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Rising Star: Elena Shilova

Words:
Eleanor Young

Leading material innovation at Grimshaw with the initiation of a radical sustainable Sugarcrete® slab

Architect, Grimshaw; Part 1: 2016 Part 2: 2018

Elena’s pioneering work bridges academia and practice, propelling Grimshaw towards sustainable construction practices,’ says Andy Watts, director of design technology at Grimshaw. ‘Her potential to shape a new practice agenda at the intersection of material craftsmanship and technological innovation makes her a standout candidate.’ 

Shilova has made an especially strong impact in the practice with her involvement in the Sugarcrete® project, a collaboration which brought together material intellectual property from the University of East London, a by-product from Tate and Lyle, which is based nearby, and geometry expertise from Grimshaw. 

She describes the material and the system that has grown from it: ‘Sugarcrete® Slab holds the potential to be an innovative kit-of-parts construction system using sugar cane by-product (bagasse) with a mineral binder, which can be disassembled, reused, or extended in new or existing structures.’ 

Sugarcrete® Slab was part of the London Festival of Architecture at the Royal Docks but the hope is that, in sugar-producing regions, this open-source system could contribute to more sustainable construction practices building community resilience. The Sugarcrete® material has been recognised with a nomination for the Earthshot Prize 2023. 

In the meantime Shilova continues her work on major projects at Grimshaw, contributing through her work on computation and advanced fabrication while building on her projects and workshops directly with communities and young people. 

  • Eden Project Foyle, in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
    Eden Project Foyle, in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
  • Prototyping the system of Sugarcrete blocks.
    Prototyping the system of Sugarcrete blocks.
  • Load testing Sugarcrete in the laboratory.
    Load testing Sugarcrete in the laboratory.
  • Entwine Pavilion testing construction for Birmingham Timber Expo. Emergent technologies and design aa school of architecture.
    Entwine Pavilion testing construction for Birmingham Timber Expo. Emergent technologies and design aa school of architecture.
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What piece of architecture or placemaking do you most admire? 
Two projects hold a very special place in my heart. First, Bath School of Art and Design – an inspiring example of adaptive reuse by Grimshaw, which transformed an industrial building into an art school, preserving its heritage. 
Secondly, 15 Clerkenwell Close, London, by Amin Taha. I frequently contemplate its presence and bold blunt beauty from the neighbouring churchyard. The building symbolises a paradigm shift in architecture from the steel and concrete status quo, emphasising raw materials’ inherent design potential, and sparking valuable discourse within the architectural community.

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