Part of Historic Environment Scotland

Historic Cements and Concrete

Dates: 12/02/19
Days of the week: Wednesday
Total hours: 44.5
Taught hours: 20.5
On-site instruction: 12.5
Off-site instruction: 8


Examine the traditions of concrete construction in Scotland and the practical conservation issues raised by this little appreciated – but historically important – building material.

Learn about the use of cement, gypsum and lime concrete over the past 200 years, and about the particular problems of decay or failure – and repair and conservation methods – associated with each material. The practical challenges of repairing and conserving historic concrete structures are studied in depth, with the focus on how to spot the root causes of deterioration.

This module follows the development and use of cement concrete since the late 18th century, including its use in building lighthouses, viaducts, houses and office blocks across Scotland. A detailed look is taken at the manufacture of the common forms of concrete and at how traditional building techniques were developed to make use of the many advantages of this new material.

You will study appropriate methods to survey historic concrete structures, and to diagnose both defects and the urgency and practicality of repairs or treatment. Then learn how to devise a correct specification for a repair system using appropriate and sustainable materials and experienced contractors.

Entry requirements

Individual modules are open to anyone with an interest in the subject matter. Applicants for the Advanced Professional Diploma should have a relevant degree or professional experience.

Classes, lectures and presentations

  • Concrete – Origins and Traditions
  • Types of Concrete
  • Range of Concrete Uses
  • Concrete Conservation and Repair 1
  • Concrete Conservation and Repair 2
  • Site Practice and Health and Safety Issues
  • Concrete – Specifying Repair Works
  • Concrete – Preventive Repairs

Potential site visits

  • St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross
  • Cumbernauld Centre
  • Lion Chambers and Ozalid building, Glasgow
  • Ardtornish Estate
  • Glenfinnan Viaduct
  • Advie Bridge, Cromdale
  • Bervie Jubilee Bridge, Aberdeenshire
  • Wartime coastal defences
  • Cannon gate housing, Edinburgh
  • Gala Fairydean stand, Galashiels


Origins of the material and Scottish traditions

  • Geology, mineralogy and chemistry of cements, clays, aggregates and additives
  • Characteristics and properties – e.g. compressive/tensile strength, weathering abilities
  • Evolution of concrete technology – from early lime-based concrete to Ordinary Portland Cement and sulphate-resisting, high alumina cements

Concrete types and range of uses

  • Mass concrete – shuttered, fine aggregates, variety of uses
  • No fines concrete – shuttered, coarse aggregates, no reinforcement, many voids in mix, mostly walling use, common for residential use
  • Pre-cast units – from mechanised fabrication in reusable moulds in the 1850s to modern units reinforced with steel bar, mats or mesh
  • Range of uses – from the earliest uses in engineered structures (harbours, dams, bridges) and buildings (foundations, walls, floors) to pre-fabricated structures and skeleton framing from early 1900s

Repair and conservation

  • Decay mechanisms and defects – e.g. poor design detailing and workmanship, shallow cover, spalling, alkali silica reactivity, frost action
  • Fabric analysis – determining binder characteristics, mix proportions, aggregate type, design of formwork and reinforcement, assessing past repairs
  • Site practice and work sequence – from visual assessment and non-invasive tests to destructive investigation
  • Investigation/analysis – determining what is corroding and why, causes of decay or deterioration, and if the decay is a public safety concern
  • Specifying repair works – adopting a conservation strategy, sourcing of suitable materials, preventive repairs and minor maintenance, structural strengthening
  • Health and safety issues – lime and cement handling hazards, working at height, access and materials storage, first aid for limeworking