Learning the hard way

There’s been something of a boom in concrete educational buildings lately, and really good ones at that – to the extent that one industry awards featured an entire category devoted to them. Concrete learning spaces was also the theme of the Autumn issue of Concrete Quarterly magazine (which I edit for UBM and The Concrete Centre). It of course includes Mecanoo’s very modern “people’s palace” of a library in Birmingham, alongside the classical concrete colonnades of 500-year-old St Paul’s School in west London. And don’t miss this issue’s archive slot, which features Trinity College Dublin’s library, completed in 1967, where exposed concrete was used not only for the outer and inner walls but all of the desks, screens and table supports too…

Croydon, your time has come

Empty offices + housing shortage = office to resi conversions. It must have sounded like a simple enough sum to government ministers when they announced a temporarily relaxation in planning rules to allow commercial buildings to be changed into homes. As usual, the devil is in the detail. The strength of opposition to the policy certainly took them by surprise, and the version finally brought in from May 2013 is heavily watered down. But despite dystopian warnings from local authorities, it’s not only unlikely to transform the hearts of Britain’s towns and cities – conversions will only take place at all in a very specific set of financial, technical and political circumstances. I investigated the opportunities for the RICS magazine, Modus.