Concrete is a material that is both old and new at the same time. Invented in its first form by the Romans, concrete continues to be highly innovated on today, with its uses and material composition being pushed further all the time. Even with the multitude of innovations surrounding concrete, designers and builders often face age-old challenges with the application of the material during the construction process. Sometimes, it is an innovation in application of the material, rather than the material itself, that moves our thinking and way of doing forward.
An example of this idea in concrete is the issue of reducing the amount and weight of the material in floor systems while maintaining structural integrity. From coffered, two way slabs to hollow, pre-cast planks, designers and builders have utilized many strategies to reduce the amount of concrete in the floor slab.
A new approach to reducing weight in concrete floor slabs is a product called BubbleDeck1. Bubbledeck (produced by its namesake company) is a prefabricated, panelized concrete formwork system that can be used for onsite casting of concrete. Its innovation is in the form of a planar array of circular, hollow plastic balls held inside a volumetric mesh of steel reinforcement. The formwork is made in such a way that a continuous, thin layer of concrete resides on either side of the ball and steel frame resulting in a flat, two way concrete slab where area not necessary for structural support is occupied by air. The negative space created by the sphere has the added advantage of creating a superb structural shape for the concrete to form into. The company also claims that the system offers increased safety and speed of construction.
While the exploration of new materials and their properties is both exciting and necessary, it is important that in a field where potentially all ideas are in some way recycled, we recognize the importance of continuing to innovate on longstanding strategies.