Future Concrete

As the world becomes increasingly urban, city designers will look to concrete to solve a plethora of complex problems. Compelled to evolve to meet the challenges facing the built environment, concrete is set to become the material of the future.

As the world becomes increasingly urban, city designers will look to concrete to solve a plethora of complex problems.

Compelled to evolve to meet the challenges facing the built environment - and as extreme weather events necessitate more durable building materials - the natural resilience of concrete makes it a material for the future.

What we said in 2016

"As the built environment's challenges continue to evolve, concrete itself will adapt and improve to meet these challenges. There is increasing research into how concrete can be enhanced to make it more robust, resilient, flexible - 'smarter' - than ever before."

The development of nanotechnology, graphene and the potential for 3D printing in the built environment combine to make it an exciting future for concrete. Concrete wouldn't just be stronger with graphene added to it, its 'smart' properties could tell you when a structure is under stress."

"In the long term, 3D printing is set to have a major impact on construction... the potential to reduce the time needed to create complex elements of buildings from weeks to hours."

Looking back

When we initially investigated developments in concrete technology, advanced additives that change its chemical and structural behaviour and the ability to print concrete into viable structures seemed to be the two areas of most exciting potential.

In the three years since we imagined the possibilities of Future Concrete, progress has been rapid.

Not only have we seen Dutch and American teams locked in a race to create the first habitable 3D-printed house - and Spain and the Netherlands competing to claim the first 3D-printed bridge - we've seen graphene-reinforced concrete become a reality.

Where we are now

Increasing global demands on infrastructure are driving the development of high performance construction materials. As the most used material worldwide, the performance of concrete is under constant scrutiny.

The emergence of Ultra High-Performance Nano-engineered Concrete Composites may sound like something from science fiction, but what looks like the next evolutionary 'leap' in concrete technology is already with us.

Additives such as polyester, fiberglass, basalt, steel - and even recycled plastic - add new levels of flexibility, malleability, ductility and durability.

But the most exciting evolution has been the University of Exeter's development of Graphene-reinforced concrete.

Researchers were able to halve the amount of materials used to make concrete dramatically reducing the carbon footprint versus conventional concrete production.

More importantly, it is also twice as strong as and four times more water-resistant than existing concrete - making it more resilient in harsh environments or when exposed to extreme conditions.

Monica Craciun, professor of nanoscience in the University of Exeter's engineering department, said: "Our cities face a growing pressure from global challenges on pollution, sustainable urbanisation and resilience to catastrophic natural events. This new composite material is an absolute game-changer in terms of reinforcing traditional concrete to meet these needs."

What's Changing?

3D concrete printing has taken the step out of the laboratory and into 'real world' of construction.

The world's first 3D-printed bridge was unveiled in Spain in 2017: its eight parts were printed in concrete micro-reinforced with thermoplastic polypropylene for integral strength without the need for internal supports.

With a distinct nod to biophillic design, the bridge features 'natural forms' determined by the algorithms of parametric design which adjusts dimensions and materials to find the optimum shape to fulfil the brief.

In The Netherlands, construction company Van Wijnen have developed the techniques to print a two storey, two bedroom house. The first is expected to be available within a year - and company spokesman Rudy Van Gurp believes that the 3D printing of homes will be 'mainstream' within five years.

Meanwhile, San Francisco 3D printing start-up Apis Cor has already successfully printed a house - in less than a day! The 38sq.m single storey dwelling comes with a hallway, a bathroom, a living room and a kitchen - at a cost of just $10,000. They're up against Texas based ICON, who are refining the technology to print 55sq.m homes to help solve the global housing crisis - for less than half that cost.

Working with international housing charity New Story, ICON's intention is to transform the slums of El Salvador into a functional, sustainable community through the creation of 100 printed houses. All of which edges Future Concrete closer to our 'Smaller Spaces' theme.

How the story has developed