The Bubble Wrap Bulge


Combining two of man’s favourite things!

Concrete is the world’s most used material after water on the planet and is here to stay for the considerable future. Bubble wrap is used for packaging…and for whiling away boredom by popping it!

There is a common perception that concrete is associated with the period of brutalism with monolithic structures that are austere. I quite like those qualities and have designed solid concrete facades in my previous university projects. One of my favourite buildings in London is the Barbican. The design incorporates different levels and terraces that are surrounded by the apartments and there are walkways suspended between the incredible columns and beams – massive even if they’re not elegant. But we’ve been learning to cast concrete in fabric that expresses its plastic quality to try and express elegance through material, process and form.

We discussed with Remo Pedreschi, our tutor, the results of previous workshops of which the fabric formwork technique was investigated. They produced a wall at the entrance to the school of architecture that has a series of concrete panels cast like a pattern book of textures and techniques that inspired our first casts.

Making an Imprint


Bubble Wrap frame


A special characteristic of casting in fabric is that the weave imprints onto the concrete. A bulge is expressed as the fabric is tensioned under the mass of the concrete and depending on the fabric’s elasticity the size of the bulge can be controlled. The surface can also acquire the pattern, dye and any stitching on the fabric. Surface texture is associated with shadow, light or even a change of temperature, abrasive or smooth to touch. This offers new possibilities for expressive and spatial characteristics that we shall be exploring in an architectural project towards the end of the unit.

The Bubbly results

Bubble wrap is extremely stretchy. The weight of the aggregate pulled the staples out of one side of the frame and we were unable to fill it up to the top, which made the edges very brittle. The concrete, once poured, requires rubbing to draw the smaller particles forward and remove air pockets. However, the water was unable to be released through the plastic so it took a few days to cure and when we came to ‘peel’ it the concrete was very dark. The edge condition was defined by a layer of celotape stuck around the edge of the bubble wrap. This gave a shiny flat edge in contrast to the bubbles although it was very brittle because of the lack of concrete at the edge of the frame.


Bubble bulging. The distinctive D shape and inpressive texture


The results were brilliant! Each individual bubble had made an intricate inverted imprint on the surface, even the dimples on the bubbles were expressed. What was more remarkable was the contrast between the bubbles against the plastic between them – which was incredibly smooth and shiny. The bubbles were also stretched along the side where the staples had come away from the frame, expressing the forces that had acted on the material as it sagged.


Detail texture. The smallest detail in the bubble wrap is expressed with the contrasting shine of the smooth surface between them.



The remains of the formwork



The colour is much lighter but the texture is still defined


Development – controlling the bulge.

In a second test we aimed to control the amount and area of deflection of the bubble wrap whilst developing a contrasting smooth edge condition. We layed the bubble wrap onto some tough and relatively inflexible geo-texile fabric that prevented the bubble wrap from sagging whilst still expressing the texture. We stapled a cotton fabric boarder around the edge and carefully filled the frame and worked the concrete to improve the surface finish.


Cutting a shape into the Geo-textile to control the area of the bubble wrap



Laying bubble wrap over the geo-textile



The bulge is controlled



Edge condition that caused a great result



A brilliant shine and edge condition with shadow of the prodtruding bubble wrap is also expressed



Another unexpected texture was the rippling of the cotton boarder and the imprint of the weave offer a supurb, crisp margin that can be replicated on a larger scale



The restrictive effect of the geo-textile is visible


Within a week had learnt a lot about the possibilities this technique and the basics of manipulating the bulges and textures. We made other text panels that shall be discussed in the next blog before commencing work on a minature column – which involved the exploration of stitching and sewing formwork to manipulate form.


Bubble wrapped concrete - a detail to be explored later.



Grappling with a disrupting definition.

It sounds to me, having read around the topic a little bit, that the actual definition and consequences of Disruptive Technology is still being debated.

The term is was first coined by Harvard business school professor Clayton M. Christensen in his book ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma‘ in which he separated new technology into two categories: sustaining and disruptive.

‘Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology.’ Where as, ‘disruptive technology lacks refinement, often has performance problems because it is new, appeals to a limited audience, and may not yet have a proven practical application’

…but crucially, the new technology can overtake what has been established and advance products or methodologies beyond what was possible with the original product or idea.

‘Avoid comparing disruptive with established technology – the established will nearly always look better. What is critical is to measure the trajectory of performance improvement achievable in the technology against the trajectory of improvement demanded in the market.’ (Clayton and Christensen.)

Conventional improvement in the business and technological world similarly arises through the linear evolution as a product develops. The disruptive period of upheaval comes when a new product breaks through into the market. It could be a change in method of conducting business or organisation (e.g Tele Marketing), or an actual invention stemming from a scientific discovery (e.g. the development of a transistor), or just a good idea that a small number of people have developed for their own specific requirements and needs which has gradually become more popular.

This is the area of ‘lead-users’ developing their own methodologies in Disruptive Technology that we are interested in as we study our Studio Unit at the University of Edinburgh.

Two theorists: Raynor and Danneels had their definitions:

‘Disruption is a process and not an event…it might take decades for the forces to work their way through the market, but they’re always at work’

‘Disruptive Technologies tend to be associated with the replacement of incumbents by entrants’

By recognising what Disruptive Technologies can provide in the context of architecture, theorists have begun questioning if the term ‘construction industry’ narrows scope for innovation and the need for analysis about how receptive or resistant building trades are new technologies.

Can our methods change in order to improve our buildings?

This is where our new Studio Unit begins and the connection is made to the Blog title ‘Concrete Fabrication’.



Fabric Mesh


I and two other students at the University of Edinburgh are currently aiming to ‘disrupt’ the conventional methods of casting concrete. The traditional methods commonly use solid formwork that requires substantial labour and material with varying results and quality. We aim, under the guidance of our tutor Remo Pedreschi to explore and push the possibilities of using fabric as formwork in terms of form, texture, strength, ease of construction, quality of result, time and cost.

I intend to use this blog to publish our discoveries and discussions, with the intention of sharing information and as a method of recording the progress of the project.

Hopefully this will be an interesting process as we endeavor to disrupt this technology…