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Blingcrete-Light Reflecting Concrete

BlingCrete project began as a series of artistic experiments with lightreflecting materials and the phenomenon of retro-reflection.

Blingcrete-Light Reflecting Concrete

BlingCrete represents a new genre of materials with its own logic of effect that cannot be described simply in terms of the usual categories of heavy and light or form, construction, and surface. The material, also known as light-reflecting concrete, combines the positive characteristics of concrete (fire safety, solidity and building methods) with those of retro-reflection.

Since 2009, artist Heike Klussmann and architect Thorsten Klooster have headed the working group ‘BlingCrete’ at the University of Kassel, Germany, which is devoted to the development of new materials concepts. One emphasis is on the functional design of concrete surfaces. Along with its partners Hering Bau International and G.tecz, BlingCrete unites expertise from the areas of art and architecture, product design, materials technology, and nanotechnology. It is promoted by the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations AiF e.V, a funding agency.

BlingCrete is produced by Hering Bau International. The Structural Engineering division of Hering specializes in prefabrication and high-quality concrete surfaces. Prefabricated parts such as railway station platforms, façade elements or tiles can conceivably make use of BlingCrete.

This article describes the development of a light-reflecting concrete. Since 2009 the authors have headed the BlingCrete working group at the University of Kassel, Germany. This group, which brings together experts from the fields of visual art, architecture, interaction design, industrial design, experimental physics, and materials research, is devoted to developing new material concepts. The BlingCrete project began as a series of artistic experiments with light-reflecting materials and the phenomenon of retro-reflection. It is thus an exchange initiated from the artist’s position, in which ways of knowing and working that are specific to the sciences are harnessed in order to position and deploy them in artistic contexts—and vice versa. At the threshold between visibility and invisibility BlingCrete reveals the contradictions of material representation. The research project picks up that thread using such observations to generate further lines of inquiry and reconceived boundaries. With magnetic positioning we ultimately depart the spectrum of the visible for the invisible realm of nanoscale electromagnetic fields.

BlingCrete represents a new genre of materials with its own logic of effect that cannot be described simply in terms of the usual categories of heavy and light or form, construction and surface. The material, also known as light reflecting concrete, combines the positive characteristics of concrete (fire safety, solidity and building methods) with those of retro reflection. Retro reflecting surfaces send incoming rays of light (sunlight or artificial light) back precisely in the direction of the source. This optical phenomenon is produced by embedding glass microspheres in the substrate material. Crucial for the reflective power are the roundness, clarity, and refractive index of the beads, as well as the bond between the glass microspheres and the substrate. The dialog with light, lastingly integrated by the combination of materials, creates the special, dematerialized aesthetic. BlingCrete creates immersive environments by low technology analogue modes.

Surface Performance

The BlingCrete surface is activated depending on the position of surface, light source, and recipient. The reflective effect can be perceived at a certain moment. The concrete changes from a passive to an active state, so to speak. It is not important whether the source is daylight or artificial light positioned in a targeted way. Even several light sources with different colours and positions can be oriented to the surface in the space. BlingCrete allows transforming any ordinary space into a highly immersive or interactive environment by low technology analogue modes. Despite their flatness, the two-dimensional surfaces made of this material are creating a three-dimensional illusion.

BlingCrete investigates the possibilities of enlivening materials by taking the surfaces as a starting point both conceptually and technically. It is a change of focus from the appearance of a material to the performance of surfaces.

BlingCrete allows transforming any ordinary space into a highly immersive or interactive environment by low technology analogue modes.

Properties and Parameters

BlingCrete offers high design potential, which derives from the production process. Basically, the building process and use are comparable to known procedural manners of prefabricated elements. The parts of BlingCrete are High Performance and Ultra High Performance Concretes that are used: With the adhesive composition of glass beads and their position in the matrix that can be controlled precisely. They could be positioned in any grid or pattern or in a random distribution on the surface, the colour of the matrix can be produced in a grey scale variety from white to anthracite (i.e. black), and colours like yellow, red, green etc. The sizes of the beads range from 0.7 mm to 7 mm, with 2 mm as a standard size.

Combinations of sizes are also possible. The parameters resulting from the two main components, matrix and spheres, affect the appearance and properties of the surface: There is not one BlingCrete, but several.

High Design Potentials

The potentials of BlingCrete open up various design possibilities in the areas of architecture, interior design and in transport safety. Potential applications are, for example, safety-related marking of danger spots in construction (stairs, sidewalks, platform edges and tunnels), as well as the design of integrated guidance systems and novel surface components (façade, floor and ceiling).

The BlingCrete surface is activated depending on the position of surface, light source, and recipient. The reflective effect can be perceived at a certain moment. The concrete changes from a passive to an active state, so to speak. It is not important whether the source is daylight…...or artificial light positioned in a targeted way. Even several light sources with different colors and positions can be oriented to the surface in the space.

It’s a newly developed material: a light-reflecting concrete, combining the heavy surface of concrete with light-reflecting qualities created by embedding little spheres of glass into the concrete to about 50% depth. Doing this you immediately get a unique prismatic effect, with each sphere acting as a retro-reflector meaning light is reflected away from its source at an equal and opposite angle. So, this gives it a very special surface, if you view it from a specific point, you get this very intensive reflection from a light source, which gives the solid concrete a glistening immaterial impression.

BlingCrete facilitates a new and unexpected ways of perception. In principal, it is an unobtrusive material that is eye-catching or even flamboyant when required. The information is latently stored in the surface without dominating the architecture; its visibility is affected by the users’ walking paths and the position of the light, making it fully visible at specific points. It is the concept of a material admitting the creation of subtle surfaces that manage to mediate between material and light and thus indirectly referring to the relationship between mass and surface.

Few Facts about BlingCrete

  • Characteristics: Light reflecting concrete (retroreflective)
  • Substrate: High performance or ultra high performance concrete
  • Substrate colours: Greyscale variety from white to anthracite (i.e. black), and colours such as yellow, red or green
  • Sizes of glass beads: 0.7 mm to 7 mm, with 2 mm as a standard size (alkali-resistant)
  • Element shapes: Plane, angular or rounded (concave / convex)
  • Surface layouts: Grid, specific patterns or random

Resources:

http://www.klussmann.org/pdf/Blingcrete_engl.pdf

http://baukunsterfinden.org/de/mappe/presse/in-the-photobooth-with-/

https://www.materialthinking.org/sites/default/files/papers/SMT_V8_P08_Klussman_And_Klooster.pdf

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