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…

Fifty shades of grey

Concrete moulded into the shape of crumpled fabric, concrete that emits light, concrete that develops patterns as it eats pollution from the air, concrete walls inset with jewels and gold… if you think of concrete as a predominantly solid, grey and rather boring material, think again. The summer 2013 issue of Concrete Quarterly, which I edit for UBM and The Concrete Centre, features many surprising and beautiful examples of finishes, structures and works of art created by concrete’s devotees. Our cover star, meanwhile, is Foster + Partners’ Queen Alia Airport in Jordan, with some photos that could have come straight out of Star Wars.

Concrete cheesecake

The Spring issue of Concrete Quarterly (which I edit for UBM and the Concrete Centre) was devoted to “cool”, so it’s only fitting that the cover paid tribute to the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who probably did more than anyone else over his long career to demonstrate exactly how cool concrete can look. Also featured: the Co-op’s new HQ building in Manchester, a crazy fractal-shaped Teahouse in Shanghai that is impossible to draw on a plan, and a surreal museum on the French Riviera that has been compared to a mysterious plant, “enchanted hair” and a cheesecake.

“Design for Climate Change” by Bill Gething with Katie Puckett

If this blog was updated rather sporadically last year, it’s because I spent a lot of it working on this book for RIBA Publishing with architect and climate change expert Bill Gething. It’s about adapting our buildings to cope with climate change – change that’s already happening and which will continue until well into the next century, even if we were to stop all carbon-emitting activity tomorrow. Higher temperatures threaten to make many of our homes, offices, schools and hospitals uninhabitable or prohibitively expensive to cool; the impact of increased rainfall and more frequent storms is less well understood. The book explores what changes we might experience in the UK, the consequences for our buildings and the ways that we use them, and the challenge that climate change presents to some of the most fundamental principles of modern architecture.

Cover of Design for Climate Change by Bill Gething with Katie Puckett, published by RIBA
Design for Climate Change by Bill Gething with Katie Puckett, published February 2013 by RIBA Publishing

And if you don’t fancy slogging through all 200 pages, I wrote this (very much shorter) feature for Building magazine too.

Plumbing in cyberspace

Building Information Modelling, or BIM, is the biggest thing to happen to the construction industry in a generation. By allowing project teams to create complete virtual models of a building before they get anywhere near the site, it promises to dramatically improve speed, efficiency and reliability, eliminating expensive mistakes, and enabling better facilities management and, eventually, demolition too. But so much change is inevitably perceived as a threat too: to people’s jobs, to long-established practices, and to traditional definitions of legal responsibility when things do go wrong (because innovative new ways of working always mean innovative new ways of cocking things up). In less than three years, teams working on every centrally procured government project will have to use BIM, which means that construction firms across the industry – large and small – need to start implementing it now. This 16-page supplement, which I edited and partly wrote for Building magazine (sponsored by technology vendor Autodesk), explains how they can do it.

Town hall rivalry

Imagine a building commissioned by your local council to house its archive, a library and some sports administration offices. Now imagine the same building designed by Zaha Hadid in Montpellier, in the south of France. It’s a lot better isn’t it?

Check out the real thing, on the cover of the latest issue of Concrete Quarterly, which I edit for the Concrete Centre and UBM.

Just add water

Fans of concrete architecture had quite a bit to cheer at the Olympics this summer, most notably Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre – 50,000 cubic metres of concrete sculpted into two swimming pools and three perfectly smooth diving boards, all enclosed by swirling walls and a ceiling laced with skylights. It was a shoe-in for the cover of the Olympics-themed autumn issue of Concrete Quarterly, which I edit for UBM and the Concrete Centre, which features the full story behind its design and construction and some gorgeous pool-side photographs (with no swimmers around to spoil the view either).

Swansea’s concrete dragon

Summer’s Concrete Quarterly, which my company Wordmule produces for UBM and the Concrete Centre, told the story of the 13th Maggie’s Centre, just open in Swansea. These buildings are notable both for the quality and warmth of the care they provide to cancer patients, and the list of internationally renowned “starchitects” queueing up to design them. The Swansea centre was conceived by Japanese legend Kisho Kurokawa,  before he died in 2007, who imagined a swirling, dragon-tailed “cosmic whirlpool”. Now project architect Garbers & James has brought his napkin sketch to life, moulded from concrete and studded with titanium panels. Read all about how they did it here.

The lighter side of concrete

Carbon-neutral homes in inner city Derby that run on recycled vegetable oil and a German school that barely uses any energy at all were just two of the projects featured in the spring issue of Concrete Quarterly, which my company Wordmule produces for UBM and the Concrete Centre. Though all of the buildings are architecturally very attractive, the real theme this time was sustainability, and it was their environmental performance that earned their place within CQ’s pages.  You can also take a look behind the green glass facade of the Environment Agency’s new headquarters in Bristol, setting a very good example with one of the highest-ever BREEAM ratings – and a wildflower meadow on its roof.

Europe’s tallest (concrete) building

The Shard at London Bridge may look like it’s made out of glass and steel. Architect Renzo Piano may even have named it for its resemblance to a shard of glass. But it’s actually made out of concrete. Well, a significant proportion of it is anyway, and it’s that concrete that is hopefully going to stop it swaying too much in the 95mph winds at the top… The Winter 2011 edition of Concrete Quarterly, which I edit for UBM and The Concrete Centre, got to grips with how this extraordinary structure was designed and built, and how exactly you pump high-strength concrete more than a quarter of a kilometre into the sky.