Zachary Alan says that is the driving design mission of LUMACAST, a San Diego-based company that creates architectural fire features. Alan is LUMACAST’s founder and chief designer. He knows a thing or two about design and the Centennial State—Alan grew up in Colorado and studied architecture at the University of Colorado before moving to California to earn a master’s degree.
In 2016 he started LUMACAST because he saw an opportunity. Something was clearly missing in the concrete fire feature marketplace—Alan didn’t see many refined, thoughtfully designed pieces. He saw mainly precast concrete and a marketplace more focused on utility than beauty. Instead, he wanted to create pieces that would fall into the category of a buyer’s nicest furniture, whether it was in their living room or outside. Alan says LUMACAST’s designs are more than fire pits. They are statement pieces.
Alan also saw an industry-wide misperception about concrete. “The outdoor furnishings industry assumes concrete has many material flaws and imperfections.” Concrete doesn’t have to have many material flaws and imperfections. “When you apply enough experience, skill, and effort to casting concrete, concrete can look nearly flawless.”
In the right hands, concrete is sculptural. Concrete is also durable and versatile. And it’s the durability and versatility that concrete provides, according to Alan, that makes concrete the perfect material for his company’s modern fire features.
“Versatility is the main reason we love concrete,” says Alan. “Concrete takes on any shape and dimension that we apply to it in a seamless, monolithic form.” LUMACAST sprays their proprietary blend of high-performance concrete into a custom formwork. The process uses a specialized spray gun to apply the fluid concrete mixture and a secondary gun to apply the fiber-reinforced mixture. “The combination creates a smoother, stronger, and lighter concrete matrix.”
As for durability, Alan says concrete “performs well in all types of environments, wet or dry, and won’t corrode like metal.” Another reason to love concrete is that it “has a great deal of thermal mass, which allows the surrounding shell to maintain a comfortable temperature when lit.” Remaining cool enough to touch makes concrete a safer choice than materials that get hot.
Despite everything concrete has going for it, the material has its critics. Some concrete fire feature critics cite heft as a problem for movability and potential damage to pavers or stone underneath. But by mixing aggregates and reinforcing them with fiber, lighter weight and more maneuverable products are possible.
LUMACAST uses a few ingredients to help make their concrete lighter. “Fiber reinforcement helps to replace the traditional steel (rebar) reinforcement. We use two types of fibers to strengthen our concrete which allows us to make it much thinner than traditional concrete while at twice the strength,” Alan says.
They also use pozzolan. “Pozzolan roughly doubles the strength and reduces the amount of water needed to produce concrete.” Alan adds that pozzolans have been used to produce stronger concrete in a smarter, better-for-the-environment way since 400 B.C. The Greeks and Romans used them.
Sustainability is front of mind for Alan and his team. In addition to using pozzolans, using recycled materials from local sources and a water-based, low VOC sealer helps. Multi-use molds further reduce the footprint of the casting process. “Embracing reusable fabrication techniques with each of our unique designs significantly reduces manufacturing waste,” Alan says.
With history already on their side, LUMACAST turns a focused eye to the future. They are working on a digitally-driven variation of a popular fire feature that will launch late this spring. Alan is partnering with The New Raw, a 3D printing specialist in Amsterdam, to create unique textural offerings. The creation process uses a robotic arm to make a pattern of undulating layers that “leave behind a digital footprint of the manufacturing process that will then be transferred and captured during the concrete casting process.”
The new 3D variation is offered with popular sizes of their BOLA model. BOLA is a sleek, circular fire feature with a rounded edge above the base that creates a warm and modern aesthetic. It’s one of 25 fire features LUMACAST makes in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors. They also make furniture and fire feature accessories, including fire feature covers that double as tabletops, some in colors that nod to mid-century design.
LUMACAST’s ethos of building something beautiful and letting clients follow might be risky, but their singular vision pays off. And Colorado ranks first for out-of-state purchases. With Alan’s ties to Colorado, that’s a thought that keeps him warm.