Built two years ago, Reiser + Umemoto’s 0-14 Tower in Dubai has a perforated concrete shell that protects inhabitants from the penetrating desert sun and helps ventilate the building. The architects were able to build the shell--absent any vertical columns and horizontal floor lines--by packing plastic forms into densely packed bundles of reinforced steel before casting the concrete.

Bachman & Bachmann, the architects of the 2007 Cella Septichora Visitor Center in Hungary, used an innovative material called Litracon to create a see-through concrete wall. Litracon is made by placing optical fibers parallel to the thickness of precast concrete blocks. The result: concrete that both transmits light and maintains its structural stability.

The RATP Bus Center, in France, by ECDM Architects has embossed dots on its concrete facade, which makes it look like a perforated metallic building from some angles and a giant LEGO block from others.

The dots were made possibly by Ductal, high-performance concrete, which is lighter, stronger, and more plastic than conventional concrete.

A closeup shot.

The bus station was completed in 2007.

The elaborate geometry of Zaha Hadid’s 2008 Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion in Spain "has less in common with conventional bridges than with the high-speed racing boats that pass underneath it," Blaine Brownell says. That’s thanks in part to the high-performance FibreC concrete used to build the trusses. Braced with glass fibers instead of steel, FibreC lets you fabricate extremely thin panels that can adopt more complex shapes than typical steel-reinforced concrete. Hadid’s bridge features a whopping 29,000 triangular panels.

Peter Zumthor has described the material of his Bruder Klaus Chapel in Germany as "rammed concrete" in part because it bears such an uncanny resemblance to rammed earth. The structure was made by building a tepee out of trees, then enveloping it in thin, hand-compressed layers of concrete stacked on top of each other. Image via Arch Daily.

Zumthor then burned the tepee, leaving the blackened surface you see here. Image via Arch Daily.

The chapel was built in 2007. Image via Arch Daily.


Beyond Brutalism: Five Examples Of Wildly Innovative Concrete Architecture

In "Material Strategies," author Blaine Brownell details how architects, from Zaha Hadid to Peter Zumthor, get creative with the most ubiquitous construction material on earth.

Concrete is today’s most popular building material. In fact, it’s consumed in greater quantities than any substance on earth, second only to water. But it’s easy to abuse. Consult anyone’s list of the world’s ugliest buildings, and you’re bound to find more than few concrete monstrosities.

In Material Strategies (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012), a new book about creative applications of basic construction materials, author Blaine Brownell highlights five wildly innovative concrete structures. Each reveals how a material best known as the pet of sadistic Brutalists can be used in uncommon (and non-sadistic) ways.

There’s Zaha Hadid’s Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion in Spain, a span made from 29,000 concrete panels, and ECDM Architects’s RATP center in France, a bus station covered in embossed concrete that looks like perforated metal. There’s Bachman & Bachmann Architects’s Cella Septichora Visitor Center in Hungary, which has a translucent concrete wall that plays dazzling light tricks. In each case, fresh technological developments let the architects experiment with the material in a manner that would’ve seemed unimaginable to the concrete dogmatists of yore. Read more in our slideshow.

Buy Material Strategies for $18 on Amazon here.

[Images courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press; Images of Bruder Klaus Chapel by Samuel Ludwig via Arch Daily]

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