Category Archives: Sheds

these refreshing buildings are the future that architecture is reluctantly moving towards

The Sheep Shed

Sheep aren’t indigenous but their rearing and shearing factors large in Australian history and culture.

"Tom Roberts - Shearing the rams - Google Art Project" by Tom Roberts - lQEDjT-_MXaMJQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

True, sheep didn’t turn into ecological nightmares like starlings, rabbits, camels, cane toads and such but still, they don’t touch the ground lightly. They graze much closer than cattle and overgrazing, the same overgrazing that has been causing soil erosion and denuding landscapes around the world for millennia. Of more immediate and global consequence is sheep flatulence at the rate of 30 litres of methane per day per sheep. The roughly 75 million of’em in Australia fart two and a quarter billion litres of methane (1,045,215 metric tonnes) per day. That’s over 1,300 times the approx. 770 metric tonnes of methane per day currently estimated to being lost from the broken well at the Aliso Canyon storage site.


It’s still not great compared to the global warming impact of CFCs but the agricultural sector is still responsible for 12.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and for 40% of methane. Percentages are higher for Oz.


I only mention this for some contextual balance. This post is about Deepwater Woolshed by Stutchbury & Pape Architects. As a shed, I like it, but I like it independently of culture and history both Australian or architectural. Sheep do local ecologies and global atmospheres no favours so, ecologically speaking, should we not tar this building with the same brushIs it possible to like a building independently of its greater environmental context? OF COURSE IT IS! We do it all the time! We make and propagate associations with favourable contexts and propagated and ignore or suppress associations with unfavourable ones. The Seagram Building scores 3/100 on an EnergyStar assessment, for example. The environmental context in which Deepwater Woodshed is politely discussed is a favourable one but an extremely narrow one.

• • •

Shearing sheds are, foremost, sheds.


There are pens for holding sheep outside, and more pens inside to accommodate two days’ worth of sheep to allow them to dry if they’re wet.


Windows are basic.


A recent innovation is to have the holding pens beneath the building.


Another is for the shearing to take place on a raised platform rather than the floor.


This makes life easier for the roustabout to shift the fleece to the wool table for grading. Deepwater Woolshed incorporates both innovations.


The NSW government website offers guidelines for sheep shearing shed design.

we learn that

Much is written here, on “Oztecture”, about Deepwater Woodshed but I only want to mention things that are explicit. Sentences such as “The extreme heat experienced during the shearing season drove the placement, orientation, form and materiality of this building. The efficient movement of the sheep in a low stress environment and the technical requirements of the process of shearing drove the planning and layout.” do not prove anything.

“The building has embraced a range of design solutions to contend with the summer heat.” Fine – tell us more. “Alongside optimal orientation to capture prevailing northeasterly breezes that cross ventilate the interior, overhangs of a large portal frame roof provide shade to the walls and provide undercover sheep storage and access. A reticulated irrigation system sprays cooling water onto the roof. Large expanded mesh screens have been hung to the southwest, providing protection from the prevailing wind. Cascading water across these suspended surfaces utilises the cross-ventilating breeze and evaporative cooling, lowering working temperatures.” Huh?

One sentence says the prevailing breezes are north-easterly but the next says they’re south-west. Look, here’s the five-year average wind rose for Wagga Wagga Airport 60 kilometres south-east. Prevailing winds are due east. You can trust airport wind data.


The high end of the roof faces NNW. The rainwater tanks are at the eastern corner of the ENE side facing the prevailing winds more than any other side does.


Yet the screens aren’t on the SW elevation as stated, or even the ESE elevation above. They’re on the WSW elevation (below) downwind of the prevailing winds.


I don’t get it. At first I thought the writer had gotten themselves into a muddle but, even so, I can’t reconcile the locations of these screens with their stated function. It’s nice to see a monopitch roof all the same.

“Strip skylights provide natural lighting. The entire structure is bolted together; all linings, cladding and floors are screwed and fixed. Thus the entire shed is demountable. The usage of a structural roofing system was an initiative providing additional planning flexibility.” Good stuff.


“This project sets out to provide a quality work environment for one of Australia’s oldest trades. The resulting building has elevated the task of shearing at Bulls Run, while reinterpreting the traditional built form of an Australian icon. This is a sophisticated passive building in tune with land, man and beast.”  It’s a shed.


