Updated on October 12, 2017
Jonathan Bunge Chicago: Through the test of time: The magic of the Roman concrete
Ever wondered why ancient Roman buildings stand sturdier over time? The Romans are known for being architectural geniuses who made piers, breakwaters, and other structures that have lasted for centuries. Despite constantly battling with seawater and time, many of these structures are still intact. According to science, interactions between volcanic ash that were used in the mortar and seawater make the buildings stronger.
The typical concrete is just made of sand, gravel, water, clay, iron ore, chalk, shells, and limestone. When used for bridges, sidewalks, and roads, the ordinary concrete’s lifespan only lasts for decades (about 50 years). And if concrete is exposed to water, its lifespan will reduce even more.
According to Marie Jackson, a geologist from the University of Utah, the durability of the Roman concrete is activated by seawater. The concrete’s material has volcanic ash, rock, and quicklime. When the material is submerged in water, new minerals such as Al-tobermorite and phillipsite are formed in small, crystal-shaped plates. And these minerals strengthen the concrete’s form. The concrete stands better over time with more exposure to seawater, because the minerals grow. The cement also can maintain itself.
However, according to Jackson, this type of Roman concrete will only work for seawalls and breakwaters. Using it might also be harmful to the environment, as it may disrupt tidal ecosystems and harm marine wildlife.
Image source: nature.com
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Tags: roman concrete, concrete, architecture