Virtually all of the masterpieces of modern architecture have one thing in common: They’re constructed, at least in part, of concrete. Popularly maligned as the stuff of ugly, depressing housing blocks or cold industrial buildings, the material has also enabled the best designers to create the most breathtaking structures of the last century, from Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia and Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light.
Those and many other Modernist landmarks are represented in Concrete, a new book from Phaidon thoughtfully and comprehensively compiled by William Hall to showcase the noble material’s breadth of form, texture, and purpose. Say what you will about Brutalists’ hulking monolithic masses, but even they occasionally employed concrete to, in Leonard Koren’s words, “create three-dimensional poetry.” Louis Kahn’s much-celebrated Salk Institute for Biological Studies, whose buildings frame an extended vista of San Diego, is such an example.
As Koren writes in the accompanying essay, “Concrete is a noble material. Its development is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. It might not be up there with the discovery of fire on demand, but it is greater than the invention of plywood, perhaps even on a par with the advent of steelmaking.” And it’s got a considerable advantage over wood: It’s fireproof.