FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions / 3


















 Why does almost nobody use coloured concrete except JOA? Is there something wrong with it. Will it last?


I once worked for an eminent Architect who advised me: "John if you want to get a design past a Committee, make your compositions symmetrical and use only three colours. Dark grey, mid grey and pale grey". At one time his firm had twelve projects running simultaneously in the City of London and a staff of over 800 architects. Why did I not take his advice?

Colour is cheap, colour is cheerful. People like it. In 1998, our Judge Institute of Management Studies in Cambridge was voted, by popular telephone call-in and postal voting, the "Cambridge Building of the Decade". It received more votes than all of the other five candidate buildings put together. One is never advised to rely too heavily on these 'straw polls' but Cambridge does have more good modern buidings per head of population than any other city in Britain.

There is nothing technically 'difficult' about coloured concrete. It will last as long as any other concrete. So why is coloured concrete not used more widely on the outside of buildings?

In 1994 the Cement and Concrete Industry spent £250,000 on researching and preparing a free teaching pack for the Schools of Architecture and Engineering in Britain. This contained videos, slides and booklets. It was launched in Cambridge, which is where the pack had been created. Professors travelled from all over Britain to Cambridge for a briefing and to receive their material. It so happened that I was half way through building the £M11 Judge Institute. It would be going up only a few yards down the road and I was asked to give a little slide presentation and then to conduct the Professors around the building works. When the slides were over it slowly dawned on everyone there that their pack stopped somwhere around the 1960's, with bush-hammered concrete. There was nothing at all in it about all the patterned, inlaid, glazed and richly coloured concretes JOA had invented over the past thirty years of work.

The matter was brought to a head by a Professor who asked: "but John, how do you choose your colours? Where do you get your patterns from?" The fact of the matter is that although these colours and patterns are like marquetry or pietra dura, that is to say flat and smooth and not carved and sculpted, they are nevertheless pure ornament and decoration. Now, as all of the assembled Professors knew, Ornament has been taboo from orthodox Modern architecture from its very beginning in Eastern Europe and the Netherlands.

Not only was it 'against their principles' to teach 'ornament and decoration' but they were incapable of teaching it. To be precise they were 'iconically' illiterate. They had not studied the history and technology of hieroglyphics, painting and graphics as a key medium of Architecture itself. Even when they studied the History of Architecture the role of decoration had always been suppressed and devalued.

I, on the other hand, had deliberately gone so far as to even study Hindu architecture, precisely because it gives a Modern, Western, Architect an almost insuperable affront to his sense of propriety, decorum and taste. I felt that if I could assimilate this pullulating mass of form and colour to my project than I would have forged an intellectual weapon that could overwhelm even the monstrous 'train-crash' of the late 20C 'urban' lifespace.

It was clear that all of my successful thirty-year-struggle to invent, and prove, a flexible and durable technology capable of inlaying permanent colour and pattern into an external form of any shape, was useless to the Professors of Architectural Concrete design. And yet they could not help but feel the appeal of my inventions. They were disturbed by this sense of a whole technology that was out of their reach not because ot any technical difficulty, for there is none at all in what I do, but in the difficulty of bringing pure decoration under intellectual control. Since then I have built this coloured and patterned concrete technology in the USA and Continental Europe.


End of FAQ No. 3: "Coloured Concrete",

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* JOA can be reached by E-Mail at anthony@johnoutram.com , by telephone on +44 (0)207 262 4862 or by fax on +44 (0)207 706 3804. We also have an ISDN number : +44 (0)207 262 6294.




John Outram