When we think of infrastructure, we often picture tons of concrete or steel, roads or railways, and power stations. That’s because infrastructure is the backbone of almost everything we do. It can be impressive at its core. Yet doesn’t the backbone, through the nerves it encases, have a very great reach?
Traditionally, infrastructure puts function over form; there is often little consideration of aesthetics. But with Graphic Concrete, there is now the possibility of what we might call a higher functioning infrastructure, which extends even to the aesthetic. Graphic Concrete offers a means to enhance the daily lives of the people who depend on this infrastructure. Something as mundane as riding a train, crossing a bridge, or even driving through an underpass, becomes an uplifting moment.
Architects and designers working with Graphic Concrete meld utility with aesthetic, health, and environmental goals. As a result, their designs can turn necessary structures into works of public art to enrich our daily lives or at least ease our travels, as seen in the following projects.
Pihlajalaakso Sound Barrier brings grace and beauty
The Pihlajalaakso Sound Barrier is situated by a freeway in Finland, protecting the housing area behind it from traffic noise. From the start, an important design goal was to make the structure simple and maintenance free, yet interesting.
The engineering and design company Ramboll Finland, knew the barrier should do more than muffle sound; they wanted it to add value and beauty, too. Graphic Concrete collaborated with the design firm to work out exactly how. For inspiration, the designers looked to the surrounding landscape and native plants, especially the birch trees. With their grace and beauty, they lend both vitality and serenity to a landscape.
“The sound barrier could be designed to show the birch tree pattern as if the trees were growing up from the ground,” says Lena Weckström, Consulting Architect at Graphic Concrete. “The image will not be affected by humidity, since it is made of 100% concrete and as durable as the concrete itself.”
To ensure that there will be minimal attraction of dust or dirt, the surface received an anti-graffiti treatment after installation.
“I like to think that what we do is something permanent, sustainable –– and beautiful,” Lena says. “Now residents and passersby can enjoy the ‘birch tree landscape’ for years to come.”
Kehärata Railroad Retaining Wall varies the ride
The Kehärata Railroad, inaugurated in 2015, is one of the most significant projects for mass transportation in the Helsinki metropolitan area in recent years. Its 18 km-long track connects Helsinki City Centre with the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. Various works of art are integrated along the tracks and in the train stations. These include the Graphic Concrete murals designed by industrial designer Mikko Rikala.
In the course of a single train ride, passengers can enjoy the evocations of woods, parks, and cityscapes. That’s because, along this corridor, such images are cast in Graphic Concrete.
The Foundation for Environmental Art seeks to encourage exactly such endeavors. As a result, the Foundation selected the artworks of the Kehärata Railroad as its environmental art winner in 2015. Its purpose: to thank and encourage both designers and builders who invest in environmental art.
According to the Foundation, the art of Kehärata shows that its creator understood the importance of a unique and attractive environment for those on the railroad. In recognizing the artwork, the Foundation goes so far as to say that, even though the art may be but a small element in such a prominent project, it is of great importance for the train passengers.
Sickla Train Station distinguishes itself
The textile patterns of artist Elsa Chartin intrinsically ornament the concrete at Sickla Train Station in Stockholm, Sweden.
Chartin had always been interested in craftmanship and the special impact of unexpected material pairings. For this project, she envisioned simplified graphic patterns of her original works, but in a mild grayscale. So while the tough concrete recalls the site's industrial history, it also sports lively patterns of fishbone, braid, grid, and more.
The result turned out as beautifully as planned. Chartin said she found it incredibly fun to develop such a large public decoration. Because of her work and the versatility that Graphic Concrete offers, the station is easily distinguishable from other stops, with the patterns giving it a clear identity.
Valkoisenlähde Underpass Bridge – a connection to the surrounding nature
Bridges can be incredible feats of engineering and wonderful works of art as well. A successful bridge often has a significant environmental value. On the other hand, not all bridges are stunning and we tend to find that common bridges are quite dull. Usually, these are made of cast-in-place concrete. But more recently, the use of precast elements has increased because it speeds on-site construction. Other benefits include fast repair and significant environmental value. This usage also presents new design possibilities.
For the Valkoisenlähteen Underpass Bridge, precast Graphic Concrete panels were added as a cladding. Not only are these panels protecting the concrete structure from decay, but also the patterned concrete surface, designed by Tuuli Helve, makes passing under the bridge a more interesting experience. Images of streaming water ties the bridge to its surroundings, the “Valkealähde” groundwater reserve.
Railway bridges offer riddles
When renovating the two railway bridges, Savsilta and Pyhäjoki, precast panels were used for the impact railings. Here again, an opportunity presented itself.
The architect, Jussi Tervaoja, says: “Bridges are, for some reason, regarded as a secondary type of construction in comparison to buildings. When I got the opportunity to design these bridges, I decided to get all the fun out of it! I did this work together with Ramboll Finland. The bridges would not have been created as such had I not seen the possibility of influencing the quality of the built environment and if Ramboll had not grasped this opportunity, also.”
“The Savisilta Bridge railing pattern contains a riddle,” says the designer. “The patterns are abstracted letters. In the Pyhäjoki Bridge, you can see lines and full stop marks: It ‘describes’ fast rail traffic and stops along the way.”
The patterns as a whole can also be viewed as large works of art throughout the bridge. This is intended to combine both sides of the river and to enliven people's daily lives; yet there is the need, too, for reliability. The designer again: “The patterns have been made with Graphic Concrete; that is, they will last forever!”
Länsisalmi Power Plant arcs over site
Even an electric power plant can double as a work of art, as this power plant in Vantaa proves. Behind the beautiful shell and gorgeous arch lies state-of-the-art technology and an enormous power capacity that enables electricity to be transmitted to nearly 800,000 residents of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.
Länsisalmi Power Plant was designed by architect Bratislav Toskovic of Parviainen Architects. "I've always liked concrete as a building material and with the Graphic Concrete technology, the material enhances the building even more. The power plant has large visible concrete surfaces which are, with the help of Graphic Concrete, brought to life."
The Länsisalmi Power Plant won the Marigold Architecture Award 2018.