Monday, June 24, 2013

Glazed tile loveliness

Glazed surfaces offer something distinct and at times surprisingly beautiful. The idea of the decorative concrete facade panel as something highly refined works well with how houses are built in Northern Europe anyway - cladding facades and hiding the loadbearing structure and sometimes constructing exposed concrete walls that are not as loadbearing as one would think. When the facade is 'just' a facade, tiles in geometric patterns and treated with special surfaces, offer something refreshingly different than the more traditional Nordic material principles, wood, brick and metal. As long as the facade does not look like huge, scary bathroom walls...
[In-house production and packing of the Quasi Brick tiles, via, reproduced from]
I cannot mention Anja Bache's glazed concrete investigations without coming to think of an art installation produced for a Tadao Ando home/museum in Tokyo by Olafur Eliasson, the Icelandic/Danish superstar artist - we love to call him Danish but he has resided in Berlin for almost 20 years now. 

Blogger Greg Allen describes the 'quasi brick' as "technically a rhomboid dodecahedron" and continues to remind us how "it emerged from Olafur's ongoing collaboration with the Icelandic architect and former Frei Otto student and Buckminster Fuller disciple Einar Thorsteinn. Rhomboid dodecahedrons are one of five space-filling polyhedrons, shapes that can stack on themselves and fill a solid space. Like a cube, but without the regularity."via 
[Platinum glazed bricks, Art installation by Olafur Eliasson in an Tadao Ando house for Takeo Obayashi, the head of one of Japan's leading contractors and a contemporary art collector 2007. via]
Former Eliasson employee Andreas Eggertsen is interviewed in another blog:
The idea of the quasi brick is that it is an expression of high complexity. The quasi brick is a space filling geometry based on “fivefold symmetry”, a mathematical description of a quasi-chaotic geometry, which was found by a physicist in the 80´s.
The bricks can be rotated into 6 different positions, and put together randomly they create a very complex pattern. As the Japanese are a very thorough people they were not pleased when the construction had started and we had not supplied them with a list of how each brick should be rotated. As there were thousands of bricks, we had not figured out a way to indicate the exact rotation of each and every brick and thought that it would be easier for the construction workers to rotate the bricks themselves on site.
We did not realize that the Japanese were going to be so confused by this. They could simply not work without a drawing that showed them exactly what to do. So when we received this e-mail we got a bit frustrated. The construction had already started and in order not to delay the entire project we had to supply them with new and accurate drawings the following day. Via, an account by Andreas Eggertsen of some interesting cultural clashes between Japanese regularity and the basic planned chaos rules formed by the brick bond. 
[I wonder if the facade turns into a giant mirror ball in the sun? Platinum glazed bricks by Olafur Eliasson and Einar Thorsteinn, via, reproduced from]

The geometry of the brick is fixed as a modular system but as other examples below show, the 'bricks' can be formed from any material.
[Quasi bricks made from bent steel and with mirrors, 2002 Basel, via]
[Double-fired quasi brick used for the Blind Pavillon, 2003 Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn and Petersen Tegl.]
Despite speaking warmly of the glazed tiles, I have rarely come across any in the Nordic neighborhood. Off the top of my head I think of Jørn Utzon who used the patterns created by white glazed and unglazed tiles for the wonderful Bagsværd Kirke with an intentional industrial look and in traditional formats (Also used more spectacularly for the Sydney Opera). 
[Detail of tile patterns in glazed tiles used in the iconic Sydney Opera, via]
The only quasi-bricks that I have experienced in person are the dark, double-fired brick used for the Blind Pavillon, 2003. I love, love, love the earthen materiality here, it is so 'of the ground' terroir like architecture. I must say that for a decade now, I have been secretly dreaming of these tiles to clad a project somewhere close by. - The closest one is the cave-like Royal Danish Playhouse in Copenhagen by Lundgaard & Tranberg and using Petersen Kolumba Bricks. But I love and want the sculpted relief pattern as well.
Want more tiles??
Explore more great tile projects informally collected at the Danish 'Klink' blog - some remarks are in English and some in Danish.

