This week our bon vivant diarist divides his time between the House of Lords, Las Vegas and a north London nuclear fall-out shelter …

An energetic spokesperson

If you didn't make it to the House of Lords last Monday, you might have missed the tabling of the "dynamic demand" bill. This idea, which was aired in Building last July (type "Joe Short" into's archive), combines devilish cunning and beautiful simplicity. The wheeze is to make appliances such as fridges sense how fast the National Grid is running and turn themselves off or on accordingly, saving huge amounts of energy. I hear, however, that the genesis of the bill was rather unexpected. Mark Whitby, co-founder of engineer Whitbybird, had dropped by for a chat with Lord Redesdale, the Lib Dems' energy spokesperson, and happened to mention dynamic demand. Quick as a young ferret, Redesdale popped out to to the Lords' bill office to reserve a slot, helped draft the bill and added it to the UK's legislative timetable a week later …

Safe house

While the government agonises over whether to build a new generation of nuclear power plants, news reaches me of another nuclear debate that recently raged in the leafy streets of Mill Hill, north-west London. SLLB Architects has won an appeal against the London Borough of Barnet to transform a former nuclear bunker into a homely 750 m2 private residence by adding a lightweight, glazed structure to the roof of the grade II-listed Cold War relic. I'm sure all nuclear planning issues will be just as easy to resolve …

Pleased as punch

It's been a rough week for Lord Foster. Not only has his firm plunged £500,000 into the red, but he's been forced to swallow jibes from former employees at Make, one of whom affirmed that the difference between working for Foster and for Ken Shuttleworth was "the difference between a computer and a brain". Possibly as a result, Shuttleworth was on ebullient form at Make's second birthday party last Thursday, even though he played down the rivalry and claimed not to have seen the article comparing Foster's results with Make's. "I'm just really happy we're doing good stuff and doing well," he beamed. Clearly no issues there - so curious, then, that he has a cartoon from Building's 2004 Christmas issue on his office wall showing him and Norman duking it out in a comedy boxing match.

Peter plots solo career

More news on the fate of Peter Woolliscroft, the former director of Procure 21, the government's healthcare building programme. Woolliscroft was due to return from his Procure 21 secondment to his employer, the Northwick Park Hospital Trust, last month. But he is now understood to be considering a move within the public sector, which wouldn't require him to go back to the trust. In the meantime, should Woolliscroft not fancy such a move, he says he will proceed with negotiating a "separation" from the trust in order to concentrate on a lucrative career in freelance consulting work. Apparently there's a big market for "partnering experts" out there.

Cash for CRASH

Gathering a group of industry figures together to listen to a speech by the host of a programme called Honey I Ruined the House may not sound like a promising start to an event, but that didn't deter guests from attending the Building Centre last week to hear Channel 4 broadcaster Naomi Cleaver launch the CRASH hard hat appeal. The appeal marks the 15th anniversary of CRASH, a charity that provides materials and expertise to improve accommodation for the homeless. It's aiming to raise £200,000 during 2006: anybody interested in helping out by holding a fundraising event should call 020-8742 0717.

Word reaches me that architect Will Alsop is championing a campaign to drive out the use of jargon within architectural language. Alsop has apparently jumped on his staff and stopped them from referring to "standardised united construction elements" - in English, a kit of parts - in his office. And he has even gone as far as to outlaw the words "spandrel panel".

Credit: Colin Wheeler

Viva Las Vegas

One of my colleagues enjoyed something of a busman's holiday last week when he travelled all the way to Las Vegas only to find himself surrounded by some 80,000 delegates of the World of Concrete Show. Cue plenty of the usual jokes about concrete experts being "good mixers" at social events and rival firms accusing each other of being "set in their ways". Despite the wintry weather in Sin City, the delegates still managed to have a good time, especially after finding out that the Miss America pageant was taking place in a neighbouring establishment …