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.
About the Article
- uncube magazine 04