Concrete – The Versatile Building Material

Often talked about as one of the most versatile and cutting edge building materials to be ever invented, Concrete is an architect’s ultimate dream material. The raw and seamless finish of Concrete, it’s fine bold form and the overall cutting edge impression, make it desirable as a modern-day building material. Also referred to as liquid stone, due to the stone textured concrete finish it emulates upon setting, the material is revered for its finesse, flexibility and its ability to create varied architectural forms, like no other building material.

All About Concrete

So what exactly is concrete? In simple terms, it is a hybrid material that is essentially in its liquid state is composed of cement, water, sand and mineral aggregates in varying proportions that has no inherent form. Much like any other liquid, it takes the shape of the mould into which it is poured. This gives architects and designers the freedom to adapt it to innumerable architectural applications and makes the material widely usable. In fact, this very property of concrete, in addition to the crude concrete texture, has allured product designers and furniture designers to make bespoke handcrafted objects that are used in our day to day life.

Image of a furniture piece designed using textured concrete finish
Concrete finished furniture piece

Despite the contemporary appeal that concrete texture finishes have, it is not entirely new material for civilization and has been used historically since 3000BC. The Romans developed its use in construction and laid a concrete foundation for the Colosseum, the remains of which are around even today, proving it to be a durable and long-lasting building material. Regardless of its strength, post the decline of the Roman Empire, the knowledge of concrete construction was lost to humanity for almost 1500 years use before being rediscovered in the late 18th-century.

Image of an interior designed using textured concrete finish
Rustomjee Showflat – Shutters finished using Evolve’s range of Concrete Finishes. Designed by Sachin Chavan of ABM Architects

What Makes Concrete So Desirable?

So what it is about concrete that makes it not only relevant but the most widely used building material even in today’s day and age? Perhaps most fundamental is its ability to be moulded into desired forms. It can be cast on-site as well as precast off-site in a remote factory somewhere and transported to the site. Another contributing factor for the material to be cherished by the architectural and design community is the robust and elegant, final finish of the concrete. The material also has the added advantage of being a monolith and allows for seamless continuity of form. In addition, it is also highly durable, economic, fire-resistant, and has a heat-retaining capacity.

Image of a living room wall designed using textured concrete finish
Concrete finished seamless living room wall

The natural grey colour of concrete is definitely mesmerising and enticing, but the material is not limited by it. The possibilities of adding some colours and textures have been explored a lot over the years by either mixing coloured aggregates or by staining. This was first attempted by using organic and inorganic pigments, ground natural stone, consciously chosen coarse aggregates, and also a new technique called metallisation wherein the colour of hardened concrete is allowed to change by applying metal salts on its surface.

Over the years, concrete has been used extensively in various allied industries and not just as a material for construction. The applications and uses of concrete are witnessed at different scales, ranging from a small object to surface finishing material to building highways. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which this material is used. 

1. Concrete In Architecture

Considering its beautiful aesthetics, the temptation to create a complete shell of concrete, that exemplifies the structures’ character is immense. Master architects like Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer are pioneers of modern concrete architecture, who vastly explored concrete as a building material to create free-flowing and curvy structures with great sophistication. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright constructed textile block houses made from patterned and perforated concrete blocks. They even explored the possibility of exposing the raw concrete as the final finish in its tangible form. This set the trend for what is known as form finish concrete. 

Image of exterior walls designed using textured concrete finish
Image Source: Pinterest

2. Concrete Façade Panels

Perhaps one of the most eye-catching progressions in the changing nature of the concrete industry has been in its aesthetic qualities, making it an ideal choice for building facades. The advent of coloured concrete textures has widened the horizons and possibilities for the material ten folds. Playing with concrete facades has become relatively easy with the evolution of technology and surface engineering methods. Precast concrete façade panels give architects the free reign to freely explore as they are available in various different forms, colours and textures. Additionally, the discovery that coating of concrete in titanium oxide renders concrete self-cleaning, has opened opportunities for low-maintenance facades.

Image of an entrance designed using textured concrete finish
Concrete finished entryway by Evolve India

3. Concrete Floors

For a long time, the concrete floor has been a palpable choice as the flooring material for industrial buildings owing to its hardiness and the ability to withstand substantial loading. But in recent times, the raw earthy finish of concrete has been extended beyond that and has been reckoned as a feasible alternative in laying polished concrete floors of modern homes and offices. There is a wide selection to choose from as it can be stained in multiple colours, enhanced by various polishes and its look can be altered by etching with striking stones or metal inlays. Apart from the advantages of its aesthetics, it is also easier to lay this flooring.

Concrete – The Versatile Building Material
Image Source: Pinterest

4. Concrete Finished Panels 

Over the years, unique surface texture finishes have been materialized that use concrete as the base material and play with its colour and texture, keeping intact the aesthetic sensibilities of the raw material. Some outstanding decorative finishes are available in the market today like concrete trowel finish, sprayable concrete finish, so on and so forth. The concrete texture finishes exemplify grace and plushness, whether used in an interior context or exterior and add a certain charisma to the look and feel of a building.

Image of a living room wall designed using textured concrete finished panels
Living room wall designed using textured concrete panels

5. Concrete Door Skins

Breaking the barriers of traditional and limited use of concrete, it is now also being used to design distinctive doorways. Concrete finished door skins are not only durable but are also a great way to create a memorable first impression on your guests. One might think that these doors will be too heavy and almost impossible to use. But, with the advent of textured concrete finishes, we can now design extremely lightweight door skins that amp up the look of your entrances while also making them user-friendly. These door skins can be easily installed using regular adhesives and are also hard to distinguish from the original body of the door. If you are looking forward to adding a natural classy look to your entryways, then concrete door skins are the ideal solution for you.

