It can be hard to find the right words to use when talking or writing about concrete slabs. In their simplicity, they can certainly seem to evade all classification.
Technically, a concrete slab is considered a structure. Concrete is an arrangement of pastes and powders solidified in a certain pattern. A structure is any organization of elements within an object, therefore anything made of concrete is a structure. This includes concrete slabs.
As you may have noticed, the definition of the word “structure” is not actually very useful without a bit more specificity, as by the dictionary definition nearly anything could be considered some kind of structure.
What Is A Structure?
As stated earlier, a structure can be any organization of small parts within a larger whole. For instance, you can have chemical structures on the atomic level made from different elements, or even social structures made up of people or groups of people. If you can imagine something, it’s probably a structure.
That definition is not specific enough to inform of any actual qualities of a concrete slab. Because of this, it can be useful to classify structures into a few different categories. Wikipedia divides its entry on the concept of structures into the following parts:
While there is a little bit of intersection between these categories (a skeleton is both a load-bearing structure and a biological structure) for the most part we can see that there are only two types of structures relevant to our question. We will either be looking at concrete as a load-bearing or a chemical structure.
I think that the chemical structure of concrete is a question for a different article. Of course, concrete is a chemical structure, but our question refers more specifically to concrete slabs. For this reason, we’ll be focusing on slabs as load-bearing structures for the remainder of this article.
To understand what makes a concrete slab fall into the correct definition category, we need to understand a little more about what a concrete slab is.
What Is A Concrete Slab?
A concrete slab is any flat concrete surface that was made by pouring concrete into a mold on the ground or even above ground. It’s a simple definition. Sidewalks are concrete slabs, the floor in your basement is probably a concrete slab, driveways are often concrete slabs, concrete slabs are everywhere in our modern world.
However, not everything made of concrete is a concrete slab. Concrete pillars, walls, or pylons most certainly do not fit our definition of a concrete slab. Any concrete structure that isn’t primarily used as a flat surface would be considered something other than a slab.
What Is A Load-Bearing Structure?
A load-bearing structure is any structure that holds up matter, and this matter can include itself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be man-made. An anthill, a salt dome, or even a human body can be considered a load-bearing structure. However, for load-bearing structures that are man-made, there are two general categories: Buildings and non-building structures.
A building is a constructed structure that is meant to contain people. It has to have a roof, walls, and a floor. Right away we can tell that a concrete slab is not a building. It does not have walls or a roof, although it can in and of itself be classified as a floor. That means it must be a non-building structure.
As far as non-building structures go, there are again two different types. There are building like non-building structures and non-building-like non-building structures.
Building-like structures are structures that are not buildings but serve similar purposes, e.g. parking lots or aircraft hangars. However, even building-like structures are usually made up of different interlocking parts. This means that a single concrete slab on its own would not be a building-like structure.
So it would seem that a concrete slab is a shoo-in to be a non-building like structure, and that would make sense. A non-building like structure is any structure constructed with a purpose that is not similar to the purpose of a building. These include architectural structures, the building blocks out of which both buildings and building-like structures are made.
Types Of Architectural Structures
There are five types of architectural structures:
The astute observer will be able to tell easily that a concrete slab is, between these five options, a solid. But what exactly does it mean for something to be solid in this specific context?
What Is A Solid Structure?
Not all solid objects can be classified as solid in the context of structures. A solid structure is specifically a structure that is filled with no spaces inside. This would make a concrete slab the perfect example of a solid structure. A well-poured slab is probably going to be concrete from top to bottom, with no bubbles, cracks, or any other cavities. It is the platonic ideal of a solid structure.
Most concrete slabs fit this definition nicely. After all, the strength of concrete lies in the way that it can fill whatever mold it is placed in. While some concrete slabs do utilize air bubble to protect against cold or water damage, I think that they can still be classified as solid structures because they fulfill the same purpose as other solid structures.
What Have We Learned?
We’ve learned a lot about what a structure is. Even more so, we’ve learned exactly what kind of structure a concrete slab is. We’ve even learned how to tell what kind of a structure any given object is. Knowing this information can help make conversations with contractors and architects much easier.