Perception, Perspective & Purpose

Do you consider architectural concrete, decorative? What's the difference between the two? If there's a separation, where does that contraction joint lay?

Architectural Concrete Vs Decorative Concrete
@yegorov_nick -

Aside from reporting on industry happenings and curating articles from experts, my goal is to learn as much as I am able while I sit behind a keyboard. If not in my home office, I'm at a convention, a press conference, or a seminar. Should time allow, I'll get to some sites and learn first-hand. At a minimum, all this helps me ask better questions. I ran into one recently and wanted to bring it here.

Not too long ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 2023 American Society of Concrete Contractors Fall Conference. In one particular roundtable session, the conversation got - if you would allow me an editorial here - energetic about nomenclature. The roundtable hosted a variety of contractors of various levels of experience each representing different segments. At the risk of opening that can here, I'd like to address the topic. Spoiler, I ended with more questions than answers; the gray scale between the terms seems to oscillate as much as a finisher's hand trowel. 

Do you consider architectural concrete, decorative? Vice versa? What's the difference? If there's a separation, where does that contraction joint lay?

The roundtable took a look at perception, perspective, and purpose. I think one of the problems came from over-simplifying a decorative concrete contractor to just an artist - that decorative concrete work was less prestigious the the counterpart. It's a debate on terminology but it matters. Obviously, there's artistry involved in decorative work but there's artistry involved in architectural concrete too. If someone is trained for decorative concrete work, there were questions about which terminology would best represent the necessary pay. 

Experts considered factors like the project's application, the original intention, and if there was a structural element involved in attempting to uncover a clear definition. They turned to their knowledge of various divisions within ACI and ASTM and brought up how one architectural concrete division seemed to consider more toward vertical work. But that can't be the limit between the two terms, could it? The slab itself has structural elements and doing its fair share of holding up the floors above. 

Specification was also considered. The claim was that it would be more clear to specify elements in architectural work vs decorative. The mix can be specified. The finish type. The curves of columns. But couldn't decorative stamping and stenciling be specified? The hardness of the epoxy floor? Yet, the artist is the one who figures out how to get that concrete design to pop. 

Maybe discerning what's not between the two is easier than discovering the definition. Maybe it's as simple as acknowledging that there are elements of both in each other. You can have an artistic element on that structural concrete - the Decorative Concrete Council's and ACI's annual award programs are testaments to that.

What do you think? Is architectural concrete, decorative concrete? Is decorative concrete, architectural? Does it matter? Where do polishing and masonry fall in this Venn diagram? Write me at [email protected], let's keep this conversation going. 

Ok, enough from me. Let's get back to work.