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Nick Gelpi (A ’02) brings hybrid, wood-based concrete research to his own back yard

July 26, 2017
Wood-based concrete tiles on Nick Gelpi's house.

Photo: Courtesy Nick Gelpi/

The wave-like, textured concrete tile exterior of Nick Gelpi’s (A ’02) Miami home is a conversation starter that questions and reimagines an “inescapable building material” of the tropics.

The Florida International University professor and owner of Gelpi Projects was recently featured in Dwell Magazine for his work as the first person in North America to test a new wood-based concrete. This hybrid material, developed in Belgium, utilizes a mineralized wood core to be more insulating and 70 percent lighter than normal concrete.

A grant allowed Gelpi and his students to find a local wood source, test formulas and develop applications for the material. The team utilized the invasive Melaleuca tree for the wood core, transforming an environmental problem into a building solution.

Fueled by personal investment and a new intimacy with concrete, Gelpi took his wife’s suggestion to test the material in their home remodel. “At first, I didn’t quite see how it could fit into our renovation,” he noted. The couple considered new construction, but chose to renovate the existing structure. “This was a nice first step to see how we could integrate it into a renovation, how we could change the performance of the wall section, and then how it could begin to influence things beginning to happen on the interior of the house.”

The result is a dynamic exterior of three-inch-thick hybrid concrete panels and food for thought regarding the applications of an industry mainstay. “…It’s a material that people don’t question very much. We think it does one thing well, but I think it is something that could be fine-tuned and has certain qualities to it that could be explored.”

Read Dwell Magazine’s full feature on the project here.