In the photobooth with...

In­ter­view by Rob Wil­son

RW: Can you de­scribe BlingCrete and its prop­er­ties? What is it?

HK: 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.

TK: 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…

HK: That‘s ba­si­cal­ly the trick about BlingCrete!

RW: Al­most like a me­ta­mor­pho­sis…

TK: Yes – and so the ma­te­rial has a cer­tain con­tra­dic­to­ry char­ac­ter com­bin­ing two po­lar op­po­site ma­te­rials: glass and con­crete in one com­posite.

RW: What’s the back­ground to the de­vel­op­ment of BlingCrete?

TK: It came out of a pro­ject Heike did for a sub­way sta­tion in Düs­sel­dorf. The idea there was to use light-re­flect­ing ma­te­rial but it turned out that ev­ery­thing on the mar­ket didn’t com­p­ly with fire reg­u­la­tions. There­fore some­thing new need­ed to be de­vel­oped: light-re­flect­ing but not harm­ful to peo­ple in a fire. Hence BlingCrete’s com­bi­na­tion of con­crete and glass – ma­te­rials al­ready used through­out public space.

On the con­cep­tu­al side, our back­grounds are that Heike’s an artist, and she al­ready used retro-re­flec­tive ma­te­rials in her work. Whilst I’m an ar­chi­tect, more on the tech­ni­cal and sci­en­tif­ic side, and have writ­ten a book on smart sur­faces. So we com­bined our two spe­cif­ic types of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence in mak­ing BlingCrete.

HK: We estab­lished a re­search pro­ject, found an in­vest­ment part­n­er, be­gan to sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly de­vel­op the ma­te­rial and to set up the pro­duc­tion pro­cess­es need­ed in in­dus­try - a re­al­ly long pro­cess. There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween pro­duc­ing a pro­to­type in a lab­o­ra­to­ry and thou­sands of square me­tres in a fac­to­ry!

RW: And the name: BlingCrete?...

HK: …comes of course from the hip-hop ‘bling’: shiny jew­el­ry etc.

RW: So how can BlingCrete be used? What are its ap­pli­ca­tions?

HK: There are so many func­tio­n­al ap­pli­ca­tions: for re­flec­tive road mark­ings, in­dus­trial hazard signs, plat­form edges, tun­nels… And in ar­chi­tec­ture, it can be used on façades, in in­te­ri­or de­sign, as a way-find­ing sys­tem – or for small spe­cial si­t­u­a­tions where a mes­sage or graph­ic needs to be seen but on­ly at a cer­tain the point where the in­for­ma­tion is re­quired. It can al­so func­tion as a tac­tile sys­tem for blind peo­ple.

TK: What’s nice for de­sign­ers is play­ing around with ideas of the vis­i­ble and in­vis­i­ble, and the ma­te­rial’s spe­cial qual­i­ty of chang­ing from be­ing ac­tive to pas­sive. It of­fers very in­ter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties to work with and in­te­grate in­to a de­sign.

RW: So a bal­ance be­tween use and beau­ty…

TK Yes and I think its very chal­leng­ing and in­ter­est­ing for de­sign­ers to play around with BlingCrete’s an­ta­g­on­is­tic char­ac­teris­tics.

RW What about the lat­est de­vel­op­ments or pro­jects you’re in­volved in?

HK: Well BlingCrete is just now be­gin­n­ing to be used in some very in­ter­est­ing pro­jects, which is re­al­ly exc­it­ing: for façades, sig­nage sys­tems, in land­s­cape ar­chi­tec­ture and public space.

TK: And we’re de­vel­op­ing BlingCrete us­ing coloured glass balls, and opaque ones too, where the sur­face acts like a mir­ror.

We’re al­so ex­plor­ing other ways of func­tio­n­al­iz­ing con­crete sur­faces. Right now we’re work­ing on a con­crete sur­face to pro­duce en­er­gy us­ing mag­net­ic forces, which is very promis­ing.

HK. Apart from the de­vel­op­ment and en­trepreneurial side, as we’re from ar­chi­tec­ture and art back­grounds, what in­ter­ests us are the con­cep­tu­al and aes­thet­ic ques­tions. All our work to­gether acts as a re­search plat­form.

TK: There is a big dis­cus­sion at the mo­ment about art and sci­ence. But our work on BlingCrete and func­tio­n­al­iz­ing con­crete sur­faces are prac­ti­cal pro­jects that com­bine th­ese two fields. What’s in­spir­ing is hav­ing the chance to work with peo­ple from all types of fields: sci­en­tists and ex­perts in ma­te­rial physics, along­side artists, ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers.

Ba­si­cal­ly our work is on ma­te­rials but we are in­ter­est­ed in the im­ma­te­rial! We al­ways on­ly use the ma­te­rial as a ref­er­ence to things that are more con­cep­tu­al: that’s what we do.

Über den Artikel

un­cu­be ma­ga­zi­ne 04
Rob Wilson