Article No: 264

2009-11-17 11:21:27
Ask the Expert: Curved Concrete Pieces
By: Fu-Tung-Cheng

Photography by Matthew Millman of Cheng Design
The curves in this round work space integrates wood, concrete and granite into an area that sculpts the space in a harmonious way and maintains the integrity of the circular design with a circular, sloping base. It also balances function with form by moving the traffic throughout the kitchen. The more rectangular countertop in the background integrates with this circular concrete space by wrapping the countertop with gentle curves of granite.

Q: What are the main functional considerations when designing curved concrete pieces? How do you smoothly draw out curves for islands, countertops and curved walls?

A: If you are simply outlining the perimeter of a random curve-shaped countertop or curved wall, you can do that in several ways:

1. Rough out the shape you want by drafting “French” curves on notebook-sized graft paper. Make sure it is to a particular scale (1/2-inch equals 1-foot 0-inch for example). On some flat, thin surface template material such as foam core, thin plywood, Masonite, etc., lay out a grid pattern at 6-inch squares. Copy the curves from the ½-inch scale drawing onto the grid on the full-scale template. Smooth out the lines by using thin strips of bendable wood or metal to help guide your marker. Then, use a knife, power jig saw or hand saw to cut out the shape.

2. A more direct approach is to simply use long thin strips of bendable board, Masonite or Plexiglas. Hold them to the desirable shapes and trace their outline directly.

3. If you wish to achieve true elliptical shapes, you can place two nails at various distances apart, loop a large, thin, sturdy string over them. Then stretch the string taut with a marker or pencil, tracing the resulting ellipse on the surface of the table.

4. And, of course, there is the high-tech method: ask your friendly local architect friend or computer whiz to plot the curve on a CAD program and print it, or have it printed at a copy center on a plotter.

There are, I believe, important considerations when making any curved concrete piece, for example:

• Why a particular shape: Is it for easing traffic flow?

• Is it a shape that “sculpts” the space in a harmonious way?

• Does it contrast with the rectangular environments we all seem to live in without looking out-of-place?

• Does it “push” the users away from the space or invite them in?

• Does it envelope like a command center or focus like a forum?

Perhaps one might look to the 1950s for inspiration on curve-shaped tables and countertops. Many talented designers of that era spent a lot of brain power on conceiving the pleasing shapes that we associate with the 1950s (think kidney-shaped pools and all).

Also, what is supporting the curved surface? Boxed cabinets? Will the vertical face of the cabinets flow with the shaped countertop (very expensive, but looks great), or will the cabinets be faceted (less expensive, but definitely diminish the effect of the curve)? What about simply supporting a large portion of the shape with a (shaped) post (less expensive, but definitely increases the effect of the curved countertop)?

These are the questions I ask myself when designing curved shapes in our square world. Good luck and good designing!

Fu-Tung Cheng is an award-winning designer and bestselling author who offers in-depth training programs for professionals across the country. For more information on his workshops and books, see Concrete Homes magazine is sponsoring his presentation at the Concrete Decor Show in Phoenix, Ariz., in March 2010.