Concrete is one of the most ubiquitous building materials in the world. Almost every modern construction project incorporates concrete in some way, shape or form – from the most basic of domestic shed structures to the largest skyscraper builds.
Its ubiquity in modern construction is not unique, either; it has history, being a material that the Romans perfected in the times of Christ, and which has been found as far back as the seventh millennium BC. But why has it been such a popular material for millennia of human endeavour, and why does it remain such a popular material in today’s technologically-advanced world?
Firstly, concrete is an extremely durable material. Being effectively a stone aggregate, concrete enjoys similar durability to natural rock formations – it weathers slowly, and can withstand a wide variety of weather conditions, including significant variations in temperature. It withstands fire, and generally has a great deal of compressive strength; specific types of concrete can be engineered to bear supremely heavy loads without fracturing.
Concrete is also an incredibly versatile material, on account of its workability. Since concrete is mixed in a liquid state, and cured to hardness, it can be moulded in any number of ways and hence purposed for any number of use cases. Paving slabs for pathways and domestic patios are often concrete, having been formed from a mould.
Bespoke formworks can be constructed from plywood to enable the pouring of concrete into unique shapes, with structural and aesthetic benefits in kind. Concrete can also be varied significantly according to differing proportions of its constituent ingredients, and improved with the addition of admixtures.
Concrete’s durability and workability are key to its practicality in a variety of applications – but alone do not describe concrete’s popularity as a construction material. There are other materials with better tensile and ductile properties that could be used in concrete’s place, but these are often considerably more expensive. Concrete, between its simplicity of production and the abundance of its ingredients, is a cost-effective option for strength and stability.
Concrete can also be eminently sustainable as far as construction materials go; stone aggregate and cement can be sourced locally, minimising the CO2 emissions resulting from material transport. Concrete can also, in some cases, be recycled for future use – typically through repurposing rubble for shoreline groynes or rock wall erosion defences. Concrete is still a somewhat pollutive industry, but green principles are continuing to change it for the better.