Love it or hate it, you have to admit that concrete is an immensely significant material. The material, which is made by mixing aggregates with a paste, is the second most used substance worldwide after water. Here are some of the many significant uses of concrete.
Parking Lots And Roads
Concrete is the perfect material for making parking lots and roads. Unlike tarmac, concrete is able to be prefabricated in slabs and blocks, which makes producing large surfaces relatively time efficient. Click here to see how parking lot paving slabs are used in the United States today. Parking lots have become part of the fabric of suburban American space. They dominate huge areas of land and alter the way in which we see public or semipublic city environments. Concrete slabs will play more of a part in your understanding of the town where you live than you might think.
When asked the question ‘what is concrete used for’, the vast majority of people will undoubtably jump straight to one answer – buildings. Buildings are by far the most visible use of concrete, and many styles of building rely almost entirely upon the material for their structural integrity and aesthetic appearance. There are far too many styles of concrete building to list in this article. Here are three of the most significant kinds of concrete building:
The ancient Romans were the first people to make widespread use of concrete in building. Perhaps the most famous example of roman concrete architecture comes in the form of the Pantheon Dome, which is a truly stunning piece of ancient architecture.
Brutalism and concrete go together like cheese and crackers. Brutalist design was popularized in the 1950s – with the term being coined by Alison and Peter Smithson in the United Kingdom. Brutalist buildings use start, blocky lines to create buildings that impose and impress using their overall shape. The term ‘brutalism’ is inexorably linked to concrete. It derives from the term ‘beton brut’, which literally translates from French into ‘raw concrete’. Concrete was considered a perfect material for designing buildings according to this new school of thought. Poured concrete especially allowed architects to create monolithic surfaces without the need for cladding. Concrete also patinates wonderfully, allowing buildings to evolve over time. Because concrete is often mixed using local materials, brutalist buildings in different areas of the world age in a completely different fashion.
Unfortunately, this patination was one of the reasons why brutalism went out of fashion in the eyes of the general public. Patinated buildings can have a rather disheveled (if beautiful) appearance, and this makes local councils and governments wary of investing in buildings that may change appearance unexpectedly. In architectural and heritage circles, concrete patination is highly prized as an indicator of ‘age value’ – displaying a building’s relationship with time and the environment in an overt fashion.
Concurrent with the emergence of brutalism was an extreme housing crisis in vast swathes of Europe. World War Two had decimated housing and left millions of people in poverty with no permanent habitable place to go. Pre-war slum housing was deemed to be unsanitary and lead to dead-end neighborhoods. Consequently, designers started thinking about how to create utopian social housing. Vast housing estates like Thamesmead in the United Kingdom were constructed around the concept of a social shared environment. The material of choice for the designers conjuring up these potential utopian communities? You guessed it – concrete.
In the vast majority of cases, these utopian social housing projects failed to create safe and community-oriented spaces. This was not necessarily to do with their design. The turn towards free market capitalist funding structures in the late 20th century meant that social housing was poorly funded all across Europe and the United States, which left many social housing projects completely bereft of money. They fell into disrepair, were never completed or did not contain the community-oriented amenities they were planned to have. There were some design faults. Tower blocks, for instance, tended to isolate individuals from their communities even though they packed them closer together.
Culverts And Sewers
Sewer networks are essential in modern cities. Before the introduction of underground sewer networks large cities were famously stench ridden and inhospitable. The city of London experienced the ‘great stink’, in which open sewage flowing through the river Thames was so pungent that parliament had to cease operations.
Underground sewers were initially made of bricks. Underground brickwork is incredibly labor intensive and subject to degradation that necessitates regular maintenance. Cities in the United States were among the first to incorporate concrete sewer pipes that required less maintenance. The first recorded American concrete sewer system was in Mohawk, New York and was installed in 1842.
Concrete is also the perfect material for the construction of culverts – drainage pipes that run underneath roads. Concrete culvert sections can be prefabricated off-site. This makes their installation relatively easy and cost effective.
Some of the most awe-inspiring concrete structures are the great hydroelectric dams holding back millions of cubic tons of water and producing vest quantities of energy all around the world. Although the Ancient Romans were known to use their concrete in the construction of dams, none of these remain. The first modern concrete dam was not constructed until over 1000 years after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Boyds Corner gravity dam, constructed in 1872, set the tone for all future large scale American dams. From then on, concrete became the material of choice for dam construction. Concrete dam building in the United States became incredibly ambitious in the 20th Century. The Hoover dam – constructed during the Great Depression in Nevada – took 5000 men 2 entire years to concrete. It was 60 percent higher and 2.5 times larger than any dam previously built. Concrete was the key to its success. Concrete is incredibly resistant to water damage and deals well with the extreme pressures experienced by materials in such vast structures.