Project period: May – July 2014 

This community later received Accelerator Funding for the project: Prototypical Interactions in the Built Environment

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: John Orr 
University of Bristol: John Macdonald 
Cardiff University: Diane Gardner 
University of Exeter: Prakash Kripakaran 

Project overview

This collaboration will bring together experts in structural engineering, serviceability, materials characterisation, durability, sustainable materials, and composites to consider the specific future research required to fully realise this field. 


Concrete is the world’s most widely used man-made material and the manufacture of cement accounts for a large proportion of raw material expenditure ($250bn in 2012, €18bn in Europe). Concrete has a low embodied energy (c.0.9MJ/kg2 ), but the magnitude of its consumption makes cement manufacture accountable for at least 5% of global CO2 emissions. In 2012 UK emissions from the manufacture of cement reached 3.8MtCO2. Despite these emissions concrete is inefficiently used in the built environment and significant reductions in cost and carbon could be achieved through design optimisation.  

The National Carbon Plan proposes that by 2050 emissions from heating and powering new buildings in the UK will be almost zero, implying that embodied energy will soon outweigh operational energy use measured over a building’s life. The ability to design, optimise and construct concrete structures with minimal embodied energy is therefore crucially important.  

Flexible formwork provides one such route to efficient design. Using flexible formwork, architecturally interesting structures that take advantage of the fluidity of concrete can be produced. Material use savings of up to 40% are already possible. 

Project summary 

This project developed a new GW4 community with a shared vision to change the way that all structures are designed and operated within the built environment. This is seen as crucial to the success of achieving global sustainability in the face of growing populations and increasing urbanisation. The community held a sandpit meeting involving GW4 academics and industrial partners, where three main research themes emerged: (1) Structural Skins; 2) Scale and Data; and 3) Performance Based Design. These themes were taken forward in a successful Accelerator award from the community