From the stunning pantheon to a villa on a chilean cliff, the guardian’s architecture critic picks some of the world’s best concrete buildings, not necessarily the most famous, but all of the most ingenious uses of the material in their respective eras.
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Apollodorus Of Damascus
The ancient romans didn’t have reinforced concrete reinforced with steel, but they did have concrete and used it to build the pantheon, producing stunning results that no one has matched since.
The real moment of genius came when, after some imitation of the columns and marble decoration of the lower levels, the design broke down at the top into purely circular eyeholes without glass, which allowed a beam of light to pass through to rotate around the interior, like an internal sun.
Anatole De Baudot
It is a slightly clumsy attempt to implement the principles of gothic architecture in concrete, but at the same time endearing for its heroic attempts. The church was ahead of its time and the building regulations for churches did not keep pace with it, which meant that construction had to be postponed while the demolition order was revoked.
De baudo did not fully understand that the lightness of gothic architecture could be achieved without gothic details such as pointed arches and vaults. Auguste perret went on to create the glorious notre dame de paris, but saint-jean de montmartre is on the list for being a pioneer.
Concrete can be both primitive and technical, both thick and suspended, combining the properties of steel with those of clay. Le corbusier knew better than anyone how to navigate the expressive range of this material.
He used it as a medium to translate his simultaneous fascination with modern machines and ancient temples. Le corbusier’s marseille apartment is so massive that it resembles both a cruise ship floating in from the nearby mediterranean sea and a rectangular mountain range running parallel to the nearby mountains.
Los Manantiales Restaurant
Many architects and engineers took advantage of the ability of reinforced concrete to create unusually light structures that barely touch the ground, despite being masonry.
A considerable number used parabolic forms of arches and vaults to direct the structural forces within the material with special efficiency, making the structure lighter. Felix candela was one of the first to pursue these ideas and did the best job. The effect of anti-gravity in los manantiales restaurant is particularly amazing.
St John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville
St john’s abbey church was designed by the famous hungarian architect marcel breuer. This cast-in-place concrete marvel is a springboard for modern design in american religious architecture. The building’s north facade is the world’s largest stained glass curtain wall and contains 430 concrete abstract hexagonal designs.
In 1950, abbot baldwin dvorak made a bold decision, one that art historians have called a milestone in the history of american catholic church architecture. He contacted 12 distinguished architects, including marcel breuer. The abbot of baldwin abbey asked the architects to submit an architectural design for st. John’s cathedral. The abbot’s design request was “To create a monument that would truly serve god…casting bold forms that would not become obsolete over the centuries.”
Bank Of London And South America
Italian-argentine architect clorindo testa was not particularly interested in making concrete look light (at least from the outside), but in lifting it from the ground to build an extraordinary structure resembling a dinosaur skeleton.
Yet it still manages to achieve a civilized harmony with the surrounding neoclassical appearance. It also forms a perforated armor that filters sunlight into the interior, creating both closure and openness. Surprisingly, it ends up with some japanese screen-like, almost transparent qualities that only add considerable tonnage.
Lina Bo Bardi
The swimming pool, indoor soccer field and other sports fields are stacked in the fattest of the three towers, with the locker rooms in another, connected by vibrant catwalks that convert the normally monotonous gridiron into a play area and turn it into an urban theater. The third, cylindrical tower, stores water.
Knowing that shifting political winds could blow away such a social project, bo badie made it look like a fortress: Known as fortress of freedom. The window openings, which appear to have been knocked out by a caveman, are astonishing.
Portuguese National Pavilion
Álvaro siza is one of the less esoteric of contemporary architects, which makes this theatrical moment all the more remarkable. He picks up a piece of concrete and drops it between two rectangular blocks like a handkerchief.
The special properties of reinforced concrete, especially its ability to overhang and vault and achieve high strength with minimal thickness, are fully exploited. It is a classic that makes the design look effortless, but the engineering and architecture of it is anything but.
Eberswalde Technical School Library
Herzog And De Meuron
By the 1990s, one might have thought that everything to do with concrete had been exhausted. However, herzog and de meuron came up with a new approach, which was to print on the material a set of images selected by the artist thomas ruff.
The same images were printed on a horizontal glass strip flush with the concrete, which, during the day, gave the library’s simple rectangle a distinctly even surface. At night, the transparent part lights up while the solid part does not, which creates an opposite impression.
Pezo Von Ellrichshausen
Apologies need to be made here to tadao ando, dennis ralston, robert merat, oscar niemeyer, zaha hadid, rachel whiteread, frank lloyd wright and sverre fein, all of whom are concrete magicians and should have made this list.
But the last spot gave way to a house on a cliff cape where access difficulties limited the fineness of the construction. The result is that the cubic purity of the structure is offset by the roughness of its solids, and the traces of the concrete’s timber moldings give it the feel of an unusually noble wooden shack.