The answer, of course, is no, decorative concrete is alive and well. But a bit of the excitement that surrounded decorative concrete 20 years ago has waned. LafargeHolcim is innovating and is seizing opportunities in the 3D printing market by developing specific construction solutions. The Group has entered into a partnership with the French start-up XtreeE, which specializes in the development of large-scale 3D printing systems. This alliance has made it possible, for the first time in Europe, to market a concrete structural element created using a 3D printer.
Not that there isn't plenty of beautiful and interesting decorative work being done but in some ways it has become more routine and maybe that's a good thing. When we first started covering decorative concrete in a serious way in the late 1990s, it was really the wild west. The artisans doing the work often knew little about concrete and were experimenting with new techniques and materials on each new project. Whenever that happens, there will be plenty of failed experiments. And there were.
Today, most decorative artisans know what they are doing and aren't trying things for the first time. They know what materials and technique are appropriate for a given application and they guide their customers to the right choices and instill reasonable expectations for the work. Altogether a better approach and one that inspires much more confidence. The best decorative contractors, the ones that have survived, seldom have failures. Even guys like Tom Ralston, who does so much unusual and creative work, know their limitations.
But here's what I'm working up to, decorative concrete, for all its charm, remains a tiny sliver of the concrete industry. A highly visible and important sliver, but the core of the concrete industry is commercial and infrastructure construction. And so, in these days of tighter budgets and smaller staffs at Concrete Construction we too are forced to accept our limitations and are focusing our efforts away from decorative concrete. In Concrete Surfaces, we will cover polished concrete and overlays, both of which often have decorative elements. but we won't cover purely decorative work. We thank Steve Vandewater for his great columns over the past few years and we look forward to working with Concrete Decor on their show and on Decorative Concrete Live at the World of Concrete. Decorative concrete is alive and well and healthier than ever.