Yet, in truth, this seems a little unfair. After all, roofing's come a long way since the days of the traditional "black gang". The smelly asphalt boiler is no longer an inevitable fixture on every building site. In its place, a raft of new techniques and new materials has sprung up: curved aluminium standing seams, roof gardens and the inevitable aluminium bull nose and soffit – to name but a few. Architects and builders have woken up to the possibilities and roofing has begun (whisper it softly) to be treated as a central design feature in its own right.
When you look at some of the more dramatic and eye-catching projects completed in recent years, you soon notice how many of them have used the roof in an innovative or effective way to enhance the overall design. I've been lucky enough to work on a few of these projects and, in every case, the design benefited hugely from the architect having a clear understanding of the available roofing technology.
Richard Rogers' Lloyd's building, for example, combined old-fashioned materials (zinc) with modern roofing techniques (standing seam) to create a very distinctive impact. The GlaxoSmithKline headquarters in Brentford, west London, is another interesting example, using a variety of roofing techniques to mask plant areas and achieve an enviably clean profile.
The roofing revolution isn't just about design aesthetics, though: it's about dramatically improved product performance and flexibility. The aluminium products used in standing seam and single-ply roofing deliver great flexibility as well as a strong visual appearance. The liquid treatments now available for sealing concrete roofs deliver the same effect as traditional asphalt or felt – but they look better, they last longer and they don't require the interminable presence of that dreadful boiler!
Roofing has begun (whisper it softy) to be treated as a central design feature in its own right
Another area that's developed massively in recent years is the green roof. A good example of this is the Eden Project in Cornwall, where we helped develop grassed-over roofs for buildings constructed into the landscape (helping to boost energy efficiency as well as keeping visual impact on the surrounding environment to a minimum).
The most significant change in roofing, though, is not about products, trends or designs. It's about a way of working: delivering a total, integrated roofing solution. For years, the biggest gripe clients and main contractors had about roofing was the hassle of getting everything to fit together – literally as well as aesthetically. Large-scale projects, where several different types of roofing product might be employed, could quickly turn into a headache: if you had to buy one roofing product from supplier A and another from supplier B, the chances of them both fitting together first time were slim (and the chances of A and B agreeing about whose fault this was even slimmer).
Unsurprisingly, as the industry has developed (and, with it, the expectations of suppliers), roofing specialists have begun to adopt a more sophisticated approach. By investing in our own design and technical resources – and adopting a partnership approach with our clients – we're now able to offer advice and suggestions right from the earliest stages of a project. We also supply products from a variety of different manufacturers (as well as making bespoke items where necessary) and handle all the installation ourselves. The result is the best of all worlds: a total start-to-finish solution that removes the hassle factor and feeds genuine added-value back to clients in the form of technical advice and ideas.