As the availability of different building materials and the architectural understanding of those materials increase, we find ourselves in a world where we are faced with a vast number of options when building houses.
One of the materials that have had a resurgence in recent years and is arguably one of the most exciting and creative materials for building is that of concrete. This solid material not only offers a resilient product that contributes to building longevity, but it also allows great innovation due to its ability to be shaped and moulded in so many ways.
Concrete building: a history
When we think of concrete we may imagine a ‘concrete jungle’ a term often used to describe the vast blocks of concrete used to build some of our modern cities. This may make us believe that concrete is a relatively new invention, but this could not be further from the truth.
Although the origins of concrete are a little murky and generally depend on how you define the term. The Romans and ancient Greeks used similar materials to reinforce their buildings. However, this type of cement was different from that which we know and use today, with the main materials being lime and volcanic ash.
Modern ‘Portland cement’ was developed by John Smeaton in 1756, although this is often attributed to Joseph Aspdin who took out the patent on the material in 1824.
Since then the cement we use has developed, with builders combining Portland cement with water, sand, fine/coarse stone and chemicals to increase its beneficial properties. The way that we now use, shape and reinforce cement has meant we can use it for more and more applications. For example, the introduction of cement reinforcement mesh has meant concrete can take heavier loads and last longer.
Why build in concrete?
Durability is the undeniable king of reasons to use concrete for building homes. The level of resilience that concrete provides makes it the perfect option for a vast number of building projects. With more modern technologies such as the use of a252 concrete mesh, the durability of concrete increases drastically and can be applied to positions of greater stress.
Concrete also offers advantages in terms of insulation. The properties of concrete mean that when used, a substantial amount of energy can be transferred to the ground through its footings. This is especially beneficial in hotter countries, where stopping the spread of heat throughout a building is desirable.
When it comes to creating an innovative and beautiful home, concrete also offers the user the ability to be more creative with applications and shapes. Unlike bricks and timber, which are often limited in their shapes, concrete can take the form of curves and add a 3D feel to a building.
This creativity in concrete is more common in modern architecture, but can be traced back to the modernist movement designs such as those by Mies Van Der Rohe.
Are there downsides?
As with anything, there are drawbacks to using concrete in home design. The first and foremost is likely to be the cost implications. However, when you assess costs alongside longevity, the additional expense is often mitigated.
For many projects, concrete can offer a desirable, industrial look and feel. But for others, concrete may offer a heavy, colder look which may not be suitable for every building project.
Finally, using concrete can have an environmental impact, especially when it comes to demolition. However, again partnering this with the durability and longevity of the material means the building can be in use for longer, leading to less short term waste.
Clearly concrete offers a durable and diverse building material to work with. For those that choose to work with concrete, the possibilities are becoming increasingly endless. As we see further development in reinforcing concrete structures, we are likely to see more and more architects opting to work with this material.