I've been observing the development around King's Cross for the past few years, most recently the new flats along York Way. Watching these being slotted together reminded me of the Bayko Building Set I had as a child; one of my favourite toys.
First came a steel frame, then windows were slotted in and insulation panels inserted - these are 'Kooltherm' suggesting that they are designed to stay cool in the summer and retain heat in the winter. Finally an outer cladding is added over this. On the York Way flats this is a mixture of variegated grey strips and white panels that look like overgrown venetian blinds. At the moment they look quite ugly but I'll reserve final comment until they're completed.
I began to wonder, would it be more accurate to describe these flats as being assembled rather than built? Or are build, assemble and construct synonymous? After all, however we describe the initial process, we would refer to the end result as a building.
While doing some research into construction methods in an attempt to answer this question I discovered that as well as being used to design buildings, computers can now also be used to build them. These so-called printed buildings are produced using a 3-D printer, as shown in this YouTube video.
An interesting feature of this method of construction is that utilities - water pipes, conduits for wiring etc. - can be embedded into the structure when it is created. This seems very convenient but what happens when maintenance is required later?
This is the problem faced by owners of the flats at Highpoint in Highgate. Designed by Berthold Lubetkin in the 1930s it has been suggested that this is "Perhaps the single most celebrated Modernist building of the 1930s in London." (Alan Powers, Modern: The Modern Movement in Britain). It's built of reinforced concrete and heated by a communal boiler that pumps hot water through pipes embedded in the concrete ceilings of the flats. This is now becoming erratic due to corrosion in the pipes - the poor state of these became apparent a few years ago when a fire damaged one of the ceilings and a section of the pipework was exposed. It is clear that the system has reached the end of its life and something needs to be done but no-one has any idea what as the heating system is integral to the fabric of the building. Wasn't this a design flaw? I asked one of the residents. Yes, he admitted but Lubetkin didn't consider this when he designed the building as he didn't expect it to have a life-span of more than 50 years. Now it's Grade I listed...