Tile One On

TEXT Jyhling Lee

There was a determined resilience and maintained confidence in the Italian ceramic tile and bathroom fixtures manufacturing industry evident this past September at the 30th edition of CERSAIE, an annual event held each fall in Bologna, Italy. Much of this industry, drawing from the rich clay soil of the Emilia-Romagna region, rebounded within weeks of the two damaging earthquakes earlier in May 2012. 

CERSAIE 2012 brought thousands of regional visitors and a record number of international attendees to the beautiful arcade-lined streets of Bologna and the vast exhibition complex of the Fiera di Bologna. A seemingly endless visual and tactile feast of ceramic tile products in bold, colourful, rearrangeable and geometric patterns and textures vied for attention alongside tessellated, oversized and wide plank shapes. The 15+ halls of the 176,000-square-metre exhibition complex were filled with showrooms dominated by over 600 Italian companies along with nearly 300 foreign exhibitors showcasing the latest design and technical innovations. Although there were some dedicated halls for sanitary, bathroom and fireplace showrooms, ceramic tile clearly dominated the experience.

Many companies presented mix-and-match tiles in a variety of bold colours, textures, sizes and shapes. Several were inspired by textile patchwork, allowing for endless possibilities in the compositional arrangement and expression of tiles. The standout Tex collection by Raw Edges for Mutina is comprised of a set of multi-coloured and embossed rhombus-shaped glazed porcelain tiles, and have bas-relief/textured imprints sampled from readily found fabrics such as dishtowels and plastic mesh. They can be assembled in hexagonal, starburst and herringbone patterns in a range of playful graduated shades. 

The contemporary exploration of intricate patterns recalling traditional majolica and encaustic tiles was also evident throughout the show. One of the more impressive collections is Azulej, once again from Mutina, designed by creative director Patricia Urquiola. The 8”x8” collection of majolica-inspired tiles, composed of nine patterns, can be used to create 27 possible combinations, resulting in a random patchwork field. Vintage encaustic tile and majolica patterns were also applied to floors create ceramic “rugs.” These applications appeared in collections such as Docks by ABK and Base by FAP Ceramiche. 

Other designer-commissioned collections included Minoo by Marcel Wanders for Bardelli. Again based on a patchwork arrangement, these 8”x8” tiles are available in five silkscreen Persian rug-inspired patterns, in four neutral and four bold colours. Pico is a textured tile series designed by Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec for Mutina, and Philippe Starck introduced his first-ever tile collection called Flexible Architecture for Ceramica Sant’Agostino. Focusing on the detail of the joint, Starck creates a tile joint relief, which becomes the defining decorative and space-defining feature. By specifying the joint reliefs on one to four sides–or no sides–of a tile, varying combinations of compositions can be created. 

Although not widely used in Canada, the demand and popularity of wood looks and textures in ceramic tile planks continue to grow in European and other international markets. Using high-definition printers and molds, wood-styled tiles are manufactured in ever increasing simulacrum. But there are hints of playful design with brightly coloured mix-and-match stains and shapes. This style trend is followed by more familiar concrete and stone looks in plank-sized ceramic tiles of up to six feet.

Technological innovation in the Italian ceramic tile industry has continued to evolve the slimline range of tiles; a 3mm-thick, 1m x 3m large panel such as Cotto D’Este’s Kerlite series Exedra is offered in six types of marble looks and three finishes. Due to the durable, light and easy-to-cut properties of Kerlite, it was showcased as a finish on bathroom countertops, doors and surfaces, which could include other applications in the kitchen as well as in living room and dining room furnishings. 

While ceramic tile is naturally hygienic and contains no VOCs, manufacturers continue to innovate by partnering with biotech companies to develop self-cleaning, antibacterial and antipollution products and finishes. Many such products were present at the show. Refin’s Cromie collection incorporates the anti-polluting and self-cleaning properties of Ecosan24, a finish treatment using titanium dioxide and other active metal elements. In an industry first, Casalgrande Padana launched the Bios Self-Cleaning Ceramics using Hydrotect coating technology from TOTO. This self-cleaning, anti-bacterial and pollution-reducing coating for tiles also makes use of the photo-catalytic self-cleaning properties of titanium dioxide in conjunction with a selection of metals that provide the antibacterial/antiviral properties.

Another poignant highlight of CERSAIE 2012 was keynote speaker and renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who was invited in the wake of the recent earthquakes to present and discuss his innovative building projects–many focused on disaster relief shelters and the resourceful and dignified community rebuilding process. It was an inspirational presentation addressing specifically the industry leaders of the affected Emilia-Romagna communities.

It is clear that the ceramic products and collections showcased at CERSAIE play a key role in setting the top industry trends and standards every year. Even as global competition grows, the Italian ceramic tile industry remains the top generator of international import sales, due to its unsurpassed leadership in design and technological innovation and the establishment of high standards in sustainable manufacturing practices, all while building upon its long tradition of ceramic craft, artistry and expertise. CA

Jyhling Lee is an architect and public artist at Figureground Studio and a curator of the space called East of Keele. For more information, please visit www.figuregroundstudio.ca.