My professional blogspective on the latest green building trends, world-changing construction technologies and everything net-zero. The views expressed on this blog are my personal opinions. I look forward to reading your own opinions, feedback and questions.
I like concrete and I also like mud. However, the two are not synonymous. Concrete is an amazing construction material, so seemingly simple in its core composition yet unlimited in possibilities. Concrete is used more than any other man-made material in the world, and has legacy structures which date back to the times of the Roman Empire. While concrete is commonly thought of as a structural workhorse, it can also take on color, texture, patterns and shapes which make it an elegant solution for material durability, aesthetics and efficiency.
Sloppy concrete patch job
And then, there is mud. Mud is what happens in much of the industry, when a few sacks of mix are thrown together with water and slapped onto a surface – see steps repair. Now I do understand that this is purely a utilitarian function, but surely it would have been possible to make a mix which was a bit better color matched – since this was for repairs all over campus. Or at least not slop it over onto the metal stair nosing. More expensive? Maybe to test out the first batch, but so was the cost of labor for the other two guys on the one man job.
Last week, I attended a seminar in the architecture school about the Swiss architects Christ & Gantenbein. Their projects are a veritable portfolio of possibilities with concrete. Using the material almost like a paper doll cut out for the ancient tree in China; casting a house extension with a corrugated pattern to resemble an old metal garden shed; forming the concrete on the interior of a tower to look like… some organically malleable material. Concrete is a mix, so it can also include additional materials along with the aggregate, such as glass beads, or even rammed earth.
Concrete w/ Rammed Earth
Yet I am reminded of the stories from my own and other projects. Gaps in poured concrete walls, driveways and sidewalks overworked and spalding within a year, ghastly looking stamped concrete steps, and sidewalks which heaved after the first frost. All this just on one residential block, within the last 5 years. My entre into the construction industry was via ICFs and the concrete industry, so I know the struggles facing the industry. Once the mix leaves the plant, there are so many variables of traffic, site readiness, and quality of finish. There is the “hand-off” from ready mix employees to the contract labor installers. So I get that it is not easy - but it is also a missed opportunity for the craft of concrete.
A long time advocate of the “sustainable” building concept, Vera Novak was the first in the ICF industry to gain the USGBC LEED Accredited Professional designation, in 2004. Her continued work through technical and code outreach for the ICFA established her as one of the industry’s top professionals in linking building science, energy raters and the green building world.
She just completed her PhD from Virginia Tech (Hurrah!), with a research focus is on improving the process of efficient construction delivery in order to increase the adoption of energy efficient products and processes.
While English is the preferred language on this blog, Vera is a polyglot and also welcomes questions and feedback in French, German and Czech.
To catch her current blog and project info, see:
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