Manufacturers of ceramic tile have made great inroads in recent years. This is evident with innovative products that are being introduced to the market annually. The selection of colors, shapes and sizes continues to expand - presenting limitless options to designers and homeowners for both commercial and residential applications.
And while interior spaces certainly remain high in priority when it comes to creating a design for a newly constructed space or remodel, exteriors of homes and commercial buildings no longer take a back seat. With product lines such as stone- and wood-look tiles or large-format porcelain pieces with metallic finishes now available, there are a host of design possibilities for outdoor designs as well. These materials not only are aesthetically pleasing, but they provide the strength and durability that is a necessity when it comes to exterior architecture.
Patios, walkways, and pool decks are obvious choices when it comes to employing tile outside, but the use of large-format porcelain tile to clad exterior facades is starting to gain momentum in the U.S. One reason for this is the Green Building movement. With ventilated facade systems offering energy savings, they are becoming a valuable choice for exterior designs.
Innovative productsTile manufacturers are encouraged to devote time and money to research and development for products such as ventilated facade systems in order to spark interest in the American market. Companies such as Kale Eksport, a division of Kale Group of Istanbul, Turkey, are working to produce innovative products that also offer environmentally friendly benefits.
Recently, the company introduced Kalesinterflex®, which is among the first porcelain ceramic slab produced in Turkey using breakthrough environmentally friendly technology. Compared to the traditional ceramic production process, its gas and dust emission is 20 times less, and its CO2 emission is 1,000 times less, according to Kale Eksport.
The 100- x 300-cm slab of Kalesinterflex® has a thickness of 3 mm, which significantly reduces the weight of the material. The tiles have a smooth surface on which dirt does not accumulate, and if required, it can be cleaned with water and conventional cleaning agents.
Kalesinterflex® is produced from materials typically associated with traditional ceramic porcelain tile, including clays, kaolins and feldspats, and the material can be drilled with glass drills as well as with other conventional automatic drilling devices.
One of the most unique characteristics of Kalesinterflex® is its thin and flexible nature, which allows it to be bent to conform to contoured surfaces - making it ideal for covering interior surfaces of tunnels and underground stations.
Implementing modern technologyAnother manufacturer that is working to target the U.S. market with its ventilated facade systems is GranitiFiandre. The company’s Geologica Technical Porcelain collection was recently used for the newly constructed Redemptoris Mater Catholic Seminary in Denver, CO, which was designed by Larson Architects.
“The original portion of the campus is quite old,” said Bill Perkins, marketing and development manager for GranitiFiandre. “The seminary was designed as a contemporary structure that would complement the more Gothic architecture of the original campus. The entire project uses a combination of brick and porcelain to recall the stone appearance of the original building.”
Perkins explained that the ventilated facade system was employed for the unusual-shaped tower, and that striped bands of tile were used in combination with brick for the rest of the building’s exterior. The tiles for this part of the design were direct applied with mortar on top of concrete. All of the tiles, which were Travertino Romano, measured 16-by-24 inches with a 9-mm thickness.
“Larson Architects wanted something that would hold up to the winters,” said Perkins. “Part of the decision to use GranitiFiandre product came from a maintenance and durability standard, and part from a budgetary stand point. They wanted to replicate the aesthetics of quarried stone, but stay within budget.”
The ventilated facade system allowed for the tower to still have a securely waterproofed system. “The whole tower structure is a poured concrete,” explained Perkins. “It’s a reinforced superstructure with tile applied on a rain screen-type of exterior.”
“Our ventilated facade systems have invisible mounting,” Perkins went on to say. “Recessed mounting anchors can be found in the back of the tile. These anchors are affixed to the extruded aluminum railing that is attached to the superstructure. GranitiFiandre’s ventilated facade systems are completely weather- and frost-proof.”
Perkins explained that GranitiFiandre has been producing ventilated facade systems for projects all over Europe for the past 20 years. “Just recently, the U.S. market has become more in tune to ventilated facade systems,” he said. “Ventilated facade design is becoming more prevalent, and several new projects are slated for installation in the near future.”
Selling the systems to the U.S. market is an educational process, according to Perkins. “Once an architect or engineering staff sees the benefits and savings of a ventilated facade system, they are more than anxious to determine if it is appropriate for their project.”
