Long associated with Seventies office blocks and flyovers, concrete, you would be forgiven for thinking, has had its moment in the limelight. However, it is having something of a resurgence in popularity, and nowhere is this more evident than in Concrete Quarterly’s 70th anniversary celebrations.
This retrospective showcases an assortment of stand-out international concrete buildings, from the iconic designs of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, to the newest buildings on the block, such as the White Collar Factory in Old Street, London, which opened just last month.
Concrete has been used as a building material since time immemorial and, since the invention of reinforced concrete 150 years ago, has become the most-used man-made material on the planet. Its use in award-winning buildings over the past few decades has served to increase its popularity among architects and builders – setting an example of its versatility and influencing new work.
Many of the more iconic concrete buildings on our skylines are now being listed or given a new lease of life, opening the door for them to be more readily accepted by the general public, and reinforce themselves as a core part of our cities and towns.
Still not convinced? Get down to Concrete Quarterly’s exhibition, which runs until 30 October at The Building Centre, London, to see some of the frankly quite spectacular things which have been made with concrete and a dash of imagination. Or, if you want to see the many faces of concrete up close and personal, why not take to the streets of Britain to appreciate some stand-out examples of concrete architecture, and see if this versatile building material can cement a place in your heart!
Royal Festival Hall, London
Dominating London’s South Bank, the Royal Festival Hall was constructed for The Festival of Britain in 1951 to highlight the best of Britain following the Second World War, at a time when rationing was still in force. Its significance as an arts space and its noteworthy architectural style, consisting of reinforced concrete alongside elegant timber and fossilised limestone elements inside, led it to be the first post-war building to achieve a Grade I listing.
Centre Point, London
Arguably the most famous concrete building on the London skyline, Centre Point was opened as a 33-storey office building in 1966, with an adjacent nine-storey building of maisonettes and retail. It is now undergoing a significant overhaul that will see the iconic tower converted to apartments, with the surrounding structures converted into restaurants and retail, supported by new public space created as a result of diverting the surrounding roads.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
The Metropolitan Cathedral is one of several listed buildings in Liverpool (its Anglican counterpart is another). The cathedral was completed in 1959, with its circular design enabling every member of its 2,000-person congregation to be able to see the altar when inside. Constructed of a Portland stone cladding and an aluminium roof, the conical tower is supported by 16 boomerang-shaped concrete trusses, giving it its unique appearance, as well as its nickname: ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’.
Norfolk Terrace, University of East Anglia, Norfolk
Some of the most architecturally distinguished halls of residence in the country, the Grade-II listed concrete ziggurats of Norfolk Terrace offers students bright and airy flats with views over the open water of the UAE Broad. Designed by Denys Lasdun, the architect behind the National Theatre, neither building shies away from making an impact. When the buildings were constructed in 1962, the clusters of 12-bedroom independent flats were a clear departure from the more traditional collegiate system of UAE’s peers, further distinguishing it as a modern university.
The Maunsell Forts, Liverpool and London
Located in the estuaries of the Thames and the Mersey, these concrete armed towers were built during the Second World War to help defend London and Liverpool. Their rough architectural style reflects not only the circumstances of their construction, but also perhaps the public opinion of concrete. Despite this, the construction of these forts and their resilience in the face of the ravages of time and the sea is evidence of how versatile, inexpensive and long-lasting concrete can be.
Coventry Cathedral, Coventry
The decision to rebuild Coventry Cathedral was made the morning following its devastation at the hands of the Luftwaffe in 1940, and the new building was consecrated in 1962. The cathedral serves as a symbol of reconciliation in post-war Britain, with the old and new elements joined by a vast concrete porch.