About this Article
Written by: Sara McGillivray
Written on: December 9th, 2011
Tags: building & architecture, material science
Thumbnail by: Luxgineer/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Sara McGillivray is a fourth-year student in the USC Bachelor’s of Architecture Program from a very tiny town you’ve never heard of an hour north of USC. When not working in studio, she enjoys exploring Los Angeles and catching up on sleep.
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Volume XIV Issue II > Translucent Concrete: An Emerging Material
The Italian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 marked the first major application of translucent concrete in a building [6]. The translucent blocks of concrete were interspersed with opaque blocks to create a seamless façade that allows diffused light in at certain areas, and emanates a glow at night [6]. Surrounding the windows in the center of the figure are concrete blocks some of which are translucent and allow natural light into the building. Recently the Italian Ambassador revealed that translucent concrete is to be used in several buildings at the new Italian Embassy in Bangkok [6]. This would be the second major building use of translucent concrete, as this material is becomes more well known and further developed many more are sure to follow.
Luxgineer/Wikimedia Commons
Figure 2: Translucent concrete has been used in art installations in museum exhibits.

A Translucent Future

Although translucent concrete has been used primarily as an interior decoration, its creators have “visions of cities that glow from within, and buildings whose windows need not be flat, rectangular panes, but can be arbitrary regions of transparency within flowing, curving walls” [1]. It “can at the same time be building material and light source, can separate and connect, can be wall or floor, ambient lighting or eye-catcher” [8]. Translucent concrete is also a great insulating material that protects against outdoor extreme temperatures while also letting in daylight [3]. This makes it an excellent compromise for buildings in harsh climates, where it can shut out heat or cold without shutting the building off from daylight. It can be used to illuminate underground buildings and structures, such as subway stations. Translucent concrete could provide safety applications in the future such as speed bumps that could be lit “from below to make them more visible at night”, or to light indoor fire escapes in case of a power failure [4]. It even has the potential to be sustainable; the aggregate can be replaced with crushed recycled glass [3]. It could be used almost anywhere glass or traditional concrete are used. Translucent concrete combines the fluid potential of concrete with glass’ ability to admit light, and it also retains privacy and can be used as structural support. The possibilities for translucent concrete are innumerable; the more it is used, the more new uses will be discovered. In the next few years, as engineers further explore this exciting new material, it is sure to be employed in a variety of interesting ways that will change the opacity of architecture as we know it.


    • References:
    • [1] How to see through walls: Transparent concrete is encouraging architects to rethink how they design buildings. The Economist. Sept. 20, 2001. Available: http://www.economist​.com/node/779421.
    • [2] E. Allen & J. Iano. “Concrete Construction”. Fundamentals of Building Construction: Materials and Methods , Fifth Edition. Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons Inc. 2009, Ch 13, pp. 515-551.
    • [3] A. Goho. (Jan. 1, 2005). Concrete Nation: Bright future for ancient material. Science News, Vol. 167, No. 1, p. 7. Available: http://www.concretew​​/Concrete_Nation__Sc​ience_News_Online,_J​an._1,_2005.pdf
    • [4] C. Hartman, Associated Press. (July 7, 2004). Seeing the Future of Construction Through Translucent Concrete. Seattle PI. Available: http://www.seattlepi​.com/business/articl​e/Seeing-the-future-​of-construction-thro​ugh-1148906.php
    • [5] Liquid Stone: New Architecture in Concrete. Exhibition at the National Building Museum. Available:​xhibitions-collectio​ns/exhibitions/liqui​d-stone.html
    • [6] Italcementi Group. Available: http://www.italcemen​​a+and+Communication/​News/Corporate+event​s/20100322.htm
    • [7] LitraCon. Available: http://www.litracon.​hu/projects.php
    • [8] Lucem. Available:​index.php?id=156&L=1​