Wednesday, July 20, 2005



I was always under the impression that the word “defenestration” meant removing the twiddly bits of ornamental architecture, in the spirit of “modernisation”. It turns out that it really means throwing someone or something out of a window, particularly as a means of political dissent. (Note to self; The Morley Town Council meets upstairs in the Town Hall but the windows don’t open at defenestrating level, however I digress).

Another definition is the act of discarding something under the assumption that it will improve matters, which is probably where the architectural reference was derived. Re-fenestration is my made-up word in the context of putting twiddly bits onto buildings, also with the assumption that it will improve matters...

I work in central Bradford and most mornings I drive up the Manchester Road, which is the southern approach into the City. Apart from having special guided bus lanes, windmill powered heated bus stops and a rather disproportionate number of traffic lights, it also passes a large housing estate that is undergoing major refurbishment. Three large tower blocks have been shrouded in scaffolding for quite some time but what was of particular interest was the change in roofline. Steel structures started to appear that I found somewhat puzzling as they looked somewhat like angled platforms for solar panels of some sort. This was further compounded by the installation of what looked like stylised versions of those spinning signs you see outside of garages, although in this case there were no adverts for tyres or service. The structures were seen to spin (rather slowly) and I did wonder whether they may have been to operate pumps in order to circulate water over the panels, or to charge up batteries. However, the flaw in this logic was that the roof panels were facing due north which is a duff direction to catch the sun, as anyone with a north facing garden will tell you.

A quick sniff on ‘tinternet came up with the answer:

Wind turbines are being fitted to high rise blocks of flats on Manchester Road to help power their lighting as part of the latest phase of a multi million pound improvement programme.

Five blocks form the first phase of the environmentally friendly scheme and this week a roof wind turbine is being erected on Tudor Court. The first one was put up on top of Stuart Court and they are also being fitted to Bolingbrooke, Windsor and Hapsburgh Courts.

Futuristic steel roofing is also being installed which will turn the blocks into striking city centre landmarks.

Ian Simpson, Executive Director of Bradford West City CHT said: “The wind turbines will provide enough power to light up the communal areas in the blocks and they are an important element of the improvements we are carrying out.

“The roof top design promises to be a visually stunning addition to the city’s skyline.”

It seems the turbines can generate up to 3kW of power, which will presumably happily light up a decent number of compact fluorescent fittings in hallways and staircases. However, the duty cycle of wind power is apparently only 30% (the wind doesn’t blow all of the time) so I imagine the generated power will be stored in a sort of maintained power supply system which only draws on the mains when the batteries are flat. I did unearth a feasibility document by ESD Ltd which pointed out that the benefits were marginal and the model eventually chosen had a payback of 56 years! It also seems that recommendations to mount the turbine over the lift shaft were not followed, I wouldn’t like to live in the flats directly below it on the top floor to the south, they could get some very strange vibration noises as it ages and wears out. The design originally suggested a 6kW larger model and the use of a smaller device may well mean that turbulent airflow will further dampen the capability.

As for the “futuristic steel roofing”, I can’t see it having any benefit whatsoever for the people who live there, although it does look rather less dull than the plain roof with hoist room that preceded it. If they introduce decorative lighting (which the report suggests) that will totally knacker the wind turbine payback as well.

The Flats aren’t run by the Council, they are run by a Trust, as so often seems to be the way these days so that accusations of wasting public money are defused. Where that argument falls down, of course, is that the Trusts tap up local and central government for all sorts of grants, so it is out of our pockets after all. The roof & turbine aspects appear to be intended to make a visual statement, although it would be a lot cheaper for them to put up a flagpole and a banner saying “we are good at wasting money despite sound engineering advice” which is what the solution says to me.

I don’t want to totally scoff at the scheme, however, they are going to be improving the actual flats themselves considerably but the tenants are hardly going to be impressed with spinning turbines and coloured uplighting making the roof “interesting” when there are better things to get concerned about, like why the Council has moved in the noisy family of anti-social scratters upstairs who seem to live nocturnal lives accompanied by the latest in tediously load and repetitive House/Garage/thrash shed music.

The term “Social Housing” is the PC term for what we used to call “Council Housing”, presumably to shake off the stigma of being particularly associated with the underclass underachievers. I’ve lived in a Council House as a child for a couple of years, a socialist utopian dream of T Dan Smith in the 60s. The house was a very good design, well thought out & pleasant to live in but I can’t say the same for some of the neighbours It started off as “selected tenants” but it didn’t help that we were physically a couple of hundred yards from large numbers of unselected ones! A more accurate term might be “Social Security Housing”, “Giro Housing” or even “ASBO Housing”. The reality of course is that scum make up maybe 5% of the population and they come from all walks of life but the numpty-density on a Council estate is inevitably higher (as more will eventually get re-housed there) and they are the ones causing trouble for the other 95% of decent folk.

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