Decoration and Architecture in Concrete
Concrete is an extremely multifaceted material. Able to take any form, texture and colour to enhance the appearance of a building, concrete creates surfaces that can be made smooth, rough and in a range of colours. Often overlooked, concrete is one of the most dynamic and flexible building materials in architectural history.
Concrete is able to offer an array of building techniques, as it has done throughout history and continues to do in modern architecture. Architectural concrete has become one of the most significant means of design in modern architecture due to its versatility. It allows for extensive creative possibilities; polished, brushed, hammered or etched, poured and ground to create incredibly diverse architectural results.
What is Concrete Architecture?
Architectural concrete typically refers to concrete that is able to provide an aesthetic finish to a building alongside serving a reliable constructional process. In many cases, architectural concrete is a modern solution for economic and structural functions and civil engineering. Created to be permanently exposed, architectural concrete requires significant care with materials, placing and finishing to achieve various architectural finishes.
To create successful architectural concrete, it is extremely important for contractors and architects to provide the required waterproof and required structural performance while also maintaining a desired aesthetic finish. Specified characteristics such as texture and shape act as a primary function to achieve the expected appearance.
Designing and specifying the concrete used involves the mix design, possible admixtures, steel reinforcement, control joints and so much more. There are a plethora of treatment strategies to maintain the appearance of concrete architecture:
- Exposed Aggregate
A concrete mixture containing aggregates such as sand and/or stones is poured and later buffed to remove the top surface layer to expose the texture.
- Acid Etching
Allowing a reaction of hydrochloric acid solution with the concrete surface which is then rinsed off with water. The chemical reaction creates a textured surface and is typically used to allow pain to stick for a longer time.
- Bush Hammering
Using a high-impact machine, a bush hammer uniformly pits the surface. By repeatedly impacting the surface of the material, it creates a rough, weathered texture.
- Water Blasting
A high-pressure water jet is used to remove coatings without creating damage to the sound concrete underneath. Water blasting can create carvings and texture without injury.
- Concrete and Wood
Wood is typically used in detail and finished in addition to concrete rather than the main structure. Some of the most successful architects have created mixtures of traditional and western references by combining the two.
The design of concrete architecture, also known as formlining, allows for the creation of many concrete designs to be made possible. Formlining determines the surface character of the concrete and the design of the concrete surface.
The History of Concrete Architecture
Concrete is one of the most important and commonly used materials within construction. It has been used throughout history and is appreciated for its practicality and flexibility. From roads and bridges to concert halls, museums and stadiums, architectural concrete has become popular due to its variety of innovative forms of creation.
Over thousands of years, concrete has been improved, combined with other materials and made into what we know as modern concrete. Mortar-crushed, burned limestone, sand and water have been used throughout history to create buildings that still stand today.
Concrete Brutalist Architecture
From the mid-20th century, Brutalism was a design of concrete commonly used for institutional buildings. Brutalism came into popularity in the mid-1970s and has continued to be appreciated in concrete architecture. Brutalist buildings have a recognisable design quality that is renowned for being imposing and geometric. Known for its utilitarian style and harsh aesthetic, Brutalism derives from the French phrase Béton brut which translates to ‘raw concrete’.
The association of brutality is intertwined with the term due to Brutalist architecture being created and designed to reflect the influences of post-war problems and modernist ideals. By using a technique of large-scale poured concrete, Brutalist buildings are characterised by their rough, monolithic and block appearance.
Roman Concrete Architecture
The Ancient Roman’s creations were created with a mix of volcanic ash known as Pozzolana, lime and water to form a mortar. The volcanic ash used contains silica and alumina which created a chemical reaction which created Tobermite crystals within the cracks of the concrete. The process used by the Roman’s strengthens the created concrete and forms a rock-like concrete. The Pantheon Dome, created in 127 CE and still able to be seen in person today, is one of the Roman’s most famous concrete architectures built with this method.
Why is Architectural and Decorative Concrete So Popular?
In addition to concrete being a sustainable, strong and long-lasting building material, concrete is an incredibly versatile innovation available in various styles, colours and admixtures. Concrete is able to be stamped, to create the appearance of brick, cobblestone, river rock and even wood without additional cost, as well as being able to be hand-carved to mimic other authentic materials. Architectural concrete is a material that can permanently capture a look as well as withstand time and weather, ensuring that it can stand throughout history.
In the realm of cultural buildings, architects and project planners, architectural concrete is seen as a means of design. Through the design capabilities of fresh concrete, any shape and quality can be economically created for almost all construction tasks. Used worldwide and appreciated historically, no other building material can be used in such a versatile manner.
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To learn more about what concrete is made of and what makes it one of the best building materials for architecture, we explore the make-up installation process of concrete.