Carnfunnock amphitheatre (photo: Jack McGeown) [Opposite] Upside-down columns at the Johnson Wax Headquarters, Wisconsin; Frank Lloyd Wright (photo: Bj¸rn Lund Mogensen) Decorative and Innovative use of Concrete [Above] The curved roof of Canary Wharf Station, London (photo: David Groom) [Opposite] The Y building, Askersgata, Oslo. The Fishermen is a wall decoration from 1970 made by Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar and based on drawings by Pablo Picasso (photo: Hans Nerstu) out to produce a roof, as well as allowing through plenty of light. The novel design won the day and concrete was the beneficiary. At that time it would have been expected to be steel or stone, or anything but concrete. In a similar vein is a modern slender column and curved roof design (see opposite), now part of the award-winning railway station in Londons Docklands.
I was professionally involved with this building and remember it because the exposed as-struck concrete surface was initially considered unsatisfactory. Perhaps concrete has now become accepted for such use in structures. We no longer marvel at the performance but familiarity with the materials use in other applications has perhaps made us want more from the finish than can be provided by an as-struck form. Plain as-struck concrete surfaces are not liked by some because the concrete can be seen to be concrete. Concrete is sometimes seen as a poor surface finish. It is only when it is treated to change the appearance that it becomes acceptable. Decorative and Innovative use of Concrete Acceptable concrete does not look like concrete.
This is not my own belief but it tends to be the generally held opinion of the majority of those who judge or form opinions on the subject of concrete finishes. Concrete as just a plain surface with the commonly held characteristic appearance of looking like concrete can be improved by grit-blasting a Picasso on the surface. The surface is still the same surface; however, the eye is now drawn to the interesting sketch almost as if it were a kind of graffiti. We all walk over acres of block and paved areas (page 7) and think of it as bricks or stone, anything other than concrete. Because we see so much of it around, in all those geometrical patterns and colourings, we tend to regard it as a version of the granite blocks common in the back streets of our old towns. All very acceptable. Now a competitor to block paving has appeared: imprinted concrete. This has become popular because it is made to look other than like concrete “ for example like riven stone or perhaps brick. Timber decking, as a bridge deck, is another clever camouflage to hide the concrete appearance and we find that surprising. The art (page 205) and floor decking (page 170) would not be recognised as concrete. Images tend not to be formed in concrete (pages 276 and 277) and concrete is not usually blue or red and black “ and what about coloured chairs (page 287)! The answer is that concrete can be all or none of these. It can have vivid pigmentation but it does not need to be cast or painted so dramatically in order to be decorative or even innovative. Decorative, by definition, means adoring; suited to embellish.
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