Structure as Finish

Concrete as a finished surface (e.g. ceiling, wall or floor) lowers material usage in construction and future maintenance needs. And it needn’t be dull: concrete can come in a huge range of colours and textures!

According to various studies, internal finishes account for around 12-14% of the total embodied emissions associated office buildings of which suspended ceilings are a significant component. It therefore follows that the ability to design them out in favour of an exposed concrete soffit will provide a worthwhile reduction in carbon emissions.

In terms of the physical quantity of materials used, designing out suspended ceilings could save up to 6 t of material for every 1,000m2 of floor space. Future savings may also be realised by avoiding the need to replace the suspended ceilings, which have a lifespan of around 24 years.

As concrete subfloors are already a standard requirement in most buildings, it can also make good sense to use this as the finished surface, avoiding the need for additional coverings, such as tiles, lino, or carpet. This significantly reduces the materials needed, as well as reducing landfill during construction (site wastage can be high, reaching about 20% for carpet) and at end-of-life.

A wide range of highly durable polished concrete finishes are possible, requiring little ongoing maintenance. Concrete can also include different coloured constituents and pigments to provide a near infinite range of colours, while it can also be formed in a large variety of ways to give different textures and visual appearances.

Designing out building finishes reduces the cost of construction, while in-grained/integral coloured concrete and/or surface textured concrete are maintenance free, lasting for as long as the concrete lasts. In contrast, painted or otherwise coated surfaces are subject to wear and tear and require maintenance at regular intervals. In addition, exposed concrete surfaces lend themselves well to surface heating/cooling systems.

Further reading and sources
Passive Cooling Utilising Thermal Mass

Header photo by Paul Mocan on Unsplash