Oscar Edmondson

The pride of pouring perfect concrete

In the summer of 2020 I was awarded a degree in history from Bristol University – the culmination of three years’ work, late nights and great expense – but it is my concrete pump operator licence which sits above the mantelpiece. My father considers my ability to pump concrete at a rate of one cubic metre per minute to be far more impressive than my knowledge of Henry VII’s foreign policy.

At university I worked as a pump operator for my father’s piling company, making me a very unglamorous nepo baby. I helped bore the foundations for constructions all over the country. On a job installing disabled access lifts at Old Trafford stadium, the foreman explained to me that the piling gang is much like a football team: the pump man is the centre half threading passes (concrete) through the midfield (snaking pressurised pipes) towards the striker (piling rig), who attempts to break down the opposition defence (the wintery earth) with their attacking nous (rotating steel auger). As the steel cage was lowered into the concrete-filled hole, we would often shout: ‘Aguerroooooo.’

Concrete is a perfect building material. It is the second most used substance in the world – after water – and its production has changed little from when the Romans were mixing volcanic material with cement. Innovation rarely happens, and when it does, it is often for the worse.

Take the debacle over reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac). More than a hundred schools are compromised by ‘bubbly concrete’ which was used in floors, roofs and walls between the 1950s and 1990s. It was popular because it was cheap and quick to install, essential for meeting post-war  demand. It’s also very bad at its job. The cavities inside Raac’s Aero-chocolate-bar-like structure make it weak and susceptible to water leaking in, which in turn can cause the steel reinforcement inside to rust and fail.

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