A Guide to Concrete Architecture

There is little doubt that the British are in love with brick. Look at the houses in any street and it will be the purely brick-built homes that demand the greatest premium. Block-built, pebble-dashed or clad homes may be to the taste of some but we like the childlike drawing image of home. Door, windows, brickwork.

This is understandable in many ways, as the variety and quality of bricks across the UK give local character and give off an image of permanence, tradition and elegance. These are homes that are visibly built by hand, with the imperfections of brick making every home age slightly differently.

That said, there are a brave few who will always plump for concrete architecture over brick and will also be willing to argue in favour of its merits, its stark look and even its ageing process. These lovers of modern architecture will seek out brutalist buildings in which to buy flats, find Art Deco-style seaside homes to live in and lust after the modernist homes that others find a little too experimental.

concrete architecture

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Acquiring a love of concrete architecture can take time and it is not always a taste that will save you money over brick, as the limited number of notable concrete homes means that there is competition for the very best or most iconic ones. Maintenance and upkeep can also be expensive, especially in older or more experimental homes. But you can always be sure that your home will be a talking point as well as a source of modernist inspiration.

Tower blocks are perhaps the most well-known of concrete architecture, with lots of poorly-designed and poorly-maintained examples around our towns and cities. Yet there are some highly desirable and sought after blocks, notably the Erno Goldfinger-designed (yes the Bond film was named after him) properties in London.

concrete buildings

Image Source: OpenHouse London

Trellick Tower in west London and Balfron Tower in the east of the city are prime examples of Goldfinger’s mass housing work and they demand a premium over similar property in their areas. Similarly, the estates and tower blocks of the Barbican in London can demand some of the top prices in the City of London, with even one-bedroom flats going for close to £1m.

These are iconic buildings that architects love and that have a cult following, with arts seasons, films and photography dedicated to their worship. One business has even made plates, mugs and tea towels that celebrate these buildings, inspired by the Mondrian-like shapes and colours that highlight their features.

If you are buying in a tower block like Trellick Tower then the exterior care will largely be out of your hands, as you will be buying a leasehold flat. Replacing windows can be expensive, especially if being done as a renovation of the building as a whole. However, there is no reason not to buy if the building and fittings seem sound. It may be difficult to get a mortgage for flats on higher floors, but your bank or building society will be able to tell you more about this.

concrete houses

Image Source: HomeDSGN 

You may hear the term ‘concrete cancer’ bandied about by those who don’t know about or who do not like prefabricated concrete homes or brutalist-style buildings. This catch-all term is simply referring to concrete that has let in damp or which has not been properly waterproofed. These types of problems should be visible in any house you wish to buy, with a survey catching any structural issues.

Repairs (if needed) can be expensive, if you have to have panels removed. But concrete homes are generally as sound as their brick counterparts. It’s worth being aware that the process for renovation work and replacing wiring can be different from a conventional build, as wires will sometimes be run through grooves cut out from the concrete rather than up behind plasterboard.

If this kind of work needs to be carried out then you will need to hire a tradesman who is skilled at working with concrete and the tools needed to cut it cleanly. Some tradesmen specialise in working with period homes and are adept at creating solutions with non-standard builds and materials. Be sure to seek one out if you have unusual problems in a concrete build.

Looking for tradesmen with experience working on concrete buildings? Post your job on Rated People and up to three tradesmen will get in touch to quote on your job. You’ll be able to view their individual profiles, complete with previous customer recommendations, to help you decide who to hire.

Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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