The second-largest emitter of CO2 and the second-most used material used in the construction industry throughout the globe, concrete has been a popular construction material for many generations of humankind and urban development. As we move into an era where everybody is environmentally-conscious and there is a pressing need to look at alternative and more sustainable ways to build for the future whilst keeping an eye on how to tackle real and dangerous climate change, architects and designers have begun to look at ways in which concrete could be used in the future.
Throughout the last few years there has been a real need to look at new innovations and technology, and how that can be used in design and construction, with the problems of concrete a pressing and urgent need to be considered. As we look at the creation of concrete and how it is likely to increase in the coming years in developing nations to keep up with demand, how can the west, and established urban environments tweak the approach to ensure that there is a different approach to how concrete is used within construction?
One of the primary focuses of the shift in approach to concrete is to look at how we can significantly reduce cement in concrete mixtures. This is a start, with MIT researchers already experimenting in ways cement can be produced whilst eliminating emissions of CO2. This has been achieved through an electrochemical method where CO2 is captured before it is released, with the carbon caught then used within the food and drink industry potentially.
It is this type of innovation that is required to make a bold and exciting new future where architecture continues to be an integral part of life, but climate change is being reversed instead of worsened as a direct result of designs and construction that come from architecture.
Another potential option for concrete is an alternative mixture of mortar made of concrete, glass fibre, water, and sand. It is called GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete). One of the big plus points to GFRC is its plasticity, where thinner and lighter façade pieces can be molded as a result. There are prime examples of this type of material being used as cladding on buildings across the world, including plans to implement the complex forms around the Sagrada Familia.
Innovation and creation are taking place throughout the industry, with concrete and alternatives at the heart of a new approach. KnitCrete technology has been a primary focus of ETH Zurich for instance, where there has also been an intention to help curb high construction costs and help maximise space through the development of a concrete slab just 2cm thick that holds the properties required for load-bearing and sustainability. With less concrete and no need for steel reinforcements this could drastically reduce the production of CO2 without compromising standards and the long-term viability of structures.
It is certainly an interesting time and the architecture world will find solutions to the problems we are facing, as it always has in the past.