Concrete is one of the most common building materials in the world. Because of this ubiquitous nature we often only think of it as a structural component something that should be united with steel; reinforced to create the space that we desire. This train of thought is very limiting for a material with such a plastic nature. Some designers have tried to elevate the nature of this material in a variety of ways. The first designer that I like to think of as one of the early pioneers of using concrete for it aesthetic qualities is the infamous Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier’s Unite d’ Habitation built in 1953 in Marseilles, France exploits the plastic nature of concrete in the base structures of the building. His meticulous formwork and practice of rotating these forms creates a unique pattern that reveals the aesthetic nature of the material as well as its ability to reference the container that held it while curing.
The second designer that I believe raised the standard in detailing concrete is Luis Kahn. His Salk institute might be known for the perspective view of the ocean, but a closer look at the actual structure will reveal intricate edges left behind from the concrete forms. These counter relief edges emphasize the lines and shapes of the concrete façade; they create the detail on the other wise simple faced. The layout of the forms must have caused massive loss of sleep for both Kahn and the workers. Recently visitors have developed the sacrilegious practice of chipping them away to collect a souvenir from the monumental piece of architecture.
Concrete has a rich aesthetic history among some of the biggest names in architecture. Contemporary architects like Tadao Ando have used it to emphasize form and light in building like the Church of Light. Ando has elevated concrete by using it is such a precise way that heavy concrete almost appear more textile in nature. With the continual advancement in concrete research and development the possibilities of concrete as aesthetic material are becoming endless.