Over the last decades a social movement has been gathering strength that promotes a different way of life; one more in tune with our surroundings. This trend is not just about recycling or respecting the natural environment, but is linked to awareness of everything we consume.
Trying to find out the extent of the pollution caused by the growing, and transportation, of any given food item, or choosing less wasteful forms of packaging, or material that have a reduced impact on the environment: there are all issues that few thought about a few years ago but are now almost universal. Today, more and more restaurants use regional specialties, fair trade and locally sourced products. Shops that sell traditional beauty products and even official organisations are now committed to ‘slow cities’, with key features being identity and responsibility.
This movement promotes being aware of the resources we have available and trying to reduce environmental impact by committing to refurbishing and re-using objects.
Ceramic tiles can play a central role in sustainable architecture, where the aim is to optimize existing resources by exploring passive techniques, orientation and materials. There are, for instance, innovations that make it possible to create a ceramic ventilated façade that purifies the air by absorbing the NOx in the atmosphere.
Within the field of architecture this trend is reflected in the Passivhaus, a platform that aims to optimize existing resources through passive architectural techniques, such as the shape and orientation of the building and, of course, the materials used to construct it. Ceramic tile is, without a shadow of a doubt, essential to this type of construction, not just because it is a natural material but also because of the range of construction systems in which it can be used. Ceramic tiles are made entirely from elements found in nature – clay and water – which are recycled in their entirety during the manufacturing process.
In the last edition of the ASCER Ceramic Tile Awards the runner-up prize went to the Casa MM, by Ohlab Arquitectura, which was designed in line with Passivhaus parameters. In this house, which promotes environmental and sustainability values, energy is obtained from solar panels, while the ceramic roof is tasked with collecting rainwater for human consumption and for watering plants. The choice of ceramic was based on the sum of its intrinsic features such as visual appeal, the fact that it is easy to clean and maintain and its durability.
The versatility and properties of ceramic tile mean it can provide all sorts of solutions, both as a continuous surface and as a lattice, which in turn provide natural control over ventilation and levels of sunlight. By using the same material throughout a building, both the amount of work and energy consumption is reduced. Official administrative agencies choose this material for projects such as centres of learning and even buildings linked to tourism. One example is a small sustainable urban project in Alcocebre, Castellón. Designed to boost the local economy and inspired by Mediterranean latticework, this environmentally-friendly project uses a type of ceramic tile that purifies the air by eliminating the nitrogen oxide that is present in the atmosphere.
Another feature that is typical of eco-living is refurbishment. In this movement, which involves being aware of the resources that are available to us and aiming to reduce any impact on the environment, refurbishment is championed as it is re-using objects and preserving the structure’s embodied energy. Today is quite standard to see projects of this kind using ceramic tile, since, apart from the versatility it offers in terms of finishes, the material’s durability, insulation capability, and ease of installation, makes it one of the most suitable materials for this kind of work.
Society is clearly making progress in terms of technology and innovation. These advances have prompted the emergence of philosophies and ideas that attempt to improve the way we live. Eco-living aims to achieve a balance in what we consume and, as far as construction and architecture are concerned, ceramic tile, a natural material that is ‘aware’ of its environment, has already proved that it can play a major part in achieving this balance.
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This article first appeared in Ceraspaña, 39.
A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, November 2017.