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					This is the material that has made more of an impact on our surroundings than any other. A material
that can be used by the biggest names in architecture and the man on the street patching up a
potholed driveway. It’s this ease of use that makes concrete’s place in the modern world literally
unassailable and why any technical developments in this sector need to be taken very seriously
indeed.




Litracon




Since mix Future Interiors began there has been a gentle evolution in the concrete industry that
should ensure that the material remains at the forefront of contemporary architecture and design.
Where once concrete in its raw state was plastered or painted over, many new developments
celebrate the brutality of the material as a facade.




In terms of the material itself, concrete’s flexibility means it can be produced off-site and slotted into
place where needed in a build. It’s a relatively strong material, long lasting (if used correctly) and
when used effectively, like Herzog & De Meuron’s now iconic Bird’s Nest, can create stunning
architecture.




Formsquare




Introduced into the field in the 80s, one of the biggest advances is Glass Reinforced Concrete (GRC),
a solution deriving from pre-stressed concrete, where ribbed steel wires are stretched through
sections of concrete during the setting process to give added torsional strength. GRC replaces the
steel inserts with alkali resistant glass fibers, giving a substantial weight saving and eliminating the
need to cover the concrete to stop the steel from rusting.
One company that has been using GRC for many years now is innovative UK based Formsquare
(formerly Concrete Blond). The design company has successfully bridged the gap between
construction and premium design solutions with its Formtique products. Launched a few years ago
at Designersblock, its unique range of patterned concrete has won critical acclaim and many industry
awards. Recent years have seen the company’s production and manufacturing abilities grow with
increased demand in its products. “Formtique panels are at the cutting edge of hard surface
technology. Our engineered concrete has all the aesthetic qualities and advantages of natural stone
but without any of the limitations,” says Formsquare’s Perry Darling.




Formsquare




The company has been very influential in changing the perception of GRC concrete as a surface.
Using GCR, as Darling explains, “Is an excellent way of creating custom bespoke pieces of work, an
area where there is a big demand.”




Steve Rosenblatt from US firm Sonoma Stone explains that, unlike other stone based solutions like
granite, “Concrete has a warmth and depth that is not found in hard and slick polished natural stone.”
Rosenblatt believes that many of his clients are turning to concrete because of the cheap stone and
granite flooding the interiors market. “The granite of today is subject to radon gas and is usually held
together by resins. The limitations of granite give way to the strength of concrete. We use the
phrase ‘Granite is great for houses, Concrete is for homes,’” he says.




Litracon
As with Formsquare, Sonoma Stone is able to control the color, shape and texture of the material,
making it an ideal material for the contemporary designer.




The two companies also share a progressive approach to design, with Sonoma Stone developing its
own strains of concrete. NuCrete™ is a totally stain free concrete which has been developed without
introducing epoxy or other coatings. EarthCrete™ is a recycled variant composed of natural
pozzolans and recycled industrial and consumer materials. Another Sonoma Stone development is
MetalCrete™ which features copper, brass, pewter, bronze, nickel and iron embedded in the surface.




Both companies share a similar client base, albeit one that is diversifying rapidly. Formsquare has a
mix of residential clients but has found its large scale panels attract many clients keen to use the
product as external cladding for modern exteriors due to lightweight GRC. “It can be molded into a
wide variety of complex shapes and profiles and is ideally suited to the popular fast-track approach
of using lightweight, prefabricated cladding panels,” says Darling.

Natalie Lucantoni




In the US the case is very similar, “NuCrete™ countertops will look as new in 10 years as they do
upon installation. The development of improved concrete has greatly increased the home market,”
says Rosenblatt.




This new age of concrete has heralded uses not only on the construction and interiors side. Now the
material is creeping into the product sector too. “The reason I came across concrete as a material
was quite simple really. I was making a lot of very large-scale ceramic pieces and pit firing them
outdoors, as the university kilns were too small. They basically just kept breaking and cracking so I
needed a more robust material; concrete seemed an obvious choice,” says designer Natalie
Lucantoni. As far as she is concerned the advantages are clear; you can do pretty much anything you
want with it. “Once you have tweaked your mix to fit what you are doing (which can take a while),
it’s easy to use as well,” says Lucantoni.
Natalie Lucantoni The only drawback, as she sees it, is the weight. “I produce a lot of large work and
it’s a real pain when it comes to setting up shows,” she explains.




Moving away from the cutting edge of concrete cool to the grit of the construction site, steady
progress is being made. It’s no secret that the construction industry is a massive drain on global
resources, with seabeds being sucked up to help create the concrete and cement that will be the
next UAE shopping mall and the huge landfill requirements of any global demolition process.




However, it’s not all bad as the Construction Material Recycling Association, an American body
working towards increased use of recycled concrete and other rubble, states, “140 million tons of
concrete is recycled each year in the United States alone,” William Turley from the organisation
explains. “Concrete is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet. Once generated from
either a construction or demolition project, it is relatively easy to process into usable products, such
as road base, concrete aggregate, sewer stone, and others,” he adds.




Larger slabs can be utilized as architectural focal points and green installations. Like paper, another
easily recyclable material, concrete, when prepared for recycling, often results in a homogenous
format. “This is another reason it is so easy to recycle. In addition, it is profitable to recycle concrete,
unlike some other materials, meaning this is an environmentally friendly practice that provides jobs
and pays taxes,” states Turley.




He is also keen to talk about one of the grey areas where concrete is concerned, the real
environmental impact connected with its use. “Some years ago the US Environmental Protection
Agency looked at the greenhouse gas emissions from the use of concrete. It was pointed out to them
that those initial calculations did not include the fact that concrete is recycled at a very high level in
the United States. When they put that into the equation, it made concrete nearly carbon neutral,”
Turley notes.
Natalie Lucantoni




“I don’t think the environmental organizations realize this, they only focus on what it takes to make
cement. However, concrete can be made using other pozzalonic agents, such as fly ash, which can
work equally as well as cement as the binding agent in concrete,” he continues.




Considering it is still early days in the rebranding of concrete from eco villain to hero, what does the
near future hold? Lucantoni believes that its flexibility will lead to further diversification as a design
material; “I certainly feel as though it has a unique freshness that something like ceramics will
struggle to ever have again. You literally can build a bridge with it that lasts hundreds of years or
something as light and beautiful as a casted lampshade,” she enthuses. Rosenblatt believes that now
the material has shrugged off its reputation for failing unexpectedly, it is rapidly filling the void of
substandard stone and granite; “We hope to bring concrete further into the mainstream by making
an even larger array of products and promoting its use as an interesting and ultimately controllable
material.”




It has taken centuries for concrete to crack and finally drag itself into the designer’s periphery as a
material. The only real limitation for concrete’s unique potential now lies in the hands of the
designer.




Article written by Richard Prime for mix Future Interiors magazine issue 14 – Global Color Research –
www.globalcolor.co.uk. Reproduced with kind permission.




Litracon

				
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