Image of a door skin designed using decorative concrete finish
Concrete finished door skin by Evolve India

6. Concrete Furniture

While concrete as a building material or as a surface texture finish is the most widely used and the most perceivable, the micro use of concrete in interiors as well as outdoors is a trend that is slowly gaining popularity. The state of the art look and earthy tone of concrete, as well as its ability to be moulded into groovy forms, make it really favourable material to finish furniture pieces like chairs and tabletops. The material also has a seamless appearance and is low maintenance, making it a great material to mould into bathtubs, washbasins and even doors.

Image of a furniture piece designed using decorative concrete finish
Concrete finished furniture piece by Evolve India

7. Concrete Decoware

After furniture, a new class of product designers have taken the use of concrete even further, using it to make decorative objects for the home and office. Concrete wall art sculptures and artefacts, concrete planters, concrete clocks and even concrete holders and pen stands have become really popular. A Norwegian UK based designer Magnus Petterssen has innovated an entire set of concrete desk accessories with rounded edges and a smooth finish. Although a dense material, it has a soft and delicate appeal to it, that entices designers to use it for making smaller daily use products.

Image of a sculpture designed using decorative concrete finish
Concrete finished sculpture by Evolve India

8. Concrete Lights And Fire Places

Concrete is inherently fire resistant and heat resistant making it ideal as a fireplace. Apart from being functionally apt, a concrete fireplace adds a unique undertone to the interiors of a space. Since the material has a good heat-retaining capacity, it is widely used for making surface mounted or pendant lights. Even table lamps and night lamps are being made in a concrete base. Concrete light is a perfect fusion of modernity and industrial-chic that can be a beautiful focal point of attention to your interiors. 

Image of a fireplace designed using decorative concrete finish
Image Source: Pinterest

9. Concrete For Sound Barrier Partitions

Concrete is well known to have acoustic properties ever since Thomas Edison experimented with a concrete piano. Due to its high-density, concrete has advantages over other lightweight construction materials in various aspects of acoustic performance, like reducing airborne noise transmission and reducing noise from external sources. This makes it a suitable material for concrete barriers along highways or partitions providing sound separation between adjoining rooms.

Image of a partition wall designed using decorative concrete finish
Image Source: Pinterest

10. Concrete Sanitaryware

Previously when people heard of  “concrete sanitaryware,” they often thought that these pieces would be extremely and ugly made only to be placed in cheap hotels. But we are now realizing that modern concrete sanitaryware can be just as elegant and durable as other sanitaryware materials. This is so because concrete is one such material which has the potential of lasting for even a thousand years, the ancient Roman structures are a great example of that. It can also be repaired and refinished more easily and more quickly than some materials. Concrete can also take on any shape, colour, texture or designs thus adding a high aesthetic value to any object you design using this. Its high versatility is what makes it a favorite of the designers and the customers alike. 

Image of a bathtub designed using decorative concrete finish
Image Source: Pinterest

11. Concrete Pavements

Concrete pavements are completely customizable and are a great alternative to traditional building materials like stone, wood or tiles. It gives you a limitless choice of colours, textures, patterns and finishes from which you can then choose depending on your requirements. Besides, concrete pavements are much more durable, sustainable and easy to maintain and also give you a rich elegant look like none other. These pavements also do not undergo much wear and tear, thus saving you the cost of refurbishing from time to time. With various design options like broom finish, trowel finish, stamped concrete and much more, concrete is one such material which is sure to meet up to every demand of any designing theme.

Image of a pavement designed using stamped concrete finish
Image Source: Pinterest

The Environment And Concrete

Concrete is the second most widely consumed component on earth, after water and the concrete industry is in turn heavily dependent on the cement industry. Making cement produces high levels of Carbon dioxide which leads to global warming. The increasing use of concrete has, therefore, had a tremendous impact on the environment. In recent times, it has also been discovered that sand which is another important ingredient for making concrete, is also depleting. Emerging problems have prompted an exploration of the possibilities of concrete to find innovative solutions.

Research-driven by concerns for sustainability and environment, as well as a timeless desire to seek purely aesthetic enhancement, has led concrete in some surprising directions. In the 1990s a bunch of researchers in Japan created a concrete block containing photocatalytic compounds that captured and dissipated urban pollution. Some manufacturers have tapped into the potential of concrete to retain heat and developed a paving slab for generating electricity through the action of repeated footfall. The more traditional way of making concrete has also found a new reputation.

The Eco-Friendly Way Of Obtaining Concrete

In the 19th century, instead of using stone aggregates, concrete was made using recycled material like crushed bricks and coke breeze or even oyster shells and broken crockery in some instances. Furthermore, certain materials that had been through the firing process were believed to enhance concrete’s fire-resisting properties. In recent times, waste from demolition sites and industrial processes, such as glass production, has been imbibed with vigour and widely promoted as one of concrete’s ‘green’ credentials.

At this point, innovations pave the way to the future and today’s advancements will eventually become tomorrow’s tradition. Owing to the aesthetics and versatility of the material some really creative uses of concrete have emerged as the material adapts to meet the challenges of the future. Concrete continues to pose freedom to designers and demonstrate such adaptability that its applications appear unrelenting and never-ending.

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