By Matt Shaw

How Much Does Your Concrete Structure Weigh?

Bill Gates can now add to the list of his many accomplishments the title of architecture critic, having recently written a piece for the online publisher Quartz. Called “Have you hugged a concrete pillar today?” the review is based upon “Making the Modern World: Materials and De-materialisation,” by his favourite author, historian Vaclav Smil.

Smil’s book details how we use the most basic materials to build and fuel our civilizations, and raises questions about how we will continue to consume in the future. It includes a host of beautiful illustrations that clearly and succinctly hammer home points.

In his intro, Gates mentions that his car contains “around 2,600 pounds of steel, 800 pounds of plastic, and 400 pounds of light metal alloys.” These numbers break down the seemingly frivolous nature of objects into the real environmental impact they create.

One of the main materials discussed in the book is concrete. China used more concrete in the last three years than the United States used in the last 100; a staggering statistic, considering the rate of urbanization that it implies. In pursuit of understanding concrete better, we found some examples and gave them the same treatment. How many pounds does the concrete in your building weigh?

Three Gorges Dam, China
144,309,356,753.51 pounds of concrete

This controversial hydropower dam is located on the Yangtze River.


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Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 
848,878,569.099 pounds of concrete

The Petronas were at one point the tallest buildings in the world, and are some of the heaviest, thanks to concrete foundations that go 120 meters deep.


Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE
238,747,095.768 pounds of concrete

The Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world.


King Fahd Causeway, Saudi Arabia & Bahrain
1,856,921,867.98 pounds of concrete

The King Fahd Causeway is a 17-mile-long road connecting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.


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Grande Dixence Dam, Switzerland
31,832,946,341.227 pounds of concrete

This is the tallest concrete dam in the world.

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Grand Coulee Dam, Washington State
47,749,419,512.94 pounds of concrete

Grand Coulee is located on the Columbia River and is the largest concrete structure in the United States.

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Wilshire Grand, Los Angeles
82,000,000 pounds of concrete

This supertall tower will be the tallest building on the West Coast upon completion.

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The Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas
85,183,118 pounds of concrete

The Venetian is part of the largest 5-diamond hotel and resort complex in the world.


The dome of the Pantheon, Rome
9,997,964 pounds of concrete

This classic was one of the earliest Roman concrete buildings.

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The Pentagon, Washington DC
1,764,507,448.36 pounds of concrete

As the HQ of the US Department of Defence, the Pentagon was fortified with incredibly heavy concrete walls.


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