A matter of installation: façade drawing

Ceramic building envelopes combine reliable application technologies with extremely high flexibility


by Alfredo Zappa

Be them objets singuliers as defined by Nouvel and Baudrillard (see “Architecture and nothing. Singular objects” Electa 2003) or be them objets ordinaires, which in any way contribute, between truth and spectacularization, to the narration of our past in the contemporary city, it is undeniable that over the last few decades buildings shapes have acquire a role going beyond image and involving energy saving solutions and comfort optimization. This mixture of contents and competence has helped define a new specialized subject area: that of building envelopes and façade engineering.
In that direction, building envelopes employing ceramics coating materials (clinker, cotto, gporcelain stoneware sheets of different dimension and thickness) are a safe benchmark. Installation can be traditional with globally known applications of cement based adhesives; it can involve adhesive-free rainscreens; it can be made of grès porcelain stoneware insulating panels and exterior coating skin.
The huge know how and best practice developped by the firms as to these methods of installation allow designers to free their creativity: they know they can count on a solid base as far as installation is concerned.
As to installation design, it is possible to realize building envelopes of great stereometric rigour where it is the tile size to shape through its grout lines the unity of the whole façade; or create well-structured walls typical of parametric architecture. Thanks to the use of mosaics and craquelé or to the realization of ad hoc elements it is also possible to coat curved surfaces, also very uneven ones.
Last the most recent trends in production have brought to the creation of ceramics elements with reliefs in the third dimension, thus allowing composition of great plasticity.


The designer, by combining all these features, can obtain interesting results, not only in terms of expression. According to the position of the building, it is possible to optimize the quantity of heat being lost outside and therefore the walls’ energy efficiency changing the colour, reflectance, surface finishes.
Ceramic manufacturers have a large variety to offer : the whole spectrum of colour (from white to black); several different mixtures with astonishing material designs and motives; the diversification of materials: marbles, stones and porcelain stoneware, until the most recent wood- and metal-looking. All this with different grades of light absorption and reflectance (mat, shiny, glazed and so on) and the latest nanometric
self cleaning finishes.
A very interesting innovation in terms of composition has been introduced in adhesive-free building envelopes.
The great experience matured over thousands of applications has allowed the co-existence of ceramics with other materials. It is not infrequent to see in the latest architectural solutions, large ceramic displays filled with single pieces or even whole sheets of glass, aluminium, and wood.
This result has been made possible thanks to the combination of different systems of regulation and anchoring (tab release mechanisms, threaded stems secured at the back, snap systems..) which are able to guarantee the necessary compensation with different grades of material thickness and dilatation, avoiding tension or elements getting stuck.
CAD CAM and waterjet manufacturing allow the precise cutting of tiles according to installation needs or when installation is difficult because of the proximity of different materials. The cutting is so precise that almost no adjusting is required while working is in progress.

Stabilimento Florim