Architectural Concrete

Exterior of Chancellor HouseArchitectural concrete is precast or cast-in-place concrete which will be permanently exposed to view in a building. When using it as a construction technique, special care is needed in selecting the concrete materials, method of forming, location and finishing, to achieve the required architectural appearance.

Because controlling the good finish is so important, there are many technical documents available to home builders, concrete contractors and architects, both online and off, specifying the proper methods and materials.

Many of the applications of architectural concrete serve structural as well as decorative purpose, such as exterior walls, bridge parapets and street curbs. Typically, white Portland cement is used in the concrete mix, along with aggregates, admixtures, water and often, special color pigments.

Interior of Villa Savoye (Corbusier)Concrete is, of course, one of the most popular and durable of construction materials and if you look carefully you’ll see a surprising amount of architectural concrete around your home. This could be something as simple as a planter or trough in a civic area, the balustrade on a stairway at a station, an artistic frontage to a building or even something like a polished concrete floor.

Anything where concrete has been especially designed and prepared to deliberately adorn something can be considered to be architectural concrete, whether or not it is also serving a structural purpose. So, the following are just some of the many ideas for how a DIY/home enthusiast could incorporate architectural concrete in and around their own home.

Outside the Home

As mentioned above one of the commonest pieces of architectural concrete you’ll see and be aware of is as planters and troughs. These would not typically be the size of something you could easily buy a regular plant pot or trough for, but will be for larger plantings and coverage. For example, the structural integrity of concrete makes it ideal for making a thin saucer shaped planter two, three or more meters wide.

It will be strong enough to take the weight of the earth needed for the plants, can easily have irrigation and drainage added to it and could even be sat on a concrete pedestal. This would make an eye-catching piece of architectural concrete that simply wouldn’t work in terracotta.

Alternatively you might just have a concrete bench in your garden. If you have a brick wall in your garden then buying architecturally designed concrete coping stones for the walls and capping stones for the pillars, will add that edge of style and opulence to something that is otherwise mundane looking.

Even if you haven’t got a brick wall, but are installing or replacing a fence, rather than using wooden posts why not add a touch of style and use architectural concrete posts?

If you’re considering cladding your home then again an architectural concrete faux stone can provide exactly the look and finish you desire. Although not suitable for all properties you can also have concrete window surrounds fitted, architecturally designed to give your home the look of a substantial building from bygone eras.

Inside the Home

The two commonest uses of architectural concrete in the home are for floors and countertops. It might sound strange using concrete for a countertop - but we’re not talking about the sort of concrete finish you might see on your drive. They’ve been being installed in homes for over 10 years now and, once the sole preserve of the DIY enthusiast, even the big national home fitting companies are starting to offer them.

Concrete countertops are made by a combination of the aggregate materials used to mix the concrete and the skill of the installer with a hard steel trowel to produce an immaculate surface finish that can then be sealed. The process is much the same for a polished concrete floor.

Again, with a polished concrete floor, don’t think of this as being something you need to cover with laminate or carpet; it will be finished to a polished perfection and look and feel almost like a continuous sheet of marble.

A polished concrete floor or counter top can have various inlays added to it. Whilst a countertop can look good with mosaic tile inlays a polished concrete floor with fossil inlays can be truly fascinating. Finally, and again if your property is suitably constructed, having a concrete staircase installed can allow you to have both a staircase that might not only be located in an unusual position, but can also be designed in an unconventional way.

Photos by Brian, Creative Commons Attribution License