One of the most visible characteristics of the Boomer years was the exponential growth of cities, with their ubiquitous skyscrapers and concrete apartment blocks. It was the magic of concrete – artificial stone and rock – that made it possible and affordable for cities to grow so fast. Buildings, bridges, harbors, highways and tunnels – all kinds of durable infrastructure could be made out of concrete.
Except that concrete isn’t quite as durable as rock and stone, as it’s held together by cement. Eventually, it loses some of its strength and begins to break up, especially when subjected to daily stress and vibration, like a road bridge. After nine decades of unbridled concrete construction globally, we’re facing the crisis of having to replace most of those structures, which have become critical to sustaining our urban lifestyles and businesses.
And just like concrete and steel replaced timber and stone construction in the past, we’re looking for better materials, more technologically advanced, and kinder on the environment, to replace the concrete jungle. Despite efforts in India to reduce its impact, cement production remains a major carbon culprit. So it’s not just a crisis, but also a concrete opportunity.
From carbon composites to graphene and aerogels, materials science has come a long way. Why dig up billions of tons of sand and gravel to make heavy and ugly structures, when you can craft lightweight and more durable, flexible buildings and bridges with modern composites? And why build grey caves and bunkers, when you can 3D-print elegant synthetic-organic homes and airy workplaces, with natural insulation?
Like the 20th Century, concrete belongs to the past. It’s time to say goodbye to the concrete jungle, and welcome to a whole new way of designing and creating our future cities.