Creating fresh "skin"Another example of a ventilated facade system in the U.S. is in Phoenix, AZ, where architect Michael P. Johnson of Michael P. Johnson Design Studio in Cave Creek, AZ, utilized porcelain tile to revitalize the front of an office/warehouse space. Johnson had been initially introduced to ventilated facade systems five years earlier, but never had the ideal circumstances to use one until this project. The building was desperately in need of revitalization, and an exterior cladding of large-format Italian porcelain tile provided the sophisticated image that his client desired.
“My client is in the floor covering business - every kind of flooring there is - linoleum, carpeting, tile, stone - the whole nine yards,” said Johnson. “His warehouse was drab. It was just built as a service building without any design to it. I was involved with other projects with him, so he asked me to do something to improve it. He wanted to dress up this building.”
According to Johnson, he first learned about the system when he won the Ceramic Tiles of Italy Design Competition in 2001. “I was sent to Cersaie, [an international tile exhibition held annually in Bologna, Italy], and asked to participate in a seminar where the system was presented,” said the architect. “Of course, I had never been introduced to it before. My reaction was that it was very expensive. My practice is based on smaller projects, where cost becomes an important aspect. But, with this building, it was a very logical place to go. Everybody ought to be looking into it.”
Before the renovation, the structure’s facade included an exposed aggregate finish with a disjointed array of windows and doors on the lower portion, which measured 8 feet. Johnson used a 134-foot-long x 40-inch-wide steel beam to unify the door and window openings. The addition of the steel beam became the benchmark for the ventilated wall system, which now wraps the entire building.
The structure was clad in 2-by-3-foot Marazzi Le Cromie Lavagna Levigato tiles, which are black polished porcelain. The material was chosen due to its reflective quality. “The reason I selected that was because it would mirror the desert,” said Johnson. “The whole remodeling is based 8- to 24-foot high. There’s a 16-foot band of tile all the way around the building.”
The sleek look of the tiles also projects a simple clean image. “One of the upsides to the product is the maintenance-free quality,” said the architect. “The building will always look fresh. The polished porcelain self-cleans and doesn’t attract pollutants. If you look at stainless steel or platinum or any kind of metal - in an environment like New York City - buildings start to look tired. With porcelain, you have the rains to clean it. It looks like a glass surface. Pollutants don’t engage themselves.”
In addition to being cost efficient and aesthetically pleasing, the installation of the ventilated facade system is also relatively simple, according to Johnson. “It’s very easy to install,” he said. “One of my client’s employees went to Italy to go through a quick lesson to learn to install the system. You install these clips, and then install the verticals and horizontals, and then click the tiles on them.”
With a crew of six installers, it would probably take three or four weeks to complete a building of this size, explained Johnson. In the case of the warehouse, the client completed the work in his spare time.
“I am dying for the right project to use [the ventilated facade system] on the right residence,” said the architect. “Imagine how beautiful it could be in the desert reflecting the natural plants. This system can very easily compete with other kinds of surfacing that people are using. It beats titanium, metal siding, aluminum or stainless steel.”
And similar to GranitiFiandre’s sentiments, Marazzi is only recently beginning to see the U.S. market stir when it comes to ventilated facade systems. “I think that it is gaining credibility in the U.S.,” said Judy Mevius, marketing communications manager of American Marazzi Tile, citing green building scenerios as one reason for the new interest. “[Also], it offers the possibility to rehab a building rather than turning to demolition.”
Marazzi promotes benefits such as reducing dampness on walls in new and renovated buildings, preventing the formation of thermal bridges, providing a comfortable climate indoors by preventing heat from escaping in winter and/or entering in the summer; lowering energy consumption and improving the sound absorption in new and renovated buildings, as reasons for using ventilated facade systems. Additionally, the company emphasizes features of the systems, including long life and great strength, cost-efficient structure for both building and maintaining, and modern architecture created by using a wide array of sizes, colors and ceramic types.
According to Mevius, Marazzi offers two separate systems to address specific needs. The A.G.V. System uses exposed hooks, while the A.G.S. System uses concealed hooks for attaching the cladding material to the structure. These systems work in tandem with Marazzi’s wide variety of porcelain and glazed ceramic tile.
“The flexibility of either system provides the highest levels of customization and adaption to aesthetic concerns, yielding energy efficiency with specialty designer looks,” said Mevius. “Design, installation and technical consultants are available.”