It's no secret that among the architecture profession's biggest sources of guilt is our reliance on concrete in a huge number of the buildings that we have a hand in creating. Architects are more likely than most to be aware of the environmental implications of the material, and yet we continue to use it at an alarming rate. But what alternatives are there in order to do our job? In an article for Forbes, Laurie Winkless runs down a list of three alternatives that stand a good chance of changing the face of concrete construction.
Concrete is one of the most widely innovated and improved upon building technologies in the world. With applications in both pre-fabrication and continuous pouring, the material has become a hot-bed for applications in fabrication techniques, from incredible, monolithic forms, to 3D-printing.
But behind all of the successes, there have been countless failures, including a well-intended innovation by famous American inventor Thomas Edison. Filed on August 13, 1908, Edison’s ill-fated patent was a home that could be built with a single pour of concrete, reports Slate. Although Thomas Edison had previous ventures in concrete, including a cement plant in Stewartsville, New Jersey, as well as several patented improvements in the cement-making process, his venture into concrete construction may have just been too ambitious.
“Concrete has the ability to be primitive and technological, massive and levitating, to combine the properties of steel with those of mud,” says Rowan Moore in his list of The 10 best concrete buildings created for The Guardian. Through examples spanning three continents, Moore unites old standbys with unexpected wonders, all of which show the varied possibilities inherent in mixing water, aggregate, and cement. In a list that incorporates examples from Classical times to the present, Moore establishes concrete’s unique ability to adapt to different times, styles, applications, and treatments.
Examples by Le Corbusier, Álvaro Siza, Lina Bo Bardi, and Marcel Breuer demonstrate that concrete is anything but workaday or utilitarian. Moore’s list affirms that a material simultaneously strong and light, durable, sustainable, and fire-resistant, can scarcely be considered anything short of miraculous. Of course, ten buildings can only provide an abridged version of concrete’s possibilities, and Moore cheekily apologizes for some of the obvious omissions. Check out the full list here.
Four Masters students from Bartlett School of Architecture - Francesca Camilleri, Nadia Doukhi, Alvaro Lopez Rodriguez and Roman Strukov - have developed a new method for 3D printing large-scale, self-supporting concrete structures. With their project Fossilised, the team, known as Amalgamma, combined two existing concrete 3D printing methods - the extrusion printing method and the powder printing method - to create a form of supported extrusion that allows for "more volumetric" concrete structures.
"The supported extrusion method has therefore presented the opportunity to design forms that are more varied and more volumetric, as opposed to the very straight vertical forms so far achieved in 3D concrete practice," says Amalgamma.
"All we need now are a new generation of Martian architects to design buildings made of Martian concrete that will be suitable structures for humans to live and work in," concludes the MIT Technology Review in their report on a new type of concrete designed for use on Mars.
Developed by scientists led by Lin Wan at Northwestern University, this "Martian concrete" is just one of many scientific developments that will be required for the increasingly popular goal of sending humans to, and eventually colonizing, the Red Planet (apparently the un-colonized Moon is already old hat - just ask Matt Damon).
One of the defining images of the 2014 Venice Biennale came from Rem Koolhaas' "Elements of Architecture" exhibition, where a section of a suspended false ceiling, replete with ducts and wiring, was dramatically juxtaposed with the soaring domed ceiling of the Giardini's central pavilion. The gesture was intended as a criticism of architecture's reduction to mere surface treatment - but to the makers of Holedeck, a structural system which recently won CTBUH's 2015 Tall Building Innovation Award, the sins of the typical concrete slab and suspended ceiling are much more far-reaching.
Holedeck's concrete slab system claims to use 55% less concrete than a standard concrete slab, making it significantly more environmentally friendly than standard concrete structures, while reducing the thickness of floor plates to allow a greater number of floors in tall buildings.
Designed by Félix Guyon of Les Ateliers Guyon in Verchères, Quebec, "Sails Benches" is a monument to the original founding families of Verchères, commissioned by the municipality. Having worked in Montreal for many years, Guyon returned to his native village for this personal project, which was selected as the winning design of the Furniture Category at the World Interiors Awards 2015 in London, "charming" the judges with the personal narrative and sensitivity of his Sail Benches, according to a press release. Read more about the project after the break.
“As space begins to be captured, enclosed, molded, and organized by the elements of mass and volume, architecture comes into being.”
With influential concrete buildings like Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, and Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light in mind, Mumbai-based Material Immaterial studio has created SPACES, a set of miniature concrete pieces. “Each piece is an individually complete space defined by volumes and voids,” offering the basis for users to imagine what could be lying inside.
Using an innovative method of casting concrete in lightweight fabric molds, the architects of Orkidstudio -- along with StructureMode -- teamed up with a group of Khmer women in Sihanoukville, Cambodia to rebuild a community centre in the city’s urban heart.
The construction technique was developed and tested by engineers from StructureMode using a combination of physical testing and computer analysis software, Oasys GSA Suite, to predict the stretch of a particular fabric when concrete is poured inside. Through three-dimensional sketches the seamstresses and building team could understand the construction sequence of the form, completing the entire project in just eight weeks.
