These Concrete Architecture Trends Are Solidly Inspiring

From the Roman Pantheon to Arthur Erickson’s modern West Coast designs, concrete has time and again proven itself as versatile as it is durable – and an endless source of inspiration for architects, engineers and designers. It’s one of those rare materials that feels both fresh and timeless; a material that offers endless possibilities for creativity and inventive applications, especially when used to create striking modern facades.

Few know the impact of concrete better than Wolfgang Rieder, CEO of Rieder Facades, an innovative Austrian concrete technology company. “I don’t see facades simply as the outermost layer of a building, but rather as a multi-faceted organism for the building, and also as a boundary and a skin of the city and the public sphere,” explains Rieder. “The texture, color and formation of wall surfaces have a significant impact on how space is perceived.”

And in 2022, we still perceive concrete as the ultimate cool – and the latest industry trends easily confirm this.

A close-up of the lightweight concrete matrix made of high-tech cement, developed by Rieder.

Sustainable concrete mixes

A new wave of concrete mixes only adds to the material’s eco-friendly reputation. Rieder’s cement-reduced concrete matrix, for example, replaces 50% of the cement with fiberglass, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 30%. (It also gives the final material a unique fir-green hue and rich texture, which can be seen via Rieder’s new headquarters in Maishofen, Austria.)

The façade of Rieder’s new headquarters is clad with its new low-carbon, fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels.

Rieder is the first facade manufacturer to produce glass fiber reinforced concrete with a low CO2 content. “We don’t just want to talk,” says Rieder. “For the ecological transition to succeed, it is important to do. In order to safeguard the future of the company and to ensure the preservation of the world for future generations, we are taking comprehensive measures to accelerate the greening of the ‘company.”

In addition to offering diverse and flexible design options, fiberglass reinforced concrete also has impressive technical properties. At only 13mm thick, it is durable and non-combustible, and free of crystalline silica. The panels are also easy to install and require little maintenance.

The durable materials used in the construction of the Godesberger Allee building in Bonn, Germany will stand the test of time.

big is beautiful

It’s downright impressive to see what lightweight concrete can allow engineers and architects to do. This is the case with formparts22 from Rieder (made of C-glass fiber reinforced concrete): the monolithic concrete elements offer great flexibility and various design options for innovative building envelopes. With low weight and wide span widths (and convenient factory pre-assembly), Rieder’s castings are ideal for facades designed with challenging geometries – think L or U cross sections, rounded arches or special shapes with 16 foot spans.

Boston University’s striking facade was easily constructed using modern mounting systems.

Ready-to-use installation

Although concrete has traditionally been a heavy and bulky material, today’s smartly designed mounting systems make installation easier. Case in point? Rieder’s hinged formed parts, which are easily connected using various mounting brackets. A simple anchoring system allows for on-site adjustment, high accuracy of fit and concealed mounting, compatible with all standard support structures.

Wood and concrete blend perfectly in the design of this modern hospital in Baden, Switzerland.

Mix materials

“Wood and concrete are not opposites,” says Rieder. “They are the new normal.” Together, these organic materials form what Rieder calls an “unbeatable team” for green building. Pairing fiberglass reinforced concrete panels with CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) may well be the future of structural engineering. “It’s resource-saving, time-saving and environmentally friendly, which benefits people and the environment,” notes Rieder. These advantages are due to the prefabricated nature of the elements, which considerably reduce construction costs and times, and guarantee a high quality standard, an efficient and flexible construction process and rapid assembly on site.

Rieder’s renovated headquarters in Maishofen, Austria brings an old structure into modern times.

Use what already exists

Adding concrete to a renovation is a popular way to rejuvenate a building after its prime. Rieder’s new headquarters, for example, was built from a pre-existing structure – a great example of how concrete can contribute to sustainable construction. “Using what already exists rather than building something new is known to be the best way to save embodied energy and reduce land sealing,” says Rieder.

A former bus garage has been transformed into a new Rieder company campus. Among the reused elements were concrete columns from Rieder’s former factories, a massive concrete beam previously produced and 150 tonnes of recycled steel beams.

Here, a disused bus garage has been transformed into an experimental greening laboratory. Rieder’s team also used concrete columns from the founder’s grandfather and father’s former factories, a previously produced massive concrete beam, 150 tons of recycled steel beams and much more. “Building into the existing fabric allowed us to save around 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide compared to a new building, while transforming an unattractive building into a great example of resource-efficient circular construction,” says Rieder.

The Patricia Reser Center is clad with durable and long-lasting façade elements from Rieder.

Solstice on the Park in Chicago, Illinois pairs durable concrete with a wall of glazing for a beautiful blend.

Designing buildings to last

For sustainability-conscious designers (and who isn’t one these days?), concrete’s longevity makes it even more appealing to work with. A material that can withstand a tremendous amount of wear and tear and bring a chic brutalist vibe to a project? Yes please. “The life cycle of buildings must increase,” says Rieder, advocating for greater revitalization of existing buildings and the adoption of sustainable building materials. The Romans knew this well: for the Pantheon and other indelible projects, they used a poured masonry method called “opus caementicium”, which included pozzolan as a binder to give the material a durability that surpasses that of modern concrete. Now Rieder is following suit with its own new concrete matrix. “Innovation and tradition are closely linked and continuously complement each other”, says Rieder.

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