Mar 24

Translucent Concrete

Light-transmitting concrete

Litracon Wall

Innovators in the concrete industry never cease to surprise us. When we first heard of “translucent concrete” we weren’t quite sure how these two words could go together! After all, concrete conjures images of heavy, solid, rough material that blocks just about everything and especially light. What if concrete could let light through? What if a wall could also turn into a window to the outside?

So what is this light-transmitting concrete?

As in all new concrete products, they use variations from the traditional ingredients. One of the main differences is the use of translucent alternatives, like glass or plastic fragments to replace conventional aggregates and let light through with the use of resins or clear glue as binding agents. Another formula involves mixing white Portland cement with white silica sand and fiber glass or plastic rods as reinforcement. Various methods have been developed and patented as a result. In most cases, a thin layer of concrete is poured manually in a mold, then fiber glass is placed on top and another concrete layer covers it. This method allows light to travel from one side of the block to the other.

Another benefit of this promising material is its ability to greatly increase insulation for buildings in harsh regions. This means that privacy is retained while allowing daylight in.That’s pretty cool for Northern regions of the world that suffer from lack of lighting for half the year!

Who are some of the pioneers?

Dr. Price from the University of Houston is not only looking into making translucent concrete, he wants to make transparent concrete made from recyclable materials that can be poured on site (currently it is only available in pre-cast bricks or panels). His vision is that in the future, cities could glow from within from translucent (and eventually transparent) zones within curving walls. A tall order that would undoubtedly revolutionize the building industry.

Other players that are selling blocks and panels include Impact Lighting Inc, Lucem (in Germany), Litracon (in Hungry), just to mention a few.

Usages for translucent concrete. Imagine the possibilities…

Translucent concrete lamp



What started as a cool medium mostly used in art exhibits, in museums, was then introduced into furniture items like desks, lamps, park benches, counters and now found its way into building walls and floors.

At the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, the Italian Pavilion featured its first application in buildings. When blocks of translucent concrete were inserted into a wall in various geometric positions, soft natural light was let in during the day and a gentle glow appeared at night. The building was transformed into a soothing living structure where the separation between the inside and the outside had been greatly reduced.

Translucent wall

Lucem LED concrete wall

In 2013, the German company Lucem erected the first led infused concrete wall, with 136 color-changing led panels controlled with DMX technology via internet! With one click, these same color panels can be turned into one large display wall that can be used for communication and advertising. The age of giant billboards make soon be over!

What if sidewalks could be lit at night? This is what they did in Stockholm and pedestrians can see their path by simply looking down.

It could be use to bring natural light in underground buildings like train or subway stations. Think about safety uses, anything that could be lit from below, like speed bumps, emergency signs in case of power outage etc.

What if concrete could conduct electricity? It can and as a result airport runways and drives could automatically eliminate snow and ice as it builds up. That’s just one practical application that would save billions of dollars in cold regions of the world!

Some challenges and much promises

Being such a novelty material, translucent concrete is only available in prefabricated blocks and panels. It may take a few more years for it to be poured on site. This makes its price 4-5 times that of its conventional counterpart. However, translucent blocks can be inserted in wall and still obtain the natural lighting effect.

One experimental case had structural strength issues and with the help of chemical additives the problem was corrected. Most formulas (like the Lozoncze’s concrete block from Hungry) have shown impressive compressive and tensile strength without steel reinforcement. Translucent concrete can in fact be used a structural support!

If you are a hands-on person and want to play with the idea of translucent concrete, check out this diy article on the subject.

Getting major concrete manufacturers, engineers and architects to experiment with translucent concrete will lead to its broader adoption and more amazing applications. The future of concrete is bright and truly promising!

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Aug 05

Architectural & Decorative Concrete

The concrete industry has come a long way and keeps reinventing itself to answer the needs of builders, architects and even decorators. With more and more home owners attracted to a greener and more sustainable lifestyle, we have seen, in more recent years, a new use of concrete, blending innovation and artistry to create truly unique surfaces for interior floors, patios and kitchen counters. Here are some of the coolest new possibilities:

Concrete Countertops in the kitchen:

Granite Counter top

When you think kitchen countertop, a few options usually come up. Depending on your budget, you can get high end and more expensive products like: polished granite, marble, quartz, soapstone, stainless steel and glass.  On the cheaper end and ideal for DIY afficionados, you have tile, wood and laminate. Other options that are becoming more popular are concrete and recycled concrete. The later one being one of the most eco-friendly choice that allows you to combine post-consumer products like glass, paper, composite and plastic with concrete for a truly unique finished product.

Plain concrete can be used in countertops, landscaping and customized with various textures and finishes (stain color). A really nice feature of concrete is its ability to be energy efficient. Whenever the temperature rises, the concrete traps the heat and releases it when the temperature cools down.

White Portland cement
To transform what may be viewed as boring cold grey concrete into bright, elegant aesthetic surfaces requires a combination of special ingredients, forms and finishing technique. The magical ingredient in this case is white Portland cement.  It comes plain or pigmented and is available in wide array of colors, from pastel to saturated colors. It can be used indoor or outdoor and has the same durability properties as grey cement but contains more metal oxides like iron and manganese, giving it its whiteness. White cement concrete is used in exposed architectural concrete, landscaping, building accents and more. It provides greater energy efficiency and safety because of its light color.

Some design ideas

Stone finishing

Concrete can be transformed to look like natural stone. To create this effect, you will need to cast the concrete in an integral color then apply multiple layers of acid stain to the surface until the desired result is obtained. TIP: Use the veins produced by the marbelizing effect to hide seams on your countertop.

Wood grained concrete texture


Create a wood-grained finish to any surface by applying a technique called “board forming”. To create this unique texture, you will need to cast the concrete in forms that have been previously lined with unfinished wood that will imprint the wood texture into the concrete surface. You can also create board lines by cutting straight lines with a saw after it is cast. Next is creating a realistic color using both integral color with topical stains.

To create a smooth and elegant look to your surface, you can polish or sand your concrete. It is recommended that the counter top be poured in one piece and not show any seam. To create the look of marble, you will need to use a titanium-white concrete mix that contains white silica sand. You can also hand sand the surface lightly for a less shiny and more natural look.

Exposed Aggregate Finish
This is where the use of post-consumer products like glass, stones, bricks, even shells can be recycled and added to concrete to make truly unique finished surface. There are 3-4 steps to create this type of finish: first you pour the concrete, then you insert pieces of material of your choice (broken glass, decorative stone, shells etc.) Once the concrete has set  you grind the surface to expose the aggregate. Finish with a high gloss sealer to protect your newly created surface.
TIP: for spectacular results it is best to select pieces that will create the most contrast with the concrete color.

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Related reading
Milestones in the history of concrete construction
Photos of concrete counter tops
Applications for architectural concrete