Monday, July 16, 2012

Design Monday: Concrete's Softer Side

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 1:46 PM

Retaining wall at the US Bank building downtown Boise
  • Anne Henderson
  • A concrete retaining wall snakes around the U.S. Bank building in downtown Boise.

A simple, mundane material used in foundations, retaining walls, bridges, walkways, dams, pipes, fence posts and overpasses, concrete plays a role in nearly every aspect of our built environment.

Because of its strength and versatility, the simple blend of aggregate, cement and water mixes well with a host of design applications. Concrete's other perks include the fact that it is fire resistant, non-toxic and usually bought and sold fairly close to its source. Increasingly, it is being crushed down and recycled for new applications.

A traditional material for commercial applications, concrete has also made its way into domestic life in the form of glowing, polished floors imbedded with radiant heat lines and countertops in kitchens and bathrooms. Take a walk out into the yard and you may find it posing as a birdbath, garden bench or as a brick retaining wall.

What's surprising is when such a hard material can be made to feel soft and approachable. Take for instance the Stitching Concrete series from designer Florian Schmid. He takes a material called a "concrete canvas" (fabric imbedded with concrete and lined with a plastic netting) and molds beautiful stools from it, weaving in brightly colored threads to sew the concrete together. What he has done is as inspiring as it is unlikely. It's easy to imagine his friendly stools perched on a patio or even in a living room sitting opposite a sofa.

stitching_concrete_chair_1.jpg
  • Courtesy of florian-schmid.com

In a world where so much has been done, where nearly every material has been worked and every topic has been an obsession, Schmid's creations serve as a reminder: There is still room for ingenuity and creation, and perhaps the best place to look is the overlooked and ordinary.

Accidental imprint found in North End sidewalk

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