Béton brut, otherwise known as unfinished concrete. This was the colour of the 20th century, asserted Rem Koolhaas during a panel discussion at the 14th Venice Biennale this year. Faithfully serving architecture for decades, we began this century with concrete at the forefront of architectural design. If raw concrete was the mode of the past, what does this century bring? Judges at the WAN AWARDS gathered to debate this in a new competition category: Concrete in Architecture. This category was created for 2014 in order to recognise and reward the ever-evolving utility of concrete and its enhancement towards design.
Concrete has the ability to simultaneously operate structurally, technically, formally, and textually. Due to the versatility of this composite, the WAN jurors hail from all backgrounds to debate the variety of qualities in the global submissions. Out of 34 impressive entries, 6 have been chosen for the shortlist.
In the room were Bob Fry, Managing Director of Aukett Swanke Architects, and David Richards, Leader of Arup’s UKMEA Façades Group. On the panel but contributing remotely were David Bennett, a concrete specialist who’s written extensively on the use and potential of the material, Jo Coenen from Jo Coenen Architects and Urbanists, and Steven Rainville and Kevin Kudo-King, both principals at Olson Kundig Architects, and winners of the 2010 WAN House of the Year Award with their concrete villa design.
With the rise of digital modelling, many pre-cast projects were amongst the submissions. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science (Dallas, US) by Morphosis Architects is a fine example. With over 260 digitally modelled pre-cast panels of varying textures, none of the judges could deny its panache. Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos likewise used pre-cast concrete, but in a seemingly light, poetic, and permeable cladding for the Contemporary Art Centre of Cordoba (Cordoba, Spain). The architects contrasted this with raw in-situ concrete for the creation of dramatic, cave-like spaces that make up the interior. David Bennett praised the building for having ‘captured the plastic and sculptural quality of concrete superbly’.
On the in-situ side, MBA/S architects created a contextually sensitive concrete villa in Germany, called H36 (Stuttgart, Germany). What really stands out here is the detailing and the judges agreed it was designed and carried through with true finesse. David Bennett was particularly impressed by the technical solutions and construction skill. Similarly on the topic of detailing, Bob Fry was impressed with the quality of the concrete and construction on the Sander Architecten roof project for the Ministry of Defence (The Hague, Netherlands), praising the architects for it’s ‘apparent lightness’.
The integrity of the concrete design was something the judges valued highly. They appreciated the structural rationalism in the Vila Aspicuelta (Sao Paulo, Brazil) by Tacoa Arquitetos - it ‘convinces because of its simplicity’, remarked Jo Coenen. Similarly praised for its structural feat is the fantastically expressive Al Hamra Tower (Kuwait City, Kuwait) by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Rare to find a skyscraper built from pure concrete, Steven Rainville & Kevin Kudo-King write, concluding that it is a ‘beautiful form with the science to support it!’
‘This object is a marvellous elegant appearance which will never become dull’ – Jo Cohen
‘Beautiful form with the science to support it!’ – Steven Rainville and Kevin Kudo-King
‘The panelisation is absolutely amazing!’ – Bob Fry
‘They demonstrate great construction skill and fine concrete detailing’ – David Bennett
‘This home reinterprets the residential vernacular of its context in an interesting and innovative fashion’ Steven Rainville and Kevin Kudo-King
‘This is concrete as most people know it’ – Bob Fry
‘It's using one type of concrete and pushing it in lots of different ways’ – David Richards
‘Without damaging it, it brings the monument to life’ – Jo Cohen
‘Just the quality of the pre-cast elements I thought was very impressive’ Bob Fry
‘I don’t think I’ve seen anything done in concrete like this before’ David Richards
‘It inspires with its creativity’ – David Bennett
‘The use of light, shadow, walls, patio, compactness, warmth and ventilation are all ancient themes that have been brought back to life here’ - Jo Coenen
‘Beautiful and moving!’ - Steven Rainville and Kevin Kudo-King
‘This has three different levels of concrete expression done exceptionally well’ – Bob Fry
‘The straightforward application of the concrete leads to remarkably smart solutions for the combination of the dwellings’ - Jo Cohen
‘As a piece of architecture, I thought this was fascinating’ – Bob Fry