From humble origins to luxury interiors, concrete gets the facelift it deserves.
I am particularly fond of concrete, symbol of the construction progress of a whole century, submissive and strong as an elephant, monumental like stone, humble like brick. – Carlos Villanueva
It seems that concrete, a material most would associate with construction, is having a resurgence of late as a material used within the home. This is not altogether surprising as there are a number of contributing factors that helped encourage this trend.
SO WHAT HAS INFLUENCED THIS TREND?
With designers using an increasingly diverse range of influences in their creative process, trends are being constantly evolved and revised. Among the most popular in recent years has been the industrial theme. Seeking to contrast the indulgence that came via art deco’s resurgence, this movement was originally defined by humble materials such as timber and burnished metals, accented with exposed workings highlighting the intricate craftsmanship details.
Later designers such as Tom Dixon and Lee Broom began to experiment with contrasting materials. We saw copper and brass become a trend unto itself most notably featuring within the furniture and lighting sections of the industry.
This has led us to the recent emergence of concrete as a decorative material. Its low cost of production along with its raw and industrial aesthetic has prompted designers to use this material to enhance their metallic accents. The appearance of concrete grants a warm to the brass and copper, whilst still retaining the fashionable industrial theme.
But this is not the first time we have seen concrete used in this manner. The trend for brutalism between the 1950s and 1970s saw this material reach its zenith. Used to construct much of London’s architectural skyline during this period, it was used to forge iconic buildings such as Ernö Goldfinger’s Trellis tower and the Tate Modern.
Later, during the 1970s, came an emboldened approach to interior design where designers began to experiment with concrete in furniture, notably seen in the work of Giovanni Offrredi for Saporiti (below). Designs produced during this period were more heavily rooted in the brutalist approach which resulted in a stark yet elegant appearance as the designers sought to refine concrete’s perceived utilitarian persona.
Jonathan Foyle, chief executive of the World Monuments Fund Britain explains: “It is damned by its name which comes from the French, béton brut, or raw concrete, but we use the same word [Brut] to describe Champagne and this perhaps sums up the dichotomy at the heart of this style.”
The 1970s is once again a strong influence for today’s interiors industry and can be counted as another major catalyst for concrete’s re-emergence in decorative design. Studios such as Delatour Design Lab and Restoration Hardware are working concrete into their furniture designs, mostly appearing as the framework or tabletop. Similarly concrete can be found amongst the latest collections of lighting designers. Artisans including Lanna, David Taylor and Magnuss Petterson all feature this material in a variety of applications, mostly complimented with metal or stone detailing.
Concrete’s appeal is not only popular within interior design, with many architects opting to showcase this material within their projects. Combining concrete’s structural qualities and low cost, it has been hailed as the “material of the 21st Century” by Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, who has often used concrete within his designs.
Ando’s latest project: 152 Elizabeth Street, a luxury condominium in Manhattan, New York perfectly encapsulates this movement (above). The seven storey building, created with Gabellini Sheppard, will be constructed from poured-in-place concrete with burnished metal framework. Offset by glass panels, 99 foot wide living green walls have been added to soften the otherwise strict minimalist approach.
Ando explains: “The concept was to create a glass box interlocked on an exposed concrete base creating the stability and transition from the dynamic urban fabric into a calm private residence. The refined contrast of the material use emphasises the simple architectural language.
I use concrete because to me, it is one of the best materials to capture the space I envision. I want to create a space, which no one has created before, with a very common material like concrete, which anyone is familiar with and has access to. Concrete can be made anywhere on earth with its local resources and is the material of 21st century, along with metal and glass.”
Whilst the attraction of concrete is by no means universal, none can doubt the material’s diversity. Cropping up in all facets of interior decoration, from accessories to furniture whilst also leading the charge in the field of architecture, concrete is once again in high demand.