Concrete is not just a modern-day construction material, but one that has been used for thousands of years. The Romans mixed a basic form of concrete using coarse sand, small stones, hot lime, water, and often horsehair for reinforcement to construct their roads, buildings, and aqueducts two thousand years ago. Since that time, inventors have refined the production of concrete for greater strength, consistency, reliability, cost-effectiveness, as well as adapting forms and shapes to ever changing design aesthetics.
In the early 1900s, block making was often a backyard affair. Individuals could easily purchase a small hand-operated block machine for minimal investment and create concrete blocks in their spare time for additional income. During this period, concrete was considered inferior to stone or brick, a much costlier product, so emphasis was placed on trying to replicate the look of stone in concrete. Concrete block became increasingly popular with builders in the 1920s, and the small operation block makers began to be replaced by a number of full-time concrete block plants with enhanced capacity. The National Concrete Masonry Association was formed in 1920 in an effort to promote the use of concrete as well as structure industry standards in a formerly unregulated industry.
Another period of change for the concrete industry occurred in the post-war housing boom of the late 1940s and into the 1950s. Factories that had been used for the war industry were retrofitted to become concrete block plants to meet the demand for building fast, relatively inexpensive housing for returning soldiers and their new families. Homes of this era are common in many Indiana neighborhoods, and illustrate how widely accepted concrete had become by this time. Architects and inventors experimented with new techniques using concrete, one example is Frank Lloyd Wright’s cantilevered rebar-reinforced concrete decks at Fallingwater, which essentially allowed concrete to shed its need to disguise itself as stone or brick and become a material for architects to showcase.
No other publication did a more thorough job of celebrating the many uses of concrete than Pictorial, the National Concrete Masonry Association’s subscription-based magazine which began publication in 1944 and was sent to over 30,000 building professionals each month. Smartly designed for the aesthetics of the day, Pictorial relied heavily on photographic essays to highlight a different use of concrete each month.
Issues in our collection are devoted to concrete homes, offices, large businesses, banks, fencing, fireplaces, outdoor recreation, screen block walls, decorative wall patterns, and hotels. A typical cover photograph is a highly saturated color image of an impeccably dressed woman posed within a scene that includes an extraordinary use of concrete materials. The model is clearly there to sell the idea of the ease and beauty of the concrete product, but one has no doubt that the decorative building façade, swimming pool, or screen wall is the real star of each picture. Inside each issue are black and white photographs depicting different examples of the main theme, encouraging designers and architects to explore the many forms and uses of concrete.
You are invited to visit the Drawings and Documents Archive, located at Ball State University, to view all of the issues of Pictorial in our collection, as well as explore our extensive holdings of architectural drawings and architectural records. To schedule an appointment, contact Carol Street, the Archivist for Architectural Records, at email@example.com or 765-285-8441.