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Expo 2015 testifies to the importance of Italian tile in architecture

Universal Expositions are drivers of innovation, ideal platforms for showcasing masterpieces of contemporary architecture to the world. They present visions of the future, displaying tangible examples of structures, materials and their uses in the various national pavilions and installations.
The 2015 Expo in Milan was the latest in a long line of events dating back to 1851 and the Great Exhibition in London, when the need to build flexible structures that could subsequently be dismantled led to the construction of steel and glass buildings. After 160 years, this solution is still a mainstay of construction technology the world over. Other notable examples of innovation introduced at world fairs include the Eiffel Tower, whose profile has defined the Paris skyline since 1889, and the use of plastics in building, which first appeared at the HemisFair held in San Antonio, Texas in 1968.

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Expo 2015 in Milan firmly established the importance of Italian ceramic tiles in 21st century architecture. These products are a key element of Italian building, an area of expertise that combines the excellence of Italian ceramics, cutting-edge design and construction techniques, adhesives and products for preparing and treating surfaces. Out of 145 country pavilions, no fewer than 55 used Italian ceramic tiles, a figure that rises to 109 if we include Italian materials, technologies and expertise in the fields of installation and preparation of structures. In other words, more than one pavilion out of three featured Italian tiles, while more than two in every three made use of Italian building expertise.

This is no small achievement considering that the various national pavilions at Expo 2015 were the work of designers, organisers and clients from all over the world who, in spite of their very different cultural and professional backgrounds, chose to adopt Italian ceramic tiles and Italian building expertise for their pavilions.

The reasons for this choice and the presence in the pavilions
There are many factors behind the choice of Italian ceramic tiles for the pavilions. These include their universal appeal and ability to adapt perfectly to the cultural contexts of different countries; their enormous range of colours and graphic designs; their versatility for use on floors and walls and in interiors and exteriors; their outstanding green credentials; and their durability, as demonstrated by their ability to withstand the foot traffic of the more than 21 million people who attended during the six-month period of the show.

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Many Italian ceramic tile manufacturers were represented at Expo 2015. Palazzo Italia, the building that more than any other symbolised Italy’s excellence, adopted Marazzi ceramic tiles for the entrance area. As a public place, the ability to withstand not just the elements but also the foot traffic of thousands of people walking through every day was a critical selection factor. But the most important application of Italian tiles at the Expo was inside the pavilions themselves. Kuwait chose tiles from Cooperativa Ceramica di Imola for their neutral colours, making them the perfect backdrop to the exhibits in a space distinguished by its atmosphere of refined elegance.
The San Marino Pavilion featured porcelain floor tiles from Ceramica del Conca with a surface texture that was itself a design element. For the Azerbaijan Pavilion, Florim supplied ceramic tiles featuring a skilful blend of nature and technology, wood-effect porcelain tiles that were ideal for a space populated with real trees and shrubs alongside hi-tech glass structures.

Use in outdoor spaces and clusters
Ceramic tiles also played an important role in an outdoor area of more than 1.5 million square metres, including the space in front of the Zero Pavilion and the Turkey Pavilion, where ceramic tiles from Kale Italia were used for both the small pools and the white column decorated with flowers, a clear example of their ability to deliver both aesthetic and technical qualities. Another important outdoor area was the one created by Laminam for the Poland Pavilion, where characteristically Italian large-format panels were installed on the external façade. The resultant envelope combined high energy performance with outstanding stylistic qualities based on the choice of the colour black. Another approach was that adopted by Ceramiche Caesar for the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, where Italian tile integrated perfectly into the context of a historic building, this modern industrial product providing the perfect substitute for the original marble.

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Italian tile also took centre stage in the thematic clusters. In the one devoted to chocolate, Tagina Ceramiche d’Arte fulfilled every company’s dream of tailoring a product to the customer’s specifications and then manufacturing it on an industrial scale. The digitally decorated floor tiles reproduced the famous phrases found inside the wrappers of Baci Perugina chocolates, creating a unique and powerful narrative. At our next stop, Eataly, the wall coverings in the Campania region’s restaurant consisted of ceramic tiles from Ce.Vi. Ceramica Vietrese, while other highlights included the floors of the Irish and Russian pavilions and the Expo show offices, to mention just a few.

Expo 2015 also established the role of Italian building as a combination of knowledge and expertise. Mapei was involved in the construction of 64 pavilions with its ceramic tile adhesives, additives for concrete and other products, while Fila, Schlüter Systems and Progress Profiles contributed through their systems for installation and treatment of surfaces.

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We conclude our journey through Expo 2015 and the world of ceramic tiles with one of the most iconic and frequently photographed buildings at the show: the red dragon of the Vanke Pavilion, clad with tiles designed by Daniel Libeskind and produced by Casalgrande Padana. The use of flat tiles to create irregular curved shapes with colours that change according to the angle of the light, installed by means of an innovative concealed fixing mechanism, is perhaps the highest expression of the architectural potential of Italian ceramic tile. This product’s role as one of the key materials of 21st century architecture was firmly established at Expo 2015.

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