7 Innovative Ways to Use Concrete in Your Design

When I say concrete, the first thought that comes to mind is a rugged mix of cement and aggregates or a dull, somber gray wall. What if I say that some types of concrete could emit light, heal itself, or even be transparent?

Concrete is one of the most widely used construction materials in the world today. Durable, versatile, and inert, it comes with many benefits. There are many advanced types of concrete made with new and innovative materials. Here are a few of them:

  1. Light-generating concrete
  2. Self-healing concrete
  3. Translucent concrete
  4. Living Concrete
  5. Flexible concrete
  6. Self-cleaning concrete
  7. Papercrete 

1. Light-generating concrete

Traditional concrete forms crystal flakes during hydration that prevent the absorption of light. 

  • Light-generating concrete absorbs sunlight in the morning and radiates it at night.
  • In light-emitting concrete, materials like sand silica, industrial waste, alkali and water are used along with additives to convert it into a phosphorescent material with a noncrystalline structure that can absorb and emit light. 
Light Generating Cement by Dr. José Carlos Rubio Ávalos of the UMSNH of Morelia

2. Self-healing concrete

It is very common for concrete structures to crack. Self-healing concrete, however, can fix cracks by itself. 

  • The concrete has calcium lactate and a special type of bacteria called Bacillus added to the wet mix.
  • Water seeps into concrete when there is a crack. The dormant bacteria spores germinate and consume oxygen when feeding on the calcium lactate and convert it into limestone, filling the cracks.
Self Healing Concrete, Basilisk by Erik Schlangen
Self Healing Concrete, Basilisk by Erik Schlangen
Self Healing Concrete, Basilisk by Erik Schlangen
Self Healing Concrete, Basilisk by Erik Schlangen

The water tank for Evides Industriewater is made of self healing concrete, from the company founded by Erik Schlangen, the inventor of the bioconcrete.

3. Translucent Concrete

This concrete transmits light from any source, it can reduce energy spent and save costs. 

  • This is achieved by adding clear resins to the concrete mix and replacing coarse aggregates with 4-5% by volume optical fibers. 
  • Ordinary portland cement, sand, and portable water are the other materials.

The cores of the optical fibers transmit light at any incident angle. 

Capital Bank, Jordan by Paradigm Design House

The Capital Bank building plays with different levels of transparencies by using materials like opaque concrete, translucent concrete and glass.

4. Living Concrete

This concrete is specially designed to catch rainwater and encourage growth of organisms like moss, algae and lichens on its surface. 

  • This wall absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and acts as a thermal regulator. 
  • A waterproof layer separates the structural concrete and the organisms to prevent structural failure.
Aeronautical Cultural Center, Barcelona by Berta Barrio and Sergi Godia
Aeronautical Cultural Center, Barcelona by Berta Barrio and Sergi Godia

A simulation of a living concrete wall in the Aeronautical Cultural Center in Barcelona.

5. Flexible Concrete

Typically, concrete is a brittle material. By adding fibers to it, it can be made ductile.

The Cube by Henn Architects, Germany
The Cube by Henn Architects, Germany

The Cube is the world’s first structure to be built of carbon fiber reinforced concrete. The building seamlessly merges walls and ceilings into a single form. 

6. Self-cleaning concrete

This type of concrete keeps the facade clean as it has a white photocatalytic material like titanium oxide added to it.

  •  When it receives energy from the sun or artificial lights, the catalyst gets activated and decomposes organic material present on the concrete. 
  • It has the ability to dissolve gasses emitted by the exhaust of cars and from rainwater. Other properties of concrete are not affected. 
Jubilee Church in Rome by Richard Meier

The Jubilee Church in Italy is made with self cleaning concrete to maintain its pristine white facade. 

7. Papercrete

Papercrete is a cheap but highly workable industrial grade paper mache. It consists of paper or cardboard, aggregates depending on strength needed and water.

  • It can be cast into light weight cubes with great heat and sound insulation materials
  • It can be used to build structures of less importance in low moisture areas. 
Eve’s garden, Texas by Clyde Curry
Eve’s Garden, Texas by Clyde Curry

Eve’s Garden in Marathon is an organic bed and breakfast made using papercrete. This has made considerable changes both cost-wise and CO2 emission-wise. 

By making small adjustments to the constituents of concrete, its properties can remarkably change and this new concrete can be used to make stunning buildings.

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