Concrete Chronicles: Storytelling through Innovative Concrete Installations

Concrete Chronicles: Storytelling through Innovative Concrete Installations

Concrete Conquests: The Wonders of Dutch Dwellings

We knew it would be different. We knew they would be smaller with petite back yards called gardens and neighbors close at hand. Coming from the United States to The Netherlands, we expected to make compromises as we searched for a new home. But we didn’t know the half of it – Dutch houses are truly one-of-a-kind.

In Europe’s most densely populated country, space is always at a premium. Thus, stand-alone houses are rather rare. For most Dutch people, a townhouse is the standard. These residences are built in a continuous block, so that the houses share outer walls. A pair of houses might be called townhouses, while longer blocks are known as row houses – a true Dutch row house.

Townhouses aren’t the norm in American suburbs, the places Brandon and I grew up and raised our family. Many Americans value the privacy that distance creates and hate to hear neighbors through thin walls. But in The Netherlands, houses built from the mid 20th century are typically made of concrete. Rather than wood-framing, they have concrete floors and outer walls. This makes a huge difference for privacy, as concrete creates a sound barrier. We’ve never heard neighbors through the walls of our townhouse rental in The Netherlands. We’re even hoping we won’t hear the longarm working in our future attic because of the concrete floors.

Speaking of townhouses, all the houses have multiple floors. Period. Building up only makes sense when space is scarce. Every house we’ve viewed has had three stories – the ground floor, first floor, and attic. In contrast, single level homes are common in the United States. Our South Carolina farmhouse was one level. But here’s the surprise – the stairs are soooo steep and narrow. Oh my gosh, the stairs took me by surprise! The first home we viewed had standard spiral staircases with small steps. I told Brandon we couldn’t buy that home just based on the danger of the staircase for Elora. Little did I know that any home not built recently was very likely to be the same.

Steep steps are one thing, but narrow steps are also tricky. Add a spiral to steep, narrow steps and you create a free-fall zone near the center of the stairway. I really don’t know when Elora will be ready to tackle the stairs on her own. Alas, space-saving Dutch stairs are in our future.

Homes in the United States have so much variety. It’s not unusual to view 10 homes in one day with your realtor in search of the layout that suits your family. The master bedroom could be downstairs or upstairs. You could have a laundry room on any floor. Is there a separate dining room or a mud room? And on and on. Not so in The Netherlands. They seem to have agreed on the most space-saving, efficient layout and are happy to stick to it. Maybe that’s why the Dutch don’t seem to need to look at as many houses before making an offer.

A Kitchen Conundrum: Cooking Compromises in Dutch Dwellings

Almost without variance, the houses in our price range are as follows:

Ground Floor – tight entry space with door to guest toilet. Stairway accessible from entry – this is a spacious Dutch entry, typical guest toilet. Proceed to the open plan kitchen, dining, and living spaces.

First Floor – 3 bedrooms and a full bathroom. One bedroom is big for the master. One bedroom is usually so small that it’s often used as a closet.

Second Floor – the washer/dryer is typically installed in the landing of the attic. The rest of the area may be open or divided into 1-2 living spaces. If you’re lucky, they’ve installed dormer windows to make it bright and airy.

Let op means “watch out” and it’s on lots of Dutch signs. I think they should tell Americans to “let op” for the kitchen when they’re shopping for a home. Sure, many Dutch kitchens are pleasantly updated with sleek, modern lines. But look closer – is everything as you expect?

First of all, is there an oven? Really, there could be no oven. Ask Svetlana and I who are both currently living in rentals without an oven. Who would have thought? And no, a microwave oven is not the same as an oven, my Dutch friends.

Next, how small is that oven? One house we loved had such a small oven that Brandon said I’d only be able to bake 6 cookies at a time, haha. I accidentally left behind all of my baking sheets and pizza pans in South Carolina. No matter – I’m definitely going to need to buy new ones to fit my petite Dutch oven.

What about the fridge? It’s going to be smaller than an American fridge, that’s a given. Do take a look though, as fridge size varies a lot from house to house. They are built into the cabinets, so you can’t really get a bigger one. Also, the kitchen may or may not include a freezer. Our future home doesn’t – the seller kept a freezer in the closet under the stairs.

While you’re at it, check that your kitchen includes drawers if you like those. And also, is the sink too small to wash pots and pans? Kitchen sinks are typically single, not double, and can be rather sadly shallow.

I’m not someone who loves to cook, so the kitchen wasn’t high on my priority list when we started shopping. Very quickly, I learned that it could make or break my reaction to a Dutch house. A decent-sized oven is necessary. I do like to bake.

Bathroom Blunders: Surprising Setups in Dutch Dwellings

Here they call bathrooms “toilets,” and I can see why. After all, there’s probably not an actual bath in there, right? It wasn’t until we started viewing houses that we realized how different Dutch bathrooms can be.

