Concrete has been cast in rigid containers since its invention in antiquity. The emerging field of flexible formworks for concrete architecture and structures represents a truly radical change, not only in the technology of concrete construction, but in the very nature of the architectures we can build. Over the past 23 years Mark West has been inventing and developing new construction techniques using simple, inexpensive, flat sheets of fabric in place of conventional rigid formwork panels. The extreme simplicity of these methods produces surprisingly complex and beautiful forms, naturally given by the fabric sheets under tension. Many of these forms are possessed of an innate structural efficiency and elegance, allowing large reductions in the volume of materials consumed in construction. This work, which straddles the realms of architecture, engineering, construction and the fine arts, offers proof that new horizons for both architecture and sustainable construction are held in simple, insightful, re-combinations of ordinary materials and methods.
The material world, handled with sufficient sympathy and attention, unfolds itself according to its own logic and beauty, offering a counter example to the habitual expectation that innovation in the 21st century requires higher technologies and higher concentrations of industrial capital.
Rather than seeing innovation as an “upwards” climb towards greater control and refinement, this work points us inwards, as it were, towards naturally found simplicities, imbued with their own sufficient complexities.
Mark West is the founding director of CAST – the Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture in Winnipeg, Canada. The CAST laboratory/studio works between and across the disciplines of architecture, engineering, construction and fine arts. CAST’s working environment mixes the methods and traditions of these often separate disciplines in a unique form of serious play in which discoveries are found and followed with a freedom not usually encountered in academic research laboratories.
Mark West is a professor of architecture at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture in Winnipeg Canada, with a cross appointment in the University of Manitoba’s Department of Civil Engineering, and is a visiting lecturer at the University of Bath Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering in Bath England. He has also taught as a visiting professor and workshop leader at many schools of architecture around the world. His early professional education was as a builder, followed by a first professional degree in architecture from the Cooper Union in New York City (graduated 1980), and a post-professional architectural studies at Carleton University in Ottawa Canada.
He is the founding director of the University of Manitoba’s Center for Architectural Structures and Technology [ www.umanitoba.ca/cast_building/ ], and the inventor of many techniques for designing and constructing fabric-formed concrete architecture and structures. In addition to his research and teaching, he works as a builder and design consultant for full-scale construction projects internationally, and his work includes an active art practice in sculpture, drawing, and painting.
He has published and lectured extensively on his research over the past 20 years in North America, Europe, South America and Asia.