Italian Tile Provides a Nature-like Environment
September 23, 2004
"Serenity" and "nature" were primary influences for the design of the new O'Neill Center for Healthy Families on the campus of Marywood University in Scranton, PA. While the facility is a wellness center offering a number of clinical and educational programs to the local community, the university desired a soft relaxed atmosphere for the building's public spaces. As a result, a variety of Italian porcelain tiles in muted shades of gray and green were employed as flooring and wall surfaces throughout the design of a two-story atrium cube, two adjacent lobbies and restroom.
"The entire project is kind of East meets West medicine so to speak," said Project Architect John Kuna of Hemmler & Camayd Architects of Scranton, PA. "There are some clinical spaces, and the university's nutrition and dietician facilities are there. 'Eat right and exercise' is kind of the underlying theme. In the midst of that there is also meditation and yoga -- an alternative look at wellness."
The architect went on to say that the Northeast Pennsylvania Women's Health Alliance was very involved in establishing the 15,000-square-foot facility, which represents an innovative approach to health and wellness for women and families. The design intent was to reflect the more soothing mystical approach to wellness rather than the clinical side.
Additionally, university officials were adamant about keeping all major deciduous trees on the site. "They would say, 'If we keep taking more of the woods down, we won't have a Marywood," said Kuna, explaining that the small wooded site had been considered unsuitable for many years. "We needed a design that embraced the site. We knew that the two street sides would be solid and the sides facing the woods would be more open." Given further thought, the design team decided that rather than looking at the trees as a hindrance, they would utilize them in the facility's design. "We thought that it would be great to kind of split the building, and allow people to look through it [at the trees]," said the architect. "That's how we generated the glass cube. We also then said that because it is such a natural kind of space, we wanted to create a serene area that's not clinical in any way. We wanted to use natural materials. We wanted the outside to come right in. We thought it would be great to have the feeling of stone meditation."
For this reason, natural stone was the first consideration for project, according to Kuna. "It was cost prohibitive within the budget confines that we had, so we looked at alternatives," he said. "The Italian tile that we used had random sizes and random patterns. It had the feeling of a flagstone garden path. We looked at it and said, 'That looks like a stone floor."
Three shades of Magica Italian Tile, which was supplied by Arley Wholesale of Scranton, PA, were selected for this project. The random pattern for the floor in the atrium consisted of a mix of 6-by-6-, 6-by-12-, 12-by-12-, 12-by-18- and 18-by-18-inch pieces of Asia Jaipur Grigio. "Adjacent to this cube on the first and second floors is a lobby area, which changes from random to a 12-by-12-inch grid," said Kuna, adding that Asia Rajastan Verde was employed for this space. "This travels down into the restroom."
On the walls, the same pattern as the floor in the atrium was used. This was complemented by Asia Chennai Avorio trim pieces measuring 3 inches by 12 inches. "We wanted something large in scale and that had durability -- the weather is messy here in the winter," said the architect. "Also, when sitting in the glass cube, we didn't want it to feel like you are inside."
The Magica tile line provided the ease of maintenance that the design team was searching for, according to Lisa Mulholland, architectural specifier for Arley Wholesale. "This is a beautiful porcelain product that you don't have to seal," she said. "This automatically came to mind. It has a slate look. It really caught the designer's eye."
And installing the tile didn't really present much of a challenge, according to Harold Jones of H.K. Jones & Son of Scranton, PA, whose company completed the installation. "We had to keep our eyes open though and stay focused on the job," he said, when speaking about the modular pattern. "It could get confusing. The pattern did repeat itself, but it was not designed to look like it was a set pattern."
The floor tiles were installed with Mapei Ultraflex 2 thinset, while Mapei Mastic was used to set the wall pieces. It took about two to three weeks to finish the job, with a crew of two, said Jones. The entire construction of the center was completed in about nine months. The project received Honorable Mention in the Ceramic Tiles of Italy 2003 Design Competition.