Translucent Concrete: Scientific Marvel and Brilliant Innovation
These words do not refer to a fictional scientific marvel known as Superman produced by DC Comic Books. In its own unique, high-tech and brilliantly conceived fashion however, translucent concrete, the creation of Hungarian architect, Aron Losonczi, is recycled and repackaged x-ray vision, the secret weapon that allowed Superman to see through everything except Lois Lane’s clothing.
Man At Wall
Created back in 2001 when Losonczi was a student of architecture, Light Transmitting Concrete (LiTraCon) aesthetically transforms the composition of concrete into a visually appealing, translucent material. This is accomplished by mixing thousands of strands of optical glass fibers, which bond in a parallel pattern and direct light between the two faces of the concrete block, creating both a brighter and darker side.
The Many Faces of LiTraCon
Different Angles of Light
Although these fibers comprise just 4% of the total volume of the block, they render a striped texture and transform into a pattern of light that is unique to each block of concrete. The ingenious result of this mixture is not just two materials combined but an unexpected third, which has a uniform composition both on its surfaces and within its inner structure.
Other Uses of LiTraCon
Light and Shadows
Engineers working at the Budapest University of Technology transformed Losconczi’s prototype of LitraCon into a marketable commodity that could be produced in huge quantities. After successful presentations at several exhibitions, public interest soared and in 2004, Losconczi founded his own company in Csongrad, Hungary, a small town near Budapest, which manufactured and marketed LiTraCon on a global scale.
While LiTraCon has a more than promising future, it has had a glorious history as well. Winner of the highly coveted Red Dot ‘Best of the Best‘ Award in 2005; the Leaf Awards in 2006 for ‘Best Use of Innovative Technology and Thoughtful Design in a Small Scheme‘, and the IF Material Award in 2008 from the IF International Forum Design.
Italian Pavilion Shanghai World Expo
Projects around the world have been enhanced by this most unusual innovation including: the Museum Cella Septichora in Hungary; the Hungarian Embassy in Paris; the Iberville Parish Veterans Memorial in Louisiana and in 2010, the Italian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo, which marked the first major application of translucent concrete in a building.
Concrete has been used for centuries, its basic components remaining unchanged since the glory days of ancient Rome. Its composition consists of a coarse aggregate of stones or gravel; a finer aggregate of sand particles and cement, which binds everything together when water is added. It wasn’t until the 1850s that the chemistry of concrete changed and steel was added as reinforcement.
Since the 19th century, engineers have often toyed with the simple formula, experimenting with the ratio of ingredients and thereby modifying its strength and texture. By eliminating some ingredients, adding others and switching percentages of composition, many new products have been created, but none are more interesting and innovative than translucent concrete.
Woman Behind Wall
There only a few companies who produce translucent concrete, as it still a rather low-tech and slow process whose production is limited to pre-cast or prefabricated blocks and panels. Unlike conventional concrete, it cannot be poured.
LiTraCon Wall Panel
Making an industrial setting more attractive is a novel but most welcome concept. How many of us face walls and rooms with few or no windows that close us within a work space devoid of natural daylight? Because the glass fibers are in a parallel position, light on the brighter side of the wall appears unchanged on the darker side. The sharp chiaroscuro shadows are elements that can be used decoratively indoors or outdoors on such structures as walls, floors, pavements, panels, and almost any building component under the sun.
Two Other Related Products
Losonczi has developed and produced two other different products since the introduction of LiTraCon more than ten years ago. The LiTraCube Lamp is unique and very cool and expensive enough so that you will probably be the only one on your block to have it (about $800).
LiTraCon pXL is an affordable plastic unit that is easy to install even if it is several stories high because the panels are reinforced. The light dots are distributed on the panel surfaces just like pixels on an LCD screen. With this technology, panels can be three dimensional, folded or curved rendering a multitude of options for the illuminated design of public structures, such as statues and street furniture and structures like benches and signs.
Translucent concrete has a definite future as insulating material that dually protects from extreme temperatures while simultaneously permitting the entrance of daylight. This technology could even fare well illuminating underground buildings and structures such as subways. It could also be applied to safety issues, making speed bumps more visible at night and illuminating fire escapes in case of a power failure. In addition, it could also be a sustainable material as crushed recycled glass can be used.
The future possibilities of translucent concrete are endless and yet to be discovered. Engineers may one day design cities that glow from within and windows that are no longer flat and rectangular but transparent within walls that flow and curve. One thing is certain, this material has changed the opacity of architecture and has opened the door for future innovation and beauty in building design.
M Dee Dubroff