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.

Tricks of the light

Seeper has made castles disappear into thin air, created walls that ripple in time to music and frozen London’s Senate House into a solid block of ice. The work of this arts and technology collective is proof of one of founder Evan Grant’s favourite quotations: Arthur C Clarke’s assertion that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. When I edited this lighting special for Icon magazine, I got him to explain exactly how they do it. Also included: interviews with designers Rolf Sachs, Thierry Dreyfus and Arik Levy, and a very power and plug-hungry photoshoot of some beautiful and intriguing new products.