AA DRL team scoops $25,000 Holcim prize for Cast on Cast

I’ve just returned from Milan where I attended the European awards ceremony for the third cycle of the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction as a guest of Aggregate Industries, Swiss concrete manufacturer Holcim’s UK subsidiary.

The event was impressive:

  • mostly because of the visionary quality  and scope  of projects (which do not have to be built), not surprising since Jurgen Mayer chaired the European jury which also included MVRDV’s Winy Maas
  • the serious and substantial investment by Holcim ($2 million in prizes on offer globally) which has set up an independent Zurich-based foundation ably directed by Eddie Schwarz to administer the programme
  • Swiss organisation and attention to detail which included hiring a vintage orange Milan tram (1920s?) to transport guests from the hotel to the gala dinner and a memory stick for journalists in the form of a Victorinox Swiss army knife.
Awareness of the Holcim awards is gaining traction in the UK through its subsidiary Aggregate Industries, purchased by Holcim in 2005. Of a total of 572 European entries, 24 were submitted by UK teams, well below Italy (164) and Spain (131). About a third of the total 2251 entries were for the Next Generation student category. I have yet to see the breakdown of UK entries, but I do know that Aggregate Industries sent a representative around to all UK architecture schools to encourage submissions.  Hopefully next cycle (2013), there will be more. I wonder if the low number of UK entries means that you are all too wrapped up in BREEAM assessments and SBEM calcs to think outside the box.  Go for it, Footprint readers!
A four-strong team of graduates from the Architectural Association’s Design Research Laboratory walked away with first prize in the Next Generation student category for Cast on Cast, a proposal for a self-forming fabrication system for the manufacture of complex geometries in concrete. Cast on Cast, submitted for patent in January,  minimises waste, eliminates formwork and facilitates transport because components can be easily stacked.

Components can be stacked

or assembled in surfaces

The AA/DRL graduate team (left to right): Lithuanian Povilas Cepaitis (architect at Balmond Studio), Ecuadorean Diego Ordoñez (architect at Balmond Studio), and Spaniards LLuis Enrique (PhD student at ETH, Zurich) and Carlos Piles (Architect at Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands). The award - a lovely reproduction of LeCorbusier’s Modular (particularly tasteful, I’m often surprised by how naff architecture awards can be) - was presented by Alain Bourguignon, CEO of Aggregate Industries UK (right).

Lucy Musgrave of Publica

The European Gold, presented by jury member Lucy Musgrave of Publica, went to Realities United’s proposal to transform part of Berlin’s River Spree near Museum Island into a natural swimming pool, complete with 780-metre long reed bed to filter the water.

The Flussbad proposal sparked discussion about whether the inevitable food concessions which would accompany such a scheme would be appropriate to the UNESCO World Heritage site. I support the jury’s choice and hope that Holcim’s spotlight on the project will help bring it to fruition. More images here.

The second place scheme, an imaginative transformation of a disused Coca Cola factory into a civic centre in Oostkamp, Belgium by Madrid-based Carlos Arroyo Aquitectos, is currently on site. See images here. I was less taken by the bronze award, an Archigram-like construction on an abandoned motorway in Calabria by a French team. Though the images are amazing, the replicability of such an approach - one of the judging criteria -  seems highly questionable.

The second place Next Generation, below, went to Elisa de los Reyes Garcia of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid who undertook a detailed exploration of how to recuperate an abandoned shipyard in northern Spain.  Particularly noteworthy was the extensive use of reclaimed materials, an approach often discussed but rarely realised.

Re-Converting project by Elisa de los Reyes Garcia, many more lovely drawings here

Two of the four schemes in the Acknowldgement category are actual projects which explore new materials: a six-storey timber office building in Helsinki by Sauerbruch Hutton (images here) and proposed housing in Hamburg by Barkow Leibinger (images here) which uses a lightweight self-insulating concrete which incorporates recycled foamed glass as internal aggregate and is approximately one-third of the weight of conventional concrete. These two are more representative of the types of projects I was anticipating in the Holcim awards, but it’s good to see the visionary projects, too, and of course the student work.

Lucas Young of Sauerbruch Hutton and Frank Barkow at the awards dinner in Milan’s Palazzo del Ghiaccio (Ice Palace)

My hosts from Aggregate Industries: Alain Bourguignon CEO (right) and Miles Watkins, director of sustainable construction (centre) and fellow guest Peter Fisher of Bennetts Associates (left). Others from the UK included James Lord, director of landscape at HTA and Robert Dalziel of Rational House.

The following day we had a wonderful lunch atop Gio Ponti’s Pirelli Tower which was the tallest building in Europe when completed in 1959. A disappointing overview of Milan’s green building scene on a screen which was impossible to read because the Pirelli penthouse could not be darkened was a low point. Holcim’s mission of knowledge sharing would have been better served by taking us to visit a building or two.

The Pirelli tower has been recently refurbished after a small aircraft collided into the facade in 2002.

It looks like Zaha stopped by.

During a quick tour of the Piazza del Duomo, I was dismayed to find McDonald’s occupying the prime corner in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele.

I had to check out Mario Botta’s extension of La Scala, less objectionable than anticipated.

Milan’s ‘green walls’ always surprise me.

All in all, a worthwhile two days.  It is especially encouraging to see a manufacturer invest in promoting green innovation, particularly in this time of austerity.

See previous coverage of the Holcim award judging on Footprint here.

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2 Responses to “AA DRL team scoops $25,000 Holcim prize for Cast on Cast”

  1. The winning Flussbad project is a beguilingly simple idea. Like so many of the very best urban interventions that really make cities better places (think N Y High Line), it leaves me thinking ‘why didn’t anyone think if that before’. As always, the simple ideas are the best ones. Delighted to see a well deserved win for a public realm project at the Holcim awards.

  2. The gold-winning Flussbad project is a beautiful and simple project that will be a wonderful addition to Berlin. It would be great to see more similarly grounded, yet ground-breaking ideas from the UK in the next competition round.

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