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Installation issues: the importance of design

by Alfredo Zappa

Is form really a purpose? Is it not rather the result of the process of giving form? Doesn’t a small change in conditions lead to another result, another form? The question posed by the great Mies van der Rohe knows no limits of architectural genre or scale. It is the true essence of the design process. We must bear this in mind whenever embarking on a design project in the field of floor and wall tiling, where form and beauty must stem from a process that goes well beyond the surface.

Today more than ever, the design and installation stages must address all aspects capable of delivering added value in terms of aesthetic quality, environmental benefits and living comfort, as well as solutions that facilitate the maintenance and continued functionality of products.

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In order to carry through a successful tiling project, a number of key factors need to be evaluated. The first aspect concerns the structural characteristics of the building (whether new or renovated), for which purpose it is important to analyse the mechanical and elastic properties of the structure and the internal partitions, which are increasingly built from a combination of different materials.

Considering that most tiles are extremely rigid and therefore almost non-deformable, the deformation response that may be expected in actual loading conditions, compounded by vibrations or movements generated by dynamic stresses, must be analysed carefully and if necessary compensated by adopting appropriate solutions, such as rebars, slab reinforcements, cleavage layers, compensation joints, etc. The maturing times of certain materials such as concrete and the associated irreversible shrinkage must also be taken into consideration.

Another aspect that must be carefully evaluated in the project concerns the characteristics of the surface to be tiled and whether or not levelling layers or pre-treatment cycles are required. We must bear in mind that the state and particle size of the surface material influences the choice of adhesive and that certain types of tiles require substrates with specific characteristics. The same applies to the size and orientation of the grout joints, an aspect that is not solely aesthetic. Whereas on the one hand a close-jointed installation accentuates the visual continuity of the ceramic surface, the open joint solution is obligatory whenever it is necessary to compensate for variations in dimensional characteristics and thicknesses of individual tiles, in spite of being more laborious, more time-consuming and consequently more expensive. There are other related considerations that the designer must bear in mind. For example, placing tiles directly side by side creates a much more rigid surface that will respond less effectively to structural elasticity, leading to the risk of tiles lifting or cracking.

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Last but not least, in order to be able to choose the most suitable installation techniques and products – whether adhesives, mortars or dry systems – the designer needs to know the intended use of the tiled surface and the environmental conditions to which it will be exposed, as well as the characteristics of the selected tiles.

All this information must be incorporated into the design documents. Writing specifications and creating tiling panels is not only an essential tool for architectural review but also a vital aid for correct installation based on installation specifications, detailed solutions and recommendations for stratification and performance of the substrates. The drawings can be used to highlight critical points and avoid improvisation and resultant delays during construction. They allow the general tiling layout to be managed with a high degree of precision, as well as the combinations of materials and the dimensional coordination of the ceramic tiles with other elements such as utilities, door and window frames and furnishings.

So if form is the result of the process, the design project is a vital tool for achieving this result.

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