Historic Opportunity

Vertik-Al looks at the materials shortage and how we can draw on the past to inspire the future.

John Park-Davies, managing director of powder coating specialist, Vertik-Al looks at the materials shortage and how we can draw on the past to inspire the future. As human beings we are renowned for our adaptability; a desire for growth, change and development. Throughout history this has often been driven by necessity. Big events have caused seismic change. Not least the two World Wars.

Many similarities have been drawn between the coronavirus pandemic and WWII, with briefings and press coverage littered with statements like – ‘UK set for strongest economic growth since WWII,’ said The Guardian; ‘Covid costs push government borrowing to highest since WW2’ and ‘Covid: 2020 saw most excess deaths since World War Two’ reported BBC News.

Aside from these headline-generating parallels, we are currently experiencing another situation akin to post-war Britain – a shortage of materials and skills.

Construction Material Shortage

After some noise and commotion amongst the industry, and those who pay careful attention, the construction materials shortage finally made it into the public consciousness when it made headlines in late May. At the time of writing, some homeowners are being advised to consider delaying home improvement projects, as global shortages, shipping delays and Brexit-related complications cause a lack of supplies and price increases.

Monitored by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), at the request of the UK Government, the CLC Products Availability taskforce is constantly updating its shortage list. Five key items were reported (17 th May 2021) to be in short supply – timber, cement, steel, aggregates and plastics.

While these materials are undeniably critical to the UK construction industry, long-term, this situation may present opportunities for the wider building sector, as specifiers and contractors are forced to seek new and alternative materials, products and methods of construction. What follows has the potential to become an age of innovation – yet another parallel with the post-war years.

Post-War Innovation

Between 1916 and 1920, ‘Inflation pushed up the cost of building materials. Additionally, shortages of materials encouraged the use of new materials such as Crittall windows, sand-lime bricks and prefabrication (steel and concrete systems) for council housing. These innovating experiments were to be developed further after the Second World War. (www2.le.ac.uk)

In the 1940s, those areas hardest hit by the air raids provided opportunities for replanning. 1943 saw ‘The County of London Plan suggest(s)…how London might be replanned after the war, with lower densities, separation of housing and industry, more public spaces and new roads. It is followed by plans for Hull, Plymouth, Middlesbrough, Manchester etc.’

The following year, ‘the first single-storey prefab bungalows were demonstrated at the Tate Gallery’. The remainder of the decade saw a programme of houses, schools and factories begin and the passing of the ‘New Towns Act’.

Most notably, to cope with the impact of the baby boom, ‘a programme of prefabricated schools began in 1946 to meet the demand for 10 new schools per year.’ While over the pond, innovation sees the erection of the first curtainwall building in Oregon – 12-storey frame, sheathed in a glass skin.

Age of Reinvention

Fortunately, there are no bombsites or air raids in our battle against Coronavirus, but it has sparked a desire for change in our built environment. Having spent more time at home, many of us have found them deficient in space and natural light. The future of offices may yet hang in the balance but regardless, these spaces will need to offer improved conditions for employee wellbeing, resulting in enhanced staff retention.

And with the high street hard hit by the pandemic, architects and designers will be tasked with reinvigorating and reimaging these buildings. While the wars generated a replanning revolution, high streets across the UK offer an opportunity for reinvention – either as repurposed spaces, supporting the housing crisis, or simply as better retail spaces, providing an unbeatable ‘in real life’ experience.

Historic Opportunity

While the current materials shortage hinders short-term progress, our recovery must be inspired by the attitude and innovation of the post-war years. As a supply chain partner, we are working hard to support our customers in this post-COVID revolution – with continuous improvement and investment, and by offering high-quality, dynamic colours and finishes, alongside captivating alternatives to processes such as anodising.

As the only applicator in the UK and Ireland to hold the GSB International quality seal for Approved Coated Aluminium, and one of a handful of applicators to boast membership of the product certification scheme, QUALICOAT, we are perfectly placed to help the UK deliver on its plan to ‘build back better’.

Reproduced with kind permission of RCI Mag.

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