Cold, stark, and even harsh are words that traditionally have been used to describe the aesthetic of concrete construction, particularly for commercial developments.
Today, however, concrete is competing among the most elegant of building materials for aesthetic superiority. Decorative and tilt-up concrete are adding texture, color, and style to an impressive range of building types, including office, civic, retail, and industrial --particularly in developments going up in Riverside County.
In the quest to expand the uses for concrete in an architectural context, companies are developing new products and equipment, while contractors and building teams are refining existing techniques to make concrete more versatile and visually pleasing.
Decorative concrete on the rise
Without a doubt, decorative concrete has outgrown its status as a niche market. According to the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC), decorative concrete is the fastest-growing segment of the concrete industry.
Concrete-beautifying techniques such as stamping, staining, stenciling, polishing, overlaying, and coloring are drawing the attention of building owners and have become part of the designer's pallet. In fact, approximately four to five percent of all new concrete construction in the United States in 2003 incorporated color. Industry experts predict this percentage will at least double by 2007.
In response, contractors are rushing to add decorative concrete techniques to their portfolio of services. Decorative concrete is being used on entryways, floors, walls, columns, and beams in more and more commercial applications, such as entertainment venues, commercial office campuses, and retail buildings.
South Corona Center, a new $2.5 million, 23,127-square-foot retail center under construction in Corona, Calif., will incorporate numerous decorative concrete features. Designed to bring both style and retail convenience to the Corona area, the high-end retail center will be accented by two-piece "el Camino" roofing, stamped concrete walkways, four patios and multiple water features. The center is slated for completion in July 2004. South Corona Center, L.P. is the project developer.
A&D Design is the architect and Keeton Construction is the general contractor. Product manufacturers are responding to the decorative concrete demand by developing new products that address common issues relative to concrete, such as appearance, cracking, and pouring/placement difficulties. Subsequently, such product improvements as surface retarder technology, pigments, and self-consolidating concrete are being developed and introduced to the marketplace. Moreover, the concrete construction industry is responding to the market's need for information and training. The ASCC and other trade organizations are conducting training programs and workshops for designers and contractors across the United States.
Tilt-ups taking a fresh turn
The use of tilt-up concrete also is growing significantly. Once relegated to mundane warehouse-type buildings, tilt-up has broken away from its distinction as a "concrete box" and is now giving contractors the ability to produce distinctive structures.
A case in point is the new 72,745-square-foot Remington Business Center in Temecula, Calif. Being developed by Kearny Real Estate Company, LLC, the $6.8 million project entails the construction of 11 concrete tilt-up buildings that will comprise an industrial complex designed for light industrial businesses that choose to own, rather than lease, property.
Remington Business Center will encompass a total of 24 units ranging from 3,918 to 6,860 square feet. Each unit is move-in ready and will feature a private, screen-walled outdoor storage area in the rear, consisting of an 8-foot-high masonry screen wall and wrought iron rolling or swinging gates. This feature will allow building owners to store or stage goods and materials outdoors without creating visual clutter.
In addition, each building will be sold with a 500- to 700-square-foot interior improvement consisting of a lobby, office, restroom and coffee bar. Buildings also include 12-by-14-foot loading doors, each providing access to a private storage yard. Smith Consulting Architects is the project architect, with Keeton Construction as the general contractor.
Built to last
The architectural and product advancements in concrete are only building upon the material's longstanding reputation for durability. Aesthetic appeal aside, concrete long has been a preferred material among builders for its weather resistance and insulating properties, as well as its ability to withstand earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters.
Concrete also is reputed for its reliability, relatively lower required maintenance, and its versatility. Manufacturers are even developing concrete products that are more environmentally friendly. For example, a new form of insulated concrete forms (or "ICFs"), which are used to improve the structure of walls, utilize non-combustible polystyrene and are made of 85 percent recycled material.
Overall, the popularity and usefulness of decorative and tilt-up concrete will only continue to grow, as new techniques, products and equipment continue to be developed to further mainstream their use. It's very likely that the next elegant structure to catch your eye will be a concrete one.