Concrete, Corbusier and Chandigarh share an inherent relationship. Concrete Action 2014, an international conference on Modern Architecture and Concrete Structures thus seemed to be befittingly organized in the living laboratory of Chandigarh - a city featuring in the tentative UNESCO world Heritage List and acclaimed for its sacrosanct use of concrete.
The conference, held in early April 2014 and organized by the Chandigarh College of Architecture (CCA) and Chandigarh Administration jointly with significant organizations/institutes from in and around Chandigarh, showcased speakers from India, Turkey and Ireland and disseminated a huge wealth of knowledge on the subject through the various research papers (from a host of other countries) that were published as a part of the conference proceedings. The conference, among other aspects, highlighted the restoration of concrete surface textures and the development laws and architectural controls that govern their usage.
Taking Chandigarh as a case study and incorporating a tour of the key heritage sites of the city, the conference considered research studies that have guaranteed that the concrete structures in Chandigarh are ‘structurally stable and safe for habitation’ but expressed concern for the original surface textures that have been altered over the years. Further, a case study of the restoration of a concrete facade of the conference venue (CCA) also revealed how dry process cleaning with sand/shot blasting could further damage the surface, rendering the wet process of cleaning with a water hose pipe and a soft brush more valid.
Fascinating research projects relating to concrete were brought to the forefront. These included: the conservation plans of the famous Villa Savoye and the Chandigarh Capitol Complex; the need for scientific grading of indoor concrete surfaces; condition mapping (used as a essential tool in concrete conservation); the need for the integration of new and old materials to form a composite in case of concrete repair; the necessity to revise the codes pertaining to concrete durability; the advantages of retrofitting concrete structures vis-a-vis full structure replacement; the relevance of newer materials such as nano-concrete, micro-concrete and geo-polymer concrete; and the remedial engineering of concrete (repair/ rehabilitation/ retrofitting). Since technologically the properties of modern and historic (dating back to the 19th and early 20th century) concrete varied, a point was also made to differentiate between conservation processes.
Interactive open house discussions with the informed audience also revealed a number of facts, including the assessment by engineers of the longest span of concrete structures to be 80 years, the use of lime concrete by old civilizations that proved to be more durable than cement concrete and the need for the material to be reinvestigated. The conference rightly opened up the room for much discussion, sensitizing everyone on the material at a time when older concrete buildings in India - as in many parts of the world - are facing the challenge of deterioration.
Ar Apurva Bose Dutta
Bengaluru-based architect Apurva Bose Dutta works as an architectural journalist. She collaborates and works with publishing houses and architectural organisations to write and speak about architecture. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or reached at www.apurvabose.com