Some of the ancient structures in Rome are testimony to the fact that concrete and cement existed in the past as building materials; today they are amongst the newest and the most innovative ones as well. This alone tells us of the immense versatility of concrete, a quality that just keeps evolving with time.
Not surprisingly it is this 'flowing with time' attribute of concrete that has often led it to be called 'liquid concrete'. This description says as much about its adaptability to construction processes over time as much as about its 'formlessness' when it comes to being moulded in to different shapes like none other.
The construction sector offers a wide variety in building types and each material has its own special use. Yet all fall short in terms of versatility. For example, asphalt is perfect for paving but not of much use elsewhere. So is the case with timber, glass and clay – in spite of modern techniques that put them to many more uses than ever before, they still cannot be compared to concrete. Steel is perhaps concrete's closest rival and is being put to multiple uses in construction; from doors to frames, to pillars, to furniture to floors to roofs and more.
So what makes concrete so 'formless' that it can be poured in to most visions that engineering imaginations can evoke? To begin with, unlike its rivals, it can be shaped into the required dimensions on site as well as in the factory. All other products – iron, glass, steel and the like need to be shaped in exclusive studios – in a kiln or in a glass factory and then brought to the site to be fitted. Asphalt, on the other hand, can be fitted only on site. Next is composition; a wide variety of results can be achieved by mixing various things with concrete and even by varying the proportions. What's more, the end result can even be embellished with a range of surface treatments for greater impact. Apart from these two main inherent qualities of cement, here are few more interesting ones:
Adhesion or the power to stick. This allows concrete to be used continuously in layers if required and also to combine with other materials.
Plasticity, which enables cement to be in various states of liquidity – from a flowable slurry to a nearly solid mix, a stage before complete solidity. This is an interesting feature because it allows an engineer the flexibility to work around production and placement processes. For instance, rigid concrete can be tipped down into place, a slightly flowable consistency can be sprayed or pumped.
Compressive strength, which allows it to be one of the favourite components in foundation materials.
Weight; concrete is heavy since it is made of crushed rocks and stones and this weight is often desirable in providing a barrier to movement – like when constructing for coastal defense and river embankments.
Toughness and impact-resistance is a powerful advantage to have on your side when resistance against rough treatment, impact and physical damage – in the instances of explosives and natural disasters - is required.
Massiveness, a combination of weight, strength and versatility in use, add to cement's monolithic nature. It is easy to imagine it being a part of colossal structures and monumental construction projects.
A design ode to open-air pavilions of traditional Indian architecture and the peacock design of the logo, the concrete canopy that spans the Mumbai international airport is a piece of inspired art. In another corner of the world, graphic concrete transforms the drab facades of the Espoo Hospital in Finland into spaces of positivism. Foster + Partners erected a new city hall in Buenos Aires that sports an extraordinary undulating concrete roof and various sustainable features including chilled beams, natural ventilation and concrete elements – all of which increase the building's energy-efficiency and make it eligible for the prestigious a LEED Silver Certification. Worldwide there are many more such testimonies to the 'liquid form' of concrete, each as wondrous as the next.
Image sources: http://inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2015/04/Buenos-Aires-
Indeed, formlessness or fluidity of this form of concrete is a cutting-edge definition of concrete. At one end of this spectrum of versatility, concrete is often used to fill up out-of-sight voids, an interesting example of which is 'tree dentistry', where for years concrete was laid in arboreal circles for filling hollow trunks and repairing damaged branches. On the other, it is used in sculpture, where more than structure, shape is of paramount importance. In fact the world's tallest freestanding concrete statue is in Stalingrad: a depiction of 'motherland', this sword-wielding woman stands over 80m tall, an equivalent of a 30-storey building!
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World's tallest freestanding concrete statue Image sources: http://www.giganticstatues.com/the-motherland-calls/
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