Reflections on Concrete Elegance - Texture & Context

15 Jun 2018

It was another full house at the Concrete Elegance lecture which took place on the 12th June. The projects featured were the new visitors centre at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, presented by Fergus Feilden of Feilden Fowles Architects with Greg Nordberg of engineers HRW, and the recent extension to the Templeman Library in the University of Kent presented by Suzi Winstanley of Penoyre & Prasad architects with Andy Toohey of Price & Myers engineers.

Both quite different projects in terms of scale and context, but of course connected by the use of a gorgeous exposed concrete structure and its thermal mass to help modulate internal temperatures. From the outset both design teams were keen to reflect the context of their buildings in their design response, be it by the rhythm and robustness of the existing brutalist university library or the textures and tones of the local Yorkshire rocks and landscape. 

I enjoyed Fergus’s delight in the unfinished state of the building, when just the concrete structure was in place, and the idea of designing ‘a building that would be a beautiful ruin’. I also appreciated Greg’s reminder that this could take about 300 years to be achieved! The durability of the concrete was an important reason for its selection and for the design which underpinned much of the engineers work, for such a novel form of construction. For example, the layered external walls used galvanised reinforcement for extra protection across multiple cold joints and extra cover was provided to allow for the shot-blasting process once struck.

Longevity also came across as a key design consideration for the Templeman library team, who managed to breathe new life into the existing library’s concrete structure. This included cleverly celebrating previously under loved parts of the building and designing future adaptability into the new spaces.

Both of these projects were presented by their architect and structural engineering team, sharing design development and their construction experiences of creating fine examples of contemporary concrete architecture. I hugely enjoyed researching the projects to feature and hosting the evening is always a pleasure, and you never know quite what insights will be revealed about designing in concrete. Concrete is an amazing and versatile material so observing the similarities and differences of approach and the design teams’ experiences is always a highlight. 

Elaine Toogood, senior architect at The Concrete Centre curates and hosts the lectures, delivered in partnership with the Building Centre. The next Concrete Elegance lecture takes place on the 19th September 2018, visit 

Templeman Library, University of Kent, presented by Suzi Winstanley, partner at Penoyre & Prasad and Andy Toohey, Price & Myers 

The University of Kent’s library was designed and constructed by Lord Holford in 1965. For its recent major extension and renovation Penoyre & Prasad Architects drew on ideas inherent in the Brutalist architecture - honesty of materials and the display of structural concrete as an architectural element. External precast concrete fins on the fa├žade pick up the vertical rhythm of the original buildings piers and internally the cast- in-situ, structural concrete frame is exposed. 

The use of concrete provides the structure for long spans, creating flexible internal spaces and is also an important component of the building’s sustainability measures, teaming high thermal mass with ground air-cooling and natural ventilation to avoid the need for air-conditioning. 

Yorkshire Sculpture Park Visitors Centre, presented by Fergus Feilden, director and founder of Feilden Fowles & Greg Nordberg, structural engineer at engineersHRW

The new Visitor Centre at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is set into the hillside of a former quarry, a location that has informed and inspired the construction and appearance of its enclosing walls. Layers of concrete, with different pigments and aggregates were treated to create a heavily textured surface, reminiscent of geological strata. Inside smooth cast in situ concrete walls support a saw tooth roof, with a board-marked surface.

The building will accommodate a restaurant, shop, public foyer and gallery space and is due to open in September 2018.