Discrete and smeared crack models for concrete fracture are discussed in a historical perspective. It is argued that these two computational approaches, originally conceived as very different, can be brought together by exploiting the partition-of-unity property of finite element shape functions. The cohesive segments method, which exploits this partition-of-unity property, exhibits advantages of both the discrete and smeared crack approaches, and is capable of describing the transition from distributed micro-cracking to a dominant crack. The versatility of the cohesive methodology is shown by incorporating water diffusion and ion transport into the formulation. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.