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    Concrete; so it’s Modern, Right? Wrong!

    Concrete’s versatility as a building material – from the mighty Hoover Dam to pattern imprinted driveways and flooring – is matched by its long and undeniably interesting history.

    First developed, as so many things seem to have been, by the ancient Romans, concrete was made by mixing quicklime and volcanic ash, using pumice or waste rubble as aggregate. Learning from ancient Egyptian mortaring techniques, the Romans used concrete, known to them as Opus Caementicium, to construct gigantic monuments and impressive public buildings. Many of these massive constructions still stand, a testament to both the durability of concrete and the sophistication of the Roman’s building techniques. The Pantheon in Rome, for example, has not only lasted two thousand years but is still the largest un-reinforced concrete dome in the world.

    The Romans had inventive methods for enhancing the quality of their concrete. They would mix horse hair into it in order to reduce the chance of it cracking, and, in a surprisingly gruesome twist, add blood to their concrete in order to improve its resilience to frost. Thankfully, concrete today no longer relies on these two additives.

    Like many other fantastic technological developments, the end of the Roman Empire saw the loss of the secrets of producing and using concrete. Amazingly, it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that concrete was re-discovered.

    Concrete was used in 1670 to construct the Canal du Midi in southern France, but didn’t become widespread again until the 1750’s. In 1756 John Smeaton, known as the “father of English civil engineering”, developed a form of lime-based mortar which would set underwater. This mortar proved invaluable in the construction of lighthouses, and was soon applied to other projects. Smeaton’s mortar lead directly to the development of the famous Portland cement in the 1840’s. Since then concrete has become one of the most commonly used materials available to architects and engineers.

    Our aesthetic use of concrete has also grown. Its unique properties have always inspired designers; in the days of Ancient Rome, they relied on overlaying it with a multitude of different tiles, each showing the influence of one of the many cultures ruled over by the Empire. Now, thankfully, after 2,000 years, we can imprint concrete with the designs we desire, in the colour of our choice.

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