Outdoor furniture brand Dedon has one of the most beautiful and inspiring stories. You won’t want to miss this: Bobby Dekeyser was on his way to becoming a famous German footballer, but decided to launch a furniture manufacturing company instead, turned it into a huge success and then sold his share to focus on his Compostela Project in the Philippines. This village project helps people, who until recently were living on a dumpsite, build sustainable lives.
Who doesn’t like a little French kiss? This issue offers you one after the other. Discover projects, fairs and stories from around France: the Paris 2.0: a City within a City project, The City of Tomorrow exhibition in Lyon, the Design Parade at Villa Noailles and Stories: Marseilles by Rudy Ricciotti, our first episode in a series of city stories told by architects.
Take a ride with us to London, São Paulo and San Francisco.
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Concrete. For some, the sound of it conjures up words like “heavy, tough, gray.” For others, like the Brazilians, it has been a consistent go-to material for architecture projects. While it’s widely used for foundation work, architects and designers have been putting the material to the test in furniture design and...
In Prague, off a busy main road in one of the city’s outer districts, a quiet side street is dotted with industrial warehouses that sit behind fences fashioned from chain link and sheets of corrugated metal.
Inside one of them, Gravelli—a local brand with global reach—makes everything from furniture to washbasins to jewelry, all from concrete.
It was six years ago in Prague when co-founders Ladislav Eberl and Jiří Peters met. At the time, they were both students. Eberl was studying dental hygiene; Peters was studying building structure in the Czech Technical University’s civil engineering program. Eberl didn’t want to be confined to one room for the rest of his life. Peters also had bigger dreams. He had an idea to develop a very thin, strong concrete and a great surface treatment—easier to clean than typical concrete with a more appealing finish. He wanted the concrete to be used to make washbasins and furniture. So he developed his own formula. Incorporating glass fibers, FixCrete is now Gravelli’s signature blend.
“Thanks to these fibers, FixCrete allows us to create pieces that have a thickness of just 15 mm and great surface treatment,” says Eberl. “[[However]], it is not only about the mixture, but every individual step during the 5-week production process of each product.”
Tech&Design Combo: One of a Kind
Not visible from the small entry room/showroom, the production hall’s impressive size comes as a surprise in comparison. To the right are the company’s enclosed offices, which you can see into through a glass opening. To the left, where high windows frame the upper edges of the long, open hall, finished products—like the curvaceous Zephyr chaise—sit in one area. In another, shelves are lined with products in the curing process. Just beside it, two tables with tiny tools that Eberl compares to dental equipment are where jewelry, including rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings are made.
Zephyr chaise. Courtesy of Gravelli
“Worldwide we can find maybe five companies similar to Gravelli, but none have the range of products we have, “ say Eberl. “Our vision is to create the most technologically advanced products where we are combining our mixtures—our technology—with craftsmanship and good design.”
Today, Gravelli’s three key product categories include the bathroom, focusing on concrete washbasins. The second consists of objects that are challenging to produce, including special or limited-edition products such as handmade knives with concrete handles, a shoehorn with carbon layers, speakers and a concrete piano. The lifestyle category comprises jewelry and fashion accessories. Made exclusively from materials used in architecture—concrete, steel, glass and wood—they are popular among architects and designers who appreciate the simple, minimalistic aesthetic, which emphasize the materials.
Courtesy of Gravelli
Talk About Resistance!
In a workshop to the right of the main hall, Eberl points out the tall, curving mold used to make the Zephyr and a large bag full of the glass fibers incorporated into their proprietary mix. Opposite the offices, employees work in a back room used for the company’s special impregnation process.
“The final stage of all of our products is a surface treatment,” explains Eberl. “It’s a special impregnation which penetrates 1 mm into the surface. It’s waterproof and resists food and drink stains, as well as chemicals. And it is very easy to clean.”
Although initially focused on the Czech market, today Gravelli is expanding into key cities in Europe, with partners and projects in China, Switzerland and elsewhere. This includes custom products for companies like Porsche, Bang & Olufsen and Kuhn Rickon.
Bang & Olufsen (left), Porsche (bottom right), Panamera (top right). Courtesy of Gravelli
“Currently our production is 100-250 pieces a month. In the near future we will increase our production capacity three times thanks to the addition of our new production hall and new colleagues on our team, “ says Eberl.
On the Inside with LiCrete
There are a number of interior projects around Prague furnished by Gravelli. Among them is Forum Karlin, a mixed-use complex including a 3,000-seat auditorium. This is the first project employing the company’s proprietary translucent panels.
“Five years ago we developed our system of light-transmitting concrete. Called LiCrete, a portmanteau of light and concrete, it is a worldwide patented technology of light-transmitting concrete in the form of panels, stairs and building blocks which can be used for partition walls in a wide range of interior projects,” Eberl says.
With the concrete cast around a transparent grid made from UV-resistant Plexiglas, LiCrete can be used in the same way as glass blocks. The product should be on the market next year, once the company completes its first production line.
Gravelli is currently attracting the attention of Michelin-star restaurants.
“Restaurants like this are very interested in our products because they are very similar to their business: good materials, a good concept, craftsmanship and good design.”
What began as a simple idea with their first products produced in their apartment, Gravelli is growing and expanding through its innovative use of concrete.
“Our idea was very simple: to try to offer architects and designers the new possibilities of concrete.”
Outdoor furniture brand Dedon has one of the most beautiful and inspiring stories. Bobby Dekeyser was on his way to becoming a famous German soccer player, but decided to launch a furniture manufacturing company instead. He turned it into a huge success and then sold his share to focus on his Compostela Project in the...
Marseille represents the first city in France to be founded by the Greeks in 600 BC, during the pivotal age when new ways of thinking appeared in parallel incidents. Many revere this time, from which came Buddha and Mahavira in India, Zoroaster in Persia, Confucius in China and Pythagoras in Greece, among others. As inventive thoughts are the seeds of innovation, one could say that France’s second largest city has encompassed innovation from birth.
Absorbed in its heart and soul, the city portrays innovation through time in engineering and architecture, while maintaining an expressive relationship with the Mediterranean Sea. La Cité Radieuse by Le Corbusier marks a major point for the city. This housing structure from the the mid-20th century offered a new way to consider residential design, which traveled worldwide. Le Corbusier and La Cité Radieuse remain references for many international architecture professionals.
Today, the city welcomes Europe’s largest urban renovation project, called the Euromediterranée, which aims to transform sectors into entirely eco-friendly districts. Watch the video of the most recent add-on to the project: Smartseille.
The Vieux Port and the Notre Dame de Garde in Marseilles, France
In light of this issue’s focus on concrete, we spoke to renowned French architect Rudy Ricciotti, who designed the celebrated museum, the MuCem, officially opened in 2013. He worked with a team of engineers to develop a new type of concrete for construction, and the result is phenomenal. The architect invited ArchiExpo e-Magazine to his seaside home in Cassis to discuss the city and his work on the MuCem.
Listen to him recount tales of the city, and learn more about the MuCem in the video interview below.