Suppliers manufacture translucent concrete by substituting lighter, more transparent aggregates, such as clear resins and glass, into an otherwise conventional concrete mixture. Approximately 4-5 percent of the mix is further comprised of tiny, optical fibers, which provides the unique, light emitting properties of the final product. The transmission of light can also occur from either natural or artificial resources.
Each optical fiber consists of three layers. The innermost
layer is called the core and is responsible for the transmission of light. A middle layer named the cladding envelopes the core, and the buffer coating or outer jacket layer completes the process. Individual fiber thicknesses can vary depending on the desired design effect. Strangely, even though manufacturers use finer aggregates to create the translucent mixture, the finished product still maintains a high concrete strength of approximately 10,000 psi (70 MPa).
Benefits of light transmitting concrete
Engineers from all corners of the globe are now using light transmitting concrete for a variety of innovative design features. Since the product can transmit light from either artificial or natural lighting sources, many consider it to be an eco-friendly alternative to the sometimes dull and lifeless traditional concretes. Other design benefits include the following.
- Building owners enjoy lower utility expenses and a reduction of the structure’s associated carbon footprint.
- Translucent concrete can also be used to enhance internal heating capabilities, in certain situations.
- The fiber optic cables can be placed inside the concrete mixture to form precise patterns or geometric shapes.
- Sheets of glass contained within stainless steel frames can sometimes be added to the precast blocks to enhance ambient lighting capabilities even further.
- The opaque qualities and shadow producing effects of light transmitting concrete can be easily manipulated by simply adjusting the artificial light source in front or behind the concrete structure.
The first noteworthy use of translucent concrete in a major architectural structure occurred in The Italian Pavilion project based at the Shanghai World Expo 2010. Today, engineers, architects, and interior designers use translucent concrete to create wonderfully ornate building atriums, signage, benches, desks, and even countertops.
However, this concrete alternative is not without its fair share of potential design challenges. For example, translucent concrete cannot be poured-in-place. It must be pre-manufactured or precast into specifically designed, precisely measured concrete blocks. There are also certain limitations regarding the possible sizes, shapes, and thicknesses of the individual blocks, but its potential design advantages are nearly limitless. In fact, manufacturers can even create light transmitting concrete panels constructed in delicately curved shapes and surfaces, as well.