Ms Bache's glazed concrete wonders

[Detail of Anja Bache's glazed concrete panel, via]

One of my favorite Danish concrete ladies is the energetic and cross skilled artist-scientist Anja Margrethe Bache [Anya Bah-keh]. When I say cross-diciplinary, it is her own description and to her many degrees: she is educated as a sculptural artist from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts as well as a Master of Science engineer. On top she has a PhD in architecture. 
[Anja Bache, via]

I wish I could have experienced her latest solo exhibition at the Marsden Woo Gallery in London. Judging from the catalogue, which you can get here, all aspects of Anja’s background come together in the exhibited three series of what I would call archtectones of a highly specific and technological nature. Some flat panels mounted on the walls; some that are connected to create spatial structures, and finally an assemblage of more volumetric objects. (I would love to see some of the perforated panels hanging in a window or outside to see the light through the holes and reflected on the glazed surfaces.)
[Glazed concrete and painted wood. From the show 'Signs and the Signed' 2013, Via]

[Glazed concrete panels similar to those on show in London, Photo by Ole Akhøj, via]

The ‘ceramics installation’ at the gallery shows a scope of Anja’s niche invention of ceramic glazed high-strength concrete

Two generation of high strenght
In fact two generations of concrete passion forms the crazy cool, inventive and highly advanced material investigations behind Bache’s narrative of the London city grid and the site of gallery. The thing is that Anja Bache’s father is Hans Henrik Bache who worked as a senior scientist at the Danish cement plant Aalborg Portland back when they actually were cutting edge and had R&D priorities. Bache Senior invented a concrete technology called Densit – “Denisfied Cement/ultra fine particle base materials (1978) which a strong binder/cement to offer was increased compressive strength. – The Densit is strong but extremely brittle and thus not suitable for any loadbearing concrete structures unless it is prestressed (to avoid tensile stress upon the structures) even the dried up densit alone would crack… Later Bache invented Compact Reinforced Concrete – or CRC. It is a high strength concrete technology, which is super strong but tough [sej* argh, suddenly not sure of the English word here but the opposite of brittle] allowing for large spans at very thin dimensions. 

The technology is basically a way to design concrete according to its structural function – no matter how large (in theory). In her PhD and post-doc work Anja Bache herself has suggested super large structures – as in 500+ meters long.

The glazing technique is remarkable and combines glazing - that is often associated with ceramics/clay – and high strength concrete. As shown at the exhibition, the combination results in perforated, thin sheets that I am longing to put on a façade, and profiles for what could be the most amazing structural elements – some time. For now a major limiting challenge is the size of the kiln used to fire the elements. The combination of a cement-rich material and ceramic glazing techniques also means that high temperature kilns have been used for two processes, making cement and firing the glazed concrete pieces. This raises an obvious question in regard to resource and energy consumption if used in high volumes in construction. While the energy question is relevant in the long run, the investigative route taken by Bache is so inspiring in leading an agenda into the questioning of what concrete is or could be.

Below are some random images of Anja Bache's many investigations into glazed high strength concrete.
[Photo by Ole Akhøj, via]
[Photo by Ole Akhøj, via]

[ Via ]

[Photo: Ole Akhøj Via]

[Photo: Ole Akhøj, via]
[Photo: Ole Akhøj, via]

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Course in new concrete technologies and design

I just finished organizing an awesome course about new concrete technologies and design potentials. The course is organized for Danish (speaking) design professionals and through the Danish Building Information Centre (Byggecentrum). They have an exiting new ambition to offer design related courses on top of their extensive range of more technical or regulation-specific courses.
[Exposed concrete from the SEB Bank & Pension HQ, Copenhagen, Lundgaard &Tranberg, photo by Adam Mørk via]

It is increasingly challenging to push the solid boundaries in construction here (Denmark) unless you know lots about materials and techniques so you can achieve your desired features at the right cost and with the right companies combining material properties and potentials with the processes of manufacture and construction. 
On the other hand - there is so much going in on in the concrete bizz that  it makes me really really happy to have a lineup of presenters at the course representing a nice scope in scale as well as concrete strength and outlook.

