Get Lit: Lucem and Litracon

3 February 2010 8,075 views No Comment

Light-transmitting concrete is kind of endearingly creepy looking – it reminds me of one of those tiny hypoallergenic dogs with no fur except in pale tufts on its oversized head.  I’m jarred by the fact that light can shine through something designed to be massive and essentially made out of rocks.  Glass fibers are embedded in the concrete in parallel, so that light is transmitted from one side of a block of the concrete to the other.  The technology is not brand new;  I saw light-transmitting concrete featured at the National Building Museum some years ago when I was in college.  But I suppose it is possible that some of you don’t hang out at the Smithsonian when you’re not at crew practice, so maybe you haven’t heard about it.  In which case, I present two examples of the substance: LUCEM and Litracon.

Image courtesy Litracon.hu


LUCEM was developed by a German company called robatex GmbH.  I have no earthly idea what any of that stands for – except that the “tex” aspect may relate more to textiles than to chips and salsa, which is maybe a little bit disappointing.  Their products and manufacturing processes are patent-pending and they won’t tell me about them, but as a consolation they offer additional consulting services about textiles and concrete.  Here’s what else you can get (according to their product information): a massive light transmitting concrete element that becomes translucent due to the incorporation of “high quality optical fibres” when placed in front of a natural and/or artifical light source.  This may produce a “fascinating atmosphere of light & shadows as well as colours and shapes” (Source: LUCEM).  The product is fire-resistant (always nice) and 100% recyclable.  In some cases it is also UV-resistant.  You know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking … FEATURE WALL!

Image courtesy LUCEM.de


Litracon was invented in 2001 by Hungarian architect Áron LOSONCZI.  As an aside, I’m not sure if he always uses all-caps for his last name or if that is just some quirk of the Litracon website?  Anyhooze, this brand of light-transmitting concrete works in a similar manner to LUCEM – it consists of optical fibers and fine concrete, with the fibers arranged in parallel.  On the bright side of the wall, you can’t tell that the concrete is much different from what you’re used to seeing.  On the dark side, however, things are more interesting: you see a sharp display of shadows where people or things are blocking the light.  The fibers make up about 4% of the volume of the concrete mixture, and they act as a kind of structural component/modest aggregate since there isn’t a negative effect on the compressive strength of th concrete (Source: Litracon).  Ostensibly, you could have a wall that is several feet thick with no loss of light transmittance due to the fiberoptics. 

Image courtesy MaterialConneXion.com


Light-transmitting concrete falls in the Earth and Fire categories.  It’s a material that’s strong and massive like an elephant, but then there is this crazy lightness about it from a certain angle.  It’s full of surprises and I’m aching to use it in a project.

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