The Second Golden Age of Concrete

I think most of us are familiar with concrete. Unfortunately our first experiences with this material were probably a skinned knee or a hard fall. Most of us learned not to take unnecessary risks while on concrete. Grass is far more forgiving. I still can’t help but watching when road workers smooth over a new section of freshly-poured concrete. Like Tom Sawyer getting other kids to paint a fence for him, those workers could easily get me to volunteer for that job.

Concrete is a big part of our lives. Roads and bridges are made of concrete. Buildings are made of concrete. Concrete is anywhere and everywhere. It is the most common building material used in the world today. Even the popular sandbox computer game, Minecraft, has a way to make concrete blocks. But concrete has not always been the building material of choice.

While several ancient civilizations used a form of concrete or some similar material, it was the Romans that brought about the first golden age of concrete. Roman concrete was as strong as concrete today. As testimony some Roman buildings and structures remain standing today. If you go to Rome, you can still see the remains of the Colloseum built about 2000 years ago. At its time it could hold 50,000 to 80,000 spectators, rivaling many stadiums of modern times. And in the Italian countryside you can still see the aqueducts, great stone and concrete structures that brought water from the countryside to Roman cities.

When Rome fell, so did the use of concrete. People went back to wood and stone. And it wasn’t  until the 18th century when the use of concrete was revived. Today we are living in the second golden age of concrete.Concrete today is supposed to be better than concrete of the past. One reason is that it is mixed more homogeneously, which means that it is unnecessary to add rubble to the mix like the Romans did. Another reason is that modern concrete is reinforced when used in structures (i.e. steel rods placed in highways over which concrete is poured).

I wonder which of the great modern concrete structures in our world today could survive our civilization? The Channel Tunnel? The Panama Canal? Probably not. They would disappear beneath the ocean or the jungle. The Three Gorges Dam? Without repair it would probably also fail. The concrete core of the One World Trade Center? Maybe. Or maybe it will be something as simple as your concrete patio or driveway that future archaeologists unearth someday to learn about our civilization?

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