The Paradox of Translucent Concrete
What Makes Concrete Concrete
Concrete has been used since Roman times, but its basic components have remained the same. Three ingredients make up the dry mix: coarse aggregate, consisting of larger pieces of material like stones or gravel; fine aggregate, made up of smaller particles such as sand; and cement, a very fine powder material that binds the mix together when water is added . Modern concrete is most often reinforced with steel, a practice that was developed in the 1850s . The simple formula for concrete, however, lends itself to endless modifications. By simply adjusting the ratio of ingredients, engineers can change the strength and texture of the material . Bigger aggregates lead to rougher concrete and vice versa. Other ingredients, known as admixtures, can be added to alter the concrete’s drying time, workability, color, and consistency . By switching ingredients and adding new ones, engineers have been able to create a multitude of interesting new products, one of which is translucent concrete.
How Translucent Concrete Is Made
Current Production and Uses
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” . 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” . Translucent concrete is also a great insulating material that protects against outdoor extreme temperatures while also letting in daylight . 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 . It even has the potential to be sustainable; the aggregate can be replaced with crushed recycled glass . 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.
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