Diego Vencato and Marco Merendi

Smooth concrete

With "Caementum", Diego Vencato and Marco Merendi have designed a monobloc side table made of cement for Pedrali that is stain-resistant and surprises with a velvety soft surface. Diego Vencato explains the concept in an interview.

Anna Moldenhauer: Diego, what was important to you and Marco in the development of "Caementum" for Pedrali?

Diego Vencato: We have been experimenting with concrete for five or six years, exploring the technical possibilities of using the material for design in the most sensible way. We don't want to have joints, we don't want to use glue, we want to create the form from a single cast. For the aesthetics, we have been inspired by great masters like Angelo Mangiarotti. He worked with as little material as possible, and we followed this approach with "Caementum" for Pedrali. In order to bring the concrete from architecture into a utility object, the right geometries and proportions count. You should want to touch an object of daily use, which requires a different feel than a wall. We therefore try to give the material a certain conciseness – warm and smooth instead of rough and cold.

You have developed a special process to make the surface of the concrete velvety soft. Can you say something more about this?

Diego Vencato: We use a washable high-performance cement that is stain-resistant. I can't reveal the formulation, but the additives added to the cement guarantee greater mechanical strength as well as resistance to temperature fluctuations. The cement does not absorb liquid and is impervious to stains or scratches.

"Caementum" for Pedrali

The aesthetics of "Caementum" do not reveal the material at first glance; you have liberated the concrete from its raw look. Why was that important to you?

Diego Vencato: For us, what counts in design is the relationship between people and things. When you use an object, you have to be satisfied with it, in technical terms, but also in relation to its tactile qualities. A table made of cement is a challenge on several levels: the classically brutal aesthetics of the material, the sensitivity of the surface to stains, the heavy weight. In our experience, customers expect an object of daily use made of concrete to be robust and flexible for indoor and outdoor use. In "Caementum" for Pedrali, we show the typical surface of the material in the foot area, while the table surface is smooth and pleasant to the touch. The concrete is washable and the colour also withstands the weather.

How did you choose the colours for "Caementum"?

Diego Vencato: We thought about which colours would go well with this material. We developed a total of 12 natural colours, from which Pedrali then chose. The shades are based on natural oxidants and water-based dye, so they can withstand weather conditions and the colour does not change due to UV radiation. We also made sure that the colours can be easily combined with each other.

Why did you decide against designing a basic structure and then encasing it in cement?

Diego Vencato: We like to work with the material as it is and not just use it as a base to then wrap another material around it. We also like to design objects that are intuitively understandable. The challenge is to use as little material as possible and to find the ideal balance of weight and diameter so that the table is flexible to move but still remains stable. So we worked a lot on the proportions and dimensions to make sure that everything fits together well. The table is therefore hollow on the inside, which reduces its weight. To avoid scratching the floor indoors, we have also provided it with small nylon feet.

There is currently a lot of discussion about the sustainability of concrete. What is your opinion on this?

Diego Vencato: In our opinion, it depends on how you use the concrete and what composition you choose. There are different types of concrete on the market, we work with water-based products. In my opinion, there is no good or bad material, you just have to use it the right way, then it can also offer a long life.

Marco Merendi is an architect, you are an industrial designer. How can I imagine your creative collaboration?

Diego Vencato: We both have more or less the same vision. We often challenge each other, we are not quick to settle for a solution, but we never argue. We want to achieve the best from a technical, aesthetic and usage point of view. I also think that a characteristic of a good designer is that the products can be harmoniously integrated into any architecture.

"Caementum" by Diego Vencato and Marco Merendi for Pedrali on the supersalone