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My top 5 Concrete Creations from around the world

Concrete Creations from around the world
Before you read on, I want to make one thing clear.  I appreciate all types of construction material when it comes to architecture and design, not just creations made from concrete.  However nowadays, you rarely hear about outstanding concrete creations on an enormous scale.  This got me thinking.   In many of the skylines across the world , I see building exteriors dominated by glass. What is most noteworthy however, is that concrete plays an integral part in these modern structures.  Despite concrete’s endless possibilities, it is rarely celebrated and tends to get overlooked. Furthermore, when I look at modern architecture and design today it is mainly about glass.  I wonder when concrete may have another revival.  Surely, we are due one…?

Recently a colleague of mine returned from Singapore.  She described it as ‘incredibly modern, futuristic and clean’. First and foremost it is a metropolis and growing at an intensely fast pace.  It is however generously peppered with old Colonial architecture and its history is well protected and preserved. In addition there are new buildings sprouting everywhere, much to the annoyance of residents in high rise condos. Furthermore, if a building is deemed ‘old’ by Singapore standards (that is about 20 years), it’s quite likely to be pulled down and replaced.

Inspired by my colleague’s visit, I felt compelled to celebrate concrete structures from around the world.  There are so many and with such interesting stories behind their creation. In my last blog I mentioned some, but here’s my personal top 5 favourites:

1. The Pantheon, Rome, Italy

I have to start with The Pantheon.  You’ve got to hand it to the Romans.  If you have ever been to Rome and seen this magnificent structure, you will appreciate how skilled the Romans were when it came to concrete creations. I struggle to think of today’s modern structures that compare to the intricate designs of the Romans (and they didn’t have cutting edge 3-D technology at their disposal!). The concrete dome is supported by 25ft thick walls and is the world’s largest dome made of unreinforced concrete. If you ever have the chance to visit Rome, this is a must see!

2. The Hoover Dam, Arizona, USA

This dam was described as a ‘hydraulic engineering triumph’ and was named after America’s 31st President, Herbert Hoover.   It took 5 years to complete (in 1936) and cost approx. $49m.  About 100 men died in the process of making it, but it bought together immigrants, white and blue-collar workers and industries. As a result, everyone had a shared goal which is also why I felt this had to be in my top 5.  The concrete used to build the dam arrived in buckets 7ft high by almost 7ft in diameter. It is the highest concrete dam in the western hemisphere rising at 726.4 feet above the Colorado River. Its purpose is to control flooding, irrigation, drinking water and electricity. To see this ‘in the flesh’ would be quite something.  It’s on my bucket list.

3. The Centennial Hall, Wroclaw, Poland

This building hits my top 5 for its representation of modern engineering, technology solutions, innovation and architecture for its time. At the time of its construction, between 1911-1913, the ribbed dome within Centennial Hall, was the largest ever reinforced concrete dome in the world.  It was a turning point in the history of modern architectural design. Architect, Max Berg, created this building in response to emerging social and recreational needs. The technology of the space allowed it to be used as an exhibition hall, a sports venue and as an auditorium for theatre.

4. The Portuguese National Pavilion, Lisbon, Portugal

The 20cm thick concrete slab that drapes so gracefully, like a piece of silk, is a masterclass and inspiration for my own concrete designs. Steel cables support the fixed canopy which naturally hangs between two porticoes. The architect behind the structure, Alvaro Siza, wanted to create something that was simple in beauty, but complex in design.   The subtleties, such as the 14m tall porticoes supporting the concrete canopy, are only really appreciated once you get up close. It literally makes quite an entrance as an architectural centrepiece for the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition. Breathtaking.

5. Chiaki Arai’s Niigata City Cultural Centre, Niigata City, Japan

I chose this stunning structure as my final favourite for 2 reasons. One, it is recent, completed in 2013 and shows off all of concrete’s versatility off with such style. Two, architect Chiaki Arai ‘thought it would be fun’ to make a performance hall out of concrete. That, I love! In 2015, this structure won the World Architecture News (WAN), Concrete in Architecture Award. The reasons were exactly why concrete should be celebrated. Versatility.   If I ever go on to build a concrete house on a plot of land, this would be my inspiration.

In conclusion…
I hope that in the years to come, new concrete creations get the recognition and appreciation it deserves, given its rich history.  Concrete is so versatile.  Using it as a feature in architectural and interior design projects is becoming more and more common.  This makes me happy. A lot of my own inspirations comes from what has been created historically.

What will be the icing on the cake is when the next Hoover Dam or Pantheon is created.  And celebrated.

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