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The birth of modern concrete

A revival of interest in concrete in the 18th century occurred when engineers and scientists began to experiment with new cements culminating in the development of Portland cement by Joseph Aspdin and later by Isaac Johnson.

In the early 19th century concrete began to be used extensively in houses, generally as un-reinforced mass concrete, clad or rendered in other materials. The first patent for using wrought iron bars as reinforcement in flat slabs was taken out in 1854. When reinforcement, later made from steel, became more widespread later in the century, a wider range of structures such as bridges and industrial buildings began to be constructed in concrete. The first multi-storey reinforced concrete building, Weaver´s Mill, was erected in Swansea in 1898.

In the early 20th century, various different reinforcement systems were introduced, with special reinforcement types and arrangements. The first codes and regulations for the design of reinforced concrete structures were published in the UK in the 1920s and 1930s, by which time concrete became one of the most widely used construction materials. The development of prestressing, largely by Freysinnet in the 1930s, saw the construction of ever more elegant and slender structures in concrete. Concrete was used to great effect in both World Wars, particular in defensive positions and for structures such as the floating ‘Mulberry’ harbours.

Concrete played a major role in rebuilding in Europe after 1945. In the UK it was used for a variety of precast buildings including many different types of houses (see separate entry Historic non-traditional houses). Concrete continues to be used for a very wide range of applications, including precast elements, multi-storey buildings, paving and industrial floors. It is wisely used in major infrastructure projects, such as the Channel Tunnel and the associated Rail Link and The Second Severn Crossing.

The Concrete Concrete Society has published Technical Report 70, Historical approaches to the design of concrete buildings and structures, which gives information on the development of concrete codes, specified concrete and reinforcement strengths, allowable materials etc.

A special issue of the Institution of Civil Engineers Structures and Buildings published in August/November 1996 on Historic Concrete contains a number of papers on various relevant topics.

Related Fingertips
Historic non-traditional houses

Acknowledgement: The Concrete Society

Other references:´Historic concrete´, Structures and Buildings, Institution of Civil Engineers, August/November 1996.

´Lea´s chemistry of cement and concrete´, 4th Edition, (Ed. P C Hewlett), Arnold, 1998.

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TR70 Historical approaches to the design of concrete buildings and structures

Concrete through the ages