Concrete has long had a close relationship with the earth; as the favorite material for the creation of building foundations, one of its most common uses is effectively as a more reliable replacement for soil. In the twentieth century, concrete’s ability to transform our interaction with the ground was taken to the next step. As architects and engineers explored the opportunities offered by a combination of reinforced concrete and the modernist mindset, multiple attempts were made to replace the ground in a more dramatic way: by creating a new ground, separated from the earth itself. Most widespread among these plans was the engineer’s elevated highway which emerged worldwide, and the most relevant to architects the “streets in the sky” embodied by developments such as the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens. Newcastle-upon-Tyne offers a city-wide example of this theory, embarking on an ambitious plan to become the “Brasilia of the North” by creating an elevated network of pedestrian routes entirely separated from the automobiles below - though the project was abandoned in the 1970s with only small sections implemented.
After Modernism’s dramatic fall from grace in the 1970s and 80s, this project to reinterpret the ground with concrete was largely forgotten. Of course architects still used concrete in their designs, but they were content with a purely traditional relationship to the ground: their buildings were discrete entities which sat upon the earth, and nothing more. However, as explored at length in Stan Allen and Marc McQuade’s 2011 book Landform Building: Architecture's New Terrain, recent years have shown architects willing to work upon the ground once again, in new and exciting ways. In the years since Landform Building’s publication, this trend has only intensified, as demonstrated by the following three projects.
Long touted for its strength and versatility, concrete has had an integral role in construction and design as far back as the Roman times. And in recent years, concrete’s potential has reached new heights, with many companies developing innovative uses and applications for the material, ranging from concrete reinforced with bamboo to ultra-porous concrete and concrete cloth.
Held annually, the CEMEX Building Awards recognize architecture and construction projects from around the world that use concrete technologies in creative and innovative ways, with a focus on sustainable design and social well-being. We spoke with three of the architecture firms behind winning designs of the 2014 CEMEX Building Awards to see how concrete influenced their design and why they believe concrete to be an important construction material.
DITTEL | ARCHITEKTEN GmbH has created Pop Up Box, a convertible retail space located in a shopping center in Stuttgart, Germany. With its cube design, the Box serves as a self-contained, customizable presentation area, where retailers can move three of the four pieces to create his or her own sales space.
By day, the concrete facade of APG Architecture and Planning Group's latest project, the Al Aziz Mosque in Abu Dhabi, features protruding elements of Arabic script spelling out the 99 names of God from the Quran. By night though, the 515 square meter facade is transformed, as the concrete script lights up in the darkness. The effect is made possible thanks to the translucent concrete paneling system provided by German-based manufacturer LUCEM.
Perhaps the only material on the architectural market known for its "thirst," ultra-porous concrete is being hailed as the future of urban water runoff management for warm climates. The emerging material reached mainstream popularity in recent weeks thanks to a viral video depicting an apparently ordinary car park absorbing an inordinate amount of water; 1.2 million views later, the video has ignited debate on viability and possible uses for water-absorbent concrete.
Ultra-porous concrete is gaining a foothold thanks to extensive research being conducted by architects and engineers around the world. Known for its rainy climate, daring use of innovative materials and unorthodox architecture, it comes as no surprise that the Dutch city of Rotterdam has embraced water-absorbent concrete for testing.
New York City is replacing one of its 40 salt sheds on the Gansevoort Peninsula with a new, origami-like structure by Dattner Architects at Canal St/West St, along the Hudson River. Once completed, the shed will rise almost 70 feet tall and hold over 4,000 tons of salt in its six-foot thick concrete walls. In response to the complaints leveled against the Sanitation Garage across Spring Street from the new salt shed, Dattner Architects deliberately created a monolithic, crystalline form to contrast the scrim-like façade of its neighbour.
Danish practice aarhus arkitekterne has won a competition to design the new Proton Therapy Centre for advanced cancer treatment in Aarhus, Denmark. As “the most advanced radiation center to date and the only one of its kind in Denmark,” as well as one of only a few in the world, the Centre will undoubtedly become a pioneer in cancer treatment.
Designed from the inside out, the building’s façades are meant to convey the function of the interior, “and tell the story of precision, which is they key component of proton therapy as a form of treatment,” according to the architects. Thus, the atrium of the building becomes central to its orientation, providing not only an axis, but also a source of natural lighting.
Concrete blocks. Ever since manufacturers developed techniques to make them cheaper than traditional clay-fired bricks, concrete blocks have been one of our most ubiquitous construction materials. However, this ubiquity comes at a price: worldwide, the production of concrete accounts for around 5% of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions, and concrete blocks (as opposed to in-situ concrete or concrete panels) contributes a significant portion of these emissions.
To curb these runaway carbon emissions, a California-based company called Watershed Materials is developing alternatives to the traditional concrete block which uses less cement, dramatically reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced; they even have a product in the works which they hope will offer a widely applicable concrete block alternative which uses no cement at all.
Images of Souto Moura Arquitectos' first US project has emerged. Aimed to replace a former gas station at 2715 Pennsylvanian Avenue NW in Washington DC, the five-story red brick and concrete building will feature a ground floor restaurant and eight 2,000-square-foot apartment units with balconies, a gym and penthouse terrace.
As BizJournals reports, the proposal is being pitched by EastBanc Inc. as the new "entrance to Georgetown." The Portuguese architect chose red brick "because it seems to be the most appropriate for this part of the city."