Buildings with concrete-like foundations have been dated back to as far as Ancient Greece, and today they line our cities and societies. Although concrete is the second most consumed product in the world – the first being water – it is also one of the least energy efficient materials in construction.
Concrete refers to a mixture of fine and coarse pieces of sand, limestone, and gravel – called aggregates – which are then mixed with a cement to glue it together and water to turn it into a paste suitable for building.
Although its components are not necessarily harmful to the environment, concrete is extremely sensitive to weather, and requires huge amounts of energy in order to cool it in the summer and warm it in the winter. Furthermore, when concrete became popular in the early 20th century, no-one could predict how much of an environmental problem concrete would become.
In the 1920s, concrete was thought of as the material that would change the world. It symbolised humility, honesty, and capability. It was readily available, and the industrial aesthetic of clean lines, sharp geometry, and towering structures captured the dreams of Americans at the time.
However, everyone saw concrete as not needing any maintenance. It was thought of as permanent, stable, and self-standing – qualities people in those days idealised within themselves. But even though concrete takes a long time to show signs of surface weathering, it breaks-down quite quickly from the inside out. The inner metal beams rust, and that rust eats away at the metal composites within the aggregate. Concrete structures thus require a complex and energy-consuming process to remove the rust and prevent degradation.
Many have said the concrete “boom” of the early 1900s can just be torn-down, and replaced with more energy-efficient buildings requiring less maintenance and consuming less energy. However, producer of 99% Invisible Roman Mars believes such a task would be just as bad for the planet.
“The process is costly and wasteful,” Mars explains. “We can adapt these buildings to make them greener, more appealing places to be. And the best way to break the cycle of active neglect may be to love these concrete brutes in all their hulking glory. As with any art form—whether opera or painting or literature—the more you know about it the more you appreciate it. This is especially true of concrete buildings.”
Concrete structures have become a reality of the city jungles we inhabit. They have been met with equal amounts of hatred and love, and will probably continue to do so for eternity. Some have adapted old concrete eye-sores into architectural artworks, while others have petitioned for their destruction. Centuries into the future our race may find the rubble of our concrete utopias, and wonder what they meant, and how we utilised them. Since concrete will never really go away, we should think about what they mean to us now, and whether we want to use them to save the Earth, or to destroy it.
Photo taken by Jomiro Eming. For more of his work, visit his Instagram page.