Speakers / course folks include
  • Expert and manufacturer of High Strength Compact Reinforced Concrete (CRC), Hans Bruun Nissen of Hi-Con
  • The consultant and robot concrete expert Johannes Rauff Greisen of The Danish Technological Institute will get into the field of CAM fingerprints, scaling and more examples and perspectives of his research
  • Sales manager Carsten Christian Møller from one of the largest Danish concrete element companies Spæncom will get into the use of concrete as thermo active construction and specific developments of aesthetic concrete surfaces.
  • Architect Thomas Rahbæk from the famous architectural company Lundgaard & Tranberg with a range of projects and a specific interest in architectural technology and expressing construction in regards to functionality as well as aesthetics of structures.
  • Yours Concretely who will guide the way and facilitate the day as well as present new technological concrete treats and examples to bring into the daily design practice.
[Image of the concrete facade for the Nottingham Contemporary Art Museum, photo by Yours Concretely]

Now fingers are crossed for a great turnout by professionals who want to push what concrete is or could be. 

The course titled "Beton - nye teknologier og muligheder" takes place on October 28th 2013 in Ballerup (near Copenhagen).

PS: This post has been edited June 12th - I was excited when initially writing it, but more tired than I thought ...

CAM Fingerprints as ornaments of construction

Robotic milling, EPS (expanded polystyrene foam) and concrete are the dancing partners in the newly defended PhD project by architect/industrial designer Johannes Rauff Greisen.
[Johannes Rauff Greisen in front of the industrial robot. Photo by Martin Kunzendorf, via]

As most academic titles, it's sexy: "Architectonic possibilities by robotic fabrication of formwork in concrete building". The project behind the title, however is great because it takes on an investigation of the architectural potentials of the technique by making lots of formwork and testing it and discussing this in terms of architectural applications as well as the challenges of actually using EPS as a mold for concret. The scope of the investigation includes scale issues as well as economic drivers for a new aesthetics.

Starting with the prototypes, Johannes was an Industrial Doctorate at the concrete centre at the Danish Technological Institute (TI). TI had purchased a robot which they had Johannes get well acquainted with - but furthermore the concrete centre has fully automatic but tiny version of an industrial mixing plant to make completely scaleable concrete mix designs. (Sensing my envy here?)
[Thousands of light transmitting fibers for the concrete formwork before the pour. Image from Johannes Rauff Greisen's research via]

One of Johannes' experiments is one of those that 'can't be done', namely making translucent and image/pixel transferring concrete. - Well, on a curved surface that is. I am not good at explaining it and the available image online are less than great, so have a browse through Johannes' well-illustrated paper for the Prototyping Architecture conference, which we both attended earlier this year. - Download the proceedings here ((90+ Mb))and locate the paper and lots of images on page 131.
[The curved concrete screen with embedded optical fibers displaying/projecting the image shown on the computer screen. - Trust me, you'll get it as you browse through the paper! Image via]

Cheap becomes ornamental potential
Another series of experiments deal with effectivity of the milling process. Often the aim with milled formwork - well the desire, anyway - is completely smooth and endless surfaces. One of the drawbacks here is price - the 'closer' the shave, the finer the tool, so to speak. In milling terms, this means that a finer milling tool would be needed for finer, more controlled surfaces. This is costly because of the time. - So, why not make a virtue out of the necessity and praise the crude patterns of the cheaper manufacturing to add an extra layer of interpretation on the concrete surface? What is at stake here, for Yours Concretely, is the robot version of stereogeneity which I wrote about here
[Fine patterns of milling or CAM fingerprints shown on the concrete surface (and my new nail polish). The image is by Rauff Greisen and reproduced from the anthology Material Evidence in Architectural Research, Eds Anne Beim & Mette Ramsgaard Thomsen]

[Coarser patterns of milling or CAM fingerprints shown on concrete surface. The image is by Rauff Greisen and reproduced from the anthology Material Evidence in Architectural Research, Eds Anne Beim & Mette Ramsgaard Thomsen]

