Concrete Planet

Concrete Planet (2011) by Robert Courland is a decent effort at a book that looks at the history of concrete. This is clearly going to be a heavy, non-abstract book. The lessons of the book will also be reinforced. At some stage toward the end cracks may also appear.
The books chapters on the discovery of concrete and it’s use and development as far as the middle of C18 are really good. The way that concrete is likely to have been discovered and then was used in Ancient Rome is fascinating. The chapter on the development of Portland cement is also highly entertaining.
The book’s quality drops when it reaches the 20th Century. Far too much time is spent looking at Frank Lloyd Wright and not nearly enough at what concrete was being used for in the 20th century. The weird study of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Opera House is silly too. Reinforced concrete’s role in the construction of skyscrapers, highways, dams, bridges and other C20 icons is really important. Falling Water isn’t nearly as worthy of mention.
The book finally looks at how modern reinforced concrete structures have a fairly short lifespan of about 50 years. This is worth thinking about and the book covers this well.
Materials are a really neglected part of technology at least in general non-fiction. This is a worthy but flawed book that looks at a really important transforming technology. It’s worth reading if you’re into these things and much of the book is excellent. It’s a pity the whole book doesn’t attain the same standard.


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