The Paragon Prairie Tower Project is a new cultural landmark for Iowa. Over 5,000 square feet of glass mosaic tile had to be installed in difficult weather conditions.
Project: Paragon Prairie Tower, Urbandale, Iowa
Tile Contractor: Des Moines Marble and Mantel Co.
Distributor: Sunderland Brothers Co.
Manufacturers: Sicis Custom Glass Tile and Laticrete International

For more than 20 years, I have been having a great time working in the tile and stone industry. When I stop to ask myself why I enjoy this trade so much, I can break it down to two reasons:
  • The people in the tile industry are some of the nicest individuals I have ever been around.
  • The creativity, artistry, and craftsmanship of the professionals in our industry are inspirational to someone like me who truly appreciates these skills (perhaps because I possess none of them myself).
If you stop and think about it, our trade is quite unique in this way. In our midst are artists, technicians, chemists, engineers, designers and mathematicians. For this reason, I find the tile industry to be fascinating.

For this issue, I was asked to showcase some unique tile and stone installations. I chose three such projects. As I examined each job, the common theme that consistently resonated with me was the fact that art, technology and workmanship were equally integral to the success of the installation. Take a moment to enjoy these elements in the following three projects.

Paragon Prairie Tower, Urbandale, Iowa

The main design objective for the Paragon Prairie Tower was to create a major destination icon and new cultural landmark for the state of Iowa. Des Moines Marble and Mantel worked closely with the private developer on this incredible installation, known as a Gateway for the Paragon Business Park. Surrounded by a public plaza and lake, the tower is a unique synthesis of public art and architecture. It has become a dynamic symbol that pays homage to the history of the native Iowa prairie. Reaching over 118 feet, the tower combines state-of-the-art technology, materials and painstaking craftsmanship.

In every phase of the project, Des Moines Marble and Mantel had to address issues of schedule, safety, productivity and quality control while installing over 5,000 sheets of glass mosaic in unpredictable weather conditions typical for the region.

The use of the glass mosaic tile was selected as the best material to express the image of the Iowa prairie in the form of a monumental three-dimensional painting. Dramatic lighting effects highlight the iridescence of the glass.

The main shaft of the tower comprised five stacked sections of pre-cast, each segmented into four quadrants of 20x12 foot radius panels, assembled on site. The contractor had to build up and re-cut the vertical joints to ensure a smooth surface and accurate plumb lines. The application of the membrane, provided by Laticrete International, was a painstaking process during windy conditions. In order to maintain a wrinkle-free surface, the membrane had to be tucked neatly into the vertical joints. A backer rod had been previously applied. Since it was required that the membrane be exposed for 30 days, a skim coat of thinset was applied. Precision and proper bond were critical during tile installation and with wind, sun and rain affecting workability of setting materials, progress was hampered and many days were lost due to the weather. Epoxy grout had been specified so careful application was required. A second backer rod was installed in the vertical joints and horizontal surface joints were cut in at every 10 feet. All joints were then caulked in a matching color to the grout.

Excellent teamwork in challenging physical conditions was maintained within the installation crew itself and by working closely with the artist, architect, construction manager, materials manufacturer and the distributor. Only through such careful attention to detail did the original artistic vision and objectives of the owner become a reality.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Terminal 4, installed by Scuderi Tile, encompassed 100,000 square feet of tile with more than 35 colors from eight different tile manufacturers.
Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport-Terminal 4 Retail Renovation
Tile Contractor: Scuderi Tile Co.
Tile Suppliers: Facings of America, Tile By Design
Setting Materials: MAPEI Corp. through Dal-Tile

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport-Terminal 4 Retail Renovation

This incredible installation involved working with numerous ceramic tile manufacturers products, encompassing over 100,000 square feet of ceramic tile at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, AZ. More than 35 colors of tile from eight different manufacturers had to be installed, in three different sizes that needed to be cut on the jobsite to fit the complex design puzzle.

Many tiles were set to form different geometric patterns, radiating shapes and curvilinear forms gracing the terminal floor, themed to the medallions located in the lobby area of each of the terminal’s four elevators.

The entire installation was leveled with self-leveling underlayment and topped with a crack isolation sheet membrane. Expansion joints were placed every 20 feet, as recommended in the Tile Council of America Handbook for the installation of ceramic tile. In some areas, rapid setting materials were used to expedite the process. All installation materials were supplied by MAPEI Corp.

To tackle the complex tile layout, an on-site engineering firm was retained to plot points for the layout on a computer assisted drawing (CAD) system. The points were first plotted on a graph from the drawings and then transferred to the floor layout. The points were then connected so the tile setters had shapes to follow in setting the geometric patterns. Lasers helped to line up the overall pattern.

Cox Tile installed river rock piece by piece in this custom steam shower in San Antonio, TX.
Project: Signature Custom Homes-San Antonio, TX
Tile Contractor: Cox Tile, Inc.
Tile and Stone Suppliers: Stone Solutions and Keller Materials
Installation Materials: TEC, Custom Building Products and Schluter-Systems

Signature Custom Homes-San Antonio, TX

Creating an ambience of texture and motion with unique, natural materials in a spectacular 8,000 square foot custom home was the goal of the homeowners in an exclusive San Antonio neighborhood. The jewel of the amazing home was a one-of-a-kind stunning master bath retreat. Consultations with Cox Tile, the designer and homeowner resulted in the choice to utilize the unique presentation of river rock as the primary focus for the application. These rocks are typically intended for outdoor use and special preparation was necessary to ensure their adherence to the walls and tub. All the rocks were tumbled in a cement mixer with water and sand to thoroughly clean and smooth all surfaces prior to installation.

The Jacuzzi tub rising from the Versailles multi-size patterned floor of Pavio Parra stone is a focal point of the room. Cox Tile adapted the oval framework of the tub to enhance the curvature needed to properly mount the large river rock. To service the tub, an access door was necessary so Cox designed and built a curved, easily removable panel set seamlessly with river rock to complete the perfect picture and allow an unblemished, continuous surface.

The oversized steam shower provided numerous challenges. Installation of a KERDI waterproof membrane provided by Schluter-Systems was required to contain moisture. Every stone had to be individually back-buttered to provide a good mechanical bond. The stones were set piece by piece to provide a uniform appearance. Grouting of the stone was very tedious since it had to be struck down to an absolute minimum to accentuate the characteristics of each individual stone. All the rock had to be sealed using Aqua Mix High Gloss Sealer to enhance the color as well as protect the installation.

A cylindrical tower comprised of over 5,000 square feet of glass tile set in inclement weather conditions on scaffolding; an airport terminal project, which had to be successfully installed in phases while travelers still went about their everyday business, encompassing numerous geometrical patterns and sizes of tile; a steam shower and Jacuzzi tub made out of individual pieces and different sizes of stones -these projects are perfect illustrations of the challenges a tile contractor faces in today’s construction industry, where art, technology and craftsmanship come together to form masterpieces to be enjoyed for many years. This is why I love this industry so much.