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Dr Bill’s Big Fix Blog

(Concrete) Rock of Ages

Cement in its current form (or close to its current form), and the concrete that it bears, has been around since the second half of the nineteenth century and is still going strong today.

But has the way in which it is used changed over this time?

In the early days it was known as ‘Portland’ cement and it was used for housing (often in the main fabric rather than just as a material in masonry mortar or render). It was so named because when it hardened it was thought to resemble Portland Stone, which was a very well regarded building stone frequently used in prestige buildings.

However, when reinforced concrete technology grew considerably in the period around 1900, the product became more popular for use in larger-scale commercial and industrial projects. For instance, the iconic Liver Building in Liverpool has a reinforced concrete frame, and many will recall the concrete ‘Twin Towers’ of the old Wembley stadium.

More recently, large areas of exposed concrete have fallen out of favour, even though the hidden skeleton of many buildings may still contain large quantities of concrete.

Despite this, most of us continue to come into close contact with cement and concrete in the domestic setting as cement has almost entirely supplanted the older, lime-based mortars in masonry construction.

Take our patios and driveways as an example: most of these will contain concrete components such as pavers and slabs rather than natural stone. Concrete in the form of cast stone is also popular for garden ornaments, harking back to one of its earliest uses. Look around you carefully and you will see many examples of the use of cement based materials.

Of course, modern cements now contain a wide range of new ingredients which improve performance and make them more sustainable. But they can still trace their history directly back to the Portland cement patented in 1824 by Joseph Aspdin. The cements you use to build a garden wall today still set and harden in the same way as those pioneering cements.

I’m sure we will find new and original ways in which to use cement in the future, just as I am sure the cements themselves will continue to evolve.

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