Concrete is a material that has been both underestimated and overused in turn throughout its presence in design history. Its brand identity seems to be that of heavy, solid, and indestructible, and it was used to commit some horrible crimes against humanity, particularly during the unfortunate period in architectural history when brutalism was at its height. Its real image issue comes from the facts that it is a material of choice for prisons, courtrooms, and other hostile environments (think DMV) and that it has often been used in instances where efforts to create low-cost buildings are undertaken, meaning that money is not spent on design or detail but just on quantity of material.
In spite of its rise to unpopular heights, there has been, over the past decade or so, a concrete renaissance taking place. The beauty of polished concrete has helped to reintroduce the material to the pantheon of refined materials, making it suitable for indoor use other than as garage flooring. In addition, a plethora of products made of concrete have arisen for use as decorative touches within the home, thereby softening its otherwise hard-edged reputation. For example, Doreen Westphal has created a concrete table topped with lace patterns. The ability to create delicate patterns or to create objects with thinner walls than previously is a result of increased strength in new concrete mixes. The concrete itself is just as heavy, but its augmented strength means it can be used to create thinner objects.
Moving beyond the creation of furnishing and decorative objects, there has been some experimentation regarding the possible applications for concrete in the world of fashion, most recently in the area of eyewear. 1,000 limited edition concrete sunglasses, known as the CS Project, will soon be available from South African architect Handre de la Rey. Wearing concrete shades might seem like a recipe for headaches and neck problems, but these frames actually weigh in at only 100 grams. That’s still enough to make them felt, as an average pair of glasses weighs between 25 and 50 grams, but for the truly hip that’s no great burden to carry.
For the design of these glasses, de la Rey was named the 2017 PPC Imaginarium Award winner in the category of Industrial Design. These awards aim to provide support and exposure to emerging artists and designers in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The award is divided into six categories: Industrial Design, Jewellery, Film, Sculpture, Architecture, and Fashion. The grand prize is R100,000 (just over $7,000) with prizes for category winners ranging from R15,000 to R50,000 (approximately $1,000 to $3,500).
While the CS Project is not the first pair of sunglasses to ever be designed using concrete – XYZ Integrated Architecture created a pair in 2014 – they do represent the first pair of concrete sunglasses to be made available for purchase by the public. Taking inspiration from the work of legendary Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who was able to take concrete and turn it into forms of unmistakable beauty, de la Rey worked with the idea of concrete sunglasses for five years before finally developing the final design.
The design itself was created with 3D modeling and used 3D printing to create a series of prototypes. The frames themselves are a combination of concrete and 3D printed metal pieces. To fabricate the eyewear, conventional clay and resin molds are filled with concrete which, once properly cured, is sanded and then given a silicon skin to prevent breakage, while the nose piece and temples are 3D printed in grey steel. It has been a long road from idea to product, as de la Rey explained:
“Developing CS Project has been a challenge, albeit one that we have thoroughly enjoyed. We’re extremely happy with the finished product and are currently shipping our first batch of sunglasses to Canada. We’re also in the process of developing a Nylon version. Being announced as the Industrial Design Category Winner in the 2017 PPC Imaginarium Awards has given our design studio incredible exposure. CS Project has been on display at numerous esteemed galleries and has been featured widely in the media – we’re now receiving an influx of inquiries regarding our work. The awards pushed us to work hard on a design that is unique and out of our comfort zone.”
The glasses are currently available in either stone gray or in black either at The Guild in Cape Town, SA or, if you aren’t there and the trip is out of reach, they can also be purchased on the 20 Eight website.
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