The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete

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By Kate Reggev / Published by Kate Reggev
The twists, turns, and cantilevers of these spaces and pieces are due to no other than the gravity-defying abilities of concrete.

Concrete may be the most widely-used man-made construction material today, but its soaring, acrobatic qualities (first put into large-scale use by the ancient Romans) had been forgotten for hundreds of years before it was redeveloped in the mid-18th century. 

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 1 of 10 - A 1968 house by Finnish architect Yrjö Kukkapuro embodied the optimism of the postwar period with its sweeping, leaf-inspired concrete roof that appears to float over the glass house below.

A 1968 house by Finnish architect Yrjö Kukkapuro embodied the optimism of the postwar period with its sweeping, leaf-inspired concrete roof that appears to float over the glass house below.

However, it wasn’t until the post-war period that concrete really got its boost thanks to the development of concrete reinforced with steel bars (rebar) and a cultural sense of optimism that architecturally manifested itself in cantilevering, gravity-defying shapes and forms. All around the world -- from the United States to Brazil, Mexico to Bangladesh, everyone was enthralled with the wonders of concrete. 

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 2 of 10 - The National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh was designed in 1962 by the famous American architect Louis Kahn, who was known for using concrete to create unique, bold forms that would have otherwise been impossible to construct.

The National Assembly Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh was designed in 1962 by the famous American architect Louis Kahn, who was known for using concrete to create unique, bold forms that would have otherwise been impossible to construct.

Today, concrete continues to be used in an impressively broad range of spaces and scales, from countertops to massive infrastructure projects. Here, we take a look at some impressive contemporary structural and architectural feats accomplished with concrete, ranging from the soaring highways of Los Angeles to the cantilevered kitchen counter of an Italian architect. 

El Blok Hotel by Fuster + Architects

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 3 of 10 - El Blok, a 22-room hotel in Vieques, Puerto Rico, strikes a unique profile—its meandering shape features numerous cut-outs that let light in, casting playful shadows. The LEED Gold-certified property, designed by San Juan-based firm Fuster + Architects, shows the texture of the plywood boards that were used to create the building's formwork.

El Blok, a 22-room hotel in Vieques, Puerto Rico, strikes a unique profile—its meandering shape features numerous cut-outs that let light in, casting playful shadows. The LEED Gold-certified property, designed by San Juan-based firm Fuster + Architects, shows the texture of the plywood boards that were used to create the building's formwork.


Niterói Contemporary Art Museum by Oscar Neiemeyer

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 4 of 10 - Known for his futuristic concrete designs that seem to outwit gravity throughout Brazil, Brazilian architect Oscar Neiemeyer described his Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro as "a flower that rises from the rock." The organic, saucer-like structure uses concrete to form everything from the main building and its snaking walkway to the benches outside.

Known for his futuristic concrete designs that seem to outwit gravity throughout Brazil, Brazilian architect Oscar Neiemeyer described his Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro as "a flower that rises from the rock." The organic, saucer-like structure uses concrete to form everything from the main building and its snaking walkway to the benches outside.

South African Home by Gregory Katz

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 5 of 10 - South African architect Gregory Katz  designed his own home out of concrete, with a cantilevered upper floor that looms over the deck area below. The holes in the precast concrete panel were poured as anchor holes so that each piece could be lifted into place and installed with anchors, but left exposed they create a subtle pattern on the exterior.

South African architect Gregory Katz  designed his own home out of concrete, with a cantilevered upper floor that looms over the deck area below. The holes in the precast concrete panel were poured as anchor holes so that each piece could be lifted into place and installed with anchors, but left exposed they create a subtle pattern on the exterior.

Highway Overpass, Los Angeles

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 6 of 10 - One of the most common uses of concrete is in infrastructural projects like highways, where they soar and wind through the sky. Most pieces are precast before arriving on site so that the structures can be built quicker, with massive columns and bridges producted in a manufacturing plant where construction conditions can be regulated closely.

One of the most common uses of concrete is in infrastructural projects like highways, where they soar and wind through the sky. Most pieces are precast before arriving on site so that the structures can be built quicker, with massive columns and bridges producted in a manufacturing plant where construction conditions can be regulated closely.

Concrete Tower by Agustin Hernandez

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 7 of 10 - Architect Agustín Hernandez was one of the first to introduce pre-Hispanic motifs into Mexican modernism, and designed this futuristic concrete tower as his own home and office. The use of poured-in-place concrete allowed for different textures on different areas of the tower, with a rougher texture on the upper part of the cantilever and a smoother surface on the lower.

Architect Agustín Hernandez was one of the first to introduce pre-Hispanic motifs into Mexican modernism, and designed this futuristic concrete tower as his own home and office. The use of poured-in-place concrete allowed for different textures on different areas of the tower, with a rougher texture on the upper part of the cantilever and a smoother surface on the lower.


Casa Bahia for Alejandro Landes

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 8 of 10 - Jutting out over the landscape below, the cantilevered deck at the home of filmmaker-turned-designer Alejandro Landes looks out at Biscayne Bay in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood. The slim proportions of the porch seem to elude gravity, and the subtle texture of the concrete provides a contrast to the smooth surface of the rest of the house.

Jutting out over the landscape below, the cantilevered deck at the home of filmmaker-turned-designer Alejandro Landes looks out at Biscayne Bay in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood. The slim proportions of the porch seem to elude gravity, and the subtle texture of the concrete provides a contrast to the smooth surface of the rest of the house.

A Kitchen by Paolo Soleri

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 9 of 10 - At a smaller scale than an entire building, a concrete cantilevered countertop and table extends both inside and outside at the Arizona home of Italian architect Paolo Soleri. A sculptural shelf frames the window and door beyond, with rounded edges for a softer, supple feel.

At a smaller scale than an entire building, a concrete cantilevered countertop and table extends both inside and outside at the Arizona home of Italian architect Paolo Soleri. A sculptural shelf frames the window and door beyond, with rounded edges for a softer, supple feel.


Hemeroscopium House by Ensamble Studio

The Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 10 of 10 - In Madrid, a house constructed of seven distinct pieces of precast concrete beams worked together to create this residence by Spanish firm Ensamble Studio. The elements were repurposed from highway construction, with beams projecting out and functioning at times as both structural elements and programmatic elements like an infinity pool.

In Madrid, a house constructed of seven distinct pieces of precast concrete beams worked together to create this residence by Spanish firm Ensamble Studio. The elements were repurposed from highway construction, with beams projecting out and functioning at times as both structural elements and programmatic elements like an infinity pool.