Overview

The Concrete Conservation project has been developed to respond to the new and distinct conservation challenges of reinforced concrete buildings and structures in order to improve the conservation of this significant heritage. The project involves a number of activities including scientific research, model field projects, the development and delivery of training, and the creation and dissemination of published material on the subject.

Background

Reinforced concrete was the material of choice for many architects of the modern era, and they exploited the material in a multitude of creative and innovative ways. Many of the modern era's most extraordinary structures demonstrate the potential of reinforced concrete and illustrate the material's rapid evolution over the twentieth century. Like many modern materials, reinforced concrete has raised new and distinct conservation challenges. These issues relate to the lack of appropriate techniques and materials to meet conservation needs, the current lack of knowledge on the efficacy and durability of existing repair solutions, the shortage of training opportunities, and the lack of technical and guidance resources available to professionals.

Concrete met postwar needs for faster, more economical and more industrialized construction methods. The consequent large number of extraordinary concrete buildings, particularly from the mid- century, defined a new architecture. The current state of decay of many significant reinforced concrete structures arises from the novelty of the material and construction techniques used at the time of their construction, and the fact that architects and engineers experimenting with reinforced concrete often pushed the limits of the material structurally and architecturally.

Although there are many well-constructed, carefully crafted concrete buildings of this time, there are also many buildings suffering rapid deterioration due to poor quality materials or construction. This is often the result of building at a time when materials were scarce, under pressure for accelerated construction, and with little quality control. The novelty of the material and construction techniques also caused problems, such as the limited understanding of its durability, the inexistence of experienced workers, and the lack of industry standards and regulations. Moreover, these buildings often suffer from the mistaken belief that reinforced concrete was a maintenance free, extremely durable material. The result is a large stock of culturally significant reinforced concrete buildings with deterioration that ranges in scale from local to general.

However, in spite of the development of a multibillion dollar concrete repair industry, the conservation of reinforced concrete has seen little advancement in terms of the development of materials or methods that move closer toward the typical conservation principles of minimum intervention and retention of original fabric. This is particularly damaging to the significance of sites where the concrete is integral to the aesthetic value of the place, such as exposed concrete typical of the protagonists of brutalism, where color and texture were carefully specified.

Work Undertaken

Implicit in the GCI's work is that the heritage of the modern era should be conserved according to established conservation principles. Reinforced concrete is the most ubiquitous building material of the twentieth century, and as such its conservation is challenging practitioners all over the world. With the pioneering concrete structures of the early modern period now nearing 100 years old and the second wave of architectural concrete exemplars, particularly the brutalist buildings of the 1960s, now needing repair, addressing their conservation is currently critical for the preservation of their cultural significance.

Project Goals

1. To improve the conservation of significant historic concrete buildings and structures;

2. To strengthen and support a community of practice that can develop appropriate concrete conservation projects and share information;

3. To improve, adapt and develop repair techniques and materials so they are more sympathetic to conservation goals through dedicated scientific research;

4. To improve understanding on the efficacy and long-term effects of typical repair and treatment methods through research and field testing;

5. To develop a methodology for selecting and testing patch repair mortars and hydrophobic coatings;

6. To provide a better understanding about concrete buildings through history and their distinct material characteristics and correlations between characteristics, deterioration and repair;

7. To provide better information and clear guidance on historic concrete and its conservation;

8. To provide training opportunities for professionals involved in concrete conservation.


The Concrete Conservation Project is under the auspices of the Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative (CMAI), launched in 2012, which aims to advance the practice of conserving twentieth-century heritage.

Banner: Chandigarh Legislative Assembly (1962) by Le Corbusier, Chandigarh, India. Photo: Susan Macdonald

Page updated: November 2017