10 Works of Architecture That Reveal the Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete

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By Kate Reggev / Published by Dwell
The twists, turns, and cantilevers of these residences and public structures are due to the gravity-defying abilities of concrete.

Concrete may be one of the most widely used, man-made construction materials 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. 

However, it wasn’t until the postwar period that concrete really got its boost, thanks to the development of concrete that was reinforced with steel bars (rebar), along with 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, and Bangladesh—everyone was enthralled with the wonders of concrete. 

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 an Italian architect's cantilevered kitchen counters. 

Leaf-Inspired House by Yrjö Kukkapuro

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

National Assembly Building by Louis Kahn

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal 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.

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal 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 framework.

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 framework.

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal 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 Niemeyer 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 Niemeyer 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.

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal 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 panels were poured as anchor holes so that each piece could be lifted into place and installed with anchors, but left exposed in order to 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 panels were poured as anchor holes so that each piece could be lifted into place and installed with anchors, but left exposed in order to create a subtle pattern on the exterior.

Highway Overpasses in Los Angeles

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal 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. Typically, massive columns and bridges are produced in a manufacturing plant where construction conditions can be closely regulated.

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. Typically, massive columns and bridges are produced in a manufacturing plant where construction conditions can be closely regulated.

Concrete Tower by Agustín Hernández Navarro

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal 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 various 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 various 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.

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal 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. Designed by Zyscovich Architects, the slim proportions of the porch seem to elude gravity while 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. Designed by Zyscovich Architects, the slim proportions of the porch seem to elude gravity while the subtle texture of the concrete provides a contrast to the smooth surface of the rest of the house.

A Kitchen by Paolo Soleri

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal 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 soft, 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 soft, supple feel.

Hemeroscopium House by Ensamble Studio

10 Works of Architecture That Reveal the Acrobatic Wonders of Concrete - Photo 10 of 10 - In Madrid, Spain, 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 and programmatic elements—like an infinity pool.

In Madrid, Spain, 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 and programmatic elements—like an infinity pool.

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