Modern Architects Reimagining Concrete

A panel presenting at The Buildings Show‘s International Architectural Roundtable notes that modern architects continue to remain fascinated with concrete.

Their mission: making concrete more sustainable, building complex structures without formwork, extruding and printing prefabricated concrete using 3D printers, curing concrete with ambient water and aggressively recycling, renovating and repurposing existing structures. The following are some highlights from the roundtable participants.

Ken Greenberg, principal at Greenberg Consultants

A champion of urban rejuvenation, Greenberg has recently embarked on “Under Gardiner,” a reimagining of the underside of 1.75 kilometres of the space underneath Toronto’s concrete highway, set to open in July 2017.

“People have not perceived its extraordinary beauty,” he says. “We see a structure not just holding up a highway, but 55 rooms defined by concrete columns and beams.”

By building an amphitheatre, trail, performance spaces, dog park and plantings to naturally treat salt-laden stormwater, the project aims to turn a concrete barrier into a space that unifies neighbourhoods and attracts residents.

Ronald Rael, CEO and co-founder of startup company, Emerging Objects

Rael is committed to producing large and strong 3D printed objects with powder-based laser printing and other complex forms using extrusion 3D printing.

“We’re hacking 3D printing technologies to produce concrete structures using particles of Portland cement,” he says. “We’re no longer building prototypes, we’re actually printing architecture such as prefabricated panels.”

By digitally defining shapes, Rael says the team can now eliminate many steps in the design process, proceeding almost directly from digital renderings to the production phase.

“The printed versions have compressive strengths greater than traditional concrete,” he says. “We’re now incorporating architectural mesh and working on translucent products and remarkable textures and patterns.”

The use of water for curing has also been significantly reduced. Rael has achieved success by simply using ambient humidity levels of 100 per cent.

Brandon Clifford, principal at Matter Design, Belluschi Lecturer, MIT

A self-professed digital architect, Clifford works with concrete to marry art and technology. His interest in cutting Styrofoam using complex wire cutting devices has opened up a world of possibilities.“We can wire cut foam as potential formwork for complex concrete construction that requires no interior metal support structure,” he says. “It’s no wonder digital architects are so interested in this material.”

Filippo Gabbiani, co-founder at Kokaistudios

Born in Venice, Italy, Gabbiani set up shop in Shanghai, where he focuses on preserving Chinese heritage buildings as well as refurbishing and renovating existing buildings.

“China is the king of concrete,” he says. “It produces most of the concrete in the world, and the enterprise is state-owned. However, the concrete is of such low quality, we are renovating buildings built as little as four years ago.”

Company projects have included conversion of heritage properties into commercial facilities, but many involve simply convincing project owners not to tear down recently-built structures and instead working to improve and adapt them.

“For buildings under 10 years old, we refer to these projects as ‘rotten heritage,'” he says. “By renovating and adapting, we’re helping to make the Chinese concrete landscape more sustainable and reducing pollution.”

This article was written by Peter Kenter and published on Daily Commercial News. Republished with permission.

Watch an interview Ronald Rael, Brandon Clifford, and Filippo Gabbiani at Construct Canada on their key takeaways from the International Architectural Roundtable.

Interest(s): Architecture, Construction, Design, Engineering Date: December 16, 2015