It’s a concrete world—we’re just living in it

This column published as "Concretus" in January 2022 issue

Gavin Jenkins / January 04, 2022 / 3 minute read
Gavin Jenkins

Happy New Year!

I hope that you and your loved ones had a happy and safe holiday season. Now, it’s time to get to work and kick off 2022 right—with our Concrete issue.

We’re celebrating all things concrete, with stories that focus on pavement management systems, an all-precast bridge replacement using carbon nanofiber UHPC, and ground glass pozzolans and the future of concrete infrastructure.

In “Innovative Material,” Todd Kempker examines the reconstruction of a Missouri road using compacted concrete pavement. And, in “Preservation is Key,” Kristin Dispenza explores how Oklahoma keeps its turnpikes smooth and safe.

When we planned this issue, we wanted to look at the state of concrete and its role in the industry, with an eye on the horizon. That’s not to say the past isn’t important.

We begin the year with concrete because it’s the most widely used building material in the world, and it has a rich history dating back to ancient times. The Mayans in Mesoamerica and traders from the Nabataean Kingdom in the Middle East each used concrete materials in building, but the latter group was the first to realize that hydraulic lime aided the cementing process.

The Ancient Egyptians and Romans used concrete, as well, but the material began to really take off during the Industrial Age. In the 18th century, British engineer John Smeaton built Smeaton’s Tower. The traders from the Nabataean Kingdom may have discovered hydraulic lime, but Smeaton perfected it with the help of pebbles and powdered brick. In 1824, Joseph Aspdin developed portland cement, and nearly half a century later, Joseph Monier invented reinforced concrete.

The Hoover Dam wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for these men. Speaking of dams, get a load of this: the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei Province, China holds the record for the largest concrete pour in a single project. It is estimated to have 16 million cubic meters of concrete that was poured over 17 years.

On November 8, 1997—the day after I turned 17—the design-build firm EXXCEL Project Management in Louisville set the world record for largest continuously poured concrete floor. The monolithic placement consisted of 225,000 sq ft of concrete that flowed for 30 hours.

It’s amazing how far concrete has come during the span of human history. And you, our dear readers, are following in the footsteps of these construction pioneers and world-record holders.

Our celebration of concrete won’t end with this issue. Later this month, the Roads & Bridges Media team will be in Las Vegas at the World of Concrete convention.

If you also attend, please visit our booth and say hello. I would love to talk to you about concrete, the roads and bridges construction industry in general, or football. But please, if you choose the latter, be nice. It’s been a rough year for my Steelers.

About the Author

Jenkins is managing editor of Roads & Bridges.

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