Extreme home makeover

The government told social landlords to bring 3000 empty properties back into use and gave them a £100m fund to do it. Even so, The Willows in Llangolen was not the most obvious place to start. This Grade II-listed mansion had been derelict for 30 years before Denbighshire Council bought it for £1 and then spent £429,000 refurbishing it. It was just after the builders took the roof off that empty homes officer Wendy Dearden wondered if her pet project was such a good idea after all: ‘Someone put their foot on one of the walls and the whole wall, three storeys down, wobbled.’ But a year, and much shoring up of those walls later, The Willows has been converted into three unique, two-bedroom flats right in the city centre – social housing gold dust. I found out how, in this piece for Inside Housing’s construction special.

More adventures in concrete

If you’d like a tour of Europe’s most sustainable building, look no further than the summer issue of Concrete Quarterly, which I edit for the Concrete Centre and publisher UBM.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s new Swiss HQ is the only building in the world to have met the exacting standards of both the US LEED environmental rating scheme and Switzerland’s own Minergie – chosen because they were the toughest the client could find. Six different types of concrete went into the structure, and even if  it’s unlikely to win any high-flown architectural awards, I think those exposed concrete finishes have a certain charm. Also in this issue: Vodafone’s bonkers-looking new office in Oporto, and a gorgeous aircraft museum in Krakow that’s like a paper aeroplane made out of concrete…

However bad it gets, we still have to eat

If you think the UK has reached saturation point for supermarkets, think again. In fact, we’re still relatively under-served compared with other European countries and the US – France and Germany have nearly twice as much supermarket space per capita, and the US has triple. All the big chains and quite a few newcomers have been taking an aggressive approach to expansion over the last few years, and they’re not planning on slowing down any time soon, as I found out in this analysis of the supermarkets sector for Building magazine.