Through the exploration of flexible formwork techniques, researchers in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) have demonstrated that it is possible to use concrete in a much more diverse, sustainable and quality-controlled way than in 20th century architecture.

The research has found that using fabric formwork can achieve a 25-35% reduction in the carbon footprint of concrete constructions, improves their structurally efficiency, simplifies the construction process and allows for a wider range of forms to be created, including those with complex geometries.

Supported and used by the concrete industry, the work has engendered an attitudinal change towards concrete and the proprietary application of the technology in other forms of construction. 

It has led to Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, an award-winning Chelsea Flower Show entry, and collaborative working with government, charities and schools, including on two public artworks for the Edinburgh Gateway transport interchange.

A global programme with its roots in research-led teaching

Our investigation into fabric formed concrete is one of a global network of projects, with collaborators in the Universities of London and Manitoba (Canada). 

It began in 2004 as a research-led teaching programme - an innovative methodology within University-based architectural research - and now runs to over 30 studies.

The work is led by Remo Pedreschi, Professor of Architectural Technology at ECA, and often involves postgraduate ESALA students, as well as early career researchers, architects and engineers.

Outputs include the prize-winning book, Fabric Formwork (by A Chandler and R Pedreschi), the first PhD thesis in the subject area, multiple papers in journals and conference proceedings, and CAST: Innovations in Concrete, a major exhibition at The Lighthouse in Glasgow.

Partners talk through their involvement in the Edinburgh Gateway project
Video courtesy of Network Rail

"“Since I became involved [with the research], I’ve become increasingly interested in concrete. From The Botanics' point of view it's interesting for its focus on living buildings. Concrete is definitely going to be a material of the future. How can we make it better for biodiversity?”"

Leonie Alexander, Urban Biodiversity Officer, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

From social housing to urban gardens and heritage trails

Practical use of the research includes the first ‘real world’ application of fabric formed concrete in UK construction; Whitburn Social Housing development in West Lothian.

Its potential to increase urban biodiversity has been explored by Paul Hensey, whose double-award winning Fenchurch Garden at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show included 19 ‘tree root’ shaped concrete panels made by Remo and colleagues, and by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, with whom ESALA has recently collaborated on a new sculptural garden for Network Rail’s Edinburgh Gateway and is currently involved in a pilot public engagement project, ‘Connecting communities with urban coastal landscapes under a changing climate’, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The research has been the catalyst for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with Watson Stonecraft, Fischer GmbH and ACS Stainless Steel, and Concrete in the Classroom, an ongoing programme of experiential learning with Concrete Scotland.

Working with children from Castleview Primary School, Queensferry Community High School and Inverkeithing High School has resulted in two fabric formed concrete wall installations; the first now forms part of the Craigmillar Heritage Trail, while the second was opened at Edinburgh Gateway by Humza Yousaf, Scottish Government Minister for Transport, on 9th December 2016.

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