Looking for a student competition that will inspire your classes? Look no more

27 Jul 2022

The Concrete Centre have recently announced the launch of their first national design competition for architecture and landscape architecture students. On a personal note I am particularly delighted about the unveiling of this new free to enter competition, as it will provide students of architecture and the built environment across the UK with a fantastic new opportunity to improve their skills in sustainable design, deepen their understanding of materials and showcase their work to potential employers, (as well as the opportunity to win prize money!)
The Design Concrete 2023 competition encourages students to deepen their understanding of materials and technology and how this can inform and inspire exciting, unique and truly sustainable design responses.
I have always been fascinated by the position Architects hold within the design process and society, inhabiting the junction between art and science, technical and non-technical, tangible and intangible.  Our designs have to meet a project brief, provide practical spaces, be on time and in budget etc, but our designs also have to inspire, delight and connect with the human soul, foster social connection and sustainable communities.
It strikes me that the current and next generation of architects and landscape architects need to grasp both the tangible and intangible aspects of design to meaningfully contribute in the drive to net zero and address the global climate emergency. Gone are the days (if these ever existed!) of being a “technical” or “artistic” Architect.
Our next generation of architects and landscape architects will have to be the ultimate polymaths, well prepared for practice and a fast changing industry.  The Design Concrete 2023 brief aims to promote and encourage this.  Technical prowess needs to be paired with imaginative flair, craft with technology, art with science. The left and right hand sides of the brain need to be whirring away in equal measure throughout this competition and the connected web of knowledge and skills that students will need to draw on is vast.

 Last year we ran an initial trial competition with third year students from Ravensbourne University. The students were tasked with designing a pier for the 22nd Century in Woolwich, either re-purposing one of the existing piers along the Thames riverbank or creating a new one. We were so impressed with the imagination, sensitivity and flair shown by all of the students and there were some really wonderful and inspiring designs submitted.

Many of the students took the opportunity to immerse themselves in physical model making, exploring design ideas and material behaviour through casting concrete and plaster models in their studios. These experimental models often led to students adopting methods and forms of concrete construction in their designs that were most appropriate for the location and to achieve their architectural concepts, which was particularly great to see.  

There were also some wonderful examples of students using concrete’s versatility and texture to provide platforms for different types of biodiversity.  The winning scheme by Shania Burrage utilised low carbon, materially efficient light weight concrete shell structures to create a series of beautifully crafted and sustainable work and social spaces for the local community. The judges and the whole team at The Concrete Centre were so impressed by the Ravensbourne student’s learning and designs we decided that going forward we just had to continue the competition and open it out to all schools of architecture and the built environment in the UK.

The new 2023 national competition brief is set in the Ouse Fen Nature Reserve, a restored quarry site in the Norfolk Fens. We are asking students to design a sustainable concrete structure that allows both humans and wildlife to successfully share the same environment, promoting biodiversity and creating opportunities for visitors to engage with their natural and geological environment.  

Students will be able to choose to design a café, information centre, nature trail or bird watching shelter, or indeed a combination of some / all of these.  We are looking for designs that feature concrete as a significant component of the proposal, and that demonstrate how concrete can be used to reduce whole life carbon, provide climate change resilience and support a more circular economy.
Registration is now open and the final submission deadline for entries will be the 16th April 2023. The competition is free to enter.  The online registration form can be found here along with further details about the competition brief and downloadable pack of site information.

We are looking forward to seeing what the next generation of architects and landscape architects are capable of in 2023 and cannot wait to showcase their work!

Written by Hannah Fothergill-Wilson, Architect The Concrete Centre