While exterior tile cladding systems have been used in Europe for many years, it is only recently that they have started to be seriously considered for exterior design in the U.S.  In an age where green building and sustainability are at the forefront, cladding systems are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they are also energy efficient.  Some of the leading tile manufacturers are making a push to architects in the U.S. -- promoting the benefits of using a porcelain cladding system for exterior architecture.

“Trends are very regional,” said Joe Hartzell, Sales Manager for Crossville, Inc., who specializes in exterior cladding for the company.  “The fact that porcelain tile is being used more on exteriors is the trend in itself.”

When considering reasons for an increased interest in exterior cladding systems in the U.S., Hartzell points to several factors.  “It’s more popular because of improved setting materials and installation systems that can ensure a successful long-term project, if used properly,” he said.  “[Also], the technology advances in American porcelains have improved size, style and color options, as well.”

Moreover, the sustainability component is also a draw, according to Hartzell.  “The sustainability features of American-manufactured porcelain tile are unmatched by any other exterior finish building material,” he said.  “The ease of maintenance and contribution to thermal benefits of the building are huge benefits.”

Hartzell reports that Crossville’s exterior cladding products resist graffiti, scuffs and stains, and are not susceptible to efflorescence as experienced with brick -- making it an ideal choice for building facades.  These characteristics also make it easy to maintain.

Leading the pack

Architect Michael P. Johnson of Michael P. Johnson Design Studios, Ltd. in Cave Creek, AZ, can be considered a pioneer of ventilated facade systems in the U.S.  Johnson first learned of the system back in 2001 when he attended Cersaie, an international tile exhibition held annually in Bologna, Italy.  After participating in a seminar where the system was presented, the architect went on to use it for one of his projects -- an office/warehouse in Tempe, AZ.

“It has changed a great deal since when I started 10 years ago,” said Johnson.  “There is a lot more interest in it now.  I did a presentation at Coverings [in Orlando, FL], this year.  I had 70 people there.  Two years ago, I had between 10 to 15.

“Marazzi has a real good success rate over the last year or two,” the architect went on to say.  “They have finished several buildings.  The interest is there.  It is a great product and a maintenance-free product.  [Also], the sustainability aspect is just fantastic.”

Johnson also explained that he just learned of a new product on the market, System Photonics, which is available through Cotto d’Este.  “It’s a new system for cladding,” he said.  “They developed a ventilated wall system with thin tiles.  To me, it is an exciting system. It is really great because it provides solar panels that work with the tile system.  Because the tile is thin, the actual solar panels are as thin as the tile.  They can hang on the same substrate as the tiles.”

The architect has plans to soon test the new system out with a project he is collaborating on with the Florida Highway Commission and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, where he teaches.  A while back, students from the architecture school designed and built a sustainable shelter, which they named the “Taliesin Mod.Fab” project.  “It was originally based on a case study that involved putting [the portable house] on a truck and taking it to a site,” explained Johnson.  “We are going to do three variations of it -- the original 500-square-foot one bedroom, a 16-foot-wide one bedroom and a 16-foot-wide two-bedroom unit.”

Johnson explained that they are working with a home manufacturer, Lindal, of Seattle, WA, to build the homes. The one-bedroom unit will be built as a demonstration house at a “Green Tech Park” that the Florida Highway Commission is developing at a rest area just outside of Orlando.

“The kit is just a shell,” said the architect.  “There are no finishing materials.  We are going to use the thin tile system on the demonstration house.  The upside is that between one to two million people stop there a year.  It is tremendous exposure.”