It’s also a very highly praised shed.

  • At the 2005 Royal Australian Institute of Architects national awards, Deepwater Woolshed won the Colorbond category and was a joint winner in the commercial building category.
  • It was featured in the 10th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale.
  • It won the Blacket Award for regional architecture, the Colorbond Award, the Commercial Building Award and the Energy Efficient Award.
  • Kenneth Frampton wrote about it here.

Frampton drops the full weight of his prodigious knowledge to bear onto this outback shed, making full use of The Fallback Context,

and The Cultural Context.


The Architectural Context is a subset of The Cultural Context. It means something is architecture if it can be likened to other, certified, architecture.


Quoting Katsura Imperial Villa (630AD) has never hurt the reputation of any architect. Invoking Katsura Imperial Villa has never harmed the reputation of any historian. Here’s the money shot posed with window panels alternately half open and fully shut.

If we’re going to play Architectural Associations however, my first move would be Kenzo Tange’s first and only house of 1953,


quickly followed by Kazuo Shinohara’s first house of 1954.

Kugayama 1954 view

My next move would be Isé Grand Shrine (692AD) that predates Katsura Palace by oh about a millennium. It has a big roof (to keep rain off its walls) and is raised (to protect the contents from floods). These don’t just indicate something is important and worth protecting, they actually protect it. The history of Japanese architecture is the history of protecting things.

ise grand shrine

My final and winning move would be a Yayoi Era  (300BC-300AD) kura (storehouse) that predates Isé Shrine by oh maybe another millennium. These storehouses had a big roofs to protect the walls from rain and were elevated to protect the rice from floods and rats.

20091006-Ray Kinnane 44556557_storehouses

This bypasses Katsura Imperial Villa and Grand Isé Shrine and links the principles of materials, construction and environmental response of a modern shed with a shed 1800 years prior. Protecting grain from rats is clever but not classy. When talking architecture, buildings can’t be “elevated” to something below them. Most buildings can be given the pretentious posturing of architecture but few have the embodied intelligence of sheds.

Deepwater Woolshed is a shed, and a very good shed it is too. For an accurate assessment of what this building does we can turn to this 2011 issue of Australian Wool Innovation.

beyond the bale

I’m still waiting for those Shearing Shed Guidelines to be posted to the AWI website but here’s a link to relevant standards. From this next article we learn that The Bulls Run Property to which Deepwater Woolshed belongs, was sold to the Paraway Pastoral Company.

bulls run

Three years later, and reported that Paraway Pastoral was to sell part of the property.

stock and land

As of January 4 2016, the website of the auctioneers, landmarkharcourts, still had the property details.


The 617.96 hectare (1,527.03 acre) auction included the 1927 homestead, a cottage, silos and other agricultural buildings. The reserve price was only AUS$1.3 million (US$1.1 million) so the US$400,000 Deepwater Woolshed couldn’t have been part of the package.


Analysts report that for large pastoral companies to focus on their main businesses, it’s quite common to divest themselves of properties not crucial to their core portfolios. So click go those corporate shears. The rearing and shearing of sheep factors large in Australian history and culture. Sheep still get reared and sheared but the people who buy, operate and sell the farms don’t let romantic imaginings influence their judgment. We should do likewise when evaluating the buildings.


In the game, each player starts with a Sheep Station, consisting of five Natural Pasture paddocks, fully stocked with 3,000 sheep …

• • •

Further reading:
Peter Stutchbury article in Weekend Australian

Advance of the Sheds

For every force there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the level of amenity, let alone luxury, people can reasonably aspire to steadily lessens, the market for Architecture must continually expand downwards by appropriating materials, configurations and concepts formerly the realm of Building.

The absence of applied finishes occurs in vernacular buildings as the expedient use of resources but when appropriated by architecture becomes a value-adding vernacular revival.

The rational forms of engineering design seen in bridges, ships, rural buildings and the replicated products of industrial design are incorporated into isolated architectural statements.


The rational buildings of industrial design became the reluctant carriers of architectural statements.


No sooner had a minimum quantity of daylight been recognised as promoting health and well-being in the mid-1920s, the quality of that light became a definition of architecture.


The concept of prefabrication is a useful one for building but Architecture has been very wary of adopting it as anything but a metaphor for a modern society that somehow never seems to arrive.

