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Green Building and the Ancient Romans

by Utne Reader staff


Tags: Technology, Green Building,

the baths of caracalla

Scientific analysis of ancient Roman concrete suggests it was stronger, more durable, and more environmentally sound than modern concrete.

The simple fact that we can still visit the buildings and monuments of the ancient Romans illustrates that they knew what they were doing when it came to developing long-lasting building materials. Many historians even credit the Romans with inventing what we call concrete through their use of a very simple process:

But as Conservation reports in its Fall 2013 issue, it’s only recently that scientists have broken down the structure, chemical composition, and mechanical properties of ancient Roman concrete to the point of being able to glean useful information for contemporary concrete production.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, summarized their findings in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society, and found the ancient Roman combination of limestone, volcanic ash, and seawater required far less heat (which means far less fuel) for solidification than modern concrete does. This suggests that contemporary application of the ancient Roman method may yield stronger, more durable concrete with a much smaller environmental footprint. 

Image courtesy isawnyu, licensed under Creative Commons.