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Built environment Picture This

MUCH like Marmite, Concrete polarises opinion — you’re either religiously for or rabidly against.

But there's no denying its impact on the 20th-century built environment, mostly through its boundless plasticity and strength once combined with steel reinforcement.

At this point in time 7.5 billion square metres of concrete are produced annually, roughly equivalent to five bathtubs for every person on Earth.

The Romans understood concrete — they called it porcelana — better than we do. Their structures still stand 1,500 years on and that porcelana included a mix of volcanic ash, lime, seawater and lumps of volcanic rock.

It's only just been discovered that this extraordinary durability came from a unique combination of minerals growing spontaneously within the concrete over years — witness the Pantheon in Rome (pictured), built in the second century AD, which remains the world's largest and oldest unreinforced concrete dome.

In homage, William Hall, editor of the just-published Concrete, has put together a collection of images where the wow factor ambushes the senses at just about at every turn of the page.

From Oscar Niemeyer’s National Congress in Brasilia or his Copan Building in Sao Paulo to Le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp, Melnikov’s Rusakov Workers Club in Moscow and Goldfinger’s Trellick tower in London to Max Berg’s Centennial Hall in Wroclaw and William Pereira’s Geisel Library in San Diego, the book is a paean to the insatiable human capacity for creatively redefining the environment.

There's nothing “brutalist” in these extraordinary images.

Concrete, edited by William Hall, is published by Phaidon, £29.95.


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