Research Question: How Has Concrete impacted environmentally and politically on a historical and modern society? What is the future of concrete in our current climate?
This thesis explored the damaging effects of concrete on the environment and what the future holds for the material in our current global crisis as well as exploring political advantages and disadvantages of concrete architecture. The thesis puts forward possibilities of recycling construction and demolition waste, 3D printing architecture and new solutions using experimental, more sustainable material options. A conclusion has been drawn through the extensive research of case studies looking at social housing, recycled material products, 3D printed architecture and the exploration of favouring non-traditional building materials compared to using earth damaging concrete. Additionally, primary research was accomplished by producing a series of sustainable material experiments and testing the samples to determine how successful they would be. The implications were that a solution to concrete must be found and that we cannot keep using it at the same extortionate rate. Architects and construction companies must make more environmentally conscious choices and the development of new, creative, and experimental materials need to be continually developed to result in a more ecological, sustainable way of living.
As with the mundane, concrete is so ubiquitous that it goes unnoticed blending into the background of our daily lives, deeply rooted in our society. The constant present nature of the material is precisely one of the reasons that it is often overlooked and materials such as concrete are ignored (Solanski, 2018:6). However, it is such a present part of modern life that it is near impossible to imagine civilisation without it. But what if we question the use of concrete in our current climate?
Concrete is the most used material on earth, aside from water, and continues to be produced and used at an unprecedented rate. This of course comes with a great consequence, one that is damaging our Earth and environment, causing irreversible changes to our climate system. Although we must consider the benefits concrete has given to society, affordable, quick, and safe housing, we must also address the negatives of this accessible material. The cement industry shockingly causes 8% of global CO2 emissions, damages natural environments causing biodiversity loss and contributes to the ever-growing landfill problems around the world (Watts, 2019). Sustainability researcher and professor, Berners-Lee puts it bluntly stating, ‘There is no going back from extinction.’ (Berners-Lee, 2019:54) a reminder that humanity is pushing nature beyond its limits (Bell, 2020:40) and that we must act fast to resurrect the problem.
This thesis explores the rise and fall of concrete and questions what place the material has in society today. It begins by looking at the importance of concrete in post-war settings and how it helped to rebuild communities, followed by an analysis of concrete and public housing, looking at case studies and how concrete effects those living in impoverished areas. This leads onto an investigation of the material cycle of concrete, investigating the impact the construction industry has globally on the environment with construction waste being an immense issue that needs to be addressed. The essay will then focus on the possibilities of 3D printing concrete and material alternatives in construction with my own research led material experiments and investigations which will lead to a drawn conclusion of the future of concrete.
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