Story at a glance:

  • Using concrete for your home design can reduce heating and cooling costs.
  • One architect turns to exposed concrete for its integrity as an “honest” material.
  • Building with insulated concrete forms can improve occupant comfort and safety.

Concrete homes are nothing new; they’re loved for their durability and longevity as well as cost-effectiveness in design. But while concrete has long had a place in residential construction, some architects are using concrete in surprising ways—playing with color, adding texture, and more.

We’ve detailed some of our favorite ways concrete is being used in design, from unexpected concrete homes to incredibly efficient residences.

Exposed Cast-in-Place Concrete

marc thorpe sharp house concrete homes gbd magazine

Sharp House was designed with an eye on materials and geometry. The Neo-Brutalist approach to space is reflected as a byproduct in the building’s appearance. Courtesy of Marc Thorpe Design

Marc Thorpe designed The Sharp House to be as economical as possible in construction. Concrete is the star of this design, but it also provides natural insulation to keep the house warm at night and cool during the day.

The minimalist house just north of Santa Fe is a study of space, light, and shadow, and the design takes into serious consideration its ecological impact.

Thorpe says the design could have easily been wood or another material, but the homeowners insisted on concrete. “They wanted concrete,” he says. “I personally thought concrete would be a nice material because of its tactility. And it’s an honest material, to communicate exactly what the building is.”

The design is reminiscent of tropical building tradition, with sweeping overhangs covering entryways and recessed ribbon windows cutting into the building’s monolithic concrete facade.

The use of every surface of the house is an intentional move on Thorpe’s part. “There isn’t really a front or a back,” he says. “In the tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright, he designed his houses with no real entry. It was more a work of art where you’re forced to engage with the house on all sides and explore it like you would explore a piece of sculpture.

Concrete, Stone, and Corten Steel

concrete homes

The courtyard pool and integrated spa create a focal point for the house. Berms, low-maintenance bamboo plantings, and a 48-inch wall screen the pool area from neighbors and help fulfill a request for hassle-free landscaping.

Designed by Lake|Flato, the Courtyard House in El Paso juxtaposes concrete, stone, and Corten steel with interior walls of quarter-sawn walnut and slatted wood ceilings.

The home’s materiality connects the project to the existing home through a large courtyard. The courtyard acts as storm water retention and is defined by gabion walls, which are seen throughout the project to define indoor/outdoor courtyard spaces.

This updated design is the result of an add-on to the family’s original cast-in-place concrete house. The sleek concrete building, adorned with Corten overhangs and punctuated by gabion walls, hides an expansive courtyard that both offers refuge from and a celebration of the elements.

Exposed Concrete

Photo by Joan Guillamat

A mix of materials works together to balance the minimalist aesthetic in this Mexico City house.

Exterior walls are primarily white, and exposed concrete elements create a neutral palette. Textured tiles embellish the rooftop terrace, and a black steel staircase runs through the center of the house. Accent walls, skylights, and wooden louvers bring warmth.

Cachai House was originally built in the 1960s before being reimagined by architects Taller Paralelo in 2018. “Taking advantage of an existing structure makes it a little more interesting,” Mikel Merodio, founding partner and director of architecture firm Taller Paralelo, previously told gb&d. Using what they already had also meant producing a lot less waste.

What about Insulated Concrete Forms?

Insulating Concrete Forms Manufacturers Association (ICFMA)

Photo courtesy of ICFMA

Many architects and builders are turning to concrete in another way for their projects.

Insulated concrete forms, or ICFs, have many benefits that lead to improved building performance, from resiliency to improved air quality. They’re incredibly strong, proven to stand up to extreme weather conditions and the test of time.

Brian Corder, marketing chair of the ICFMA (Insulating Concrete Forms Manufacturers Association) and president of BuildBlock, says ICFs deliver five core benefits—energy efficiency, comfort, quietness, improved air quality, and disaster resiliency.

An ICF is literally what it stands for—an insulated concrete form, or EPS foam insulation filled with reinforced concrete. ICFs are suited for many built environments, whether in cold weather or warm. And because the EPS insulation in ICFs is protected and stable, it won’t fail when needed most. The EPS insulation lasts for centuries, and the concrete stands up to tornadoes and hurricanes.

At a minimum, an ICF wall can withstand 150 mile per hour winds. The steel reinforced concrete inside that wall provides structural stability, even from large debris. The foam on the outside delivers a large cushioning effect, too.