Those cute little guest bath sinks – they likely only serve cold water. Just accept that. If your guest bath is near the kitchen, there might not be a sink at all. As the realtor told us, “Why would you need it? The kitchen sink is so close.”

Impressed by a large, spacious ground floor bathroom complete with tub and/or shower? Don’t get too excited. I’m betting that there is NO bathroom at all on the first floor with the bedrooms. The full bathroom may not have a bath, but just a shower. Honestly, I can’t figure out if that’s a good or bad thing. When you ditch the bath, you typically get more storage space in the bathroom, which is probably more useful.

I’ve even seen a house that had a shower and sink in the bathroom adjacent to the bedrooms, but you had to go downstairs to the ground floor to use the toilet. Tricky.

Well, I think I could go on and on, but you get the idea. It’s a far cry from the no-laundry-room American home. Making the mental transition from an American home to a Dutch home means dropping certain assumptions about what’s normal and being open-minded about what you could get used to in the name of conserving space.

A Laundry Lament: Drying Dilemmas in Dutch Dwellings

I have a feeling we’re going to continue to be surprised. For example, I’ve mapped out the attic of our new home for my future sewing studio. There is a spot for the washer/dryer up there, but I didn’t leave any space for an indoor drying rack. The Dutch seem to dry their laundry indoors most of the time. I don’t see how we can spare any space for it. Oh well, I’m just glad we are finally under contract to buy a home. If all goes smoothly, we should move in on August 30th – our house has an oven!

Homes the world over come in so many shapes and sizes. What makes it home is your people and the care you take to make it cozy. I’m sure we will come to love our new home in The Netherlands. Someday when we visit the States, it will be those houses that feel eccentric. I am grateful for the chance to experience life as a family in a new culture, especially if it means that we all learn that living smaller doesn’t mean living less.

These observations may well apply to homes throughout Europe. Also, I’m sure housing norms vary across The Netherlands. I’m contrasting my experience in Enschede, The Netherlands, with homes in California and South Carolina to be precise. Enschede is a mid-sized Dutch city on the eastern German border.


Coachella Concrete: Innovative Installations Take Center Stage

Apologies to Lana Del Rey and Doja Cat, but attendees at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival – which kicks off today – will be forgiven if their eyes stray from the stage. Standing in the middle of the Empire Polo Club grounds in Indio, California and reaching 72 feet in height is “Monarch’s A House in Six Parts,” a towering architectural-art installation designed by Leslie Lok and Sasa Zivkovic, assistant professors of architecture in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) at Concrete RT Townsville. Their Ithaca-based experimental design and research practice, HANNAH, is one of three new artist teams featured at the annual festival.

The installation consists of six towers, each with a 3D-printed concrete base that supports a robotically fabricated plywood crown, all arranged in a circle. Think Stonehenge by way of Southern California. The Monarch’s towers feature steep trunks of plywood, a material that is lightweight and flexible enough to be bent into self-bracing structures that fan outward.

With its massive scale and the complexity of its planning and fabrication, Monarch’s expands upon HANNAH’s previous projects, as well as Lok and Zivkovic’s lab research at Cornell AAP – which include a cabin built from salvaged ash wood and a first-of-its-kind 3D-printed home – while furthering the team’s research interest in sustainable architecture and innovative construction practices.


Concrete Collaboration: Engineering Expertise Needed on Site

There is a lot of concrete being poured into residential buildings every day in NSW. So far, I have yet to see a single engineer on site observing concrete testing. I guess that what you don’t see, you don’t have to act upon.

This week, I dropped by two sites – a BuiltcomConstructions site for Thirdi in Lindfield and an Aland project in Gosford. On the Buildcom site, there was no concrete tester present, and the pour was well under way. The pour was allowed to continue on the basis that the next truck had to be tested before pumping resumed.

The design slump was 150mm, and the actual test showed 225mm – way over. The concrete was supplied by Holcim from their Artarmon Plant No. 5412. The builder agreed to reject the load, and the truck was sent away. Same story at Gosford – 180 mm slump ordered and over 240mm slump on site. Boral supplied from West Gosford Plant 172. Repeat, the site manager agreed to reject the load, and it was sent away.

This is happening too often. It is regularly reported to me that pump operators direct that up to 40 litres of water get added on site. They are not engineers and have no qualifications to tamper with technical specifications.

Engineers, you should be out there making sure that what you specify is what is incorporated into the job. Water-cement ratios are important. The performance of the concrete is affected when engineering designs are ignored. The same occurs when cold joints and pour breaks are not properly managed.


The message is clear – engineers need to step up and fulfill their professional responsibilities on the job site. It’s time to stop compromising and live up to the standards the public expects. The future of sustainable, high-quality concrete construction depends on it.

So, engineers, get out there and do your job. Site managers, pay attention – further trucks may be returned if these issues persist. The industry is watching, and the stakes have never been higher.

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