Eames House - 05

Prefabrication implies replication for diverse purposes and locations. Prefabrication is not when non-identical glazing panels are fabricated offsite. Many building components are fabricated beforehand elsewhere.


Prefabrication seems incompatible with a concept of Architecture.  If Architecture grapples with it at all, it is on the level of “exploring ways to make it socially acceptable” or “to obtain as much variation as possible from prefabricated components”. Either way, the result is to pretty it up without challenging any prejudices, and destroying its virtues in the process.

The spirit of living with fewer possessions was artfully articulated by Pawsonesque Minimalism that not only hides all your vulgar possessions but vulgar construction joins as well. $ublime.


Green roofs had the capacity to do useful things for both internal energy performance as well as the greater environment but came to be regarded as a metaphor for those things detached from any tangible benefits they may have or have had.

Environmental parameters, being quantifiable, ought to have a place in a Parametric architecture, but no. Parametricism steers well clear of any parameter that could generate genuine building form.


Sheds are useful and, as they are in the sights of an ever-downwardly shifting Architecture, are prime candidates for assimilation into Architecture.

The Advance of the Sheds

As part of its downward spread, Architecture is beginning to assimilate sheds and lumbering them with cultural and intellectual baggage.

Here’s a recent German shed. It’s a well mannered shed but not without architectural pretensions such as the square windows, the inside-outside thing, the heavy-on-light thing, the dark-on-bright thing.


This one, in Japan, is very sheddy on the outside but very Skandi-Muji on the inside. Square windows again.


Here’s Go Hasegawa’s House in Komae from 2009,

house in komae

his House in a Forest from 2006,

Go Hasegawa & Associates . House in a Forest . Nagano (3)

and Pilotis in a Forest from 2011.


This next shed featured in an earlier post.


The previous two houses had an air of primitive hut about them but it’s not so easy to say anything pretentious about this one. If you said “pilotis” you’d only make a fool of yourself. “Takes advantage of the view”? It’s on a hill. The site looks large enough to not need a two storey building. “Touches the ground lightly”?

“A bicycle shed is a building. Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture” goes Nicholas Pevsners’ famous definition. We knew what he meant,


but he spelt it out anyway.“Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.” 

Pevsner displays his century’s prejudices by his choice of examples. For him, a bicycle is an item useful for the satisfactory performance of the physical aspects of daily life and thus deserves no more than a building. A church, on the other hand is big-A Architecture because it does not cater to any meaningful physical reality so it must therefore enhance the spiritual aspects of daily life. It’s a fair expansion of something flawed.

Times have changed. Some people keep their bicycles to stop them getting stolen but also because they might like to be able to care for their machines better. A cycle is not something used only on post-war England schooldays but is an integral part of their lives. On some level, there is an non-visual aesthetic pleasure to be gained from a well-maintained cycle.

Another non-visual aesthetic pleasure comes from living with fewer things and less need to find the space or things to store them. Some people choose a life of consumption agnosticism. They don’t believe happiness comes from buying things or, if they have them, from hiding them or displaying them in some ingenious storage solution that also costs money and space.

The clients for this next shed are people like that. They used to live in what in Japan is called a danchi – a high-density residential estate. 

sodegaura danchi

Horrible you may think, but after living there for a few decades one might just begin to appreciate the closeness of other people and the comforting smallness of the spaces.


The clients requested a house that recreated the feeling of a danchi apartment even though a larger house could have been designed for the site. You enter into the garage


(like you do in the Porsche Design tower in Miami)


but then go up some stairs to three rooms and a bathroom. 40.5 sq.m.


Interior finishes aren’t lavish.

The windows of the three main rooms face south and directly into the windows of the neighbouring house. The kitchen is that one wall you see in the central image above. No attempt has been made to hide the basin or the washing machine that will go beside it. This house defies explanation in terms of Western housing aspirations as articulated by Western architects. 

The text supplied to Dezeen and Architizer by the architects, Yoshihiro Yamamoto Architects Atelier says the clients wanted a house which was narrow – a typical mistranslation of the Japanese word semai that describe houses that are small, cramped. The text mentions how the danchi lifestyle was something precious to the clients and how they wanted to preserve it.

