Concrete structures cover every corner of the modern industrialised world. Poured into being from a docile liquid mass, these structures herald the endless possibilities embedded in the combination of aggregate, cement and steel. Concrete has been used so indiscriminately throughout the 20th and 21st centuries that we hardly notice its presence, often hidden away under more precious materials.
However, concrete expresses an immense resistance to accommodate its confines. The coarse mass unwillingly interrogates the mould’s interior with its tremendous weight. Each cast is a negotiation between content and container, pushing against each other in a material choreography. It is easy to forget the intense heat that created the cement or the underground deposits excavated to recover the aggregate. The cast is a material memory of both its origins and its immediate manipulation.
In this project, I pursue the architectural qualities that might arise in a conscious choreography between the fluid mass and the mould. The precise movement offered by digital fabrication machines presents ideal conditions to expose the concrete’s material contingencies as they negotiate and fluid forms emerge. Confronted with the coarse and unruly concrete, the machines become a fine-tuned register to reveal material nuances in the balance between control and collapse.
Three trajectories of physical experiments survey a spectrum of material contingency between interior and exterior forces – between concrete and container. One trajectory follows the continuous deposition of fluid concrete through a robotically controlled extruder. Another trajectory studies perforated membranes as the fluid concrete deforms them and pushes through the distorted cuts. A third trajectory pursues fabric formwork braced with thermoplastic prints and combines the principle with a bespoke steel reinforcement bending technique.
Collectively, the experiments unfold a tectonic discussion about choreographic apprehension and appropriate levels of control. As the concrete hardens, it solidifies a memory of intuitive expectation, material experience, virtual instructions, synthetic transformation and prehistoric erosions. It is an act of trust to let go and allow the concrete to assume its delicate and unpredictable form. This tectonic memory is the subject of this dissertation.