While the ceramic industry continues to make huge strides in technology, quality and options, many architects and designers are still using ceramic in the most traditional of ways.

In this issue of Walls & Roofs magazine, we’ll look at why ceramic offers the perfect solution for refurbishment projects as well as some of the latest trends from the world’s biggest international exhibitions.

South Africa, much like other developing countries, has a huge number of obsolete buildings. Paul Theroux, the author of Dark Star Safari (which is a written account of the travel writer’s overland African trip from Cairo to Cape Town), said of Johannesburg: “The city was much larger, and the new buildings tall but graceless. The older buildings had not been maintained and looked blighted, haunted relics of an earlier time. It seemed to me that the new buildings would go this way too, fall into disrepair and not crumble but remain defaced and unusable, whilst still newer ones were built,” wrote Theroux.

“This seemed a pattern in the African city, the unnecessary obsolescence of buildings. Nothing was fixed or kept in good repair, the concept of stewardship or maintenance hardly existed,” wrote Theroux.

Ceramic tiles, however, present a unique opportunity when it comes to renovating. Not only are they able to showcase historical significance and aesthetic design features, but they are also durable, low maintenance and have the ability to control the heat transfer and permeability of roofs.

The El Pilar School in Valencia is a prime example of a project that used ceramic tiles to achieve a successful upgrade. The project team was required to upgrade the facades of the building with an earthy-colour facade that would not only be energy-efficient, but would also ensure the well-being of the pupils of the school.

The Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona
The refurbishment of the Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona (by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, EMBT Arquitectes) claimed top honours in the architecture category of the Tiles of Spain Awards in 2013. The historic market dates back to 1844 and was badly in need of regeneration when EMBT took on the job in 1997.

The revamp project’s main feature is an exquisitely crafted, eccentric new roof that is expertly placed over the walls of the neoclassical market. The designers exploited the poetry of the layering of the market on top of the below buildings by creating a tile clad, perfectly engineered roof. The architects chose coloured hexagonal ceramic tiles and created patterns that don’t repeat for the roof, and over 325 000 ceramic tiles are supported on intertwining steel columns. Not only are ceramic tiles a very Spanish tradition that speaks well to the market, which is based in the heart of vibrant Barcelona, but it creates the visual effect of a magical carpet that floats above the market’s activities below.

A magic carpet of geometric tiles
The magic carpet element of the tiled roof is also emphasised by the fact that the structure that holds the roof up is never fully revealed from one viewpoint. In some spaces, the roof is supported from within the old wall of the market and in other sections the roof is supported by twisted, tree-like columns.

While the outer shell of the roof is hard ceramic, the design team chose softer timber for the interior of the roof, making it quite different from the formal painted ironwork structures that are quite typical in Spanish markets. The timber underside gives a texture and softness that is appreciated both for its visual appeal as well as the acoustic benefits that it offers.

Bermondsey Island development in London
After winning an Architecture Foundation competition, Urban Salon won the opportunity to create 13 units of affordable housing on a prominent site close to Tower Bridge in London. The brief for the creation of the Bermondsey Island development was to construct a desirable, yet affordable development that responded to the local context.

The envelope of the building is part of the topography of the street, which forms part of the historic site’s architecture. The building also lies directly over an ancient monument (the former Bermondsey Abbey) that was built in the 11th century.

Half of the building’s sides respond to the busy street intersection with a heavyweight, closed facade, leaving two other sides open for a more lightweight alternative. While a natural solution to the heavyweight facade may have been brick, this construction material was removed in order to accommodate tile-brick cladding. This cladding, which is a clay product, mimics the appearance of traditional tile hanging but it is laid as a solid brick. Tile-bricks are laid without mortar in order to create the tile-hung appearance. By swapping bricks for tiles, the designers were able to achieve a richness of texture and shadow.

Trends from around the world
Orazio Lo Presti, a trendsetting expert from Florence, was speaking at Cersaie 2014, which took place in September in Bologna, Italy. According to Lo Presti, there is a growing synergy between various forms of expression and communication, which he has dubbed the art-fashion-design trend.

“The need for new trend inputs to emerge from the ceramic sector makes it necessary for research to constantly evolve in the fields of aesthetics and technology in order to restore this sector to a position of primary importance in the choice of operational, expressive and product quality approaches,” says Lo Presti.

Lo Presti’s presentation focused on the theme “Cool gestures and actions”, which is explored according to the parameters of shaping, fragmenting and assembling. These parameters aim to underscore the importance of rediscovering an authentic expressiveness for moods based on usable products separated for excessively consumeristic time frames.

Architects still using ceramics in traditional ways
Architect and former lecturer at the University of Pescara, Glauco Gresleri, also did a presentation at the international exhibition. Gresleri says architects continue to use ceramic materials in traditional ways, despite of major advances in terms of quality and technological content in the industry.

“As in the case of cement, which has evolved from a binding material to take on its own specific expressive qualities, new uses and new forms, architects now have the opportunity to launch ceramic materials towards the widest range of uses, such as new building and furnishing components,” says Gresleri.

Is ceramic only a covering material?
Chiara Baglione, an architect and architecture historian, answered the question “Is ceramic only a covering material?” in her keynote presentation at Cersaie.

“In the works of some of the key figures in twentieth century architecture – from the Catalan modernists to the Viennese secessionists, from Perret and Berlage through to the masters of Italian modern architecture such as Gio Ponti – ceramic has been used for highly sophisticated applications reflecting the complex relationship between decoration, ornament and values of the building,” says Baglione. She explained that ceramic is now used to reflect on the expressive potential of materials through a comparison between works of contemporary architecture and historic examples in search of a “continuity” that is increasingly proving essential for any authentic innovation.

Trends from Revestir in Brazil
The Latin American tile show, Expo Revestir, took place in March in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The expo featured 250 exhibitors, who included 50 international exhibitors from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and Israel, presenting products and ideas across more than 40 000m².

Sustainability and nature were a key trend at the expo, with living walls in the form of vertical gardens from Palazzo Santa Catarina drawing many crowds.

Tiles that fill gaps and cavities
Innovative coverings with cavities were broadly exhibited across the exhibition halls. These tiles promote union as well as functionality.

3D prints are made to mimic other materials
While 3D printing is no longer a new phenomenon in the tile industry, it is still very trendy and high fashion. Companies such as Villagres and Ceusa launched new lines that mimic wood composition, handmade papers, newspaper prints, bricks, concrete and metal.
Hatria Revestimentos also launched two lines that suggest three-dimensionality and visual motion. The patterns showcase geometric lines, different textures and a wide variety of finishes.

Designer Sergio Matos commented that designers and architects are becoming increasingly open to the idea of making a statement, which is why décor tiles are so popular this year.
Custom designs
Another new trend is to have custom designs printed on tiles. Not only can you choose what type of glaze, décor and surface finish to apply, but you can also specify the patterns and pictures that you want on your tiles, thanks to new printing technologies.
Patchwork tiles
One of the popular new trends is to mix and match smaller tiles into larger spaces in order to create an intricate, dramatic effect.
Vintage themes
Vintage themes are a significant interior design trend to take note of. This was apparent at Revestir, with many manufacturers showcasing tiles with flower themes and kitchen utensils such as spoons and tea cups.
For more information, visit www.cersaie.it and www.urbansalonarchitects.com, to whom full thanks and acknowledgement are given.