The materials scientist is the designer’s friend. These questing chemists, using ever more sophisticated techniques, produce a steady flow of new and improved substances with which to create the built environment.

But despite their best efforts, game-changing breakthroughs in materials are rare. Brick, stone and timber have been used in construction for at least 7,000 years. Kiln-fired bricks have been around for 4,000 years; concrete since Roman times. Even the most recent quantum leap — the advent of structural steel — occurred more than a century ago.

So the accelerating urbanization of the world, and the spectacular architecture mushrooming across all inhabited continents, has been achieved using only these basic elements. And improvements in building safety, usability and durability, as well as speed, efficiency and economy have, like the height of skyscrapers, been made possible not by astonishing leaps in materials science, but by incremental advances, subtle adjustments and improved understanding.