The Hard Stuff: Why Concrete is Still Best for Stunning Architecture

By Jay Merrick 
The Independent, June 26, 2015

The Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean in Marseille. Courtesy of The Independent(Image: The Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean in Marseille. Courtesy of The Independent)

Water, aggregate, cement. Mix them together, and you produce concrete – usually the most banal of building materials, not even as characterful or satisfying to touch as a well-fired brick. But when concrete is used by brilliant architects and engineers, the results are riveting. Even today, the world’s first iconic concrete structure, the unreinforced 43.4m dome of the Pantheon in Rome, completed in AD128, still seems breathtaking in its daring and beauty.

In the 21st century, software-generated algorithms and geometry often make the shaping and structuring of concrete as deliberately iconic as the vastly gloopy shell of Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku; or controversial, as in the sculpted ripples of Thomas Heatherwick’s contested Garden Bridge across the Thames. Read more…

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