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Module 6: Concrete

To get started, download the complete, detailed faculty outline of Module 6 ( PDF | Word). Additional links and downloadable resources for teaching the class are listed below.


First developed by the Romans millennia ago, to create unprecedented monumental public spaces and artificial ports—moldable, pourable, waterproof, durable and quick-setting—concrete is the most common building material in use today. This module explores the ancient Roman use of concrete and uses lessons learned to suggest how we can use new smart building materials in purposeful ways to address social needs. The use of a material for a particular application is shaped by what a culture needs and values, just as it was by societal ideas about status and imperial power in ancient Rome.

Module Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the properties of concrete
  • identify examples of smart building materials
  • discover the uses and applications of concrete both historically and in modern times
  • examine how cultural values shape the use of materials in a society
  • discover the sustainability concerns with concrete as a building material

    Lecture Development Resources
    Day 1

    Material science professor presents background on building materials and concrete: the formation of the ingredients that are used in concrete specifically the formation of cement, composite types and the environmental impact of concrete.

    1. Excerpt (pp.124-133) from Sass, Stephen L. (1998/2011) The Substance of Civilization. New York: Arcade Publishing.
    2. Lecture: Building Materials Lecture (PPT)
    3. Sample Lecture Video: Building Materials Lecture (16:42) ( Transcript)
    4. Demo Video: Heating Limestone Demonstration (1:09)

    Day 2

    Guest classics/art history professor presents Roman Concrete: Engineering Society through Social Spaces, a lecture that explores the uses of concrete in Ancient Rome from aqueducts, to coliseums, to bathhouses. This lecture then reflects on how these concrete structures have particular symbolic values and are used to enforce cultural values around class, race, gender, and empire.

    1. e-Textbook Chapter: Engineering Society Through Social Spaces (PDF) by Mary Ann Eaverly
    2. Check for Understanding: Module 6 – Textbook Questions 2017 (Word)
    3. Lecture: Engineering Society Through Social Spaces Lecture (PPT) by Mary Ann Eaverly
    4. Assignment: Module 6 – Individual Homework Assignment 2017 (Word)
    5. Video: Building Materials (15:01) ( Transcript)
    6. Check for Understanding: Module 6 – Video Questions 2017 (Word)

    Day 3

    Concrete is a versatile material made even more useful by Smartcrete technology. Yet, we know from the study of Ancient Rome that a society’s use of material is based on their ideals and values. How do the types of buildings made from concrete reflect our society’s ideals? This flipped classroom asks students to imagine how we might use new kinds of building materials within or outside of our societal limitations.

    1. Lecture: Smart Building Materials Lecture (PPT)
    2. Sample Lecture Video: Smart Building Materials (4:38) ( Transcript)
    3. Demo Video: Nitinol, Shape Memory Alloy Demonstration (1:41)
    4. In-Class Activity: Smart Materials (Word)
    5. Assignment: Module 6— Impact Paradigm Individual Homework Assignment (Word)

    Additional Resources

    Online Course Module

    • View the online module in PDF or Word format.
    • Available soon: The full online course to upload to your Learning Management System. Contact Kevin Jones at or Pamela Hupp for more information.