Page B1.1 . 21 May 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Building Department
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Crafting Concrete Countertops

by Fu-Tung Cheng

The virtue of concrete is its versatility. It can be creatively adapted to any setting or any style modern or traditional. Its hardness, strength, and mass express the timelessness of natural materials such as granite and marble. Its plasticity allows a wide range of details to be incorporated into designs, from hard-edge contemporary to ornate traditional. This versatility makes concrete universally appealing as a finish material, not just for structural applications.

Of all residential spaces, the kitchen offers the optimum environment where one can take advantage of concrete's unique ability to follow form and where form can, in turn, follow function.

And this may come as a surprise, but finished concrete feels good; it's not at all like the rough, gray, monotonous concrete we associate with brutal freeway overpasses and endless parking garages. It can be smoothed and polished to evoke the feel of worn, sensuous stone. Cast and shaped, it is reminiscent of hand-carved marble sculpture. Colored and textured, it can echo the patina of timeworn tile. Ground and polished, it can reveal a subtle, colored matrix of gradated sands and rock, such as you might find along the edge of a stream bed.

Slab Setting Techniques

To achieve smooth finishes, concrete needs to be thoroughly vibrated once it's placed. Vibrating the concrete accomplishes a couple of important tasks: First, it causes the concrete to "liquefy" so that it flows into every crevice and around all the insets, knockouts, and rebar and remesh in the mold, and so that the fines in the mix flow around and between the larger aggregates, preventing the formation of voids.   >>>

This article is excerpted from Concrete Countertops: Design, Form, and Finishes for the New Kitchen and Bath by Fu-Tung Cheng, with permission of the publisher, Taunton Press, Inc.

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ArchWeek Image

A concrete countertop fits snugly into a cast concrete wall. Such kitchen installations have become the hallmark of designer Fu-Tung Cheng.
Photo: Matt Millman

ArchWeek Image

A concrete countertop in construction. Note the reinforcing wires embedded in the form.
Photo: Matt Millman


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