Concrete’s extensive embodied energy is causing many to rethink its use. From the studio to the lab, this compilation of products, research, and applications showcases the latest innovative, if futuristic, updates to the standby building material. Below, you'll find a robot that recycles concrete (roll your mouse over the circles on the photo to learn more about its features), some cool new products made of concrete, and some neat breakthroughs made recently in the lab.

A ’Bot for Green Deconstruction
As engineers and designers focus on creating efficient concrete structures, one designer is trying to find a more sustainable way to take them apart. The Ero Concrete Recycling Robot, a conceptual project by Milan-based product designer Omer Haciomeroglu, enlists high-pressure water jets to cut concrete away from its reinforcement and out of the assembly. “This is a new breed of machinery,” he says. The robots, which are designed to work in synchronized teams of as many as 10, use water to break the concrete along the micro-cracks that pervade its surface. Then, each acts like a “giant vacuum cleaner,” he says, sucking up the aggregate, filtering the cement, and extracting excess water before repackaging the recycled product on site for eventual resale. The robot was his master’s thesis in advanced product design from the Umea Institute of Design in Sweden and won a 2013 IDEA Gold award for student designs from the Industrial Designers Society of America. 

(Roll over the circles in the photo to learn more about Ero.)

Tina Rugelj

The Seater, Tina Rugelj
Fiber cement’s high strength-to-thickness ratio enables the minimal, rounded construction of this outdoor chair from Slovenian designer Tina Rugelj. The Seater, part of Rugelj’s My Concrete Garden Collection, is made of fiber cement and weighs 81.6 lbs. An armrest on one side of the chair allows for a loveseat configuration when the chairs are paired.

Ann Sacks

Lath, Ann Sacks
Not all floors that appear to be made of concrete actually are. The Lath collection of porcelain floor tiles by Milan-based designer Rodolfo Dordoni for Ann Sacks is one example, emulating concrete poured in wood molds. The series is offered in four colorways (beige, shown).

Leigh Cameron

Weight of Space, Leigh Cameron
U.K.–based furniture designer Leigh Cameron has crafted his practice on synthesizing unexpected material combinations, particularly those involving concrete. His latest creation, Weight of Space, pairs an unembellished timber frame and cast concrete table top in a desk designed to contrast concrete’s man-made uniformity with wood’s natural variation.


NewForm WireHolder, Newark
Concrete formwork may not be the first application project teams consider when integrating principles of green design. Newark’s NewForm WireHolder rebar chair adds an element of sustainability to cast-in-place concrete. Made entirely of recycled paperboard, the chair keeps mesh, cable, and other wires supported and off the ground or formwork while concrete is poured.

In the Lab

Scrub Away
Lehigh University researchers have discovered that increasing the surface area of concrete cladding made with self-cleaning photocatalytic cement—which enables the panels to scrub pollutants from the air—does not affect the energy performance of the building envelope.

Gorilla Cement
Scientists at MIT are taking a lesson from Corning's crack-resistant Gorilla Glass to reduce the effects of creep on concrete. Cement made with a higher amount of silica exhibits the glass's efficient molecular structure, leading to more durable concrete that needs fewer repairs.

Corn in the Concrete
When Kansas State University researchers replaced 20 percent of cement with byproducts from the manufacture of cellulosic ethanol—which is made from inedible materials such as corn stover, wood chips, and wheat straw— they increased the strength of concrete by 32 percent.