Concrete Impression

A Concrete Impression

From its first use in the early twentieth century, the concrete industry has not stopped innovating. Additives have reduced setting time and increased homogeneity; high strength cements and fibers have improved its tensile behavior. The latest developments include transparent concrete, graphic concrete and a biodynamic concrete that can naturally decompose contaminating particles.

The Italian chemist Luigi Cassar, inventor of the ‘smog-eating’ cement, recently received the ‘European Inventor Award’ by the European Patent Office (EPO) as recognition of the technological innovation, but Cassar’s studies date back to 1991 when he began working at Italcementi, just outside Bergamo. According to Cassar’s calculations, if 15 percent of a city like Milan was covered by this material, pollution would be reduced by 50 percent. And with a cost only 10 percent higher than traditional cement, the ecological impact can far outweigh the financial one.

Italcementi - the fifth largest cement producer in the world - have patented the active ingredient TX, which gives biodynamic concrete its pollution reducing capabilities. On the market since 2006, it has been used for numerous buildings including the Cité de la Musique in Chambery, the headquarters of Air France to 'Charles de Gaulle airport and the Vodafone Village in Milan. Another example is the Dives in Misericordia Church in Rome by the architect Richard Meier, who also collaborated with Italcementi on their research and innovation center in Bergamo.

Pope John Paul II wanted the concrete white sails of the Dives in Misericordia to be kept white over time as an enduring symbol of the Jubilee of 2000. The solution was Italcementi’s revolutionary white cement, which uses titanium oxide to keep the architecture clean and bright as well purify the air. The mechanism is generated by photocatalytic substances that upon contact with light trigger the reaction; oxygen molecules present in the air work on contaminants, including nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide on the surface, breaking them down and turning them into nitrates and carbonates, which are washed away by the rain. The mortar also uses 80% of recycled aggregates, in part scraps of Carrara marble, which gives a brighter result than traditional white cements.

A biodynamic cement developed by Italcementi will also be used for the construction of the Italian Pavilion at EXPO Milano 2015. Designed by Nemesis & Partners, the pavilion is inspired by an urban forest and will use 2000 tons of biodynamic cement to clean the air at the heart of the Expo site.

The new material presents extraordinary characteristics of workability and strength when compared with classic cements. It has an initial fluidity three times greater (300 mm - 100 mm), is twice as resistant to compression (over 60 MPa - 30 MPa) and two times more resistant to bending (over 10 MPa - 5MPa). It is the unique characteristics of this ‘dynamic’ material that allows the realisation of complex shapes such as those of the panels for the Italian pavilion as well as guarantee an outstanding surface quality.

In the chapel of the new Ospedale Giovanni XXIII in Bergamo, designed by Traversi + Traversi Architetti and Aymeric Zublena, biodynamic concrete has been used along with graphic concrete to create a blend of innovation and faith.

Graphic concrete, produced by a company of the same name, enables durable patterns and images to be produced on prefabricated concrete surfaces, such as facades, walls and pavement slabs, by exposing the aggregate underneath. In the hospital chapel in Bergamo concrete has been combined as an architectural element with the artistic project inside.

Italcementi had already developed the solution of transparent cement for the Italian pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. With biodynamic cement, Italcementi confirms the innovative and creative dimension of Made in Italy. Researchers and architects working side by side in the search for solutions and materials that provide new features of traditional construction techniques and meet the challenges of today’s architectural imagination.


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