A guardian from the terrors of time or an impudent marauder of nature? The benefits and drawbacks of this unique and ubiquitous material put humanity in a conundrum.
“A single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger”
~ Pliny, The Elder
We have an innate tendency to seek stability, and the solidity of concrete is what makes us attached to it. Humanity’s need for shelter, services and more get effectively secured with strong concrete structures. A million years from now, when all the steel we used to build our world has rusted through, and the wood has rotted into dust, it’s concrete that will remain.1
The principal reason why concrete has an edge over other materials is that it receives its characteristics from multiple elements. Modify the proportions, and something new gets created. From fly ash, sawdust, and industrial hemp, to iron rebars and glass fibers, concrete can be formulated to produce the desired qualities according to the project and context. Reinforced cement concrete, in particular, has enabled artists and architects to mold a form of their desire, not disconcerted about the failure of bringing their unconventional imagination to life.
There can be no denying that concrete has changed the fabric of our existence. It has always been the fuel for ambitious minds to make a mark of permanence for generations to come, be it the Romans, colonists, the Industrial Revolution, or modern architecture, it has been a game-changer in history.
“Finding solitude in concrete jungles is powerful and peaceful”
~ Michael Dolan
More than half of today’s urban city infrastructure uses concrete. A city whose architecture has made it part of the global market and continues to be special in the hearts of its people is aamchi Mumbai.
The earliest use of concrete in the commercial capital of India can be traced back to when “Mumbai'' was “Bombay”. Some of the iconic sites and landmarks, from the waterfronts of Bandra-Worli to Colaba’s welcoming Gateway, have all been fabricated in concrete. The Art Deco or ‘Bombay Deco’ which emerged in the early 1930s flaunted a new style of architecture in South Bombay which used concrete along with other indigenous materials to create a new identity for the elite of the city. Marine Drive, the ‘Queen’s Necklace’, is adorned with colorful apartment buildings with curved corners and exotic motifs flowing along the sweeping promenade of the Arabian Sea. The use of cantilevers and balconies was a prominent addition which was possible due to the sculpting ability of concrete.
Dubbed as the ‘lifeline’ of Mumbai, the trains date back to around 150 years from today. Concrete is used in railway sleepers as it is weather-resistant, anti-corrosive, and easy to maintain, hence suitable for Mumbai’s climate. Different train routes connect this archipelago internally and externally. Along with railways, the setting up of industrial mills invited a huge number of immigrants to the city in the quest for employment opportunities, along with a need for growing infrastructure.
Over time, Mumbai became a city of extremes. On one side is an expanse of luxury and on the other are the infamous, congested, one-room slums. The slums of Mumbai are the epitome of houses based on need and helplessness. These people who once had nowhere to go, now live in permanent homes. Concrete as a building material forms the common denominator, however, the way it is used affects the form and quality of the structures of the two strata. Now that concrete is so inexpensive and locally available, it could gain the definition as the new vernacular material of the city.
Promontory cities such as Mumbai that stretch linearly usually face challenges in commuting, due to overcrowded highways and roads, which results in delays, pollution, and much more. Projects like the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, the Coastal Road project, Mumbai Metro, and Monorail became the need of the hour.
Concrete will impact the future of Mumbai as much as it has dominated its present-day skyline. Prefabrication is the stepping stone in construction. Concrete has enabled the processing of these real-life Legos, which are poured, and assembled on-site, cutting down on time, labor and resources. With the growing population, rehabilitation schemes, recreational centers, the demand for faster, cheaper, and durable construction will grow exponentially. The introduction of 3D printing has created a new wave in the field of construction, from printing the demo small-scale replicas to the structure itself.
Many advances in concrete could promise a greener and cleaner future to this city of dreams. Newer types of concrete, like carbon negative-concrete, which absorb carbon dioxide while curing, could bring down the global thermal temperature and have a huge impact on the increasingly hot climate of Mumbai. As monolithic as it is in nature, concrete shrinkage, and heavy loads cause catastrophic cracking in structures, resulting in millions of rupees being spent each year on repairs. Self-healing concrete fixes the damage at the hairline level, through autogenous healing when it comes in contact with water.
Concrete as a material is versatile and gratifying, and many believe the world is being crushed under it. As the world today is in shades of concrete, its judicious use must be supervised to ensure it doesn’t become an antagonist, far away from the true hero it can be.
Written by: Laxaree Sawant, Nidhi Khot, Neha Jaysanker
Submitted for Concrete in Architecture Competition.
Brief: Evolution of Mumbai through the medium of concrete.
 The History of Concrete, BigRentz Inc,https://www.bigrentz.com/blog/the-history-of-concrete
Concrete Sleeper, Agico Group, http://www.rail-fastener.com/concrete-sleeper.html
What is the Future of Concrete in Architecture?,Niall Patrick Walsh,https://www.archdaily.com/926854/what-is-the-future-of-concrete-in-architecture
The Future of Concrete Is Green, by Michael J. Ramerth, PE