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.
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 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.
My company Wordmule has produced Concrete Quarterly on behalf of the Concrete Centre for several years now. For spring 2015, they also wanted a completely new 24-page magazine to tie in with the Ecobuild event, bringing together all of the sustainability themes from their three-day seminar programme – and planned, written and designed in six weeks flat. The result is This is Concrete.
To the uninitiated, “health, wellbeing and productivity” might sound like an alternate title for the “mind, body, spirit” section of Waterstones. Don’t be fooled: it’s an emphatically evidence-based discipline, with a watertight business case that makes low-energy construction look practically New Age in comparison. There’s a growing body of evidence to show that buildings have a far more subtle impact on their occupants than previously thought – hospital patients with views of nature heal more quickly, office workers with a window seat sleep an average of 46 minutes longer per night and doubling the supply of outdoor air to an office reduces short-term sick leave by 35%.
Companies spend far more on salaries than anything else, so it’s easy to see why some of the property sector’s most influential clients seized have thrown their weight behind a landmark report from the World Green Building Council announcing wellbeing as the next big thing in sustainable building. Wellbeing is a much more attractive message than the abstinence typically preached by the green movement, and unlike climate change, it’s something that individual organisations can actually do something about. In this feature for Building, I investigated how the wellbeing movement could affect the way buildings are designed and valued, and how exactly you can measure such a nebulous concept in the first place.
When it comes to sustainable building, the march of progress is less a straight line than a meandering path with many forks, frequent hairpins and quite a few dead ends. The result is that 2015’s product landscape is an unlikely combination of the very new and the very old. High-tech solutions such as LED lighting and 3D scanning will reduce the energy use of buildings, whereas low-tech materials such as clay and wood are set to enjoy a renaissance as people search for natural, renewable materials with low embodied carbon. In this article for Construction Manager’s Agenda section, I reviewed sustainable building trends and picked out 10 products we’re likely to see more of this year. Look out for carbon-negative bricks, passive ventilation systems concealed in chimney stacks, clay boards with embedded phase-change materials and high-pressure toilets that only use 1.5L of water for each flush.
Eyes down for the winter issue of Concrete Quarterly (produced by my company Wordmule for the Concrete Centre), which has a special focus on floors. There is a humbling variety of finishes on offer, from many shades of matt or polished, to sandblasted, acid-etched or (my favourite) diamond polished to reveal the beauty of the stones within. Also in this issue: a house in the Welsh countryside where expanses of highly polished concrete floor reflect the brooding skies above, and a BREEAM Excellent Hindu temple, designed and pre-cast in India and built in Brent – very definitely a world first.
My company Wordmule produced this 24-page magazine for global engineering consultancy WSP Genivar, exploring the trend for super-tall, super-slender buildings around the world. I planned and wrote all the content, interviewing experts from WSP Genivar and its clients and partners, and my colleague Nick Jones sub-edited the pages. Click here to read about why cities are building towers, the secrets of designing “iconic” buildings, the sustainability of high-rise versus low-rise, and whether there’s any limit to how tall we can go.
Imagine a world where a manufacturer is happy to exchange a product after 10 years, and not because there’s anything wrong with it, simply because a better version has come on to the market. It may sound far-fetched but this is a serious idea proposed by some of construction’s soberest minds. It’s part of a concept known as the “circular economy”, which severs the link between economic prosperity and resource consumption and transforms the traditional linear process of “take-make-dispose” into a closed loop where no resource is wasted and everything is reused or recycled. As one of the world’s most resource-intensive industries, construction is an obvious place to start. Buildings would be designed to be more adaptable and durable, and eventually to be disassembled into components and used again. Rather than selling products, manufacturers might undertake to provide a guaranteed level of service, upgrading components as more efficient ones become available and taking back the old materials.
It’s a million miles away from today’s consumer society, but something about the circular economy seems to have captured the popular imagination and there are signs that it is making the leap from deep-green niche to the mainstream. But can construction products – and buildings – really be recycled as easily as cans of coke or cars? In this piece for Construction Manager, I found that it demands a radical shift in not only the way buildings are designed and constructed, but also how they are financed, insured and even owned. As Jane Thornback at the Construction Products Association pointed out, “If somebody’s designing something with a brick, who owns it? The people who made the brick, the people who made the brick into something else, or the people who demolish the bricks 300 years later?” How could a manufacturer guarantee they’d be around in 10 years to honour that service contract? And what happens if they go bust – would the receivers want to demolish your house to recover the assets…?
How many times do school children go to the loo each day? A lot less than everyone thinks they do, it turns out. It may sound like a trivial preoccupation, but it’s crucial when it comes to working out how much water schools can save by installing efficiency measures in toilets, and whether it’s worth their while to do it. The standard assumption is three trips a day, but one survey found that it’s closer to once, if at all – which means that the possible savings are massively overestimated, by a factor of up to six. This is just one of eight “sustainability myths” I discovered in this feature for Construction Manager – accepted practices in green building that don’t necessarily do what they promise. Also revealed: why low-carbon houses can cost more to heat than gas-guzzling ones, why domestic rainwater harvesting systems aren’t worth the hassle, and what to look out for if you’re buying a super-insulated modern flat…