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Helena Westerlind - The Liquid Stone Cookbook

The story of concrete – the most used man-made material in the world – typically begins with the invention of Portland cement. In the early 19th century advances in emergent scientific disciplines, such as chemistry and geology, provided the necessary framework for identifying and transforming the properties of a specific composition of raw mineral materials into a hydraulic cement powder. This artificial powder, when mixed with water and aggregates, formed a completely new type of substance that could be moulded into any shape, before undergoing a metamorphoses into a durable stone-like material.

The subsequent rapid spread of concrete, not only, would come to be deeply intertwined with an urbanisation process at an unprecedented scale, but also came to epitomize a completely new style of architecture that fulfilled the modernist dream to “break free with the burden of the past” (Forty 2011). Still, the pervasive notion that concrete is a material “without history” must be attributed more to the fact that so many of the changes that were perceived to be modern happened to be represented in concrete, rather than to the actual physicality of the material itself. In fact, its earthbound origin is never far away, and although concrete may be ‘modern’, it is not ‘new’ (Forty 2011).

 

A material perspective allows for the interpretation of concrete’s role within the built environment in terms of a “geological infiltration”, in an ongoing relationship between the human evolution and the mineral world, that could be argued to extend all the way back to the ancient mineralization processes of the human endoskeleton (DeLanda 2000). In the story of architecture, as a progression of technology and the transformative processes materials go through when they come into contact with people, the search for a durable building material is as old as construction itself. Seen in this light, the invention of concrete emerges as the accumulation of a long material tradition dedicated to the pursuit of liquid stone, and that in addition to being a product of modern science, belongs to a history of alchemy, archaeology and myth.

The Liquid Stone Cookbook sets out to trace an alternative record of concrete through historical recipes of liquid stone. Using the analogue of cooking, the project focuses on the empirical tradition of a material practice that long predates the the birth of material science. By studying the practices through which artificial stone has developed, and attempting to reconstruct historical recipes, the project aims to “follow the material” and to know history through making.

Helena Westerlind
PhD Candidate
KTH School of Architecture

 


 

Forty, Adrian: Concrete and Culture, A Material History. London 2012.
DeLanda, Manuel: A Thousand Years of Non-linear History. New York 2000.

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