Concrete has been bringing striking and attractive designs to life for thousands of years. What does a concrete building look like? It’s impossible to say when concrete’s potential is so vast and varied. Different colours, textures and shapes are constantly proving that this ‘grey’ material is anything but.
The Romans were among the first to realise what could be achieved using concrete. For example, the Pantheon in Rome, constructed in 126AD is not only breathtakingly beautiful but a staggering feat of engineering. Its 4,535-tonne rotunda is still the world’s largest unsupported concrete dome.
However, concrete isn’t a material of the past. Since its invention thousands of years ago, innovation and ingenuity have continued to grow its potential with new types of concrete and new applications.
Light weight, ultra-thin and high compressive strength concretes are just some of the exciting innovations allowing architects and engineers to fulfil society’s needs and deliver designs with cultural, social and economic significance.
From super sewers and water treatment plants to long-span bridges, concrete enables the development of infrastructure that is both visually stunning and vital for serving the needs of our society.
Concrete grand designs go beyond architectural elegance, making use of the materials’ high performance characteristics including durability, fire resistance and energy efficiency. While aesthetics will always be subjective, these benefits are independently verifiable.
Moreover, it’s relative ease of use, low cost and readily available components mean that concrete is an accessible material that practically anybody can use for simple projects. This makes it a particularly valuable resource for improving living conditions in the developing world.
How? Dirt floors allow parasites and diseases to thrive, causing health issues and sickness that means missed school and working days. A simple concrete floor is easier to clean and can prevent disease. That’s why economists have observed a direct link between the use of ready-mixed concrete in houses and improved children’s test scores.
Image courtesy of Steven Holl Architects, ©Richard Barn