Perfect skins

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ZZZ078_N376_medium.jpgThe first Concrete Elegance event of 2017 explored two facades of complexity, rhythm and distinction. The Victoria Gate shopping centre in Leeds features a dramatic envelope of white concrete panels.

Vex house in London, meanwhile, has a fluted in-situ concrete outer wall, which was poured against corrugated steel sheeting to follow the building’s complex curves.

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Final Frame: Taichung Metropolitan Opera House

Toyo Ito has constructed an opera house in Taiwan from sprayed concrete. The vast complex includes a 2,014-seat grand theatre, an 800-seat theatre and a 200-seat black box theatre, and was erected entirely without beams or columns, relying instead on 58 curved wall units to achieve its cavernous interiors. The formwork required for the curved surfaces would have been so complicated that the contractor decided to apply shotcrete to a steel mesh framework instead.

Photo: Lucas K Doolan

From the archive: Spring 1963


When John Pawson transformed the Commonwealth Institute into the recently opened Design Museum, it was, to a certain extent, a new building: wrapped in new brick and glass walls, with new timber interiors and a dramatic triple-height atrium. But there was no question that one feature of the existing building had to be preserved: the tent-like concrete roof.

This was certainly what caught CQ’s eye when it first visited the RMJM-designed building. The roof captured the “jamboree-like” spirit of the institute, which was designed to celebrate the Commonwealth. But more than this, it was an unprecedented feat of structural engineering by AJ and DJ Harris’ James Sutherland. Comprising a central hyperbolic paraboloid surrounded by four separate “warped” surfaces, the roof was resolved as two discrete solutions: while the central section is an in-situ concrete shell, the side panels proved “too steep in places for easy concreting”, so were realised as a system of thin prestressed concrete ribs covered with wood wool.

CQ deemed the solution “very satisfactory”, adding that “there is a symbolic purpose about it too – the great tent spread over, and unifying, the various exhibits of the Commonwealth” – just as it now envelopes the rich and diverse history of design

Access the full CQ archive here