Rather than fighting the inherent formal language of the milling tool, Johannes advocates the new aesthetic, almost ornamental language of a still new manufacturing process. He coins the term CAM Fingerprints in his dissertation as associated the expressed process of manufacture from coarser, cheaper milling.
Johannes sums this up:
At one end the scale is expanded by introducing fine detail and light emitting elements in the surface, elements which are so extremely small that they become a material component. At the other end of the scale, is introduced architectural use of a coarse milling, the so-called CAM fingerprint. Hitherto it has been the aim to obtain as smooth as possible milling. Targeted use of coarse milling is new and consists in consciously working with the robot's working pattern that forms a partially controlled technology fingerprint. This autonomous CAM fingerprint can be interpreted as neo-industrial digital ornament that share kinship with past ornaments - both the craft-based unintended ornaments and more random material contingent ornamentation. The Ph.D. thesis addresses these kinships openly, but concludes that the resource economy and practices around the coarse milling immediately lays considerably closer to the existing concrete building culture than the smooth milling. The Ph.D. project thus brings the robots opportunities closer to practical concrete buildings as architectural CAM fingerprints can reduce milling times and thus reduce the final manufacturing costs. Via
[CAM fingerprint consists of "milling tool's working patterns which are marketed in the mold surface and provides a technology footprint to the concrete surface. Here used CAM fingerprint as relief in an urban space concept (designed to SLA), consisting of a 'melting landscape' in concrete" cast with a membrane formliner via]

Johannes even suggests the term of a future concrete in a new-industrial context, robot concrete. This I am less convinced about but I really like the CAM fingerprints term and this eye for new aesthetics and ornamental potentials based on new techniques.

Despite the high-/low-tech discrepancy between fabric formwork and the 3d milled EPS this whole approach and love for expressing construction may tell you that we were in fact researching under the same roof, at the Royal DK Academy. Johannes was also my suuuper handy and cool cat co-teacher at several of the TEK1 workshops about fabric formwork.

Read an article (in Danish) about the perspectives of Johannes' research.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Concrete as stereogeneous construction or an academic material?

This post is an attempt to describe a concept that I have coined – stereogeneity – or concrete as a material and as process. If you wonder how that stereo word has any relation with concrete – it may be good to know that stereophonic or stereo sound means solid sound – because stereos is Greek for solid or hard and phone is voice in Greek (news to me).

While we may forget that sound is solid – there is rarely any forgetting that of concrete. So, often, concrete is explained in simple ways as the contrast between liquid and solid. Architects explain their fascination with the material because it, at least conceptually, is easily molded like a piece of clay in the hand. Yet the truth is, of course, more complex.

Multiple design tasks for concrete
For even minimal construction projects such as student workshops this means that they have to design structural formwork principles, the concrete object/structure, as well as the process of construction – and all simultaneously. I guess this focus on the relationship between architectural technology and the expression of construction and materials is somewhat old school tectonics. But I love it – call it tectonics or not, this approach to architecture is bound to a Scandinavian pragmatic and sober tradition in design and construction. – and then it is the foundation for constructing fabric formed concrete. Everything shows – the potential as well as the ‘danger’ when the slightest pinches, the shape and position of formtie impactos, - and when things go slightly wrong. – it all shows.
[Detail of the Walking Chromosome Column by yours Concretely, 2013. The formwork is closed using a seam technique and the fabric is sweating excess mix water under the hydrostatic pressure of the freshly poured concrete]

Take off the aesthetics hat and wear what?
In order to discuss as well as develop the architectural potentials for fabric formwork it has proved necessary to define a concept to embrace this relation rather than the concrete 'results'. With only a few built examples of fabric formed concrete and thus no context for a judgement, I am really reluctant to use aesthetics or beauty as factors for evalation here because it is not so relevant if you love or are repulsed by strange bulging concrete. If you do not like it, fine, but wearing the habitual hat of the aesthetic limits the scope of any investigation.

The pioneer in fabric formwork, Mark West, once referenced an essay by American art critic and poet Peter Schjeldahl in which he describes concrete-ness and the presence and personality and intrinsic dichotomy of the liquid and solid characteristics of concrete.
 “Concrete is the most careless, promiscuous stuff until it is committed, when it becomes fa¬natically adamant. Liquid rock, concrete is born under a sign of paradox and does not care […] 
Concrete hardens in the shape of whatever container received its flow, its momentary sensual abandon in thoughtless submission to half-loved gravity. Once it has set, what a difference! Concrete becomes adamant, fanatical, a Puritan, a rock, Robespierre – the divinity! – of the shape it comprises, be the shape a glopped heap on the ground or a concert hall, ridiculous or sublime.”

