The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Inflatable concrete….Italians in London

Back in 2008 we had a case that was pretty extraordinary–a sports hall at Malvern Girls College was threatened with demolition.  But this was no ordinary structure: liquid concrete had been poured over a neoprene membrane, which had then been inflated to make a dome, and the air pressure maintained until the concrete had set.  It was great to  see and hear the original inventor of what were called “Binishells”.    Dante Bini and his son Nic Bini gave a fascinating talk at the Building Centre back on 12 12.12 (the cool date seemed somehow appropriate).

For the uninitiated, Binishells were invented in 1964. The  were circular-based, monolithic, reinforced concrete thin-shell structures that were then  lifted and shaped by low air pressure. Used in a range of projects from affordable housing, schools and shopping centers, they became extremely popular for their quick construction time, low cost, high strength and reduced carbon footprint.  The Malvern example was built in 1977 by Michael Godwin (architect) with John Faber of Oscar Faber as engineer and NorWest Holst Construction as advisers.   There are thought to be about five hundred Binishells in Italy and a further seven were built in Australia in 1974. The rights to make them in England were bought by NorWest Holst Construction.  Despite hopes that thirty or forty would be built each year at the time of putting the Malvern example forward for listing we knew of only two. The first was built in February 1975 at the Norwest Holst depot at Tingley in Yorkshire (demolished following sale of the site).  Malvern is the other.   The architect Michael Godwin, had visited Italy in 1974 and went back with a  group from the school to view several examples in Italy.

What I didn’t realise is that you can still order a Binishell, and have it grow in your own back garden… see, if you’ve not got the space, you can watch a video here…  with the new relaxations on planning permission they may be poppping up all the place.



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