Today cement is the most widely used material after water, either sold by the sack as smallest unit for DIY use or as full ready-mixed concrete truck loads for large-scale construction. With the future of concrete questioned more than ever due to its warming impact on the atmosphere, this talk looks at how architectural humanities might approach cement as an internationally traded commodity. With cement, once the critical building material of 20th century modernity, and by now naturalized, its past, present, and future will be addressed: the architectural history of the kiln, being at the center of a technological system; recent dominant imaginaries of future architectural materials, processes, and technologies; and ecological approaches to the recultivation of disused quarry, read as a parable of dealing with all Earth's systems. If concrete is the most widespread geological marker of the Anthropocene, and architecture being left dependent, planetary survival and justice requires a global history of cement.
Kim Förster is an architectural historian, author, and teacher, and since 2019 lecturer in architectural studies at the University of Manchester, where he is part of MARG (Manchester Architecture Research Group). His research and teaching deals with ecology in architecture, environmental, energy and material histories, as well as a humanities perspective on cement as critical building material. http://www.kimfoerster.com
Response by Amelyn Ng, architect and Assistant Professor of Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, co-curator of Planetary Home Improvement: From Just-in-time to Geological Time.