‘Building in a bag’ – the ingenuity of concrete canvas

Imagine a future where a piece of cloth that you lay down and  spray some water on turns into a slab of concrete! This is the magic of ‘concrete canvas’ and it is about to change some basic rules of civil engineering.

Concrete canvas is a great innovation from engineering students Will Crawford and Peter Brewin, that feels like a normal canvas but put some water on it and it hardens in a few hours to give you a robust construction.  The cloth, impregnated with concrete,  is easy to transport and just needs water and some air to complete a construction. It doesn’t need heavy equipment, good working surfaces and is not labour intensive at all. You will need lots of water, which need can be sourced from a bore well or even the sea, an air blower (if the construction is big and you are in a hurry)  and some labour to put the cloth in desired places. You can roll the sheets on to slopes and it will take up the contour of the land, making it truly easy to use.

What’s more, unlike normal cement, it can even be deployed in the rain and difficult weather conditions like snowfall, or dry arid conditions with equal ease. The idea has already moved  a step further and ‘Concrete Canvas Shelters’ are now available,  literally a building in a bag. Basically, the concrete cloth is stitched in the shape of a tent and shipped in a water-proof  packaging. When required, the packaging is broken and water pumped in to dampen the cloth. An air blower is connected to raise the shelter to its full size and all you have to do is wait for the cement to harden and set. After about 12-18 hours of drying,  the shelter is ready to be occupied.

Concrete canvas is gaining a lot of popularity because of its potential uses. It can be used to line ditches and tanks faster than the conventional method of laying concrete. It can also be used on slopes to prevent the erosion of soil and landslides. It is being laid over surfaces to make them smooth- like foot paths, flooring, etc. But the most important consumers of these shelters are projects such as mining, defense or infrastructure that are carried out in extreme environments.  Concrete canvas shelters are indeed a boon in such cases because they can be rapidly set up and that too with minimal labour.

Concrete canvas shelters will also serve as good refuge places during natural  disasters and their factory-packaging can ensure instant availability of sterile environments for offering medical help to the injured. Although they contain fibre, just like concrete they are fire proof and can also offer thermal insulation from events such as snowfall. Concrete shelters have a life span of 10 years and compared to traditional concrete leave much lesser debris when demolished. Undoubtedly, Concrete Canvas is the future of construction!

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