Life Interiors

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Trends: Grey matters

Exposed concrete beams make for industrial chic at Warner House in Clerkenwell by Inside Out Architecture. Photo: Jim Stephenson Photography
Exposed concrete beams make for industrial chic at Warner House in Clerkenwell by Inside Out Architecture. Photo: Jim Stephenson Photography

Amanda Kavanagh

For a long time, concrete was the material that people loved to hate. Used in the Brutalist architecture of 1970s Ireland, for many it became a symbol of mistaken progress as beautiful Georgian buildings were demolished to make way for hulking brutes of concrete. Now, the tide is beginning to turn.

Architect Donal Colfer, who has been recognised at the Irish Concrete Society Awards for excellence in concrete design and construction, has noticed a change. "I think that the general public is now much more aware of different cultures of building, ranging from Japan to Scandinavia, and others. People are seeing that there are no standard approaches to common building materials such as concrete. This is resulting in a culturally curious approach to construction in Ireland today."

In cities where it's not uncommon for people to live in industrial or commercial buildings, embracing exposed concrete just made practical sense. And so, exposed concrete has gone from factories to design-led homes (as pictured above, by Inside Out Architects). "Clients now see what an exciting and versatile material concrete can be," Donal says. "I think the media have played a large part in opening people's eyes in the recent past to the design possibilities of it."

Like anything, concrete has its pros and cons. "The pros are that it is an extremely plastic and workable material. It can be moulded into practically any form and can have a variety of colours and finishes. The result of this is that while acting as structural support it can also add elements of decorative sculpture, illumination and texture to space," Donal explains. "One of the main cons is that you really have to have a good building contractor with considerable experience with cast in-situ concrete."

In a domestic project, Donal recommends that clients incorporate concrete with some balance. "I think the toughness of concrete has to be balanced with softer or natural materials such as timber or stone." In his award-winning Martin Street project, poured concrete columns sit side-by-side with timber frame windows and walnut finishes in flooring, bookshelves, shelving and stairs.

For a best-in-class example of using concrete well, Donal looks to The Berkeley Library in Trinity College. "The board-marked concrete planes in the reading rooms provides a texture, which catches natural light from above resulting in the visitor experiencing an extraordinary sense of comfort or belonging in a wonderful silent space."

Amanda Kavanagh is editor of Image Interiors & Living magazine

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