It seems like modern technology is easier than ever to analyze and improve. In reality, almost every new innovation is the product of hard work, dedication, and outside-the-box thinking that took years to perfect. How we use concrete is no exception.
Civilizations across the world and throughout time have mastered the art of concrete construction and design. To fully appreciate how far we’ve come, let’s take a look at the greatest contributions in the history of concrete.
Ancient Syria and the Origins of Concrete
Around 6500 B.C. in what’s now southern Syria and northern Jordan, the ancient Nabataea traders were in search of a better way to build homes. They needed something that could withstand the harsh conditions of the desert, and what resulted was a dry mixture used for flooring and the overall home. Aka, the very first concrete.
Several thousand years later, the Nabataeans advanced their original design after discovering hydraulic lime, a lime variety that is set by hydration. This allowed them to harden cement underground, which eventually lead to the construction of underground cisterns that were necessary for survival.
Egypt, China, and the Wonders of the World
While Egypt and China are very far apart, they were both building wonders in 3000 B.C.
The ancient Egyptians built the pyramids to honor their pharaohs. How they built the pyramids is just as impressive. There were four main ingredients that went into each pyramid.
The mud and straw were mixed to form bricks while the gypsum and lime combined to form mortar. The Great Pyramid at Giza required around 500,000 tons of mortar, which combined with casing stones and Egyptian engineering prowess, helped built one of most spectacular early wonders our world has seen.
Meanwhile, in China, the now world-renowned Great Wall of China was being built to fend off invaders from the north. Just like the Egyptians, the Chinese took advantage of a special mortar mixture to build the Great Wall. Unlike the Egyptians, their mortar was bound with a stick rice mixture which wound up playing a major role in the Wall’s durability.
When in Rome, Build Like the Romans Do
When you study architecture, engineering, and construction ingenuity, “all roads lead to Rome.” The Roman Empire didn’t just utilize concrete, they made it the standard for all construction.
There have been volumes of books, essays, papers, and studies written on how the Romans used concrete. Here are some of the highlights:
- The Pantheon: Completed in 125AD, the Pantheon features the largest unreinforced dome ever built. The concrete dome has survived for thousands of years thanks to a blend of pozzolana cement (lime, volcanic sand, and water), a dense stone aggregate base, and equally sound exterior walls.
- The Colosseum: Built just a few years before the Pantheon in 80AD, the world’s most famous amphitheater has also survived the test of time thanks to concrete. Brick-faced concrete was included with travertine limestone, volcanic rock, and other materials to complete the massive structure that averaged about 65,000 spectators.
- The Roman Road Network: “All roads lead to Rome,” is a popular idiom because of their impressive road network. Thanks to an ingenious design and a stable pozzolana concrete mixture, their road system was known for solid drainage, straightness, and a stable foundation. In all, the Romans built 50,000 miles worth of concrete roads that went as far north as England and as far south as northern Africa.
Thanks to their pozzolana cement blend and cutting-edge engineering, Roman structures still stand today as a testament to their former power.
Portland, England and the Birth of Modern Concrete
In 1824, Joseph Aspdin created a new type of building material that was nothing short of revolutionary.
He burned finely ground chalk and clay in a kiln until the carbon dioxide was removed, naming the resulting cement mixture “Portland” after the similar-looking building stones in the town in England. Aspdin would improve his method by adding proportioned limestone and clay to the mixture which was then burned and ground into finished cement.
The final product was much more precise than previous cement mixes, paving the way for analysis and improvements in the years following Aspdin’s creation. Portland concrete would be studied, chemically analyzed, and strength tested from 1835 to 1850,evolving into its modern form in 1860 and gaining widespread popularity by 1880 thanks to Frenchman, Francois Coignet.
The American Way: Rising Heights, Long Stretches, and Decorative Finishes
The 20thcentury in the United States was a reincarnation of the Romans but on a much greater scale. Newfound power and a booming population required bigger, better infrastructure on a mass scale. It makes sense that concrete was a material of choice, but not even the Romans could have seen what was coming next.
Some of the best examples of innovative American concrete include:
- The Ingalls Building: Built in 1904, the Ingalls Building in Cincinnati, Ohio was the world’s first reinforced concrete skyscraper. This 16-story high-rise was cutting-edge for its time, and while most skyscrapers are now built using steel, other buildings that use reinforced concrete include 432 Park Avenue in New York City, the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai.
- The Hoover Dam: The Hoover Dam is one of America’s most famous infrastructure projects. The dam portion was built with 3,250,000 yards of concrete while another 1,110,000 yards were used for the power plant and other various structures. It still serves as a key power plant to this day, and it inspired similar projects like Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete structure in the US.
- The Interstate Highway System: The Interstate Highway System could easily be seen as the modern equivalent of theRoman road system. Built with asphalt concrete, this federally funded road network that began in the 1950s stretches up, down, and across the country for a total of 48,756 miles.
But while these concrete goliaths get most of the credit, one of the most underrated examples of American concrete comes from Monterrey, California. While the Interstate Highway System was in the beginning stages, Brad Bowman, an exposed aggregate concrete installer was designing his own revolutionary invention.
Bowman treated his concrete like a canvas, imprinting different patterns, colors, and texturesin a process he called “ornamented concrete.” Now known as the “Bomanite process” or “decorative concrete,” Bowman’s special process is seen in homes and businesses all over the US and the world at large.
The Future of Concrete
The power of concrete has changed the way our civilizations are built. As we head into the future, the next great innovations are starting to become apparent.
With modern, stylish decorations, a glass-fiber reinforced concrete(GRFC) composition that’s lighter, long-lasting, and environmentally friendly, Trueform Concrete is today’s answer to the projects of tomorrow. Want to learn more?