In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Concrete

  • Introduction
  • Surveys and Overviews
  • Theorization
  • Contemporary

Architecture Planning and Preservation Concrete
by
Matthew Worsnick
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0090

Introduction

From antiquity to the present, concrete has played important roles in the development of the built environment. At its most basic, concrete is a combination of aggregate and cement. The aggregate adds bulk and strength, and might be any coarse material but is most commonly stone of various levels of coarseness, from sand to large rock. The aggregate is bound together by cement, which becomes solid through chemical reaction. While a variety of cement compositions exist, the most common cement in architectural concrete, Portland cement, is made by combining, primarily, lime, silica, and aluminia compounds, which, when heated, react to form calcium silicates and calcium aluminates. When water is added to this mixture, a final series of chemical reactions and processes, called hydration, occurs, turning the liquid mixture into a permanent, cohesive solid. The manufacture of cement produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide, making it a major contributor to atmospheric carbonization and global warming. Concrete’s great architectural appeal lies in its slow change of state during construction. When first activated, concrete is a fluid that can fill the vessel into which it is poured or packed. Then, as it cures, it becomes a load-bearing solid. The result is a dense, stable architectural object that maintains the form of its temporary container. This plasticity enables the production of a wide spectrum of architectural components, from standardized, cost-efficient columns, beams, and panels, to unique, gymnastic forms. This, combined with its ability to simultaneously satisfy multiple fundamental architectural requirements—form, structure, mass, and enclosure, among others—makes concrete a desirable building material for architects, and an object of fascination (and, at times, loathing) by audiences of architecture. This bibliography on concrete reflects the inherently interdisciplinary nature of the study of materials as they contribute to the built environment. Writing on concrete spans a variety of disciplines, among them engineering, materials science, art history, cultural analysis, archaeology, anthropology, and architectural history and theory. The bibliography includes studies of architects, engineers, and buildings, of cities and empires, and of industries and social movements, as well as technical and theoretical considerations analyzing concrete itself.

Surveys and Overviews

A few studies offer overviews of architectural concrete; many of these also theorize the material. This is especially the case in Cohen and Moeller’s Liquid Stone (2006), which opens with a series of essays that provide an historical and theoretical overview of concrete as architectural medium and in Forty’s Concrete and Culture (2012) which presents a series of vignettes connecting the material to labor, memory, geopolitics, etc. Simonnet 2005 presents a thorough survey of the incremental emergence of reinforced concrete, centered on France. Aprea, et al. 2022 collages more than a dozen close studies of Swiss cases and perspectives to offer an alternate framing of modern architectural concrete than those that have predominated the discipline. Saint 1991 and Saint 2007 concisely take stock of the history and historiography of the architectural use of concrete. Bennett 2001, Croft 2004, and Atlas of Brutalist Architecture (2018) offer succinct case studies of a wide selection of concrete buildings that forefront drawings or photos. Raafat 1958 offers an engineering-inflected history of concrete architecture, and Condit 1982 dedicates nearly a third of this survey of American building to concrete. Sutherland, et al. 2001 combines nineteen mixed, topical chapters into a primer on historic modern uses of concrete, considering exclusively British cases. Courland’s Concrete Planet, a popular history, readably assembles commonly accepted and referenced stories of the material. Hitchcock and Johnson’s The International Style (1932) shaped narratives of modern architecture for decades, placing substantial focus on the character and potential of reinforced concrete.

  • Aprea, Salvatore, Nicola Navone, and Laurent Stalder. Concrete in Switzerland: Histories from the Recent Past. Lausanne, Switzerland: EPFL Press, 2022.

    This edited volume considers Swiss concrete architecture and architecture culture from the 19th century to the near-present, with its center of gravity in the mid-20th century. Subjects span from Herzog and deMeuron to motorway infrastructure to nuclear shelters. In presenting a different national centering than most similar studies, the volume challenges prevalent narratives of architectural concrete history. The final one hundred pages take the form of a “visual essay” by Sarah Nichols mirroring a concurrent exhibition at the Swiss Architecture Museum.

  • Bennett, David. Exploring Concrete Architecture: Tone, Texture, Form. Basel, Switzerland, and Boston: Birkhäuser, 2001.

    The author brings an architectural and civil engineering background to examining the late-20th-century resurgence of concrete as a medium for contemporary architecture. Presenting twenty-two projects from early design stages to the completed building, the book explores the ways that contemporary architects, including Norman Foster, David Chipperfield, Wilhelm Jan Neutelings, and Ben Van Berkel, have deployed the structural and material character of concrete to aesthetic, expressive, and programmatic ends.

  • Cohen, Jean-Louis, and Gerard Martin Moeller. Liquid Stone: New Architecture in Concrete. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

    This companion volume to an exhibition held at the National Building Museum uses the multiple voices of an edited volume to address the challenge of providing an overview of concrete without the need for univocality. In its first section, five essays by major thinkers theorize and historicize concrete. A second section presents recent projects grouped thematically, each introduced by a prominent scholar or practitioner. While this latter portion follows a standard exhibition catalogue format, the opening essays set it apart.

