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Corten and consequences

We all know how much architects love Corten, so when you see somewhere that is positively crawling with it, you think that somebody must have given their architect a really free hand.

We all know how much architects love Corten, so when you see somewhere that is positively crawling with it, you think that somebody must have given their architect a really free hand.

Well maybe they did on this project, where even the model is in Corten, but there is certainly an underlying logic.

This is at Blaenavon, the former ironworks (and later steelworks) which is both a visitor attraction in its own right and near to the Big Pit, a coal mine around which you can be guided by former working miners.

At Blaenavon, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas managed to enable the pit to transfer from iron to steel production despite the fact that the iron ore was too high in phosphorus to make a successful steel. He found a way to remove the phosphorus during the Bessemer process so that the plant could prosper – for a while.

Gilchrist Thomas wasn’t around to see what happened, as he took his invention to America where he died young, possibly from overwork. His invention allowed German steelmakers, who also had phosphorus-heavy ores, to enter the market and eventually to outcompete Blaenavon.

The townis now, rather forlornly, marketing itself as a heritage destination. it is a World Heritage Site but at 4pm on a Friday most of the shops were shut. With coal and steel both gone, the town has shrunk to half its peak size.

There are fascinating things to learn, both in technical and social terms. Some take a lot of unpicking, but one is abundantly clear – Corten is a great material for models.

Ruth Slavid

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