Learnings From London

I’m home. I spent the past exhilarating year earning a Master of Arts Degree in Historical & Sustainable Architecture from NYU London.

Graduation Tim Barber

When I made the big decision to return to school, my goal was (and still is) to make a difference in the built world. I wanted to learn about our contribution and response to global warming; the regulation of new development claiming to be green; the necessary rigor in the building sciences; the alchemy of community and history that connects us to older buildings; and ways to invest the craft and art we find in older buildings into memorable new structures.

I wanted to learn how to evaluate the future use of buildings and advocate for their adaptation.

What did I learn?

I learned to write a Conservation Statement, a Gazetteer of historically significant features, and a Conservation Plan for our campus at 6 Bedford Square, London. This required an understanding of the full history – and future – of the area, the structure of the building, the science of energy use, and the politics of ownership.

6 Bedford Square London Peacocks Finest
The NYU London building at 6 Bedford Square in London. Image: Peacock’s Finest

I learned to understand the heritage value of building forms and details, the social history and evolution(s), and their current symbolic meaning. What makes us value an older building? What deterioration should be repaired? What scars should be retained?

Bath Circus Doric Porch Tim Barber
Mutulary Doric porch at Bath Circus with Masonic symbols. Image: Tim Barber

I learned to design a new elementary school that meets – and then exceeds – current energy codes, weighing each feature, orientation, and material against its initial and subsequent costs, its operational carbon, and its embodied carbon.

School Section Assignment Tim Barber
A section of the elementary school designed for an assignment. Drawing: Tim Barber
Materials Evaluation Tim Barber
Options for different sustainable materials. By: Liana Balaban-Kroll, Sophie Kenworthy, Talia Friedlander, Tim Barber

I learned to evaluate new construction and retrofit efforts based on the renewability of the materials, manufacturing processes, shipping methods and distances, and contribution or damage to the planet.

Urban Infill Buildings Tim Barber
Great examples of urban infill buildings in London and Edinburgh. Images: Tim Barber

I learned to analyze an urban park, its users, history, and neighborhood context and then to design improvements to safety, diversity of use, sustainability, maintenance, and wildlife habitats.

Cavendish Cartoon Map Tim Barber
Cartoon map of Cavendish Square improvements. Drawing: Tim Barber

I learned to coordinate the renewal of complex urban sites, integrating public transportation, historic and new structures, old and new uses, utilities, archaeology, public funding resources, tax incentives, flexibility for new uses, auto and bike parking (and charging), green space and play space, and public programming.

Kings Cross Central Development Coal Drops Yard London England
Coal Drops Yard of Kings Cross in London. The original buildings were built in the 1850s to transfer and store coal that arrived by rail; and eventually became derelict. Today, the Coal Drops are a reimagined shopping and dining destination with preserved features alongside contemporary, sustainable design. Image: Wikimedia Commons

I learned to design a retrofit redevelopment of a loved but underutilized library, assessing construction, maintenance, and operating costs, projected income, and including a ‘rents-and-sell-offs-template’ with assumptions for vacancies over a 10-year period.

Stoke Newington Tim Barber
Stoke Newington Library front view. Image: Tim Barber
Template Tim Barber
Stoke Newington Library rents-and-sell-offs-template. By: Tim Barber

I learned to appreciate the involvement of the community surrounding a proposed development building, seeing neighborhood problems, trends, history, needs, and opportunities through their eyes. The design improvement is worth engaging neighbors at the outset, instead of seeking their commentary after the design is completed.

Community Planning Event Manual
Image: Nick Wates 2003, The Community Planning Event Manual

I learned one other valuable lesson: my team at TBA designed beautiful work and provided valuable service with limited input from me. My inspired education – and our place in this profession are thanks to their dedication, inspiration, and decency.