Going by Pevsner’s definition, this building is not architecture because it has not been designed with a view to having any visual aesthetic appeal. Two points. One. IT WAS DESIGNED FOR ITS OCCUPANTS, NOT PEVSNER. NOT YOU. NOT ME.  The aesthetic appeal of this house is a psychological one the occupants are sensitive to. The owners are happy.

Any problems we have with this house are ours.

  • Given what we now know about the crazy economics of Japanese housing. and their ephemerality, the architect has not used this opportunity to build as an excuse to be sensationalist for the sake of foreign media. We have no right to be outraged by this.
  • This house will probably not be there in 20 years but its touch-the-plot-lightliness is not being presented as a virtue. No building lasts forever. Permanence vs. impermanence is a false opposition. Symbols of impermanence are no more virtuous than symbols of permanence.
  • This house has been named Danchi-Hutch. The word danchi does not have good connotations for us now, and also for many Japanese. The word “hutch” translates as goya (ごや、小屋) It means a small, simple and crudely-built building, often temporary. In the 1960s when many people were visiting Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, some journalist, the story goes, described Japanese houses as akin to  “rabbit hutches” (ウサギ小屋). Every Japanese knows this story. It stung, and it stung at a time when the Japanese wanted to be seen as worldly. Naming this building danchi-hutch suggests the Japanese are over it, and are re-evaluating the aesthetic virtues of living with less land, less space, fewer things and less architecture.

These are dangerous concepts. Lacaton & Vassal have already experienced the displeasure that happens when you build something inexpensive, useful, good value for money, and without regard for conventional notions of what constitutes architectural beauty.

Lapatie House

This building was not conventionally beautiful according to accepted criteria. Normally this is no big deal but it is when it provides a low-cost alternative to an unachiveable future of glossy parametrics and datascapes. The Lapatie House proposed going back a bit as the way forward.

Kengo Kuma has suffered no such opprobrium with his big shed in Tokyo called La Kagu.


It comes with a tree and a timber deck and stair treads. Even shed haters have something to like.

I’m not surprised Kengo Kuma did this. I hope it means the Japanese have tired of providing a culturally unassailable basis for seamless minimalism, exquisite concrete work and unfeasibly large timbers craftily joined. Isolated pockets of resistance remain.


The Japanese can make an aesthetic out of anything. It’s what they’re good at and we love them for it – albeit often recklessly. Even Kengo Kuma’s shed above has signs of stealth Shedism – look at these coathanger rails. Are they pseudo-found objects as stylistic affectation? Examples of Lo-Tech as affordable Hi-Tech? Are they beyond aesthetics?


I doubt it, mainly because it’s Kengo Kuma. But it could have just as easily been Waro Kishi. We can safely and without cynicism update Pevsner’s definition: Architecture is a shed designed by Kengo Kuma or Go Hasegawa or Waro Kishi. A building is a shed designed for IKEA. 


The Fightback 

There will be a fightback against the shed and the threat it poses to Architecture for Architecture, as we know, takes good and useful ideas and neuters them by turning them into architectural statements.


This house resists all such attempts. It undermines all that architecture holds precious. Accordingly, it is singled out for special attack.

I usually love how Japanese houses combine refined materials and nice interiors into a seemingly simple exterior. This one is actually horrible on all fronts. The wood is cheap underlayment. The windows force you to look into the neighbours bedroom (and vice versa). The space: I don’t see anything noteworthy. And there are all those things and boxes sticking on the facade: what are those? Get rid of it. It’s also absolutely ignorant of it’s surroundings. Even when taking the assignment of building a small and narrow house on a corner plot in mind, this could have been improved on all fronts.

This is just a website comment. Normally, it’s journalists who initiate the process of death by architecture by seeing useful ideas only in terms of their visual effect while ignoring or begrudgingly acknowledging less photogenic but useful characteristics or ideas.


Baracco and Wright Architects’ Garden House blurs the boundaries between garden and home while redefining what it means to be minimal.


The form of the shed enclosure, as dematerialized and undressed as possible, is intended less as a reference toward economy or utility, although it does do that, than as a framework to be colonized by vegetation over time, both inside and out. The architecture can be envisaged in this way as a seamless part of a landscape and vegetation strategy, a mere step on a longer trajectory toward restoration, and one that can be almost as easily reversed – a scaffold upon which vegetation must grow in order to complete the functions of, for example, shading and cooling.

