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Plastic pipes

Nominated by architect Robert Adam.

UPVC plumbing has been one of the most significant changes in building construction.

It’s now used almost universally below and above ground instead of cast iron and clayware, which were heavy, cumbersome and breakable.

With plastic drainage components jointing is easy and instant; lead and mortar jointing are a thing of the past. The convenience of these products has led to its almost universal adoption. Ninety percent of the time it’s hidden or buried, and therefore is often unappreciated.

When it is seen, such as in plastic rainwater goods, the ability to shape, mould and colour the material means that it is often used as a replacement for traditional materials.

It’s not as robust as the original and it creaks in the sun, but the advantages are so great that it has revolutionised the plumbing trades. It comes into the category of practical rather than headline innovations. These unsung innovations are usually the most important.”

Robert Adam is director of the firm Robert Adam Architects, based in Winchester and London. The firm has an international reputation in progressive classical and traditional architecture and design. Projects include town and country houses, housing development, urban masterplans, commercial development and public buildings. Projects include the new Sackler Library in Oxford.