When it comes to ceramic tile, should one choose old-world craftsmanship or cutting-edge technology? How about both?
Thanks to a range of technical and production breakthroughs, commercial designers now have a wide variety of durable, advanced ceramic options at their disposal. Ryan Fasan, technical consultant in the U.S. market for Tile of Spain (www.patti-tile.com), guides us through the recent Cevisama exhibition in Valencia, Spain, where global suppliers showed off their latest innovations in style, functionality and application flexibility.
mechanically mounted ‘smart’ interior walls and floors
Taking a page from architectural exterior ventilated
cladding systems common in Europe, Tau’s Technical Ceramic Wall is mountable and demountable panel by panel, thanks to a mechanical system that also provides space enough to conceal conduit, wires, ventilation and the other necessary apparatus of modern commercial interiors.
“First off, a ventilated facade for interiors is a very clean installation,” says Fasan. “You just bolt the framework onto existing walls or floors and the tiles are mechanically fastened with clips, so you have little to no construction mess, and you can adjust what kind of gap you want between the tiles.
“This concept also opens up a whole new way to conceal ventilation and incorporate domotics—all the extra technology and automation that are now a given in our living and working environments," he adds. "The clearance between the original wall and the tiles can vary depending on how much infrastructure you want to conceal behind it. The tiles can be easily removed any time you need to change your cabling or install a new access plug.”
Tau’s Smart Wall display incorporated two additional innovations: a reactive glaze that effectively functions as an electrical switch for lights, climate control, TVs and other appliances (just touch the butterflies and flowers, or whatever design you want, on the tile surface); and passive air purification through the interaction of hot UV light and titanium dioxide (TiO2) panels hidden behind the facade.
“The sky’s the limit for what designers can conceptualize,” Fasan says. “Systems like this are a way for building owners to create durable, attractive interiors that are also very functional and future-proof.”
“With the advent of inkjet glazing, it’s much more feasible to create custom ceramic tile programs for commercial environments,” Fasan explains. “Murals, logos and custom designs no longer have to be screen-printed. In the 10 years since it was first introduced, the process of printing digital inkjet glazes on ceramics has improved dramatically, with higher resolution and much deeper and richer tones, particularly in the blues and blacks.”
Digital printing isn’t just for branded designs—it is the same technology behind all of the industry’s best stone and wood looks, Fasan says.
“With the old technology, the ink had to be transferred to the surface by direct contact. With inkjet, the ink drops onto the surface, which means we can print on textured ceramics. Heavy textures are in high demand right now, and much of what the tile industry excels at—stones and woods with weathered, distressed, pitted and veined surfaces—wouldn’t be possible without digital printing.
“The rusticated trend is beautiful—materials in an aged state are visually very interesting and allude to a slow, natural aging process. The problem is, ‘natural’ materials will continue to age and decay. With ceramics, we can freeze that perfect aged look in a glaze, and it will look exactly like that for the rest of its life.”
Ceramics are also going 3-D, transitioning from just a cladding material to a building material, thanks to improved extrusion processes, Fasan says.
“Designers are playing with these extruded pieces and assembling them into some very interesting room dividers, as we saw in the Inalco stand. Ceramic is incredibly durable and able to take on different shapes and forms, so it’s a perfect material for realizing the intricate screens and architectural details.”
bigger, thinner tiles
The evolution toward ever larger tiles continues, and you can now specify ceramics as thin as 3 millimeters, making the material more attractive for more applications.
“Bigger tiles give you a much more monolithic look in large commercial spaces. Installation goes faster because you’re covering more floor or wall space with each tile, and you have fewer grout lines breaking up the space and requiring regular maintenance,” Fasan says.
“And now that suppliers have solved the problems with manufacturing very thin tiles, they are even better candidates for wall and furniture cladding. This, combined with ceramic’s natural advantages—it has zero VOCs, inhibits bacterial growth, is resistant to most acids and fire retardant—make it a perfect material for commercial interiors.”
Kenn Busch is a writer and photographer specializing in global materials coverage and education for architects and interior designers. He is based in Madison, Wis.