It’s not just crises like RAAC or Grenfell that mean architects must keep on top of legal and regulatory issues. But delight and creativity are important too
The details of the Building Safety Act were released quietly in August, ahead of this month’s deadline for compliance and one of the most significant pieces of construction legislation for a considerable time.
We knew to expect changes in the roles of dutyholders and that this could mean architects taking on more central roles on buildings as principal designers, where they might have otherwise been left to take the back seat. We also knew, although sometimes it was forgotten, that this would apply to all buildings, not just tall ones or those classified as higher risk.
At the same time, materials manufacturers are taking their turn to start cutting carbon. The shift from arguing about metrics to actually reducing embodied carbon in the making of our most heavily used materials is gradually feeding through to the market. We looked at developments in brick in the September issue, and this month we turn to concrete.
The RAAC crisis in schools has reminded us of the problems construction has with materials and building safety. Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete that was thought to be safe-for-now if checked regularly has shown that it can collapse unexpectedly. The revelations have compounded the mistrust of materials that anyone who followed the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry must feel. The evidence showed that architects cannot take all marketing claims, technical literature or even tests at face value.
RAAC revelations have compounded the mistrust of materials that anyone who followed the Grenfell inquiry must feel’
The most benign of ways to be bamboozled by a material is when one looks like something it is not. Critic Charles Jencks loved these games, as can be seen in the ‘marble’ that abounds in his one-time home, now gallery and museum Cosmic House. Paint effects mix happily with real stone. Co-founder of OMA and artist of the absurd, Madelon Vriesendorp, has now populated the house with her work. You would know her from the wobbly Empire State Buildings lying on the cover of Rem Koolhaas’ book Delirious New York. In the house a line up of figures could pass for alabaster, but Vriesendorp laughingly punctures such pretension; they are the by-product of many comforting of cups of tea – Fiskars’ scissors sculpting plastic milk bottles.
Few could make us laugh with unhinged fun and the stirrings of unease like Vriesendorp does. But that sort of play, creativity and character is what architects need to hold onto, even as they absorb the implications of pages of legislation, battle with reducing carbon, and specify materials with a healthy degree of scepticism.