand sends fans into a frenzy
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
General Election 2015: Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a duel over immigration question