Miquel Alonso Flamarique of MRM Architects’ Studio shares details about the design of the new headquarters of the Valencia Construction Sector Employment Founation, which was recently recognized with a 2021 Tile of Spain Award in the “Architecture: category. Set in an industrial district in Valencia, Spain, the building keeps with the region's physical and cultural backdrop, and ceramic tile is prominently displaced throughout the design, as the material is one of the Valencia’s flagship manufacturing products.

The jury praised the use of large-format tiles as a quintessential feature of the structure’s façade. They also highlighted the use of a single surface material, applied as an exterior cladding to support the sustainability and hygiene throughout the facility’s interior and exterior areas. Here’s what Flamarique had to say about the design of the new headquarters and the use of ceramic tile.

TILE: What was the overall design goal for the project? How much were the clients involved?

MA: We aimed to design a building with a simple and clear image -- a group of different, but linked, volumes that together transmit the educational work and values of the Foundation it houses through its volumetric and constructive clarity.

Its design is based on a formal and functional pattern of independent pieces or volumes, which are grouped under a pergola plan that communicates and unites all the buildings under its modulated structure and constructive order.

In the design of the building, the dialectic use of the structure is especially important. Its order is always visible, treated with the same constructive spirit as the rest of the materials and solutions used. The finishes of the building are a reflection of its construction process, using the construction details as a fundamentally visual resource.

Due to the different activities that take place in it, the client needed to be involved from the beginning, foreseeing all the possible needs of workers of varied skill level and background.

The center needed to be able to hold as many classes as possible to accommodate the current regulations. These specify particular characteristics according to the activity that needs to be taught. This has required a flexible design of areas of different sizes, heights, light and comfort conditions, areas with a mix of uses, additional storage areas and a special connection between the interior and the exterior.

TILE: What specific brands of tile were selected for the project?

MA: Ceramic was decided from the beginning of the project, and influenced by the cultural landscape of the Comunidad Valenciana. This is a Spanish region which has a long tradition in manufacturing ceramic tiles, so we decided to have large-format ceramic present in the external image of the building. After studying the different technical and aesthetic offerings of various local brands, we finally selected Porcelanosa’s porcelanic Xlight tiles.

TILE: What were some reasons for choosing the particular tile that you did? Did you consider other material options before making a final decision? 

MA: The main characteristics we pursued for the ceramic tiles were related to the scale of the building. They not only had to be in a ventilated facade due to thermal requirements, but they had to be large in size because the facades of the building are seen from a long distance. Small-scale tiles didn’t fit with the visual perception of a building of this size. The tiles are 1,000 x 3,000 mm, sitting perfectly with the 1-meter modulation of the building.

We never considered other materials as a substitute to ceramic tiles. We were sure about using two materials for the exterior. One as a lower band that unifies all pieces, and another different material for the upper volumes and pergola. The ceramic lower band is key to the perception of the building as a whole -- both from the outside and inside. Ceramic is also a fine material with a soft touch that, even in large-scale formats that were used here, works perfectly in short distances, such as the corridors of both patios.

TILE: How much tile was used?

MA: We wanted the whole building to be wrapped with 1,000- x 3,000-mm tiles, so even the large doors for vehicles and facility cabinets were covered with them. For this purpose, it was important that the tiles were not too heavy, so Porcelanosa’s Xlight 3.5 mm thickness was a good choice. The total surface covered with tiles is about 2,270 square meters.

TILE: Who supplied the tile?

MA: The tiles were directly supplied by Porcelanosa and installed with the appropriate aluminium frame structure by Buthech, Porcelanosa’s facade brand. These ceramic tiles can be placed directly, for example, glued on to large doors, or fixed to a specific hidden aluminium frame structure designed by Porcelanosa for ventilated facades.

TILE: What is the size of the building?

MA: The whole building is 3,133 square meters, with another 889 square meters covered by the pergola. The center also has an extensive exterior area to develop outside educational activities, driveways and other public garden and pedestrian areas.

TILE: Did you run into any challenges with the design of the building?

MA: The principal challenge was to incorporate ceramic feasibly into the construction and into the visual aesthetic. In addition, our firm is committed to sustainability and innovative research in architecture, so we originally studied a different ceramic solution for the ventilated facades. We worked with a local supplier who has developed brick-like pieces, which are manufactured by gluing seven layers of ceramic. These pieces were designed and used for pavements that allow water to drain through to the soil. Reused tiles from discarded models, tiles of low commercial value, or even from bad batches, are cut into 70- x 300-mm pieces and stuck together in one multi-layer piece. These pieces had not been used before in facade brickwork. Together with the manufacturer, Lifecersuds, and technicians from the Institute of Ceramic Technology (ITC), we studied the characteristics of this new material and how best to use it in construction. We built a mock-up to test its strength as regular brickwork, and increased the amount of glue used to join each layer in order to develop an adequate construction method.

The use of recycled ceramic pieces has an important sustainable added-value to the material, a lower energy and CO2 impact in construction, as well as many other benefits. In the end, however, due to the short time we had to complete the research on this new solution, we had to go with the commercial solution explained before. Happily, we agreed with the client to use this brickwork in one section of the building, next to the main entrance used for facility services.

TILE: How long did the project take to complete?

MA: The project was developed over three years, allowing for different designs and requirements of the client, and the construction took almost two years.

TILE: What has the reaction to the project been since its completion?

MA: It has been very well-received by the client and the people who use it. We worked side-by-side with them from the very beginning, and everything was designed and explained so that when the building was finally raised, all seemed to work perfectly as planned. The Foundation had suffered a serious lack of space to develop its educational program, and this building fulfils all their needs.

Fundación Laboral de la Construcción de la Comunidad Valenciana

Architects: MRM arquitectos; Miguel Alonso Flamarique, Roberto Erviti Machain and Mamen Escorihuela Vitales

Promoter/Owner: Fundación Laboral de la Construcción

Collaborators: Unai Armendariz Vidaurre and Andreu Climent Salvador

Structural Engineer: Josep Agustí de Ciurana

Consulting Engineering: INDICO SEIS S.L.