Concrete and Cloth: How this unlikely pairing of concrete and cloth changed war, weather, and… art?

By Kimberly Suchy

This past weekend, Hurricane Irene literally took the east coast by storm. She roared through towns, uprooting trees, submerging roadways, and ripping apart buildings made of time-tested materials. Homeowners bared the brunt of Irene’s wrath, and many now face costly repairs. While traditional materials such as wood and steel can be expensive and unreliable against future weathering, a new class of concrete just may be the answer to our prayers.

Concrete Cloth first made headlines as a durable and versatile material for military shelters. This moldable fabric is coated with cement – it is flexible while dry, but just add water and it forms a rigid shell. The result is a durable, waterproof layer of protection that can withstand shrapnel and Mother Nature both.

concrete cloth building bunker

What Is Concrete Cloth?

Supplied in large rolls, Concrete Cloth is like industrial-strength paper-mache – simply wet, then set. After two hours, the fibers reinforce the concrete and a PVC backing makes it waterproof. Concrete Cloth is a practical, cheap, and environmentally friendly form of protection against bullies like Irene.

Peter Brewin, one of the founders of Concrete Canvas, the British company that invented Concrete Cloth, recommends stretching the material between wooden joists and nailing it into position to fortify the walls of a safe room. A simple lining of Concrete Cloth can reinforce and waterproof an unstable roof, or create retaining walls that prevent sloping terrain caused by flooding. As of now, the military and commercial companies have the easiest access to the material, but Brewin has plans to make Concrete Cloth more readily available to consumers.

While Concrete Cloth is predominantly used in large-scale civil projects, some architects and designers see potential in applications outside of construction and weatherproofing. German industrial designer Florian Schmid was intrigued by the contrasting qualities of Concrete Cloth during his research for new materials in London. “The texture gave back a warm atmosphere but the cold appearance of the concrete showed its durability. From that point on, my ideas started to flash over all the possibilities of how to design Concrete Canvas.”

Florian Schmid stitching concrete cloth

Florian Schmid's Stitching Concrete

Stitching Concrete: Other Uses of Concrete Cloth

After approaching the material through various channels like patterns, stitching and origami, his newest project, “Stitching Concrete,” was born. Rather than using the obvious method of draping the Concrete Canvas over a moldable surface, Schmid approached the material in a new way. “There are a lot of materials around us in our daily life, we like to think we know them well, but there is yet potential in them to develop into something better.”

His unique stools are developed by folding Concrete Cloth, soaking it with water, and then stitching the edges with brightly colored thread. He then uses an adjustable wooden rig to support the canvas as it sets to form a series of uniquely shaped benches.

concrete cloth

Schmid’s designs play with the expectation that cloth doesn’t have the strength to sit on. They successfully embody the stability and initial fragility that characterizes Concrete Cloth. His stools are priced upon demand, and he has sketches that may expand Stitching Concrete to include chairs, benches and tables. While Schmid’s benches don’t defy the forces of nature like the typical uses for Concrete Cloth, they have the potential to usher in a new wave of outdoor furniture. Durable, sturdy and waterproof, furniture of this substance would withstand even the most furious of hurricanes.

For more information on Stitching Concrete or Florian Schmid’s other projects, visit florian-schmid.com
For additional insight about Concrete Cloth and its various uses, visit http://www.concretecanvas.co.uk/

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