Operation BetonSarah Nichols in conversation with Guillaume Habert and Donald Mak

What is embedded in material or, respectively, architecture? Addressing this question reveals the entanglements that bring architecture into being—organizations and knowledge, energy and labor, and extraction and emission. By taking up this lens, building can be thought of as a long process of formation that happens through both material and immaterial means, neither beginning nor ending with the construction site but rather stretched across territories and through time, intimately linking seemingly disparate agencies together.

By studying approximately a century of cement and concrete in Switzerland, this talk will examine the relations between institutions, discourse, and technology as they intersect in the material. The establishment of organizations, ideas, and techniques from the late 19th century through the end of the interwar period will be shown to have enabled the mass deployment of concrete in the Postwar period.

Over the period of study, concrete went from being a material used occasionally to one that is ubiquitous. This talk will thus also grapple with the challenges of studying ubiquity to show how concrete—organizationally, technically and conceptually—broke with previously held notions of scarcity and became a material without limit.