CAST: Innovations in concrete

A chronicle of the milestones in the development and use of concrete.

The Challenge

On paper, an exhibition about concrete doesn’t sound all that enticing, and that was a big part of the challenge for Architecture and Design Scotland. That and reaching such a wide audience. The whole point of the CAST project was to satisfy and extend the layperson’s curiosity, while meeting industry experts’ desires for better perspectives on the subject and giving them access to the finer details.

The brief? To create an exhibition with a Scottish perspective on the versatility of concrete and how it has lent freedom to architectural design, and to encourage discussion and debate about concrete in terms of its environmental credentials and wider aspects of sustainability – including how concrete and cement works can support small communities. The brief also challenged us to provide information in engaging, story-telling ways, so people from all walks of life can see concrete from refreshing angles and understand its contribution to so many aspects of the built environment. In addition, we wanted CAST to provide answers to the questions, “What has concrete done for us?” and “what can concrete do for us?” – for designers, architects, construction companies, and of course, society as a whole. After all, it’s almost impossible to spend a day without concrete, wherever you are, and whether you’re an expert or not.

Architecture and Design Scotland’s exhibition had to be well researched, insightful and informative – and present bold facts about concrete rather than express an opinion or attempt to sway people’s thoughts. The careful curation, and its intriguing and visually striking presentations, aimed to encourage visitors to want to find out more at every stage, and to help them make up their own minds about this versatile staple of everyday life.

The Solution

To ensure the exhibition reached out to a wide audience – from construction experts to students and the general public – it made sense to start the research process from the non-expert’s angle. This meant asking the same questions laypeople would, and highlighting from the outset some of the misconceptions the exhibition would set out to change. Then it was time to involve the experts, so they could help complete the picture and ensure the exhibition would also appeal to them.

Then CAST had to bring it all to life for all audiences. To do this, it pulled on a range of complementary approaches to presentation, each alluding to common perceptions of concrete, while adding a creative slant to help visitors think twice and want to know more. All of this, while engaging the expert audience with an impressive depth and breadth of research. The exhibition used a mix of storyboarding, audio, video, and exhibition pieces of different types of concrete from various sources and applications, to support case studies. Theme-wise, CAST took on a construction-site look, with chevrons and bold colours, and a 1980s minimalist, rudimentary feel with a modern, technological twist.

Central to the exhibition, the Innovations in Concrete timeline wall told the history of concrete, from its origins further back than most would imagine, through its refinement and development, how different societies use it, and how it has become so fundamental – in all its variations and forms – to today’s built environment. For this wall, CAST included typography carefully matched to the overall theme, and an intuitive storyboard style to guide visitors through the history and point them to the level of detail they wanted. The display was interspersed with carefully chosen imagery and infographics – with a selection of fascinating facts about the most commonly used man-made material on the planet. We also included audiovisual guides to expand on particular features of the exhibition.

As a whole, CAST became an inviting and intriguing space in which to tell the story of concrete in an engaging and perception-changing way, with case studies to put things into context and illustrate the huge variety of uses for concrete over the centuries, plus its applications for today and tomorrow. It also conveyed important key messages. For example, that despite its often undeserved reputation, concrete is becoming an environmentally sustainable building material, and has a big part to play in more responsible construction methods. And also that its production has positive socio-economic benefits, supporting small and large communities.

The Results

As well as guiding a varied audience through the complex history, development and wide-ranging applications of concrete in its many forms, the exhibition has brought together construction experts, architects, students seeking careers in design, construction and engineering, and the general public. It has provided people from all walks of life with fresh insights into this misunderstood man-made material. Perhaps most importantly, it highlights that concrete – produced and applied responsibly – can be an environmentally sustainable and hugely versatile construction material.

A partnership between Architecture and Design Scotland, The Concrete Society Scotland, and the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, CAST includes an extensive and inclusive series of seminars, workshops and other related events that appeal to industry professionals and the public.

“To bring the subject of concrete to an audience in an informative and accessible manner was a challenge for all of us. From the outset, RRDCreative had carried out their own research into concrete and its use. This made any ideas that were discussed more fruitful, as their interest and knowledge helped inform the process and the final outcome. There were many layers and types of information to be presented in an understandable manner, and RRDCreative helped us achieve this through their highly innovative design approach – making the graphics clear and using a graphic style that worked extremely well with the subject. As part of the greater team putting together the exhibition, their input and creativity was invaluable.” Morag Bain, Architecture and Design Scotland.

“RRDCreative were delighted and privileged to be working with the Concrete Society and Architecture and Design Scotland on this project. Getting to know this material that we take for granted and one we don’t appreciate was both creatively challenging and rewarding. We were flattered with the faith and confidence in our ideas that Architecture and Design Scotland showed and we look forward to working with them again on future projects.” Corey Stewart, Creative Director RRDCreative

RRDCreative will be opening a new design studio in the centre of Edinburgh in December 2013.


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