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BAM Construction on the changing building styles in Kent


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It is often easy to overlook the historical and cultural significance of some of the county's buildings.

What today resembles a concrete, featureless monolith was yesterday's cutting edge architecture.

And while we admire the glass-fronted finery of some of the modern creations defining our skylines, the chances are in 30 years time they'll be scoffed at too.

Troy Town, Rochester 1964. Picture: BAM (7162624)
Troy Town, Rochester 1964. Picture: BAM (7162624)

For those in the industry, the changes take place over years - a result of changing technology, styles and, most significantly, the way we live our lives.

BAM Construction, which has an office in Harrietsham, near Maidstone, this year marks its 150th anniversary. An international company, it has grown through acquiring a host of companies over the years, but as a result it lays claim to a blood line which has been behind many of the county's key buildings.

It is just one of the companies which helped shape the way our towns look and feel.

From schools to hospitals, supermarkets to industrial complexes, it has seen the changing trends over the years.

Brenchley House, Maidstone, 1975. Picture: BAM (7162629)
Brenchley House, Maidstone, 1975. Picture: BAM (7162629)

It played a key role in constructing the industrial sites which provided employment for thousands of people. From the telegraph works at WT Henley's in Gravesend in 1915, to Kemsley Mills in Sittingbourne; its work, along with that of other firms, became part of the fabric of our society.

It built the TV studios in Maidstone, the Marlowe Arcade and Whitefriars shopping centres in Canterbury, Bouverie Place in Folkestone, the town centre Ashford College site, blocks of flats in Rochester, the Bluewater Events Centre and even was involved in what was then RAF Manston in Thanet during the 1950s. Next week the official opening takes place of the £26 million Dover Leisure Centre - another one of its projects.

The construction industry tends to surf our changing habits and lifestyles - responding to the trends.

While the work during much of the 20th century was focused on building up industry, the 1990s saw the boom in out-of-town supermarket superstores. Now, local authorities are investing heavily in town centres in a bid to reverse their flagging fortunes.

Construction of Whitefriars in Canterbury, 2002. Picture: BAM (7162635)
Construction of Whitefriars in Canterbury, 2002. Picture: BAM (7162635)

Explains Adam Harding, director for the south east: "It goes in cycles depending on how people live their lives.

"You have the architecture which changes through the years, different materials and different technologies but also the way people use buildings these days are dramatically different to even 10-15 years ago.

"You look at how offices are used today, with much more of a focus around agile working. We have greater technologies now so people don't have to sit behind desks, whereas not long ago we were building big corporate headquarters which could house 3,000 people."

And does he ever look back at buildings from decades gone by and ask, like so many of us do, just what were they thinking of?

Bluewater Event Centre takes shape. Picture: BAM (7189308)
Bluewater Event Centre takes shape. Picture: BAM (7189308)

"I suppose I do," he agrees, "but that was the fashion, that was the way the economy worked at the time, how people's lives were run, and at the time it was probably the up-most in technology and the most modern facility you could have imagined.

"Now you wonder how they could have lived in that sort of environment - you see it in housing to schools, hospitals - there's a huge change in the way we all live.

"Specialisms in construction techniques play a part. Quarrying is more expensive now, so there are not so many natural stone buildings; we see a lot of technology with lighter weight materials and that's all driven through sustainability."

And what can we expect to see in our towns going forward?

Ashford College. Picture: BAM Construction (7189434)
Ashford College. Picture: BAM Construction (7189434)

"Education is still very much a prime market, and there's a big emphasis on the health and leisure sector.

"We're about to finish a scheme in Dover and I know Kent County Council is looking at another major leisure facility.

"There has been a big shift for better facilities around leisure which obviously reflects on our health and well-being and the drive for people to be healthy, live longer and look after themselves."

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