The Palma Intermodal Station is the main railway station of Palma on the island of Majorca, Spain. Although it is situated in the center of the city at the Plaça d'Espanya, when it was built in 2007, it was hard to find since the main access is located underground between two historical buildings.

To create a more defining entrance, a local architect utilized custom-designed ceramic tiles to construct an overhead structure that serves as a roof, which marks the threshold between the urban space and station. Joan Miquel Seguí Colomar, founder of Joan Miquel Seguí Arquitectura in Palma, explained how the design “marks a return to the Mediterranean tradition of latticework as a filter between exteriors and a more enclosed, user-friendly area.”

“The main access to the Intermodal Station was by stairs that went down uncovered toward the center of the station, with the inconvenience of eventual flooding — due to its funnel condition to the underground infrastructure — creating discomfort for passengers on days of great sunshine or rain and the continuous repairs of the escalators to be suffering the inclemencies of time,” said Seguí. “The intervention focuses on two aspects: covering the access to the station by means of a flat roof and emphasizing the location of the entrance by means of the location of an information tower, since it is partially hidden between two existing buildings.”

Since tiled roofs are quite common in the area and throughout Spain, Seguí found it fitting to incorporate ceramic tile into this project. “Both buildings have tile roofs and the tile itself is something very common in old buildings here,” he said. “Since we had to do a roof and the existing roofs are already using tile, we thought, ‘Why not use the tile in a different way, in a more contemporary and modern way, but use the same material and the same piece?’ What happened was that the tile itself is very difficult to be placed in a different position than a traditional one, so we kept the same material, but started to design a piece that was something we could make a cube with. Tiles with a certain transparency.”

Seguí explained how the start of the latticework is aligned with a cornice of one of the existing buildings, which creates “a formal dialogue that complements the chromatic and material relationship between the new ceramics and the old buildings,” while simultaneously protecting the entrance from water and allowing for easy maintenance.

Forming a cube-like roofing structure above the entrance, the latticework is composed of around 8,000 single pieces of 12- x 24- x 12-cm ceramic tiles. “In the beginning, we were thinking about using the traditional tiles of the existing buildings. But in the end, we developed a specific piece that we designed just for this project,” explained Seguí. “It’s also a very simple piece — a rectangle with a diagonal. If you combine this piece, rotating it 180 degrees, it starts to create this strange pattern that has crosses and lines, vertical and horizontal, which give a lot of dimension. A pattern that I think is some sort of a beautiful thing. It’s unique.”

With the help of a local ceramics professor, Miguel Bartolomé, who also designs tile through his company, Cerámica a Mano Alzada in Valencia, Spain, he and Seguí were able to craft the perfect creation. After envisioning the tile design, they began searching for local tile factories to produce the customized mold, particularly in Valencia.

“The factory was called Ceràmica Ferrés, located north of Barcelona,” said Seguí of the company based in Corçà, Girona, Spain, which specializes in creating ceramic lattices, among many other tile products. “We first created a sample. Then we started production. We needed about 8,000 to 9,000 pieces.”

The armored lattice that Seguí designed, which he believes also has influences of Moorish architecture, "hangs" from a flat roof supported by two gantries of three HEB-280 pillars each. These porticos consist of two UPN-400 parallel beams that hold a series of alveolar plates pierced by skylights to allow natural lighting of the entrance space during the day. This duplication of the UPN allows the passage of installations — pluvial and electrical — through the HEB pillars. “During the night, the lattice acts in an opposite way and becomes an illuminating element, allowing the light to pass through the ceramics, thanks to a series of luminaries placed around the perimeter,” said Seguí.

The architect explained how the borders of the ceramic pieces rest on a metallic substructure/anchoring system, formed with 100- x 39-cm tubes, which was modulated according to the joint of the ceramic pieces. “The thickness of said tubes coincides with the thickness of the mortar joint, plus the wall thickness of the ceramic piece, in such a way that the existence of said substructure is not perceived,” said Seguí.

To help people easily locate the station’s entrance, a 30-foot-tall vertical tower was also created a couple hundred feet in front of the station, where it can be seen from anywhere in the Plaça d'Espanya, according to Seguí. “We somehow needed to draw attention to the entrance,” he said of the thin tower, which incorporates more than 200 tiles. “The tower is lined with composite, as is the existing entrance. In the strip that coincides with the latticework of the roof, ceramic pieces of the same characteristics are also placed. It has given more importance to the existing buildings.”

Working around the clock

Since the train station only has one entrance, which had to remain open and active during the installation, the structure was pre-fabricated and built onsite overnight using trucks and cranes. “The train station closed at 11 p.m., so at midnight, we would start and finish around 5 a.m., which was interesting,” said Seguí. “It wasn’t hard because of the darkness. We brought in a lot of light.”

Seguí was onsite frequently during the tile installation, which was a little bit more than complicated than he anticipated. “We were there once every two days just to control the process and how they were installing everything,” said Seguí. “It was very complicated to install. We started with one of the sides and it was not looking nice because you need a lot of position to install the pieces because the pieces are also aligned with a metal anchoring system that you don’t see, but which requires exact measurements. We demolished it and tried again. We did this four times. Eventually, the guys who were installing it began to understand how it worked. In the end, it was quick, but it took a little bit of time.”

The metal anchoring system, which was used as the “invisible support system” for the latticework, features a 4-cm metal tube every three ceramic tiles, which is exactly the same width as the joint. “When you look straight, you do not see the tube,” said Seguí. “Sometimes, a simple solution can solve a complex problem.”

The “holes” within the tile design were also created to allow some natural light through the roof so artificial light is not needed during the day. “When the sun is above the roof, you can see the light coming through and all of the patterns reflected on the floor,” said Seguí.

Since the project’s completion last year, after more than two years of realization, it has been recognized nationally and internationally with various accolades, including the grand prize in the “architecture” category at the 17th annual Tile of Spain Awards of Architecture and Interior Design.

“One thing I think is nice, which is the same thing that happens with traditional roofing tiles, is when time goes by, the color changes because of the sun and water,” said Seguí of the uncolored, unglazed ceramic tiles. “These factors will make it look more interesting over time — like it has been there for a while, which is the intention.”

New entrance to Palma Intermodal Station, Palma Plaça d'Espanya

Palma, Majorca, Spain

Architect: Joan Miguel Seguí Arquitectura, Palma, Spain

Tile Designer: Cerámica a Mano Alzada, Valencia, Spain

Tile Manufacturer/Supplier: Ceràmica Ferrés, Corçà,
Girona, Spain

Installation Products: MAPEI, Milan, Italy (Mapelastic)