Issue 128 IX-X 2009


Sustainable Concrete. Referred to a process, sustainable means capacity to endure without external aid and without using up the existing resources. Cement is mainly limestone, so widespread and abundant that it runs no risk of exhaustion. However, large amounts of carbon dioxide are released during its production, and the cement industry is responsible for generating 5% of the world emissions of this gas. To make it more sustainable, a lot of R&D is devoted to concrete, but perhaps a good management of knowledge and the consideration of science as social ‘cement’ is more effective than technological sophistication.


Justo Isasi
A New Cement
Sustainability as Muse
Ignacio Paricio
Light and Slender?
Mutation of a Petreous Material
Andrea Deplazes
Metaphysics of Concrete
Beyond Formwork

European Cements. Six works completed lately serve as examples of the strength of bare concrete as a material which allows defining the volume, texture and color of buildings: in Lausanne, the Japanese SANAA transform a university building into a landscape cut in between to curved slabs; in Cascais, Souto de Moura pays tribute to the chromaticism of the artist Paula Rêgo in a museum with two chimney-shaped skylights; next to the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, KSP build a traversable container; close to Antwerp, Claus & Kaan complete a cemetery with a solemn building for ceremonies and a crematorium; in a small Austrian town, Marte & Marte insert two blocks perforated by windows in a sequence of old buildings; and in the access to the Swiss National Park, Valerio Olgiati rises a Piranesian volume.

Rolex Center, Switzerland
Souto de Moura
Paula Rêgo Museum, Portugal
KSP/Engel & Zimmermann
Documentation Center, Germany
Claus & Kaan
Funerary Complex, Belgium
Marte & Marte
Boarding School, Austria
Valerio Olgiati
Visitors’ Center, Switzerland

Views and Reviews

Crisis and Miracles. A call for the renewal of the social contract of modern architecture makes pair with the epilogue of a recently published book about the disparate effects of iconic architecture in Spain.

Art / Culture

Luis Fernández-Galiano
Criticism and Crisis
Llàtzer Moix
Miracle Architecture

Brazilian Anniversaries. The fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of Brasilia, Federal Capital of the South American giant, coincides with the birth centennial of the landscape architect, artist and painter Roberto Burle Marx.
Sylvia Ficher
Brasilia, New City
Roberto Segre
The Eden of Burle Marx
Digital Reading. Luis Fernández-Galiano narrates his experience with electronic books, sharing section with several key players of the Russian avant-garde, two global atlases of the 21st century and the reviews of books received.
Focho’s Cartoon
Various Authors
Recent Projects

Texan Stages.The architecture critic of The New York Times presents the two last works completed in the Dallas Arts District: an experimental theater and an opera house. The Wyly Theater makes the stage machinery prevail over the relevance of the social act of attending a performance, whereas the Winspear Opera House tries to bring high musical culture to a broader audience.

Technique / Style

Nicolai Ouroussoff
Experimental Duet
Wyly Theater, Dallas
Norman Foster
Winspear Opera House, Dallas

To close, the Chief Economist of La Caixa and professor at the IESE Business School explains why architects must approach their professional practice from the business level, in tune with his intervention at the colloquiums celebrated during the exhibition of drawings by Norman Foster at the Madrid headquarters of IvoryPress, in the fall of 2009.
English Summary
Sustainable Concrete
Jordi Gual
Architecture and Economics

Luis Fernández-Galiano 
Sustainable Concrete

AViva-128-lfg.jpg (10184 bytes)

Does concrete sustain itself? Playfully ambiguous, the title expresses at once uncertainty and desire. We do not know well if we can reconcile the current production of cement – clearly energy intensive, though in practical terms inexhaustible in its raw material – with the elusive and equivocal concept of sustainability, so our title makes a pun with the loadbearing capacity of concrete. Concrete sustains and sustains itself, and its sturdy strength allows us to blur the complex matter of its environmental impact, that cement companies try to address with ambitious research programs and a special emphasis on innovation. But the term ‘sustainability’, a must in the vocabulary of political correctness, harbors so many fictions that perhaps we should always use inverted commas when referring to it, even if only to establish a skeptical pause between its promises and its achievements.

After all, building implies some kind of violence on the territory, and its processes have a component of thermodynamic irreversibility that urges caution when using the endless lexical array associated to well-meaning sustainability. The fact that entropy inevitably tends to increase and that any use of energy entails its degradation could indeed bring a certain hopeless melancholy, and a tame attitude of acceptance of this elegiac view of the world, prompting us to give up our present historical responsibilities and give in to the relentless flow that drags us towards the thermal death of the universe. However, this thermodynamic pessimism should by no means keep us from striving to make a more economical and rational use of the always scarce energetic and material resources of the planet, with the aim of inhabiting it in a less brutal and predatory way.

Concrete, as many other contemporary materials, combines the long history of its use in construction with a recent complex itinerary of productive and technological sophistication, appearing at once as a very ancient and a very modern material: it is probably this double condition that captures our attention nowadays, being able to make compatible its ageless nature with the surprising novelties of today’s treatments, transparencies and textures. The raw and massive concrete that we usually relate to engineering and public works is currently a surprisingly delicate product, exquisitely attentive to the environment, and extremely seductive when used with sensitivity and intelligence. It sustains and sustains itself, both materially and aesthetically, and hopes to be reasonably sustainable, no matter how stubbornly the science of thermodynamics warn us all about the ultimate limits of our endeavor.