If you think you've seen it all when it comes to concrete construction, then you haven't sat down with Blaine Brownell.
The architect-turned-blogger-turned-author has become the industry's foremost expert in everything that is unconventional and provocative in the building products field. For the past eight years, this LEED Accredited Professional, BD+C “40 Under 40” winner, and visiting professor at the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning has made it a priority to track down the newest building products from around the world and report on them in a weekly online newsletter and in two books: Transmaterial (2006) and the newly released Transmaterial 2 (2008), both from Princeton Architectural Press.
I had a chance to pull up a chair and chat with Brownell about some of the most innovative concrete technologies he's come across recently. Here are eight products that are sure to rock your next concrete project:
Translucent fabric creates see-through concrete
Translucent concrete is not exactly new, but HeidelbergCement's approach to transmitting light through concrete is an industry first. Instead of using acrylic rods or optical fibers, Luccon features translucent fabric that is cast layer by layer into fine-grained concrete, allowing light, shadows, and even colors to project through the concrete with negligible degradation. Because the fabric fibers are small in diameter and the proportion of fabric to concrete is relatively low, Luccon delivers the same strength and durability as conventional concrete.
Contents: Concrete, translucent fabric
Applications: Exterior or interior light-transmitting walls, shading devices, illuminated paving, light fixtures, signage
Manufacturer: HeidelbergCement AG
ALSO SEE: 5 things you should know about decorative concrete
Custom concrete patterned surfaces
A Finnish company has developed a patented method for creating patterned concrete surfaces that involves the precise application of a surface retarder to the exterior of a concrete formliner. The surface pattern is the result of the contrast between the smooth face and the exposed fine aggregate in the concrete. This approach allows precast concrete manufacturers to produce highly detailed concrete elements, panels, and slabs with a variety of select patterns, as well as virtually any custom design.
Contents: Concrete, surface-retarder membrane
Applications: Concrete façades, architectural panels, partitions, garden walls, slabs
Manufacturer: Graphic Concrete Ltd.
Architectural cladding panels made with CarbonCast carbon-fiber grid reinforcing can weigh up to 66% less than convention precast panels. That's because carbon-fiber reinforcing resists corrosion and therefore requires less concrete cover. These thinner, lighter concrete panels can also be integrated with insulation, increasing the R-value of wall systems. When used in the flanges of pre-topped double tees, CarbonCast can reduce weight by 15% and eliminate the need for sealers and sacrificial barrier coatings.
Contents: Precast concrete, carbon fiber
Applications: Load-bearing and non-load-bearing exterior walls, slabs
Manufacturer: Altus Precast
Turn up the heat and this concrete will tell you the time
A trio of UK-based product designers has developed a method for incorporating dynamic patterns, numbers, and text into concrete surfaces. Chris Glaister, Afshin Mehin, and Tomas Rosén have figured out that by incorporating thermochromatic pigment and wire heating technology into a standard concrete mix, the color of concrete can be changed. With the use of microprocessor control devices, the color-changing pattern can be precisely manipulated to form complex patterns and even information displays, such as dot-matrix clocks. While Chronos Chromos Concrete is not yet commercially available, the material is being used in several projects, including a 40x78-inch information display in the entrance hall of a new building in London.
Contents: Cement, limestone aggregate, thermochromatic pigment, glass fiber
Applications: Large-scale architectural installations, sealed structural information displays such as clocks and dot-matrix displays
Manufacturer: Chromastone UK
Concrete bends, but won't break
Scientists at the University of Michigan have developed a new type of fiber-reinforced “bendable” concrete that looks like regular concrete but is 500 times more resistant to cracking and 40% lighter in weight. The secret is in the composition, which incorporates silica sand just 100 microns in diameter and tiny polyvinyl alcohol fibers covered with a slick coating. When overloaded, the lubricated fibers begin to slip instead of fracturing. The result is a concrete that bends but will not break. Ideal for structures in high seismic regions, Engineered Cement Composites has been applied in several bridge projects, as well as in two high-rise buildings in Tokyo—Roppongi Pacific Tower and Nabeaure Yokohama Tower.
Contents: Cement, silica sand, polyvinyl alcohol fibers
Applications: Structural members for bridges and buildings, especially those located in high seismic regions
Manufacturer: University of Michigan, College of Engineering, Victor C. Li, PhD
Add texture to exposed concrete surfaces in a snap
While fabrication of textured exposed concrete surfaces using elastic formliners has been practiced worldwide for more than 35 years, Reckli Formliners offers a significant improvement to the traditional approach. Made from elastic polyurethane, the formliners allow the release of the formliner from precast or cast-in-place concrete without damage to either the concrete surface or the formliner itself. Each formliner is good for between 50 and 100 reuses, making large-scale decorative concrete installations a snap.
