The Beauty of Concrete – 8 Unusual Concrete Buildings From Around The World
Concrete is usually thought of in just a practical way. But we see the beauty and potential in a material that has contributed to making some of the most outstanding buildings in the world.
It might be strong, economical, and environmentally friendly – but it also has a beauty that is often overlooked.
Concrete can be used to create stunning shapes and structures that would be unthinkable in any other material. So what better way to demonstrate the point – and share our love for the subject – than by compiling a collection of eight unusual and thought-provoking concrete buildings from around the world?
1. Fallingwater, Pennsylvania
This iconic building in Pennsylvania was designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1939.
Its Japanese-inspired design uses monolithic concrete slabs to create a stunningly beautiful arrangement – helping it become part of the natural landscape.
A reinforced concrete framework forms the basis of an innovative cantilevered concrete structure. The house was commissioned by Edgar J Kaufman, who was so concerned with the lack of precedent for using reinforced concrete in this way, that he had Wright’s plans reviewed by a team of engineers, much to the outrage of the already highly celebrated architect – Fortunately, this concrete masterpiece went ahead as planned.
2. Unite d’Habitation, Marseille
This modernist apartment building was designed by Le Corbusier and was built in 1952. It was the flagship construct of a progressive residential housing design principle that Le Corbusier had developed with his friend and fellow architect Nadir Afonso.
The project was nearly halted however when the steel frames used in the original plans were deemed too expensive because of post-war shortages.
But béton brut – or ‘raw concrete’ – as a replacement material saved the day and went on to be a major influence on the brutalist architecture movement that was already gaining momentum at the time.
3. Los Manatiales, Mexico City
This restaurant in Mexico City was designed in the 1950s by Spanish-born architect Félix Candela. He helped revolutionise the use of concrete by demonstrating its incredible ability to create thin curves and shell-like structures on a large scale.
With this building, he used reinforced concrete to form arches and vaults in the form of parabolas. It’s thanks to Candela’s understanding of concrete’s unique structural qualities that this beautiful building has stood proudly for over 60 years.
4. The Hipotecario Nacional Bank, Buenos Aires
This curious building is arguably the most iconic example of Argentinian brutalist architecture. Designed by Clorindo Testa in the 1960s, it is a far cry from the delicate work of Félix Candela.
Here we have a dramatic and deliberately imposing structure whose outer layer of rough concrete looks like it has emerged from the ground itself.
Vast concrete slabs mark the entranceway to a building that somehow manages to not look out of place with the neo-classical buildings that surround it.
The concrete façade is independently supported so its relationship with the glass-fronted exterior creates a layered effect that perfectly balances openness with enclosure.
5. Habitat 67, Montreal
Habitat 67 in Montreal was designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and completed in 1967. Its highly unusual layout comprises over 300 identical precast concrete blocks in varying configurations over 12 stories.
Safide’s original concept was to try to incorporate what he saw as the key benefits of suburban living — garden space, privacy, fresh air, and multi-storey housing – into an urban apartment complex.
Concrete was the only material that could have allowed him to so cleverly balance these ideas in a way that also met the economic requirements. This inspiring concrete experiment is still one of the most recognizable and celebrated buildings in Canada to this day.
6. Portuguese National Pavilion, Lisbon
This beautiful building by Alvaro Siza was designed as the centrepiece of the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition and uses reinforced concrete’s unique ability to maintain high strength at minimal thickness to great effect.
Building on the work of early pioneers such as Félix Candela, the elegantly curved concrete sheet almost seems to be fabric draped across the two blocks. Only concrete could afford the designer this delightful balance between lightness and strength.
The result is a stunningly simple design using some surprisingly complex engineering.
7. Santiago Calatrava Auditorium, Santa Cruz de Tenerife
The mesmerising Santiago Calatrava Auditorium in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is widely regarded as one of the most important buildings of modern Spanish architecture.
Although plans to build an auditorium for the Canary Islands date back as far as 1970, it wasn’t completed until 2002 due to ever-changing plans and protocols.
The building utilises a concrete frame and precast concrete roof and is most notable for its breath-taking arch – which not only looks strikingly beautiful against the backdrop of the Atlantic but also represents an architectural first for a concrete structure.
8. Villa Saitan, Kyoto
This distinctive housing complex in Kyoto, Japan, was built by the Eastern Design Office in 2006. Its core structure is encased in a concrete shell with huge cut-outs designed to emulate the roots and leaves of trees.
From the inside, the sun shines through the many cut-outs in the concrete facade as if through the branches of tall trees. Only with concrete could this clever juxtaposition between the fabricated and the seemingly organic have such a powerful effect.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of some of our favourite unusual concrete buildings from around the world – and hope that it might help you see concrete in an entirely new light.
Concrete is not just the basis of roads, drains, and pipes – but an incredibly versatile material that has helped visionary designers, architects, and engineers push the boundaries of what can be achieved with the desire to balance function with form.