How Translucent Concrete Works

How is Translucent Concrete Used?
Another example of translucent concrete.
Another example of translucent concrete.

Drab, dull and depressing, concrete has long been associated with penitentiary-like office buildings, ugly patios and unfinished basements. With its light-transmitting properties, however, translucent concrete has the power to potentially transform the interior of concrete buildings, making them appear fresh, open and spacious. While the glass and plastic fibers imbedded in the material make it cost-prohibitive in many large-scale construction projects, LiTraCon and other types of light transmitting concrete are finding their way into a smattering of structures around the globe [sources: Inventables, Hanlon].

Since its development, translucent concrete has been used to create partition walls, stairs, decorative tiles and even lamps. One of LiTraCon's first public uses, for example, was in a public square in Stockholm, Sweden. By day, the square's sidewalk looks as though it were made of ordinary concrete, but the translucent surface lights up at night when the colored lights beneath the surface illuminate [sources: Inventables, Portland Cement Association]. Meanwhile over in eastern Europe, the newly renovated Bank of Georgia headquarters building features almost 300 square meters (3,229 square feet) of translucent concrete made by German manufacturer LUCEM, including LED-lit wall panels [sources: Lucem, Kim].

While translucent concrete is one of the most interesting new takes on the historically stiff and uninspiring building material, it's not the only one. In 2005, Michigan's Department of Transportation used "bendable" concrete to retrofit a bridge in Ypsilanti. Featuring coated fibers that slide within the cement, this reinforced building material is 500 times more resistant to cracks and about 40 percent lighter than traditional concrete. At the same time, manufacturers have also developed "self-reinforcing" concrete, which draws on steel fibers to make the material more resistant to cracks and bridge those that occur [sources: Hanlon, Rao].

Concrete: It bends, fixes its own breaks and now it even lets some light in. Check out the links on the next page for more information on concrete, how it works and how it can be used.