Should we give concrete another chance?

In most people’s minds in the UK, concrete is synonymous with the 1960s and 70s. These days, the word is normally used in negative connotations, such as ‘concrete jungle’, ‘concrete monstrosity’ or ‘concrete over [the countryside]’. This despite the fact that concrete not only has a long and noble history in twentieth century design, but also in current work of designers like Calatrava; whose work I have touched on before in this blog (see

Exposed aggregate concrete paving used in Lauzerte, SW France in a historic square.

When I was recently in France, in a small historic town in the south-west of the country, I was taken by the widespread use of exposed aggregate concrete paving; laid in situ in some of the oldest historic parts of the town. Somehow I couldn’t imagine this happening in the UK. Concrete (and particularly in situ concrete) has really fallen out of use. Part of the problem is that because designers have stopped using it, the skill have largely been lost form the workforce. This is not the case in the USA. When I did a garden in the north-western US a couple of years ago – in NE Washington State – I was able to specify an in-situ concrete path with a smooth finish safe in the knowledge that any decent local contractor would have the skills to construct this to a pretty good standard. Can you imagine the same thing applying in a similar location in the UK – say, Central Wales or the Lake District?

An in situ concrete path I designed in a garden near Mount Spokane, WA, USA.

Concrete has started to creep back into civil schemes in England. I recently cycled through Blackpool (see where a new £100m scheme runs for 3.3km along the famous Golden Mile. The design incorporates large areas of banked in-situ concrete in flowing sweeps, as well as precast ‘pebbles’ weighing between 2T and 10T. Cycling through this lot turned me (and fifteen others) back into a fourteen year old boy again, sweeping up and down the ramps.

In-situ and pre-cast concrete used together with great effect at Blackpool’s Golden Mile.

In retrospect, concrete seemed like the obvious choice for this scheme (designed largely by engineers rather than landscape architects). However, too many schemes end up being carpeted in the evermore ubiquitous resin-bound gravel. A great material without doubt, but one that I am becoming a teensy bit tired of.

Until we see concrete used more in award-winning schemes and at Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows (there have been some), it seems unlikely that it will make any sort of resurgence in the UK anytime soon. Although in any case, without the construction skills being widely available, this is likely to be a slow process.

3 responses on “Should we give concrete another chance?

  1. Wendy Tippett

    Defo time to bring concrete back into fashion, with the current interest into our ‘recent past’ – including the English Heritage exhibition ‘Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the C20’ running until 24 Nov at Quadriga Gallery. We need to look at landscape schemes from the post war era as well as the architecture.

  2. Mark Weaver

    I can not agree more strongly with your thoughts on concrete, I have designed and build a contemporary and architecturally challenging house in Worcestershire round which I planned to arrange oversized exposed aggregate concrete slabbed hard standing. My ground worker is great but the look of horror on his face when I said what I wanted told me he was not keen, confident or willing to do the work! It was more a case of “OK, we can have a go”!
    Not convincing!

    1. John Wyer Post author

      Thanks for your comment Mark. It was a while since I wrote that piece, but not a lot has changed since then. There is still a definite lack of expertise regarding in situ concrete in the UK, especially if you compare it to almost anywhere else (northern Europe, US etc). Thankfully, there is now a wider range of large format decent quality concrete slabs available in sizes up to a couple of metres each way, mostly imported from northern Europe.

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