What Is Concrete? - Explained By Converge

April 18, 2022

What is concrete?

The Cambridge dictionary defines concrete as “a very hard building material made by mixing together cement, sand, small stones, and water”. It is an engineering material which is used for buildings and structures. After mixing it with water and placement, the concrete hardens and solidifies. This occurs because of hydration, which is a chemical process. The hydration binds all the components in the blend together. Eventually, creating a stone-like, hard material that is used in most industrial and commercial buildings today. 


Read more: What is concrete made of and what are concrete slabs.


The history of concrete

The first findings of concrete-like buildings trace back to around 6500 BC, and a lot has happened since then. What we know as concrete is, to some extent, different from the concrete people have used throughout history. However, it is close to the material we use today, and we use them for the same purposes as our ancestors did before us. For example:


-   Floors

-   Houses and buildings in general

-   Bridges


Nowadays, we have sensors that measure in-situ concrete temperature and compressive strength, and it all started with concrete house structures about 8500 years ago. That’s pretty fantastic when you think about it.


Humans have used concrete when building some of the most well-known buildings and structures in the world, some of these are:


The Egyptian pyramids: Over 5 000 years ago, the Egyptians used a concrete-like mix to hold the blocks of the pyramids together while building. They mixed silage with a mud-blend of gypsum, clay, and crushed limestone. This was a successful blend, and the pyramids are still standing tall.


Roman architecture: The Ancient Romans used a blend of volcanic ash, sand, limestone, and water for their buildings. They also used molds, and by pouring the concrete into the molds, it allowed them to create new shapes such as domes. This new method is the reason that the roman architecture is still well-known and their buildings iconic.


Ingallas building: This skyscraper was the first high-rise building made of concrete. It was built in 1903 with 16 stories. 


Hoover Dam: The Hoover Dam is to be found in the Black Canyon on the border between the states of Arizona and Nevada in the United States. The dam is in the Colorado River and has 3,25 million cubic yards of concrete.


The interstate highway system of America: You will find reinforced concrete in all the interstate highways in America.


Burj Khalifa in Dubai: This building is also known as Burj Dubai and is the tallest building in the world (although the Jeddah Tower is planned to be taller when finished). The primary structure of the building is reinforced concrete.


Read more: Concrete setting time, concrete curing time and concrete maturity.

Why concrete is such an important part of the construction industry

By using concrete, you will achieve a construction structure that has strength, reflectivity, versatility, and durability. Concrete also has environmental benefits, which is good to know these days. The strength can be adapted which makes it a good building material. By adjusting the amount of water, cement, and aggregate ratio, you can change the stretch to match a specific type of project.


Concrete reflects heat instead of absorbing it, which makes it very good for buildings. By reflecting the heat, it cools the building and has the same effect as an AC, which means that you will save energy and money on the bills. The versatility of concrete is well known. We use it for buildings, structures, floors, highways and in numerous other ways.


Durability is one of the most important benefits of concrete. It needs minimal maintenance and can successfully withstand adversity, for example, fire, erosion, and all the trials that mother nature might put it through. Therefore, the structures and buildings that were built thousands of years ago still stand.


All these benefits, among others, makes concrete so important.


7 facts about concrete

  1. Concrete and cement are not the same thing. Even though they are often wrongly used as synonyms.


  1. Concrete is the world's most frequently used man-made material. If counting materials that come exclusively from earth, water is number one.


  1. The statue of Christ the Redeemer that stands in Brazil is made of soapstone and concrete.


  1. During World War II, the British used so-called concrete sound mirrors. They were used as sound-reflectors and warned the British soldiers when a German aircraft was approaching.


  1. Concrete has a fantastic resistance to both fire and water. That is why concrete is often used when building underwater structures.


  1. Concrete got its name from the Latin word "concretus". It means condensed or compact.


  1. The structure of the Sydney Opera House is made of reinforced concrete.


Read more: Concrete cube test, concrete slump test and what to keep in mind when pouring concrete in cold weather.


Frequently asked questions


What is concrete used for?

Concrete is used for buildings and structures. You’ll find concrete in tall buildings such as Burj Khalifa in Dubai and big structures such as the Hoover Dam.


When did humans first start using concrete?

Humans started using concrete-like materials over 8500 years ago. Even though it's not exactly the same material we use today, it is still very similar.


Why is concrete called concrete?

Concrete got its name from the Latin word "concretus", which means compact/condensed. It was the Ancient Romans that gave concrete its name.

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