20 March 2024

Caption: Iconic architect Santiago Calatrava’s auditorium in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands strikingly illustrates the design potential of concrete. 

A thorough knowledge of concrete and its full potential is essential for municipal engineers to design, construct, and maintain safe and reliable infrastructure that meets the needs of South Africa’s communities and ensure sustainability, says Bryan Perrie, CEO of Cement & Concrete SA (CCSA).

Perrie says municipal engineers are responsible for designing and maintaining public infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, sidewalks, water systems, waste water plants, and buildings. “As concrete is one of the most commonly used materials in municipal construction projects, it is essential that municipal engineers have a strong understanding of the properties and benefits of concrete,” he feels.

He says among the reasons why civic engineers should know more about concrete are:

* Material selection: Municipal engineers should know how to choose the right materials for the job, and be aware that concrete is the best choice for its sustainability, versatility, and low maintenance requirements. “Concrete can be manufactured to an enormous range of specifications to suit a wide variety of applications by using different mix designs or adding different materials. By fully understanding the properties of concrete, engineers can make informed decisions about how to use it in their designs.”

* Design considerations: Concrete has a unique design capacity with important factors that can impact and enhance the aesthetics and performance of infrastructure. Concrete can be cast into different shapes and sizes to suit various applications in infrastructure such as for the construction of new buildings, bridges, tunnels, roads, and dams, and a wide variety of structures. “By understanding these factors, municipal engineers can design concrete structures that are safe, reliable, and sustainable.”

* Construction management: Municipal engineers are responsible for managing construction projects from the beginning to completion, including overseeing the concrete processes. By having a thorough understanding of concrete, they can ensure that the concrete is designed properly and being applied correctly and that any issues are addressed promptly. “Concrete also provides faster construction which means reduced carrying costs and faster revenue generation. This facilitates more timely payback of financing charges and faster revenue generation for any developer or owner, including municipalities,” Perrie adds;

* Maintenance and repair: Municipal engineers are also responsible for the maintenance and repair of public infrastructure and, as concrete structures also require periodic maintenance and repairs, the engineers should have a solid understanding of concrete properties and repair techniques to help extend the lifespan of these structures and ensure public safety. “Eventually, when it comes to re-use, concrete is an inert material that is easily recyclable. Old concrete, that has reached the end of its service life, can be reused as aggregate for new concrete mixtures. The addition of industrial by-products such as fly ash, silica fume and blast furnace slag enhance the various performance properties of concrete, whilst incorporating waste materials that would otherwise be deposited in landfills.”

Perrie says concrete has for centuries been a crucial material for sustainable infrastructure and advancements in concrete technology are continually improving its performance and reducing its environmental impact. Among the vital qualities of the world’s most popular and perennial building material are:

  •  Sustainability: Concrete is a sustainable material that can be produced with lower carbon emissions than other construction materials. Additionally, concrete structures can be designed to reduce energy consumption lowering carbon footprint.
  •  Strength and durability: Concrete is a strong and durable material that can withstand high compressive forces and resist weathering, erosion, and many other adverse environmental factors. This makes it ideal for use in infrastructure that needs to last for many decades.
  •  Versatility: Concrete can be cast into different shapes and sizes, making it ideal for various applications in infrastructure. It can be used to construct buildings, bridges, tunnels, roads, and dams, and a wide variety of structures.
  •  Cost-efficiency: Concrete is a cost-effective material when compared to other construction materials and it can also be produced using locally available materials, reducing transportation costs.
  •  Fire-resistance: Concrete is highly resistant to fire, making it ideal for use in structures where fire safety is a concern.
  •  Energy efficiency: Concrete structures have good thermal mass properties, which means they can retain and release heat slowly, leading to substantial energy savings in buildings.

“Concrete is one of the oldest and most widely used construction materials in the world and possesses many unique qualities that benefit the owner, developer and designer. Due to its versatility, aesthetic appeal, cost-effectiveness and availability, concrete is changing the face of southern Africa’s landscape. Increasingly, cutting-edge engineers and architects are making concrete their material of choice,” Perrie adds.

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