When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Bright Idea, Reflective Bricks Help Light Up Buenos Aires

A young designer from Paris is applying his knowledge about natural light to the narrow streets of the Argentine capital.

Reflecting bricks at Buenos Aires' Villa 21
Reflecting bricks at Buenos Aires' Villa 21
Yamila Garab

BUENOS AIRES — Nathanaël Abeille had long been interested in natural light, perhaps because of how little of it reached the sun-starved street he used to call home in Paris, France. But then, about five years ago, the designer and graduate of the prestigious Arts et Métiers ParisTech stumbled upon an idea — one that came, quite literally, in a flash.

Neighbors from across the way had opened their window. The glass caught the sun and, through an accident of angles, reflected the light directly into Abeille's apartment. Ding! That got his mind buzzing as he considered different ways to reflect sunlight from one surface to another.

The young Frenchman was working at the time for the architect's studio Jean Nouvel, specializing in designing printed glass facades like the ones used for the Imagine Institute building in Paris. Little could he have imagined that years later, his know-how would make an impact an ocean away, in Buenos Aires.

There's another, almost cosmic dimension to the project.

Abeille arrived in the Argentine capital in 2013 as part of an exchange program for designers. Through local architect Francisco Ribero and publicist Cecilia Fortunato, who were working on a project involving ecological tiles, he then discovered the Villa 21 sector of Barracas, in south-east Buenos Aires. Like in Paris, the area's alleys are often in shadow. But unlike in France, Abeille realized, the bricks used to make buildings here are often left visible, not covered up. That's when he got another idea: To make reflecting bricks by covering them with a thin metallic coat.

Abeille and his partners created a prototype by using the high vacuum metallizing process, where a vacuum chamber removes all air from pores inside the brick while covering it with the metallic coat. First they tried an aluminum coat, then opted for a chrome-nickel alloy. The latter "sticks better to the brick and confers more surface hardness, and physical and chemical resistance," says Carlos Muniagurria, a specialist who helped Abeille and his colleagues make the bricks.

The research continued for some years, including tests with cement bricks and ceramic coating. The designers also had to consider costs. The result was two lines of products: ordinary bricks that were glazed; and a special kind of ceramic tiles, which they then tested out on a busy street in Villa 21.

As a trial run, they fixed the tiles to a surface area of just two square meters. "That's the minimum you need to generate a line of sunshine in the street alongside pedestrians," says Ribero, the architect. The aim now is to increase the reflected surface to 45 square meters and 1,000 ceramic tiles, with financing from Ideame, a crowdfunding initiative.

"The idea of reflecting light to make full use of it is not new," says Abeille. "The ancient Egyptians did this with polished metals to light up the interior of pyramids, and for the Greeks, it was a defensive weapon to blind their enemies at war."

For Ribero, there's another, almost cosmic dimension to the project. "For us in the Southern Hemisphere, sunlight comes from the north, but reflection will make it shine from the south itself," he says. "There's something almost poetic in this."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


The Language Of Femicide, When Euphemisms Are Not So Symbolic

In the wake of Giulia Cecchettin's death, our Naples-based Dottoré remembers one of her old patients, a victim of domestic abuse.

Photograph of a large mural of a woman painted in blue on a wall in Naples

A mural of a woman's face in Naples

Oriel Mizrahi/Unsplash
Mariateresa Fichele

As Italy continues to follow the case of 22-year-old Giulia Cecchettin, murdered by her ex-boyfriend Filippo Turetta, language has surfaced as an essential tool in the fight against gender violence. Recently, Turetta's father spoke to the press and used a common Italian saying to try and explain his son's actions: "Gli è saltato un embolo", translating directly as "he got a blood clot" — meaning "it was a sudden flash of anger, he was not himself."

Maria was a victim of systemic violence from her husband.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest