The French affection for decorative concrete is on full display at the historic Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Opened in 1640, the city’s main botanical garden features more than 4,500 plant species, a botanical school, and a small zoo. Landscape architects used various surface treatments to enhance the visitor's experience. Note how the tan and brown concrete walkways blend in with the vegetation. Photo: Rick Yelton
The French affection for decorative concrete is on full display at the historic Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Opened in 1640, the city’s main botanical garden features more than 4,500 plant species, a botanical school, and a small zoo. Landscape architects used various surface treatments to enhance the visitor's experience. Note how the tan and brown concrete walkways blend in with the vegetation. Photo: Rick Yelton
Flat stone pavers are used at a walkway grade transition from slightly pitched exposed aggregate to gravel. Photo: Rick Yelton
Flat stone pavers are used at a walkway grade transition from slightly pitched exposed aggregate to gravel. Photo: Rick Yelton
Where two sloping paths intersect, craftsmen embedded large gravel into densely compacted gravel to direct stormwater into the drain. Should the pipe need maintenance, the decorative concrete would escape the chipping hammer. Photo: Rick Yelton
Where two sloping paths intersect, craftsmen embedded large gravel into densely compacted gravel to direct stormwater into the drain. Should the pipe need maintenance, the decorative concrete would escape the chipping hammer. Photo: Rick Yelton
Architects use decorative concrete on newer construction as well, such this sidewalk leading into the visitor center. Photo: Rick Yelton
Architects use decorative concrete on newer construction as well, such this sidewalk leading into the visitor center. Photo: Rick Yelton

Was it just a decade ago that decorative concrete promoters announced they were aiming for 2% of the concrete market? While numbers are difficult to gather, it's a fair guess they’ve far exceeded that goal.

Rapid growth often brings confusion, however. Concrete contractors no longer describe their business as purely polishing, stamping, or etching; they’re combining products, techniques, and mixes to craft surfaces that meet an owner's performance standards.

To impose order on potential chaos, the American Concrete Institute specifically addressed decorative concrete in 2013. A 45-page practical guide to materials, mix designs, placement, curing, protection, sealing, and repair using proven techniques, ACI310-R13 has helped unify the industry by getting architects, contractors, and owners on the same page.

At World of Concrete Europe (WOC Europe) in Paris this year, French concrete experts explained their attempts to standardize this market segment in order to increase commercial use. In a country that cherishes scenic views, they believe they have a great opportunity.

Specialistes de la Chaussee en Beton et des Amenagements (SPECBEA) unveiled a tool that should further that goal by helping architects “discover all the aesthetic, ecological, and innovative solutions available for a city.”

Les Betons Decoratifs: Voiries et Amenagements Urbains (Decorative Concrete - Volume 1) identifies, details, describes, and illustrates via beautiful four-color photos more than 50 surfaces found in contemporary urban landscapes. The 48-page book divides projects into three design groups based on slab-on-grade performance:

  • Urba-Beton enhances the setting while providing a durable surface; they include textured, stamped, imprinted and exposed aggregate surfaces.
  • Eco-Beton helps handle surface water.
  • Inno-Beton are new mix designs, like nano concretes, that sense traffic, emit light, and help capture air pollutants.

That’s just the first step in promoting decorative concrete.

Founded 80 years ago, SPECBEA serves as a resource for contractors, designers, and craftsmen by providing technical updates and promoting research. The organization plans to use these new categories to design training programs for concrete placing craftsmen.