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The use of new materials and composites in delivering customer needs and benefits A study recently completed by Buro Happold for CRISP (the Construction Research and Innovation Strategy Panel)

sought to understand how new materials are selected or developed and how they can bring benefit to clients. New materials in this context includes new applications for existing materials as well as genuinely new materials.

systems. To some extent these are necessary, as safety must be a primary concern, but opportunities need to be taken to provide a better product. Another key point is the difference in perspective of different industry players. This leads to groups seeking to address various objectives, and not necessarily those that best serve clients. For example, a structural engineer may be seeking a material with a better strength-to-weight- ratio. However, whilst their client may be interested in the increased light or lower costs that reduced structure can bring, interest in material properties for their own sake is unlikely.

T The three-part study comprised:

•a telephone survey of engineers, architects and others involved in using or specifying new materials;

•a survey of recent research initiatives and publications related to ‘new’ materials, both in general and in the construction industry;

•a survey of broader literature relating to the uptake of new technologies.

The team took a fairly loose description of ‘new’ to include materials and systems for which there is a substantial growth potential, as well those that have thermal and cost benefits as radically new materials. A list of 100 ‘new’ materials was identified, indicating benefit to clients. Examples include:

•ETFE foil cushions, which have thermal and cost benefits (as used in the Eden project and Hampshire Tennis Centre, Eastleigh);

•cardboard made from recycled paper (as at Westborough school);

•timber gridshells that use a low-cost renew- able resource (as in the Weald and Downland museum – see picture);

•fibre-reinforced polymers, which bring shape flexibility and cost/weight benefits (as in the Glasgow Wing Tower cabin and mast).

Buro Happold observed that:

•very little research undertaken focuses on client benefits;

•most research into new materials and their application in buildings is undertaken by prime producers;

•research into the use of low-tech materials such as adobe is hampered as no industries have interests in improving their market position;

•the dominant influences on the choice of materials are cost and safety (especially in a

Research Focus Issue 46 AUGUST 2001 ‘

here are many barriers in the con- struction industry to the rapid in troduction of new materials or

well focused on the direct application of the materials;

•broadly, few of the issues on which cli- ents make their decisions are directly linked to materials.

Gridshell structure under construction for the Weald and Downland museum. Architect Edward Cullinan (Buro Happold).

(Photograph courtesy of Mackley Construction Happold).

fire), as they have been for over 200 years, with visual appearance also very significant for finishes;

•research institutes representing materials used in building construction fund very lit- tle research of their own although they are often active in multi-participant, collabora- tive research projects;

• university research into materials is not

For further information please contact Buro Happold: Andrew Cripps or Bill Harris (020 7927 9700; fax: 020 7927 9701; E-mails: andrew.cripps or Contact CRISP via Martin Lockwood at Davis Langdon Consulting (020 7379 3322; fax: 020 7379 3030; E-mail:; CRISP Website:

COASTAL ENGINEERING &MATERIALS Timber in coastal engineering

Research Focus 45 featured HR Wallingford’s work on ‘Building sustainable coast- lines’. Staff at HRW start a new project this summer entitled ‘The use of timber in coastal and fluvial engineering’. Work has again been funded by the former DETR and project partners include the Timber Research and Development Association, coastal local authorities, British Waterways and the Environment Agency.

sustainability,’ says Jonathan Simm who leads the study. ‘The new project will provide guidance on how to use timber effectively, promoting environmental best practice, in- cluding re-use and recycling.’


For further information please contact Jonathan Simm at HR Wallingford: (01491 822355; fax: 01491 825539; E-mail: or Matt Crossman (01491 822273; fax: 01491 825539; E-mail:

hen correctly used, timber is an at- tractive engineering option in terms of both whole-life cost and

The study team recommend that the con- struction industry would benefit from fo- cusing more carefully on customer or client benefits. This could be accelerated by studying certain other industries, for ex- ample automotive, aerospace and ship- building. This applies particularly to how materials can meet clients’ needs. Secondly, suggestions have been made for areas where research could usefully be funded. A CRISP Task Group is now considering these and putting its opinions to funding bodies.

Photograph courtesy of Mackley Construction 3

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