We’re going to have to expect more of this kind of nonsense festooning sheds with cultural and intellectual ornamentation, killing all that is good about them, assimilating them into the world of Architecture. 




Sheds Without Shame

And Peter Behrens saw the shed was naked so he covered it up. 


And so the shed was made to feel shame. Taking something virtuous and forcing it to wear an aesthetic statement of questionable value is the original sin of architecture, its genesis. It’s as if architecture loves to see good ideas killed through a process of aestheticisation – the real meaning of Death by Architecture.

Why I dislike The Eames’ House

The Eames took a shed and decked it out with the arty pretentiousness of Mondrian colours.

Eames House - 05

They were also responsible for the intellectual dishonesty of using cheap components to build on a fairly decent slice of well-located real estate. What’s going on? Did one of them inherit it? I’m guessing Ray did for, by all accounts, Charles was a bit of a  bounder, possibly a cad.


Reasons to dislike Case Study House #21


“Despite saving all that money on construction and finishes, they dressed up yet stayed in, joylessly enduring each other’s company.”

Reasons to dislike Case Study House #22

Reasons to like Case Study House #22. 

It’s a shed.


It’s still a shed and, after seeing what their renewable neighbours have done to their site or were made to do to their site, it’s just as well it’s a shed.

still a shed

34° 6’2.81″N 118°22’13.59″W

If the Case Study House program was really about the beneficial use of industrial components to enclose space quickly and inexpensively, then we’d expect to see the north elevation used to illustrate this a lot more than we do. The useful idea apparent on the north side, is only important because it enables the aesthetic idea on the south side. Once inside, it’s all about the view. We’re always invited to look out of the house or through the house rather than linger at any time inside it or, God forbid, behind it. What Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, but she could just have easily said it about the Stahl House – “There’s no there there.”

But sixty-six years on from The Eames’ House has anything really changed?

  • Many people would still like a nice parcel of land in the Pacific Palisades – or the Hollywood Hills for that matter.
  • But many more people still have an aversion to prefabricated “off-the-shelf” building components.

Even today, if anyone wants to build a shed and live in it, it has to be justified in terms of “fitting in with the local character”. This is as true for the UK

country shed

where architect James Gorst has a nice line of sheddy houses alluding to some false memory of a rural vernacular,

and it is in Australia where Glenn Murcutt has also.

Sheds are everywhere but it seems they’re only acceptable when their obvious advantages are overlaid with a veneer of aesthetic pretentiousness. We like sheds but only when they hide their shameful nakedness.

Japanese architect Waro Kishi knows a bit about sheds without shame. Here’s his 1987 Kim House in Ikuno, Osaka. Less baggage than that other one. And no cutting of corners.

Here’s Kishi’s 1995 House In Nipponbashi, Osaka.

One might say “sheds without shame” is Lacaton & Vassal’s motto but this would be to turn their method of designing into a style. If L&V’s early houses such as Lapatie House and Dordogne House are small-scale sheds and their Nantes School of Architecture one of the larger applications of their thinking, then the middle ground is their 2013 two-sheds-are-better-than-one FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais art space in Dunkerque, France. The only design idea was to build another shed next to an existing one. The design idea is practically absent – and what remains of that design idea is probably something we construct in our heads.

lacaton & vassal

I thought FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais was about as shameless as a shed could be but no. Behind bdonline‘s paywall, Speller Metcalfe’s Western Power Distribution depot pushes the envelope with its 102% BREEAM score.


Green Computing and the Smart Shed

It’s been said before. The microprocessor is not trying to look beautiful.


BECAUSE OF THIS, microprocessors have had the exponential performance increases Moore’s Law describes.


Computer scientists are now conceiving of exascale computing systems capable of at least one exaflops which is one thousand petaflops or one quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000) floating point operations per second. One of the largest challenges they face concerns power consumption. Here’s a link to a paper discussing this – it’s interesting. Green computing aims to develop


that reduce power consumption whilst still delivering high performance. This is a NOBLE ENDEAVOUR.

Freedom from the constraints of visual aesthetics has already enabled phenomenal increases in microprocessor performance. Further increases will be made but those increases will have little meaning unless it is cost-effective and energy-efficient.

green 500

The Green 500 list ranks supercomputers according to flops/watt. The list was begun in 2005 to increase awareness of other specifications that included performance per watt. It soon became apparent that computers with better performance were not very energy efficient. The 2012 list was different, with the IBM Blue Gene/Q at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory being top for both performance and the Green 500. Here’s the IBM BlueGene/Q. 


