From Adrian’s perspective, it’s clear to see that Concrete House is more than just a building made from concrete. It represents a big part of who he is, a ‘personal challenge’ and above all, his passion for such a ‘versatile’ material. “I have always had an interest in 60’s architecture. I quite liked that period known as Brutalism,” he says. “When I was younger, I did a lot of BMX riding and skateboarding. To me, skate parks were always something that was impossibly glamorous. I guess it launched a little seed in my head somewhere,” he adds.
Cold and uninviting are two notions generally associated with Brutalist architecture. However, Adrian’s views make the architectural style sound more powerful, as he describes its appearance as “bold and unforgiving”. “When you actually look [at the concrete] again, there’s so much fine detail going on. Some people would say, ‘I hate that’ and that’s great; it evokes discussion,” says Corrigall.
In addition to ‘liking the idea of disruption’, Adrian was also encouraged after holidaying in a similar concrete abode on the other side of the Atlantic, in Mexico. “We stayed in a house called Casa Sisal; it’s made entirely out of concrete. The thing that was the jaw dropper for us was the acoustics and tactility of the building. We knew we could achieve the architecture of the four senses if we were to work with concrete, whereas you could not achieve this with any other material. Concrete was the first and only option,” he says.
“It’s [concrete] an incredibly flexible material. You can make it into all kinds of complex forms. The thing that I like about it is the fact that you can leave it as it is; you don’t need a plasterer, you don’t need paint. It’s job done, finished,” he adds.
The ‘flexible’ nature of concrete also enabled Adrian to break away from the conventions of a house, as the design ‘pushes the boundaries of a simple square’ to create a unique shape.
“Why do we still think of houses like that […] as a five-year-old would draw them?” he questions. The design comprises ‘five cubes stacked together’ with varying floor heights throughout. “It really plays with the notion of a house where people question what I am building.”
Whilst concrete is no stranger to the construction industry, the method and vision for the project are unarguably innovative. “The design was a long process between us and the architect. It was then a question of how we could justify using concrete and the buildability of the house,” says Corrigall.
Adrian’s quest to refine the construction process led him to discover some of the newer products, from a unique concrete mix to technopolymer formwork, not commonly found or used in the marketplace.
According to the offshore diver, the real challenge was changing the ‘hearts and minds’ of many traditionalists within construction when choosing to trial these new methods. “I was always more excited about building the house and the challenges involved rather than living in the house after it was complete,” says Adrian. “It’s experimental.”
Despite its ‘experimental’ nature, the design did not compromise the fact that Concrete House was ‘first and foremost’ a family home. The space was carefully considered around the family. “There’s four bedrooms for four people; we didn’t put a fifth in to make it more valuable. It’s about being clever because it works [for us], not because you can,” he says.
In fact, the narrative throughout the project demonstrates how the products used resonate with what Adrian set out to achieve. “We tried to get a lot of different aspects to perform far beyond what is expected of them. For example, DUO, yes it’s formwork, but it adds a whole list of other advantages by having it there,” he says.
The DUO formwork system can be used to form columns, walls and slabs, and was used to construct the entire concrete shell of the house. Compared to conventional steel and timber formwork, it is a lighter system as no component weighs more than 25kg and thus removes the need for a crane.
Formwork is an important consideration that should be discussed in the early stages of a project, especially when an exposed finish tops the list of architectural specifications. In addition to the concrete used, formwork has a huge influence on the type of finish produced. A ‘balanced’ finish was the look and feel that Adrian desired for Concrete House.
“It [DUO formwork] hit the absolute sweet spot because we have retained character yet it’s also clean enough. It has both,” he says.
Adrian’s assertive attitude towards key decisions, whether it’s the method of construction or choice of formwork, has been the driving force behind completing the project in just over a year. And where things haven’t quite worked out as planned, it’s been a case of learning and approaching it differently. “I think we could have made the design simpler, but hindsight is a wonderful thing,” he says. “We’ve learned by being experimental. We’ve learned where you have got to limit and work around.”
He attributes his ‘efficient’ and ‘smart’ work ethic to his profession as an offshore diver, where these qualities are crucial, or else ‘it just doesn’t work’. “I am just applying that mind-set to this project. It’s fun to challenge yourself,” he says.
“If someone asked me what I got wrong, I would say that I underestimated the challenge of how hard it would be to change the mind-set in residential construction. I thought I could win people over with sheer enthusiasm and with energy to convince people that this was a great idea,” he says.
When summing up the project in one word, he fails to keep it as concise as the question limits, perhaps because the project is far more complex and ambitious than what meets the eye on first impression.
“Positively-challenging […] heart and minds, if we can use three words,” he replies in answer to the question. ‘I’m thinking of it on more than one level. It’s challenging visually, physically and mentally, and also challenging because I am trying to change the industry and individuals with what I am doing,” he adds.
Whilst the project may not be ‘a solution to everyone’s problems’, Adrian hopes that it ‘can be viewed for what it is, which is a case study’. “There is a lot of potential for people to move forward with similar concepts and people to develop them into more commercial place. And I do believe that it can be done,” he says.