The summer issue of Concrete Quarterly is packed with curiosities: an insurers’ office with a Soviet missile as its centrepiece; an Oxford faculty building compared to a marshmallow, a spaceship, a stack of CDs and a pile of washing up; a ruined Spanish castle controversially refurbished as a block of concrete; and a French music school deliberately splattered with paint. We also ran an exclusive interview with AHMM’s Paul Monaghan about how the practice managed to win the 2015 Stirling Prize with a school largely built in a factory, and how he persuaded Barking council’s housing department to love concrete again…
My company Wordmule has just produced a second issue of This is Concrete, the bespoke 24-page magazine we created for The Concrete Centre last year to tie in with their activities at the Ecobuild exhibition. Their themes were pretty diverse this year, from how to design buildings to last in a changing climate and create high-performance housing for people of all ages, to the thorny issue of accurately calculating the embodied carbon of building products. So we pulled it all together under a “sustainability for life” theme, with a special cover illustration by our very talented designer Nick Watts. Details of The Concrete Centre’s activities at Ecobuild were contained in a pull-out section, to extend the magazine’s shelf life beyond the event itself. Which fits in quite neatly with the theme, come to think of it.
When can you make a sensitive addition to a much-loved streetscape, and a striking brutalist statement at the same time? Why, when you’re expanding one of the UK’s legendary modernist campuses of course. That was the dream commission that Patel Taylor had at the University of Essex, profiled in the latest issue of Concrete Quarterly, which my company Wordmule produces for The Concrete Centre. Also featured: a Tokyo music school that has been named the best new education building in the world, a completely white concrete atrium connecting two neoclassical mansions at an art museum in Avignon, and Antarctic research station architect Hugh Broughton tells us about his favourite buildings.
Even if – a very big if – global warming is held to the 1.5°C limit set by nearly 200 world leaders at the UN climate talks in Paris, this will represent a radical change in the global climate. The other big news from the Paris conference was an unprecedented emphasis on adapting to the change that is already happening, and which will continue for centuries to come, no matter what. Humankind faces an uncertain future in which extreme weather events are more frequent and more intense, and there is an escalating threat from storms, hail, flooding, droughts, tropical cyclones and landslides.
The Paris talks stopped short of setting targets or funding mechanisms, but the World Bank estimates that to adapt to a 2°C rise we would have to spend US$70-100bn each year between 2010 and 2050. The cost of not doing anything is pretty high too: over the last decade, annual damages to global real estate and infrastructure from severe weather events have tripled to US$150bn, reaching 8% of GDP in the worst hit regions, not including indirect losses to sectors such as tourism.
In this article for the RICS magazine, Modus, I investigated the far-reaching implications for property, from protecting individual homeowners against heatwaves and flooding, to future-proofing real-estate funds worth billions of dollars.
And for much, much more detail on climate change adaptation, there’s this book I co-wrote for RIBA Publishing.
In October, my regular client WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff sponsored a host room at the annual conference of the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats in New York. I went along, listened in on two days of presentations and then turned it into a 72-page magazine, to be distributed to the company’s clients and partners worldwide. The overall theme of Skylines is the renaissance of tall buildings. There’s an unprecedented high-rise boom, but the new generation of towers will be very different from those that preceded them – not only in their giant scale but in the kind of spaces they offer, both in the sky and on the ground. Skylines explores what this looks like, from the perspective of designers, developers and city planners around the world.
Concrete Quarterly’s winter edition takes a fascinating look at the world through the eyes of a sculptor – legendary concrete mural artist William Mitchell, now in his 90s, who compares the forms of the UK’s motorway network to sand dunes in the Arabian Desert (p19). Sculptural forms abound elsewhere too – once you start thinking that way, it’s hard to stop. There’s an art gallery in LA where works by Jeff Koons sit within a moulded building that appears to float, a social justice centre-cum-shelving unit in south London, and a kitchen extension made almost entirely of concrete that could have been carved from a single block. I’ve edited CQ for the Concrete Centre since 2010, but you can read the whole archive going back to 1947 here.
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.