Thursday, 11 September 2014

Nesselande's Light Transmitting Concrete Cubes

We have all heard of concrete jungles, but have you ever imagined a Light-Transmitting-Concrete jungle? What does that even mean?

I read about these Light Transmitting Concrete (LiTraCon), it's a building material combining concrete with optical glass fibres. While maintaining the hardness and weight of concrete, it lets light shine through like traditional asian paper wall. According to the LiTraCon company website, as the optic fibre hardly loses any light through its length, the LiTraCon material is capable of light-transmittance for thickness up to 20 metres. The material catches a unique balance between heavy and light properties and I thought it sounded really exciting. Imagine seeing something lights up through 20 metres thick of concrete! 

And then I found out that the engineering firm Vormtech used this material in 2011 to build street furnitures at a location near the Nesselande beach, to the north-east of Rotterdam. Naturally I had to pay a visit. There were 6 of these LiTraCon cube fixtures along the short Kosboulevard, marking corners of the regular concrete benches. Each of these is a LiTraCon case with light source placed on the inside, and with a fixed metal lid covering the top.

I can see that there is already plenty of regular streetlights in the area, and the way they set up the LiTraCon cubes here is less for illumination and more for decoration. I like the enchanted-runes vibe these cubes give out, it looks like they are inscribed with holy scripture. I like that it's pretty much impossible for external forces to break the lamp inside because they're protected by concrete ( The lamp itself might bust or malfunction though. This was possibly the case with the one cube that was off). But at the end of the day these cubes don't demonstrate my favourite thing about LiTraCon: the way you can cast shadows through it (as sensually presented here).

When I first saw this material do shadows my intuition speaks shadow puppet theatre. Did I mention LiTraCon also allows colours to shine through? It promises all kinds of exciting visual presentation and connection between both sides of a concrete wall.

From what I've read, LiTraCon cannot (yet!) replace good old concrete because it is way more expensive, so we're not going to see entire concrete structures made of this stuff any time soon. But I'll be very happy to see smart applications of materials like this in cities here and there, infusing the concrete jungle with some visual diversity that any so-called jungle should rightfully include.

p.s. originally I wanted to do this blogpost on new technologies and lights, and I was gonn include another location. I tried to visit Daan Roosegaarde's Dune 4.2 interactive installation at Kralingen's De Esch, but the installation was apparently not there any more. I later researched more carefully and found that they removed Dune 4.2 in early 2013. I's been a few years since they set it up (2009) and it makes sense that higher-tech installations don't stay at one location forever.  It's a shame though, I always wanted to see it since it looked hella dope extremely captivating on video.

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