What an odd love-hate relationship we have with concrete. Concrete can be perfect and beautiful, it can be in colors and dressed up, but more often it is plain and utilitarian, or even dirty and cracked and ugly. It can go into place easily and according to plan, but it also can be difficult, like an unruly plow horse or a perverse spouse who seems ready to bicker about everything or nothing. But even then it nearly always ends up solid and durable, something upon which one can build a life, both figuratively and literally.
There's something about concrete that reminds us of ourselves. Or perhaps it's just that those of us who are attracted to the material see ourselves in it. Concrete people aren't flashy or flamboyant, but rather are solid and dependable. We aren't looking for the quick score—we're in the game for the long run and hope to persevere simply by holding on longer or outliving everyone else, to still be there at the end, to still be solid when everything else has rusted away. To be useful, if nothing more.
We too are conglomerates, mixtures of coarse and fine. We started out weak and have gotten stronger over the years and continue to gain strength. We recognize our weaknesses and play off our strengths. Concrete cracks, we know that, so we partner with reinforcing steel to overcome such a shortcoming, just as we work with whomever we need to—even those we don't particularly like—to do our jobs well and build something of which we can be proud. We're proud of our buildings, even if the concrete is completely hidden behind a flashier façade—we know what's making the building stand.
The analogy is just as apt for those who dig the rock out of the ground and burn and grind it to create the magic powder. And for the designers who analyze the stresses and position the steel to create something much stronger than either alone, to design within the weaknesses so as to almost make them strengths. To acknowledge that concrete will crack and understand it well enough to let it do what it has to do.
And there are the architects who see us and our concrete for what we are, recognizing the rough exterior while envisioning the potential beauty within. And, of course, the contractor who has learned to work with the fickleness of the material and to love it even more for its obstinacy. We have learned how to make it do what we want—or, not really make it, more like coax it. We know we have to baby it to a certain extent, to cover it when it's cold and shield it from the sun, to live with and understand the idiosyncrasies so that we can get what we want—almost like a marriage.
So we try to overcome concrete's shortcomings as we do our own and some succeed more than others, but it's the trying that counts. Be proud of the material and proud of yourself for making the effort and never giving up.