‘It may be noted that although reinforced concrete has been used for over a hundred years and with increasing interest during the last few decades, few of its properties and potentialities have been fully exploited thus far. Apart from the unconquerable inertia of our minds, which do not seem able to adopt freely new ideas, the main cause of this delay is a trivial technicality: the need to prepare wooden forms.’
Pier Luigi Nervi
Fabric cast concrete involves casting concrete in formwork made with flexible formwork, usually a woven fabric of some form. Being flexible the fabric can only carry the weight of the wet concrete by tension and hence the shape of the cast depends on the initial shape of the fabric, its initial pre-tension and the tensile properties of the fabric itself. By careful shaping of the fabric it is possible to produce complex shapes that would otherwise be difficult to manufacture using conventional formwork systems. The permeability of most fabrics assists the curing process to produce a more durable concrete with fewer surface defects, the surface finish follows the texture of the fabric. Fabric casting has the potential to produce concrete elements that are structurally efficient and visually dramatic in an inexpensive and practical manner.
Although the history of casting concrete in flexible formwork is extends far back into the the early parts of the 20th Century, contemporary research into fabric cast concrete was initiated in Canada at the University of Manitoba with the work of the architect and teacher Mark West. Research at the University of Edinburgh started 2003 and focuses on the practical and expressive exploration of the technique through undergraduate, postgraduate studio projects and research studies. These studies have shown that fabric–cast concrete can produce high quality concrete elements in forms that would otherwise require complex and expensive formwork.