Right, liquid concrete is promiscuous – it lets itself embrace in any shape and caress by any material formwork. Solid concrete on the other hand is not to be messed with. While describing each material extreme Scheldal’s approach to concrete-ness does not quite encompass the techniques, intentions, nor materials of getting from one condition to the other.

Concrete in Greek
I turned to my friend, the Greek author Iosif Alygizakis, to help me out. With his kind assistance I wanted to coin a term that would encompass how or that concrete when cured and solid appears with signs of its becoming. Why Greek you may wonder?? – well there are two direct reasons. – I have been studying the theories of Gottfried Semper and here concrete lies between a number of his schematic labels for materials and procedures – exactly due to the different materials, techniques and conditions of the material. The concept of stereotomi (cut stone or ‘mass’) is often associated with brickwork. Tectonic with timber, Ceramics with clay, and textile with weavings or the clad/draped façade.

Greek in many tongues
The other reason is very pragmatic – for the longest time I did not know which language I was writing my PhD dissertation… Danish or English. Greek is neutral in the sense that it is used in both languages and always means the same.
Iosif dissected words and meaning through almost mathematical methods and summa summarum he created a new word based on the words for solid stereos and for becoming  - i.e. to begin to be, genés

Στερεό|γενές written without the  |  in the middle

Genés – not genesis
Genés is an ending – which comes the verb: ginomai [ginomæ]
- it means: to become – it means – to be in the process of becoming something, to begin to be
- and – becoming what?? – well, StereoThe Gr. Ginomai refers to procedure of becoming. It describes the process of the becoming of – through a procedure.
What does it become – stereo – Gr. solid – by this formulation we don't need the word fluid, liquid.
It is absolute
If it becomes solid – stereo – so, of course, it was totally understandably liquid
Of factual ideas or constructural items in order for them to become something else, something – as an aftermath as a product. – important – it is through a series of manufacture.
Stereo-geneous – the English – an adjective
[above is basically notes taken from Iosif explaining the meaning of the words and their connection]

Petro or stereo
In the US there seem to be a use of the word cultured stone as a commercial word for concrete for design and architecture – and perhaps especially for home owners. – liquid stone and cultured stone – the words can be found in Iosif ‘s other suggestion petrogenés, petro is Greek for stone. I went for stereos because, well – concrete is more than stone to me and I liked how it sounded too.
[Detail of striking the formwork for the Walking Chromosome Column by yours Concretely, TEK1 2013. The seam as well as the fabric have left stereogeneous traces.

Sekler's tectonic
The discussion of concrete as material and process is not new - and also the relationship between structural principles, materials, techniques and construction is overly described, I know. Stereogeneity is to concrete, especially in situ concrete, what Eduards Sekler’s use of the term tectonic is to the overall relation is between structural principles, techniques and the expressed physical manifestation.

So, in English, stereogenés is stereogeneity. The value of concrete as a substance is stereogeneous – it is something that develops from a liquid to a solid state.

And how to use this?? Well, in my dissertation work I have developed the use the term by discussing qualities in built concrete works by architects such as Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jean Nouvel and Peter Zumthor – to describe the relation between process and materiality. For the analytical cases of fabric formed concrete I have been even more specific and looked at the role of particular details in construction: The form-tie, the frame, and the textile. Furthermore, the aspect of conditions or states between liquid and solid has allowed to focus on a particular state in the 'becoming' of the analytical cases, say the intentions behind experiments, the particular technique behind a detail versus its stereogeneous consequence at the end.

– I  hope to return to this topic and the cases in a stereogeneous light in future posts.

Manelius, Anne-Mette (2012) Fabric Formwork - Investigations into Steregeneity and Formwork Tectonics in Architectural Constructions, PhD dissertation, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture.
Schjeldahl, Peter (1994) Columns & Catalogues. Great Barrington MA: The Figures.
Sekler, Eduard. “Structure, Construction, Tectonics.” In Structure in Art and Science, edited by Gyorgy Kepes, 89- 95. New York: George Braziller, 1965.

As always, please accredit me if you use any of the original points or images from this post. I'd love to know how you used or applied it and what your think.