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Innovative trends in concrete usher in the future of architecture and design

‘Concrete’ and ‘innovation’ are two words which are seldom used in the same sentence. Many consider concrete to be a material that cannot advance further in its use. But this is not the case at all. There remain myths around concrete and its limitations, but with technology advancing at such a rapid pace, innovation in concrete may become a commonplace occurrence.

At this point in time, however, concrete innovation is still a tremendously stimulating and relatively new field. The latest trends in concrete bear witness not just to the unlimited application of design thinking, but also to the flexibility of concrete itself – especially when combined with other materials.

“Cement Gardening”, a popular trend in concrete innovation, is known for ‘greener’ living in urban gardening and is built around the idea of plants growing in cement. It is exciting as it is a successful way in which to create a vertical garden and living wall. Cement gardens capture rainwater, and the multi-layered cement encourages and sustains the growth of specific mosses and lichens directly onto the cement material. Given enough time, the vertical garden and living wall will be patterned with ‘living’ greenery.

Another forward-thinking trend in concrete innovation is known as “Translucent Concrete” – a fibre-reinforced concrete which is used for aesthetic and lighting application by incorporating optical fibres into the concrete. The optical fibres help in transmitting light through the concrete thereby increasing the aesthetic appearance of the concrete as well as its functional application. With its distinct architectural and design appeal, some companies may look to involve light – transmitting concrete in more practical ways.

Translucent concrete achieves maximum effect when it is used in an environment with a high degree of light contrast such as an illuminated table in a dimly lit room. In Stockholm, for example, a project incorporating light transmitting concrete was used to light sidewalks at night. As more people begin to see its potential, translucent concrete may become more visible.

As trends in concrete innovation start making waves in the architectural and design world, ‘The Silent Evolution’ project is making waves of another sort altogether. This Lauren Shantall (Pty) Ltd – Integrated Communications permanent underwater cultural attraction features 500 life-sized human figures sculpted in concrete. James de Caires Taylor’s project aims to demonstrate the interaction between art and environmental science. With each sculpture made of specialised concrete materials used to promote coral life, together, the sculptures form a complex reef structure for marine life to colonise, inhabit and increase biomass on a grand scale. The total installation occupies an area of over 420 square metres of barren seabed and weighs over 200 tons.

Back on land, fabric is being used as a stabiliser to form and define the shape of concrete. Think concrete curtains, or even concrete furniture, but with a more flexible look and feel.

Forward-thinking architects are using 3D modelled concrete formwork to blow the architectural field wide open. 3D modelled concrete formwork is a process which involves software ability to create a three dimensional template with extreme detailing. This technology will ultimately transform the way in which buildings and sculptures are made.

As innovation in concrete moves across the global fields of design, art and architecture, South African emerging creatives stand a chance to be a part of this international movement to change the current perception of cement and its applications. Local cement giant PPC Ltd has risen to the challenge of changing the perception and usage of cement by fostering a space for innovation and trends from within the company. PPC has a dedicated innovation department that exists to research and promote the innovative use of cement and concrete.

This innovation department has engineered an ambitious concept to provide unprecedented support to emerging talent in the South African art and design fields. Un-established artists and designers stand a chance to change their careers through financial support, recognition, mentorship and guidance by entering the 2015/2016 PPC Imaginarium Awards. Already in its 2nd year, the PPC Imaginarium Awards is noteworthy for offering the country’s richest cash prize for an arts and design competition, boasting R 500 000 in prize money.

PPC is backing this hunt for innovation as a key factor in entrepreneurial and economic growth. As the above concrete innovation trends show, progressive thinking can indeed transform what seems to be a solid and unchanging medium in a Lauren Shantall (Pty) Ltd – Integrated Communications way that surfaces new living solutions for the future. Perhaps, a rising South African designer will indeed be the source of the next big breakthrough…

PPC Innventive Cement 2

See for more info on the competition and for tips and tutorials on how to work in concrete.