Contents: Polyurethane elastomers
Applications: Precast and cast-in-place concrete
Manufacturer: Reckli-Chemiewerkstoff GmbH
The world's heaviest wallpaper
At first glance, walls constructed with Walled Paper precast concrete may appear to be covered with decorative paper, but the complex, ornate patterns are actually cast into the surface of the concrete panel. UK-based Concrete Blond can cast more than 50 standard patterns and virtually any custom design into architectural precast panels for interior and exterior cladding, flooring, and surface applications. The patterns can be cast with a textural depth of 1/64 to 3/16 inch on to three types of concrete: Brutalist gray, Victoriana black, and Portland white.
Applications: Wall cladding, flooring, surfaces
Manufacturer: Concrete Blond
Don't forget to water your concrete
Developed by Dutch designers Frederik Molenschot and Susanne Happle, Solid Poetry is a concrete tile that reveals a pattern when wet. The detailed patterns are created by carefully applying surface treatment to the finished concrete surface that darkens when exposed to water or humid air. Solid Poetry is ideal for floors, walls, and surfaces in environments that encounter frequent humidity changes, such as poolsides, gardens, bathrooms, and saunas.
Contents: Concrete, surface treatment
Applications: Floors, walls, and surfaces in humid/wet environments
Manufacturer: Studio Frederik Molenschot and Susanne Happle
For more products, visit http://transstudio.com.
Concrete | Mar 17, 2023
American Concrete Institute releases new guide for shotcrete construction
The American Concrete Institute, through the work of ACI Committee 506, has released ACI PRC-506-22: Shotcrete—Guide. The newly introduced guide provides information on materials and properties of both dry-mix and wet-mix shotcrete and covers most facets of the shotcrete process including application procedures, equipment requirements, and responsibilities of the shotcrete crew.
Student Housing | Mar 13, 2023
University of Oklahoma, Missouri S&T add storm-safe spaces in student housing buildings for tornado protection
More universities are incorporating reinforced rooms in student housing designs to provide an extra layer of protection for students. Storm shelters have been included in recent KWK Architects-designed university projects in the Great Plains where there is a high incidence of tornadoes. Projects include Headington and Dunham Residential Colleges at the University of Oklahoma and the University Commons residential complex at Missouri S&T.
Concrete | Jan 24, 2023
Researchers investigate ancient Roman concrete to make durable, lower carbon mortar
Researchers have turned to an ancient Roman concrete recipe to develop more durable concrete that lasts for centuries and can potentially reduce the carbon impact of the built environment.
75 Top Products | Nov 30, 2022
75 top building products for 2022
Each year, the Building Design+Construction editorial team evaluates the vast universe of new and updated products, materials, and systems for the U.S. building design and construction market. The best-of-the-best products make up our annual 75 Top Products report.
Building Materials | Aug 3, 2022
Shawmut CEO Les Hiscoe on coping with a shaky supply chain in construction
BD+C's John Caulfield interviews Les Hiscoe, CEO of Shawmut Design and Construction, about how his firm keeps projects on schedule and budget in the face of shortages, delays, and price volatility.
Concrete | Jul 26, 2022
Consortium to set standards and create markets for low-carbon concrete
A consortium of construction firms, property developers, and building engineers have pledged to drive down the carbon emissions of concrete.
Reconstruction & Renovation | May 4, 2022
AIA course: Concrete buildings — Effective solutions for restoration and major repairs
The history of concrete construction between 1950 and 1970 offers architects and construction professionals a framework for how to rehabilitate these buildings today using both time-tested and emerging technologies. This course, worth 1.0 AIA LU, was authored by Henry Moss, AIA, LEED AP, Principal with Bruner/Cott Architects.
Concrete Technology | Apr 19, 2022
SGH’s Applied Science & Research Center achieves ISO 17025 accreditation for concrete testing procedures
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger’s (SGH) Applied Science & Research Center recently received ISO/IEC17025 accreditation from the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) for several concrete testing methods.
AEC Tech Innovation | Mar 9, 2022
Meet Emerge: WSP USA's new AEC tech incubator
Pooja Jain, WSP’s VP-Strategic Innovation, discusses the pilot programs her firm’s new incubator, Emerge, has initiated with four tech startup companies. Jain speaks with BD+C's John Caulfield about the four AEC tech firms to join Cohort 1 of the firm’s incubator.
Codes and Standards | Feb 28, 2022
Low-cost concrete alternative absorbs CO2
Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute have developed a new CO2-absorbing material that’s a low-cost alternative to concrete.