Monthly Archives: June 2013

If COR-TEN is the answer What is the Question?

Fashion in architecture is more than skin deep. However sometimes the skin dominates the fashion. COR-TEN or weathered steel is not a new material, but compared to the everyday choice of building materials, it has a relatively short and some might say patchy history. It also has that elusive quality of authenticity and honesty. Many though not all ‘modern’ architects like to work with materials that are unencumbered by other messages references to historic styles .

Urban Splash’s refurbishment of the SOM / YRM Grade II* factory of WD and HO Wills Factory outside Bristol is one famous example of a COR-TEN structure being brought back to life with a completely different function.  John Winter’s house in Highgate is perhaps the archetypal British modernist architects house. But these are very specific, fine examples of a rigorous structural aesthetic approach with the material expressed for what it was – a structure.

Other purely sculptural and structural examples, Richard Serra’s Fulcrum in Broadgate, the Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North and Marks Barfield’s Kew Tree Walk are now added to by advertising displays at the Chiswick roundabout with COR-TEN structure.

















Passing a quiet suburban street in Kew recently I was drawn to the remains of a modest brick facade undergoing reconstruction. I say reconstruction as it seemed that the planning authority was faced with a distinctive approach to the provision of a new home but with the remnants of an existing building, within a conservation area and with neighbours whose initial reaction was probably negative. The Richmond planning website revealed that it was designed by Piercy Conner receiving permission in 2011. When finished it will probably grace the pages of architectural and design magazines. But will it last and how will it weather? COR-TEN is a complex material and has many

Last week the Waddington Studios by Featherstone Young were illustrated in the AJ.

COR-TEN was the preferred material of enclosure to the public face of the building. This time it was not compromised by attempts to keep some reference to what was there before and to that extent it makes a more positive statement. It is also a far more complex arrangement of spaces and functions and the COR-TEN was only a part of the stylistic references and messages. (MAXXI, green roofs, Waddington playing card designs)

COR-TEN can be used in its pure structural and sculptural form without references or historical detail. It can as in the examples of Piercey Conner’s house and the Featherstone Young building be embellished and perforated to create patterns. But there is more to the material than honesty and truthfulness, it has distinctive weathering qualities and design detail requirements. This demands complex design detailing and craftsmanship.

The question lingers, if COR-TEN is the answer what was the question?

Swansea City of Culture

The shortlisting of Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot and parts of Carmarthenshire as a “City” has demonstrated that Cities are more than single entities. They depend on a physical hinterland and in Swansea’s case a significant physical and cultural background. Even without that background the twitter question posed by me last week on my way there….

“Off to city with 2 universities premiership football club in Europe plus top notch rugby club beach and marina where?”

Got the almost immediate response

“Swansea. One of my all time great UK cities”

If 140 characters allowed I could have gone on to list plenty more but that was apparently unnecessary.

Now the challenge of “winning” this title is up to the combined efforts of a group of authorities whose future lies in collaboration as well as friendly competition. They need to think hard about what they want their city to be in 15-20 years time as well as in 2017. This will include thinking about the role of the motor vehicle, encouraging urban movement and how city living, shopping and leisure can become a reality for a significant population.

This is the same challenge that many places face. The future lies in moving to the head of the pack, working collaboratively for the long term, political continuity and above all being bold.

Design review

Yesterday was Cambridge, two weeks ago it was Wales. Design review takes you to many different places. The schemes are varied in scale, quality and significance but the challenge for the reviewer is always the same, how to be critical friend and yet be brutally honest when necessary. The designer may be so immersed in their work and probably knows that there are flaws, they just don’t like to be told that. The critic wants to be helpful but often struggles to understand the rationale. Last week I responded to BDonline on the removal to prepare design and access statements from a number of projects. I believe that they are essential to describing the design process and so underpin review and planning. My comments led me to being asked to respond on one side of the BD Debate this week. I look forward to reading the other side.