Rethinking the Humble Paving Slab

March 2022

A recent collaboration between Envisions x Gemeente Eindhoven (the Municipality of Eindhoven) x Morssinkhof addresses the challenges and responsibilities of design at a time when mass production threatens the availability of resources. The Municipality of Eindhoven was looking to update the city’s walkable surfaces and future-proof them for the next 40 years with an innovative design that captured the city's identity. They reached out to Envisions and asked us to engage in a process of rethinking and creating new pavement ideas for the city centre. Despite differences in approach, attempting to bridge the gap between designer and producer, creatives and industry, can often lead to fruitful, thoughtful and inspiring results. It can also accelerate the implementation of innovative ideas, deepen the exchange of knowledge and uncover untapped potential in production processes.

‘We are looking for a grey stone that fits in with all the different types of architecture in the city, a stone with a timeless character that is characterised by a certain randomness and that has no clear lines or grids.’ – Gemeente Eindhoven (Municipality of Eindhoven)

This was the brief set by the municipality. While mindful of it, the envisionaires maintained an experimental, hands-on way of working. Diving into the stone manufacturing process, the designers translated the knowledge gained by material experimentations and uncovered the possibilities offered by concrete. Envisions developed an impressive collection of unique samples with a strong focus on how different textured surfaces enhanced the stone. Additionally, they played around with different colour tones inspired by the landscape of Eindhoven and some bolder colour statements as well by using several different concrete pigments and gravel.

The 'stone in process’ research resulted in three main directions that sought to challenge the municipality with some daring and innovative ideas: Wash out, Cut out and Stamp. These were translated further into concrete manufacturing processes, resulting in a second chapter: ‘stone in progress’. The envisionaires joined a team of experts at the Morssinkhof factory, where they altered the initial design ideas on an industrial level while experimenting with the machinery on site.

Wash Out: By manipulating the water-jet machines that usually wash the new batches of concrete bricks, the team discovered they could use the pressure and path of the water to create patterns in the stone's surface. The colour is created by revealing sections of the gravel underneath the cement surface of the stones. This resulted in a seemingly indigenous stone that recalls the uneven moorland that is found close to the city.

Cut out: Not wanting the current paving stones around Eindhoven to go to waste, Envisions came up with the idea of manufacturing a stone with a cut-out section where the previously used stones would fit perfectly. If used across the city, these new-found stones would reduce material waste and have a strong aesthetic impact.

Stamp: A way of imprinting the stones to create different densities and textures within the surface creating the effect of man-made waves and natural, organic erosion. Though some of the techniques and applications result from a simple twist or adaptation to traditional production processes, the work of ‘stone in process’ and ‘stone in progress’ challenges the possibilities of manufacturing and prototyping and ultimately has the potential to shape both the appearance and functionality of a city.

Words by envisionaire Fred Erik

Envisions is a design lab that brings together over 20 multi-disciplinary designers with a shared fascination for experimental research. Founded in 2016 by a group of recent Design Academy Eindhoven graduates, Envisions aims to provide an alternative to the prevailing design culture shaped by design stars and iconic objects. Using a three-step methodology (process, progress, production), the Envisionaires collectively explore and expand the boundaries of material applications.

Stone in process – photography by Ronald Smits
Envisions at work in the Morssinkhof factory.
Stone in process – photography by Ronald Smits
Stone in process – photography by Ronald Smits
Gravel. Stone in process – photography by Ronald Smits
Gravel. Stone in process – photography by Ronald Smits
This article appeared in DAM80. Order your personal copy.