Material solutions to contemporary challenges at Materials 2017

The new conference and exhibition, Materials 2017, made its debut at the ILEC Conference Centre, Earls Court, London last week, bringing together architects, specifiers, manufacturers, and suppliers from across the building materials sector. “The significance of materials is frequently overlooked by larger trade shows out there,” argued the event organisers “we wanted to build a show that would revisit the fundamentals of architecture and construction – the materials that we physically build with.”

As Ruth Slavid, Materials 2017 conference chair and architectural journalist and editor, iterated in the run-up to the show;

“architects, of course, talk about form, space, and light, but in order to create those you have to create them with the materials – whether they’re structural materials or the building envelope.”

The conference was opened with a timely keynote from Andrew Boff, Chairman of the London Housing Committee, who made a strong case for the potential of pre-fab methods of construction and innovation of materials in this area in disentangling the ongoing housing crisis affecting the capital. “Pre-fab doesn’t equate to bad quality, or bad design,” said Boff “London’s housing density needs to rival that of Osaka or Rio.”

Combining nearly 40 speakers from a huge variety of backgrounds across academia, architecture, industry, and engineering, the two-day conference moved through the spectrum of architectural materials, examining them for their various characteristics and functionalities.

Following on from Andrew Boff’s keynote talk – Craig Liddell, Legal & General CLT (cross-laminated timber) Solutions Manager, gave a fascinating introduction to his business’ approach to modular off-site construction solutions. Liddell, making a case for CLT in the context of sustainability, asserted that:

“the entire population of Europe, which is 750 million people, could live in a CLT home and we would only require 25-30% of Europe’s forests being managed, harvested and used in exactly the same way it is today.”

Andrew Waugh of Waugh Thistleton architects, the London-based practice specialising in the exclusive use of CLT, gave a compelling presentation referencing a number of their projects made from CLT. Waugh argued for the material’s contribution to a new “holistic architecture”, with the design and manufacturing process offering “a much more direct connection between architect and finished project”.

The evening reception brought together FRIBA Daniel Moylan (Co-Chair, Urban Design London), John McRae (Owner, Orms) Russell Curtis (Director, RCKa), and Adam Parker (Associate Director, Greig & Stephenson) to debate the impact of Brexit upon the architectural and construction professions. Curtis opened the debate, positing that “cultural exchange is of great benefit to creative industries, especially architecture.” While McRae argued for the opportunity that Brexit will offer in allowing the architectural sector to regroup, engage with, and influence governmental choices.

In addition to the conference, Materials 2017’s exhibition hall was not short of innovative product manufacturers at hand to discuss and advise. Pre-cast concrete staircases and patterned finishes, aluminium lighting products, thermally treated timber, and engineered technical films for façades are just a handful of materials which took the floor. Material galleries from Arup and SCIN showcased some of the latest solutions across a variety of applications.