Strong bones are one thing; growing old gracefully is another. For Candalepas, the latter quality is very important and one of the main reasons he loves working with concrete.
His fundamental design philosophy is driven not by cost but by engagement – engagement with the client, with the immediate environment of the building, and with the world at large.
“We’re interested in life and living things,” he says.
“It’s extremely important to me that a building weathers from the very beginning, so by the end of its life it looks like a graceful old person with an understanding of everything that’s gone before it.
“This gives it a quality that is endearing to people. As they walk past, they can see they need to care for and about it.
“Other buildings lie to you – they try and tell you they’re going to be there forever. Yet everything looks the same in 10 years’ time, so people don’t have affection for them.
“In the case of this project, every time you go there it will be a different experience. If it’s rained, or if some other environmental factor has affected the surface of the material, it’s changed it.
“That’s the beauty of concrete.”
Another reason behind the choice of concrete for this project is its design flexibility – its ability to be formed and shaped to deliver a huge range of structural and aesthetic outcomes.
For a material renowned for its solid mass, it’s easy to forget that concrete is essentially fluid in nature. In its wet state, it is poured into moulds - either off-site or on - to define its final, hardened shape. These shapes can encompass everything from hard straight edges to rounded forms.
In fact, the high compressive strength of concrete allows it to be used as a self-supporting system in domed or arched construction. (The Romans were among the first to exploit these qualities. Concrete has been around a long time.)
The form work into which the concrete is poured also defines the surface look and feel. Again, the possibilities are almost limitless, from intricate, sculptural patterns to raw natural textures.
“Concrete has great plastic qualities, and the playfulness this affords should be represented in the work,” Candalepas says.
Nowhere is this plasticity and design flexibility more evident than on the northern frontage of the Sutherland development, where the structural concrete floor and wall elements are complemented by off-form, angled concrete blade walls that serve to screen light from the balconies.
The mass of the concrete is balanced by sliding timber screens and timber handrails on the balcony balustrades.
At the north-west corner, where the development folds around into Merton Street, the angular concrete balcony end-walls are punctuated by oval cut-outs that admit light and air, and defined at the corners by sharp (rather than chamfered) edges.
As the sun moves along its northerly track, the play of shadows on the angular concrete walls creates a shifting pattern of light and dark, adding yet another dimension to the northern façade.
Close-up, the finish of these balcony walls fully exploits the plasticity of concrete in off-form application, resulting in a ‘flaws and all’ finish that adds further to the character of the concrete elements.
In fact, right across the board, the project demonstrates the inherent ‘playfulness’ of concrete – not just its ability to be shaped on site into a myriad of binding forms, but its ability to tell a story.
In this case, the story ‘reads’ in the impressions left behind by the joins in the timber formwork, in the capped tie-rod holes that held the formwork together, in the exposed ends of plastic bar chairs, and in the staining left behind by the release agents.
“The many things that make it should be present in the end result,” says Candalepas of the concrete walls.
“And, let’s face it, a lot of things come to make it. It’s not just manufactured in bits and pieces, brought in on the back of a truck and added to the building in a completely clinical, controlled way.”
Instead, Candalepas describes the off-form construction process as ‘….a beautiful carpentry trade.’
“The tie-rods are important because they hold the timber boards together that make up the formwork, so of course you show them,” he says.
It’s a skill, a trade. And trades are important.”