From pavements to tunnels, and mighty dams, concrete forms a critical component of modern infrastructure development.
For those that don’t know much about construction, however – concrete may seem like a strange and fantastical substance.
Concrete is a product steeped in history, having formed the foundation of many diverse projects.
From the Roman Pantheon to the Hoover Dam, concrete has formed an essential part of construction – and over time, enhancements such as rebar and superplasticizers have helped make concrete an attractive partner in projects.
Let’s explore the history of concrete – from its humble foundations in ancient civilizations to the construction behemoth that we see today.
From simple construction to the more than six billion tons of concrete manufactured each year, let’s discover why it’s a material that never seems to dim in popularity.
Concrete – A History
You may find it difficult to believe, but concrete has been in use in construction for thousands of years.
As humanity sought to develop shelters that were sturdy and protected against the elements, ancient civilizations such as the Ancient Egyptians and Mayans experimented with mixing stone aggregate with different types of objects.
The end goal? Find an able material that may be suitable for construction – with the capacity to endure over time.
The result? Mixing an aggregate substance (for example, a mix of rocks and firm material) with a binding agent (known as cement) resulted in the creation of concrete.
Over time, the Ancient Egyptian and Mayan cultures refined their initial designs, discovering new techniques such as the underwater setting of concrete.
In recent centuries, concrete has been increasingly used in construction projects around the globe.
Modern concrete mixes utilized improved techniques, such as including additives or reinforced bars (rebar) to improve the strength and resiliency of structures using concrete.
Advancements In Concrete
Over time, there have been a number of substantial developments in the construction space.
Not even concrete could evade change over the millennia – as larger and more complicated structures were developed, new techniques and methods of making concrete were discovered.
For example, different materials have been developed alongside modern concrete.
One such use case is modern bitumen – by applying similar techniques with different materials, a form of specialized concrete known as asphalt.
To adapt to limited water supplies, products such as superplasticizers were discovered, allowing concreters to create resilient structures with significantly fewer amounts of water.
In addition, to adapt to the harsh environments that concrete may find itself in, supportive structures such as reinforced bars (rebar) found their way into projects that required additional support.
Uses For Concrete
Concrete has a broad use case across many elements of construction. Typically, it is used as a supporting element or a base for structures – whether that be the base of a modern home or the foundations of a skyscraper.
However, this is not the only use of modern concrete. In fact, it’s used in a wide range of areas – from its use material for railway sleepers to footpaths, to many more components that make up the physical environment that we live in today.
In fact, looking back, there are even some historical developments using concrete – such as the construction of iconic structures such as the Colosseum and the Parthenon.
The Future Of Concrete
The future of concrete is truly something to consider. While this may seem unbelievable, concrete is the second most used resource on Earth – in fact, concrete is used significantly more than other construction materials such as wood, metal, and plastics.
Where will the future take concrete, though? As climate change becomes more prevalent, it may be worth taking solace in the fact that we know rather little about ancient concrete.
Fascinatingly, research is still underway as to why some concrete structures, such as the Pantheon or the Colosseum, remain mostly intact, while the wooden structures of the era are long, long gone.
Researchers today are still discovering new information about historical concrete.
One recent discovery, the self-healing properties of some ancient concrete, led researchers to ask – what else don’t we know about concrete, and what does that mean for the future of modern construction?
In the meantime, as users of concrete, we can take a moment and sit back to marvel at the wonders of concrete – our modern construction masterpiece.