Weird and wonderful education buildings fill the pages of the autumn issue of Concrete Quarterly magazine, which my company produces for the Concrete Centre. There’s a Zaha Hadid university extension in Oxford that bends round a giant redwood tree to connect two Victorian houses – and whose computer-generated design is impossible to show on plan or section. Thomas Heatherwick was banned from including corridors and corners from the Nanyang learning centre in Singapore, so he created eight bulging hive-like towers, minutely embellishing every curving surface into the bargain. Then there’s a research facility outside Paris that could be easily mistaken for a public park, hidden under three vast, undulating green roofs. And after all that, Stirling Prize winner Burntwood school by AHMM makes a relatively sedate cover star.
In August, the Concrete Centre asked my company Wordmule to develop another new magazine format – this time, a sort of compendium drawing together content from previous issues of Concrete Quarterly on a particular theme. The first focuses on tall buildings, to tie in with the global high-rise building boom and an event the Concrete Centre was hosting. We created a flexible, repeatable format with a mix of new and old content, and a refreshed look and feel, both distinct from CQ but clearly related. Read it here.
Inside Housing is the most widely read magazine for the UK social housing sector. I edited a 36-page supplement to tie in with the biggest event in the housing calendar, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference in Manchester. As social landlords waited anxiously to find out their fate under the new Conservative government, the supplement took an in-depth look at the apparently unstoppable shift of power from Westminster to the regions, and whether councils could ever reprise their role as major housebuilders.
The magazine also included four “sponsored chapters” – bespoke editorial produced in association with a sponsor on a particular topic. The overarching theme inevitably became “doing more with less”, as ever-deeper spending cuts force those providing public services to make some difficult choices.
Last time Britain faced a housing crisis on this scale, it was local authorities that built our way out of it. The days when council building departments threw up gargantuan estates may be long gone, but there has been a quiet renaissance over the last three years as they deliver a small but growing proportion of new homes. Whether this is a scalable part of a long-term solution or just a blip in the continuing decline of council stock will depend on the policies of the new government – and it’s already clear that it’s not going to be easy. I interviewed a man who’s really hoping it’s the former: Eamon McGoldrick, managing director of the National Federation of ALMOs – the arm’s length management organisations that are responsible for most of this housebuilding. The article appeared in Inside Housing magazine, in a supplement which I also edited.
Managing conflicts of interest is a fundamental ethical challenge for the surveying profession, and one that arises on a daily basis at firms large and small, as I found out for this business advice piece for Modus magazine. Impartiality has never been more important, or more under scrutiny: the internet and a relentless 24-hour news cycle have made public life increasingly transparent, while a long list of scandals, from the collapse of Enron to MPs’ expenses and LIBOR rigging, have severely dented confidence in traditional institutions. In response, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is undertaking a major review of its guidelines – conflicts of interest account for a very small number of complaints against RICS members but it expects this to increase as awareness grows. I interviewed its head of regulation about how members can protect themselves, why client consent is not enough, and applying the “Daily Mail test” to every decision.
In good times or bad, wherever there is a building site, there is almost certain to be an argument about payment. Very low margins, long payment chains and “risk dumping” on subcontractors are common causes, but the complexity inherent in even the simplest building projects can lead to conflict. So perhaps it’s no surprise to hear of the rise of the “mega-dispute” where the sum contested is in excess of US$1bn– the natural consequence of the rise of the global mega-project, with firms from many countries working together to deliver massive infrastructure schemes. Whether conflicts are resolved swiftly or escalate into protracted court battles is down to specialists in dispute resolution, a dynamic and evolving field – and probably the most stable job in construction. In this article for Modus, the magazine of the RICS, I investigated why construction remains such a contentious industry and whether alternative approaches to dispute resolution could help.
Concrete is a slippery, shape-shifting thing in the summer issue of Concrete Quarterly magazine, which my company Wordmule produces on behalf of the Concrete Centre. It scales great heights as a super-slender New York skyscraper, takes on the surface texture of wood in a new office interior, assumes a quiet dignity for two World War I memorials, conceals hidden pipes for low-energy heating and cooling, and camouflages itself beneath a wildflower meadow for a green roof in London.