  • Condit, Carl W. American Building: Materials and Techniques from the First Colonial Settlements to the Present. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

    By Carl W. Condit, a polymath who from the 1950s to the 1990s produced multiple approachable volumes bridging the technical and expressive aspects of architecture. This book surveys American architecture through the lens of its structural systems. Organized chronologically by period, then within each period by building type and structural system, it includes four chapters devoted exclusively to concrete; the beginning of chapter 13 offers a well-balanced introduction to the history of concrete as building material. Originally published in 1968.

  • Croft, Catherine. Concrete Architecture. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2004.

    Written by a prominent figure in the cause of the conservation of British modern architecture, this volume’s introduction accessibly presents and defends the tradition of concrete as an architectural material, addressing a span from around 1850 to the near present. The body of the volume consists of nearly fifty contemporary case studies, well-illustrated and colloquially introduced. Cases are structured around four chapters: Home, Work, Play, and Landscape.

  • Forty, Adrian. Concrete and Culture: A Material History. London: Reaktion, 2012.

    A series of short-chapter meditations on different perspectives on the history and near-present of concrete in architecture. Topics include geopolitics, labor, memory, and photography. Like much of Forty’s writing, the volume is accessible to a general audience while also quite heady. Each chapter stands on its own as an exploration of some meta-understanding of the material, however the individual chapters do not seek to cohere into a single, larger argument.

  • Hitchcock, Henry Russell, and Philip Johnson. The International Style. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.

    This famous (and to many notorious) post-facto catalogue of a landmark early MoMA exhibition invented the category of “the international style” and played a significant role in polemicizing and codifying modern architecture. Read retrospectively and with an eye to material fetishes, one notices an almost magical significance placed on the roles and potential of reinforced concrete. Originally published 1932.

  • McLeod, Virginia, and Clare Churly, eds. Atlas of Brutalist Architecture. New York: Phaidon Press, 2018.

    An encyclopedic compendium of Brutalist architecture, broadly defined. Each entry receives a tightly-written description of the project as built, its current status, and at least one photograph. Photos, all monochrome, typically present a building’s characteristic aspects while also conveying the project as a whole. The tome opens with a brief introduction taking stock of the concept, history, and ambiguities of Brutalism. Also includes a brief glossary and a useful chronology. Projects are organized geographically.

  • Raafat, Aly Ahmed. Reinforced Concrete in Architecture. New York: Reinhold, 1958.

    Uses the exuberant and still-championed mid-century experiments in concrete architecture, along with earlier landmark designs, to explore the structural principles of reinforced concrete and their potential for expressive possibilities. In the process, Raafat also offers an engineering-oriented history of concrete architecture. Less explicitly polemical than most similar publications of the moment, and taken as an historical source, this can serve as a valuable counterpoint to such volumes as Nervi’s Aesthetics and Technology in Building and Collins’s Concrete: The Vision of a New Architecture.

  • Saint, Andrew. “Some Thoughts about the Architectural Use of Concrete.” AA Files 22 (Autumn 1991): 3–16.

    Continued: AA Files 21 (Spring 1991): 3–12. A two-installment essay calling for (and taking a first stab at) a stock taking and reconsideration of the historiography of concrete in architecture as it stood at the time. It is in practice a two-pronged effort seeking both to rectify a faulty historical understanding and to effect a shift in professional practice away from the then-trending sleek steel and “boyish” bolted together assemblies of Rodgers, Foster, and others Primarily oriented toward British discourse.

  • Saint, Andrew. “Concrete.” In Architect and Engineer: A Study in Sibling Rivalry. By Andrew Saint, 207–279. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

    This lengthy chapter provides a rich overview of the history of modern architectural concrete, spanning from the development of reinforced concrete in the late 19th century to early post–World War II. After presenting early developments in reinforced concrete, the bulk of the chapter considers a series of creators, typically famous figures and their overshadowed collaborators. Among them: the Perret family, Albert Kahn (and his collaborating brothers), Duiker and Wiebenga, Frank Lloyd Wright (and collaborator Paul Mueller), and Le Corbusier (with Bodiansky and others).

  • Simonnet, Cyrille. Le Béton, histoire d’un matériau: Économie, technique, architecture. Paris: Parenthèses, 2005.

    A detailed history of the emergence of architectural concrete in the modern era. Simonnet presents reinforced concrete as the result of scores of incremental innovations and refinements. Built around French narrative and examples. Includes a useful chronology and a thorough, heavily francophone bibliography.

  • Sutherland, R. J. M., Dawn Humm, and Mike Chrimes, eds., Historic Concrete: The Background to Appraisal. London: Thomas Telford, 2001.

    An excellent primer on historic modern uses of concrete. Composed of nineteen mixed, topical chapters, including “Prestressing,” “Concrete in Tunnels,” and “Concrete Shell Roofs 1945–60,” this volume tends toward the technical while remaining accessible (and engaging) to the non-specialist. Illustrations are exceptionally legible. The references and case-studies are almost exclusively centered on Britain, but most chapters are broadly applicable and of interest.

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