A Concrete Building

by Don Friedman on October 11, 2017

A market hall in Wrocław, Poland:

That’s how you do exposed concrete. The hall has the basic layout of a church, with a cross plan for the high gable roof and lower infill between the cross arms. The roof and its clerestory are supported by a series of parabolic concrete arches, which intersect at the crossing.

The concrete is nicely detailed and finished, as well. A lot of care went into the design and construction of this building.

None of this is necessary. This building serves the same purpose as the average supermarket and could physically look like one – a low and level ceiling, undifferentiated space, no visible structure – without any loss of function. But, even if you don’t like exposed concrete, it’s hard to believe there wouldn’t be any loss at all if you replaced this building.

What Is A Building’s “Material”?

October 10, 2017

Curtesy of Marcin Wichary: I’ll almost certainly be getting this map of “Concrete New York” but I find the discussion on Curbed to be problematic. In my opinion, New York does not have an iconic city-center concrete building the way that (among others) Boston, Chicago, and Washington do; the best concrete building nearby has been altered […]

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Patterns of Damage

September 28, 2017

João Carlos Souza has a primer up on ArchiNet on how to identify problems in concrete buildings based on crack patterns. Putting aside some bad translation from Portuguese to English* it’s quite good and can help identify damage when used as intended. Mr. Souza does not explicitly state the assumptions that went into his visual […]

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Anna Karenina in Concrete

September 10, 2017

Tolstoy said that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This principle can be applied to buildings: every building in good condition is alike, every failing building fails in its own way. The white paint on the concrete does a great job, in my opinion, of highlighting where the […]

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Sidewalk Vaults and True Obsolescence

August 14, 2017

For people unfamiliar with sidewalk vaults, the illustration above, from 1865, might seem plausible, but it’s actually Daniel Badger’s fantasy of how he could sell more iron. The left-hand side is reasonably accurate for mid-1800s vaults: the facade columns extend down past the plane of the sidewalk, marking the separation of the cellar proper from […]

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A Square Peg In A Square Hole

July 20, 2017

If you wait long enough, every aspect of a given technology will change. Square reinforcing bars used to be fairly common in concrete, but they’re long gone in design practice. Plain reinforcing bars, without surface deformations, used to be fairly common in concrete, but they’re long gone in design practice. Of course, just because we […]

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Floating Structure

July 19, 2017

It can be a little strange to read how outsiders see in-group activities that you are familiar with. This article in Core77 on the annual concrete canoe races sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers is aimed at industrial designers. It holds up the concrete canoe races as an example of combining hands-on experience […]

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Concrete Non-Failure

July 3, 2017

Concrete, as a composite material, has more potential modes of failure than steel. A steel beam can be overstressed (and yield or rupture), rust, or buckle sideways for lack of bracing. Barring some really esoteric failure modes, that’s about it and that’s plenty. A concrete beam (or, as pictured above, a slab) can be overstressed, […]

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Pragmatic Concrete

May 16, 2017

That strange-looking pier above requires some back-story explanation. The New York subways were originally built as three systems – the privately-owned IRT and BMT, and the city-owned IND – which were organizationally integrated in the 1940s. The IRT and BMT were competing with each other but were also joined at the hip by an expansion […]

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May 15, 2017

These photographs of the demolition of the Orange County Government Center designed by Paul Rudolph are heartbreaking even if brutalism isn’t your favorite style. It was an uncompromising expression of a never-popular style and, because it required non-standard detailing and repairs, it was not well maintained and had severe problems with leaks. Ultimately, there was a […]

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