Iconic buildings are brought to life by an amazing alchemical mixture of inspiration, intelligence, persuasion, practicality and precise project management.
But they would never move from drawing board sketches to brick and mortar edifices without the products that provide structural integrity and distinct stylistic flair.
With that in mind, here are five versatile products that materialise architectural visions.
Although concrete is man-made, when applied with the requisite skill and imagination, it can bring organic lines to life in a unique and unusual manner.
An excellent example of this is the precast concrete cliff face of the iconic V&A Museum in Dundee. Architect Kengo Kuma’s inspiration for the fabulous façade was the dramatic cliff faces found on Scotland’s north-east coast and, thanks to this creative spark, this futuristic building blends beautifully into its River Tay location.
From the symbolic stained glass of medieval churches to modern double-glazing, glass is a material which has served decorative and practical purposes since time immemorial.
And architectural glass is perhaps used to its most breath taking effect in the skyscrapers which punctuate our city skylines – think of The Shard’s sharp, sparkling stiletto thrusting heavenward and there’s no doubt that this sand-based substance can create fantastic flights of fancy.
Stone is used less on modern buildings than it was in the past – a solid stone dwelling is more expensive than a brick and timber kit edifice and sadly, some traditional stonemasonry skills are in danger of being lost to the history books.
However, there are some stunning instances of this terrifically tactile material being applied with artistry to reasonably modern buildings – the Scottish Parliament’s Canongate Wall is a particularly fine example.
Wood has been a construction material of choice since Noah built the ark – and it’s currently having a bit of a moment in contemporary architecture.
Engineered timber forms like CLT (Cross-Laminated Timber) are so versatile that they can be used to create everything from floors and walls to stairs and soundproof chambers. Architect Alex de Rijke of dRMM won the 2017 Stirling Prize for his CLT rebuild of Hastings Pier, while architects Waugh Thistleton created a nine-storey block built from engineered timber in Murray Grove, north London.
Wire is a wonderful material that’s used in a wealth of applications – from heat transfer and object suspension to puppetry and sculpture.
And it stands the test of time, because wire and braid experts Ormiston Wire have been diversifying their offering since the firm was founded in 1793 – projects of note include the umbrellas adorning Heathrow’s Terminal 5, the eclipse of electrified moths above Old Spitalfield’s Market and Thomas Heatherwick’s Bleigiessen sculpture at The Wellcome Trust in London’s Euston Road.
And voila – a quintet of marvellous materials that have made some of the most memorable architectural projects possible.
We can’t wait to see how these products are harnessed in future as out towns and cities transmogrify to meet the demands of future citizens.
So ends our list, but please share your own thoughts on brilliant building materials in the comments section!