It only took seven years for cost-effectiveness to become an integral part of computing performance. 

Let’s have a look at the buildings that house these data and computing centres because they are a new building type that, like railway stations then and space stations now, we have no preconceived notions about what they should look like.

Mare Nostrum is the name of the supercomputer at the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre located inside the converted Torre Girona chapel. [Some more pics here, courtesy of darkroastedblend.]

barcelona supercomputing centre

The computer hasn’t been squeezed inside. Here’s a cable run.


Some of the work at the Barcelona Computing Centre involves the use of ARM architecture to realise high-performance computing systems with low energy requirements.


It’s good to see a disused building being reused. I imagine the new function required an additional layer of entrance and it’s good to see that added in a matter of fact way that, incidentally, tells us we’re probably not entering a chapel. I’ll leave it to other bloggers to wow over the function shift and try to work out what it could possibly mean with phrases such as “expressing our ‘reverence’ for the new”. It’s a re-used building. Get over it.

torre girona

Albert France-Lanord Architects produced this next 2013 proposal that combines a data centre and performance space inside a converted building. We don’t know why. It was a proposal. 

This next project, also by Albert France-Lanord Architects and was completed in 2008. It’s housed in a converted nuclear shelter 30m beneath Stockholm. There’s more on the project here. It’s not hard to find.

I like the idea of reusing a disused nuclear shelter but the Bahnhof data centre is trying to be something we think it ought to be and this, to my mind, makes it seem slightly desperate. An image is being imposed upon something that as yet has no image or even a need of one – although I admit that that image has a commercial function in attracting customers (of which, btw, Wikileaks is one). 


Guess what? Here’s an image of the NSA’s Fort Meade data centre [“Hello!”] from a March 2012 Forbes article. It’s a shed.

fortmeadeI can’t find any images of the interior. [“May I have some please?”] But let’s get technical. ITConstruct tells me that your average data centre requires the following.

  • UPS (that’s Uniterruptible Power Supply, to us)
  • DC and AC Power Systems
  • Standby Generators
  • Air Conditioning and Humidification Systems
  • Smoke Detection and Fire Suppression Systems
  • Leak Detection Systems
  • Raised Access Flooring
  • Suspended Ceilings
  • Transformers and HV Power Systems
  • Access Control and Security Systems
  • Racking Systems
  • Data Cabling and Infrastructure
  • Power Management
  • Building Management Systems (BMS)
  • Environmental Monitoring Systems

Many of these items concern power supply because what a data centre can do to reduce its power costs is important because these are the costs that will be passed on to their customers. Reusing old buildings that have thick masonry walls and small, few or zero window openings will have advantages for this. That reused chapel doesn’t seem so whimsical now. Here’s another image of the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre.

barcelona supercomputing centre

See how there is a separately air-conditioned space inside the building? And that it has double doors? Even the underground data centre had separately air-conditioned spaces for people and computers. Separating the two volumes and their air conditioning requirements means that the a/c systems can be respectively optimised, with advantages for reducing total power consumption. If this can’t be done, then reducing the air conditionable volume is also good. Remember that low ceiling for the BlueGene/Q, above? This is probably not the way to do it. It’s a data centre in the Middle East. This is called ‘free air’ cooling.


It’s called that because the air moves freely around the data racks whilst being drawn vertically across them.


The gaps at the ends of the aisled can be completely enclosed for greater efficiency. Stultz are good at solutions of this type.


The goal is to make each rack its own contained system, so that the volume of air to be cooled is minimised. Cooling can be targeted even more with arrangements such as the self-contained Chatsworth Towers that take cooling air from bottom to top without the air touching the rest of the air in the data centre.

chatsowrth tower

Those computer rooms in data centres always look a bit cold. They’re not. In certain climates, running your data centre at a higher temperature might mean you can use free air cooling without targeted CRAC (Computer Room A/C) units. For example, if you choose to run your data centre at 86°F (30°C), an external air temperature of lower than 77°F (25°C) might be cool enough to require no additional cooling – as long as moisture levels remain within required limits. recommend keeping the temperature between 68 – 71°F, with 50° and 82° being the extremes. Here’s another way of doing it. It’s a smart shed.

