Why Concrete Has Been King from Ancient Rome to Outer Space

From sidewalks to roads to buildings, concrete surrounds us in our daily lives, but we rarely stop to think about it. In this episode, Vyta Baselice talks about her efforts to understand how and why concrete became the quintessential modern building material, showing up not just in big construction projects, but in everything from coffin vaults to imagined building projects on other planets.

Using her research into the papers of building contractor John McShain, Baselice explains concrete’s appeal for those undertaking large construction projects and what concrete came to mean to society. Over time, when concrete came to signify modernity itself, it spread into unexpected places: farms, trees, cemeteries. Even as new regulations made concrete construction more expensive, its popularity endured.

Related collections:

John McShain papers
John McShain photograph collection


Banner image: Concrete mixing machine storage facility, Hagley Digital Archives.

Vyta Baselice is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the George Washington University. Find her on Twitter @vytabase​ and find GW American Studies @GWUAMST.