Fascinated with the idea of using elemental materials (earth and water) that start out soft and shapeless and then become durable and beautiful, Mark Rogero started pouring his own concrete countertops in a shop facility in Emeryville in 1991.
He had studied architecture on the East Coast, and hoped that casting concrete would be a way to get his foot in the door of local architecture firms so that he could get a job. A local architect, Regan Bice, convinced Mark to stick with fabrication instead, and Concreteworks was born.
Today Concreteworks operates in a spacious 85,000 sf former steel plant in Alameda, overlooking the Oakland Estuary. We chat with Mark about Concreteworks development as an innovator in concrete design and technology, and the exciting possibilities for its future.
Hi Mark. Is “Artisan Concrete” an accurate term for what you do?
Artisan is a tricky word. It can mean caring about craft and quality, which is very true for us. But it can also mean “traditional” which is not something we are interested in at all. Labels don’t work well for us because we are always working towards finding new means and methods. If we had to distill what we do down to a phrase or tagline it would be “a progressive concrete fabrication company.”
You were a pioneer in concrete for indoor use as countertops, sinks, tubs and tabletops etc. Was there a learning curve in refining concrete for these applications, and also in educating customers that it is a desirable material for indoor use?
Absolutely. Highly polished concrete is something that’s been done for decades but it was difficult to do at a small scale until the technology around the mix designs changed and access to the materials for GFRC (glass-fiber reinforced concrete) became more accessible. For most of the history of the company, we used traditional rebar-reinforced concrete. It wasn’t until maybe ten years ago that we started doing GFRC and really pushing the forms that we could make.
As for getting the material into interior environments, concrete was used by the Modernists throughout a lot of their projects, so architects have known about the possibilities of concrete as a refined finish material for decades. With the image driven nature of the web and the possibilities of form making, it’s been easier to convince clients of the material’s appropriateness.
“Artisan is a tricky word. It can mean caring about craft and quality, which is very true for us. But it can also mean “traditional” which is not something we are interested in at all.”
You’ve continued to innovate with advanced ultra high performance concrete and CNC technology to create advanced 3D forms. How did that evolve?
It goes back to the “traditional” versus “progressive” approach. We’re really a company that is interested in fabricating interesting and challenging projects. Concrete just happens to be our medium and what we’ve chosen to become experts at. Beyond that, we’re always looking for new ways to shape the material. We’re never really tied to a method of forming or casting or polishing. If some technique or piece of technology comes along that allows us to do something faster or allows us to create a form that we couldn’t do before, we are more than happy to adopt that method or machine.
Do you see more applications for advanced concrete/3D technology in the future?
Yes. Concrete technology is always advancing. It’s becoming lighter and stronger and able to be cast more thinly. We are days away from receiving and installing a 25′ x 10′ x 4′, five-axis CNC router. We will soon be able to mill large forms for complex 3D wall panels.
What do you like most about working with concrete?
There are almost limitless possibilities. We’ve developed a set of standard colors and finishes to help designers and clients come to a decision quickly and to be cost effective during production. However, almost every component in the mix can be tailored to accommodate a certain aesthetic; there are dozens of ways the final finished texture can look and feel; colors are practically limitless; and given our expertise in 3D modeling and manufacturing almost any form and size can be achieved. We are asked quite often how big we can make something and we usually respond with, “Well, how big is your door?” The limits on size generally depend on whether or not the client can get the piece into the building.
Has the technology forward environment and indoor/outdoor lifestyle of the Bay Area influenced your work?
Yes. Our line of products has been distilled from a lot of the custom outdoor work that we have done in the past in the Bay Area. We saw that more and more people were ordering things like fire tables and outdoor seating and decided to standardize a few of the best and sell them in a more cost effective way.