This next image is of the NSA’s Utah Data Centre. It’s a shed too.


One Fox News report says as much as 5 zettabytes — 1 zettabyte = 1 billion terabytes = 1 trillion gigabytes — and with just 1 zettabyte (1024 exabytes) of space, the NSA can store a year’s worth of the global Internet traffic (which is estimated reached 966 exabytes per year in 2015).

Supporting facilities include water treatment facilities, chiller plant, power substations, vehicle inspection facility, visitor control center, and sixty diesel-fueled emergency standby generators and fuel facility for a 3-day 100% power backup capability. The chiller plant will keep the souped-up system from overheating. Here’s a close-up of those chillers!

NSA chillersA lot of energy is being spent in keeping everything cool. Was Utah really the best choice of location? Here’s some weather data for Salt Lake City 25 miles to the north.

salt lake city weather

It’s actually fairly mild. These aspects of its energy performance are far more interesting than pondering what would be the best way to architecturally represent our new and excitingly modern world of the globally interconnectedness of communications. It’s the least of our problems. Having said that, this lamely swooshy entrance just doesn’t seem to do justice to this building and its cutting edginess. I’m sure Patrik Schumacher would agree. In his own way.  

NSA architecture

Nevertheless, the energy performance of data centres is an issue and, because it affects the commercial attractiveness of data centres, is receiving attention. What we can say is:

The data centre is not trying to look beautiful – it has more important things to think about. Data centre is a new building type. We have no idea what they should look like. And nor do we care. It is the least of our problems.

Looks are not high on the scale of priorities of data centre operators. You can usually tell when you’re looking at a data centre. This is Apple’s iCloud data centre in Maiden, North Carolina. Notice that it doesn’t look like a cloud.

iCloud data center

This is a Facebook data centre in Forest City, North Carolina. (I smell economic incentives!)

Facebook-to-Build-a-Second-450-Million-Data-Center-2Here’s an Amazon data centre in Virginia.

amazon data centre, virginia

Here’s a Microsoft data centre in Dublin.


People, listen! Our world is being reshaped by these buildings, not by shopping malls, culture centres and opera houses – as architects might like to have us believe. Functional connectivity and function fields are just quaint ideas from the past. Finding new architectural representations for “can you bring me that file please, Miss Jones?” or “come over here and look, feel and buy this!” are concepts as outdated as Miss Jones bringing it or feeling something before you buy it. Complex architecture is said to be needed to represent this new and complex world we live in, but that’s clearly a lie. THESE are the buildings that are making our world new and complex and, as you can see, they don’t care what you think of them. I wouldn’t trust them even if they did. These buildings are the new vernacular of our times. Everything else is just representational retro. 

Some people like to keep up with these new developments in architecture. will get you up to speed on data centre design and construction, energy efficiency, etc. In fact, here’s a handy link to the pdf brochure, Energy Essentials: Rethinking Power and Cooling for the Modern Data Centre

This is Google’s 2009 data centre in The Dalles, Oregon. Take a good look. It’s not the shape of your future. It’s the shape of your now. 


Dave here, finds a performance beauty in neat cabling.


Others just want to know what the future might be like. Here’s a schematic included as part of patent for a floating data centre.

google floating data centre patent

The patent was filed by Google in 2003 and awarded in 2007. Although I can’t find any images, Google is said to have built an offshore data centre as early as 2005, based on this patent.

A system includes a floating platform-mounted computer data center comprising a plurality of computing units, a sea-based electrical generator in electrical connection with the plurality of computing units, and one or more sea-water cooling units for providing cooling to the plurality of computing units. 

So here, in two years, we have a workable solution to the problems of how to cool and power data centres and, as spin-off benefits, with none of the property costs or taxes that are, by their very nature, associated with buildings.

  • The problem of high performance and energy-efficient computing was solved in seven years. Such advances are possible because microprocessor architecture is not trying to look beautiful.
  • The problem of how to build and operate an energy efficient data centre was formulated and solved within two decades. Such advances are possible because data centre architecture is not trying to look beautiful.

There’s only one conclusion.

It becomes easier to have real and significant improvements in energy performance when we are unconcerned with what something looks like.


[cheers Ben]

After ducks and decorated sheds come smart sheds.