Concrete has been used for centuries, and its durability has been proven time and time again. But how long can concrete last? In this article, we explore the history of concrete, its performance characteristics, and the structures that have been built with it. Concrete is a composite material made up of cement, sand, gravel, and water. It has been used for centuries to build structures such as bridges, dams, and buildings.
The earliest known use of concrete dates back to around 5600 BC in the area of the former Yugoslavia country. The Romans were the first to use pozzolanic cement, a type of concrete made from volcanic ash and lime. This type of concrete was used to build structures such as the Colosseum in Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, techniques for making pozzolanic cement were lost until the discovery in 1414 of manuscripts describing these techniques reignited interest in building with concrete. In the 19th century, concrete was mainly used for industrial buildings.
However, in 1962, the construction of Bertrand Goldberg's 60-story twin towers in Chicago sparked renewed interest in using reinforced concrete for tall buildings. Today, concrete is used to build structures up to 163 stories high, such as the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai. It is also used to spread through the fertile layer of soil and suffocate habitats, contributing to the biodiversity crisis. The design life of most buildings is usually 30 years, although buildings typically last 50 to 100 years or more. Due to their durability, most concrete and masonry buildings are demolished due to functional obsolescence rather than deterioration.
However, a concrete shell or structure can be reused if the use or function of a building changes or when the interior of a building is renovated. Different concretes require different degrees of durability depending on the exposure environment and desired properties. An office building built today can be expected to last 500 years from concrete alone if it is properly designed, built and maintained. By learning about the history of concrete and how it is used today, we can develop an understanding of how it can take our civilization upwards while also pushing our human footprint outward.