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New concrete floor technology has Gothic roots

Gothic cathedral architecture has inspired a new type of concrete flooring.

Concrete flooring needs to be strong to support the necessary load. This usually requires floors to be at least 25 centimetres thick and be reinforced with steel bars or grids, making them too heavy an option in some cases.

Researchers at ETH Zurich’s Technology in Architecture have created a concrete floor that is just two centimeters thick and 70% lighter than normal concrete floors. Since they need less concrete and less CO2 is produced in the manufacturing process, the floors have positive environmental contributions too.

The concrete slabs that make up the ceiling that supports the floor resemble the valued arches of Gothic cathedrals. Their strength comes from their shape, and no steel reinforcements are needed. The slabs fit together without the need for mortar.

Philippe Block, an associate professor of architecture, said:

“We based our design on historical construction principles and techniques that have since been forgotten.”

The development team looked at the work of 19th-Century architect Rafael Guastavino, who designed brick vaults with narrow vertical ribs on their upper surface. These created the floor’s flat surface and provided stability even when the load is distributed unevenly. This technique was one of the main inspirations for the development of the new concrete floor technology.

As the new technology uses fewer materials, the floors are cost-effective. Thinner ceilings and floors also mean that more stories can be built in the same space as buildings with conventional concrete floors.

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