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Does ventilation need to be ugly? 17/04/2014

The public perception of ventilation units is usually huge, ugly grey boxes perched on the roof of an office or factory. The fact is that, yes, many ventilation units are – in fact – huge, ugly grey boxes perched on the roof of an office or factory.

However, that can’t be helped. Where there are budget constraints, the utility of a fully functioning and efficient ventilation system far outweighs how it looks. With a bit of clever architectural design, though, the ugliest aspects of ventilation work can be hidden from view, so the public gets the benefit of beautifully cooled workspaces in hot weather, without having to see the machinery that makes this happen.

Many architects these days will design a roof space with a recess that hides the ventilation machinery, while others will make a feature of it, disguising it cunningly to make it look like part of the building.

The Pompidou Centre in Paris caused a huge stir when it was opened in 1977 with its brutal lines and clearly visible ventilation ducts. In fact, the visitor will find it difficult to work out which part of the building is ventilation, and which is part of the architecture. It shocked at the time, but now the building is regarded as an architectural gem, and an example of how to incorporate the building’s workings into the design.

ulgy ventilation

Closer to home, and this building certainly hasn’t won any awards, but the effect is just as effective. You’ll find it hard to identify the Central Library building in Reading, but this relatively new building put all its ventilation systems below ground level, and installed these nautical-themed airducts. They’re not terribly far from water either – a small river called Holy Brook runs right under the ground floor of the library.

It’s clear from these two imaginative examples – one hugely expensive, and one by the necessity of the space that the architect was allowed – show that ventilation need not be ugly and can have a striking beauty. More of this kind of thing.

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