Today’s Tile Addict fix takes readers back a couple of years to the Milan Expo 2015, where Studio Libeskind clad a serpentine-like structure with iridescent red ceramic scales. The 40ft-tall Vanke Pavilion, which featured tiles by Casalgrande Padana, could be read both as a sculpture and as a building. It was named after the pavilion’s founder, Chinese real estate developer China Vanke. At the event, this sinuous structure drew comparisons ranging from a dragon to a soft-scoop ice cream.
The pavilion referenced the Chinese landscape in both its format and its design. The lead designer, Yama Karim, stated that the aim was: “to create something about the Chinese landscape … not just the physical landscape in China, but the depiction of landscape in scroll paintings, having many layers and unrolling.”
The studio’s head, Daniel Libeskind, said that he wanted the pavilion to be “interesting from different perspectives.” Visitors were able to appreciate the pavilion’s vertical landscape from ground level, but also by entering the structure through a concrete central stair that opened up to a seating space that echoed an Italian piazza. The stairs also led to a rooftop observation deck that offered panoramic views of the Expo facility.
The 11,000 sq. foot pavilion was clad in 4,200 glazed porcelain stoneware tiles designed by Libeskind and manufactured by Casalgrande Padana. These ‘fractile’ tiles were engrained with a 3D bas-relief geometric pattern and then finished with a metallic glaze, rich in oxides, that gave the surface an iridescent effect. As a result, the exterior appearance of the pavilion changed according to the quality of daylight or the viewing angle; from deep red, to shimmering gold, to bright white.
Along with altering colour perception, the glaze contains titanium dioxide, which imbues the tiles with the potential to self-clean and purify air. This is achieved through a photocatalytic process. Sunlight instigates a chemical reaction between the titanium dioxide and the surrounding air to produce dirt and water, which are subsequently deposited on the tile surface and washed away by rain.
The 600 by 600mm tiles were hung using a versatile flange system. A sheet metal bracket with three flange edges and an adjustable guide were fastened to the back of each tile. The tiles were then hung onto a steel tubular sub-structure that enclosed the outer shell of the pavilion. The anchoring system enabled each tile to use the same fastening system, but hang at different orientations, creating the shimmering and sinuous geometric pattern that flows between the pavilion’s interior and exterior.
This collaboration between Studio Libeskind and Casalgrande Padana is part of an ongoing relationship that began in 2009 with the CityLife residential project in Milan and continued with the 2013 Water Design of Bologna festival sculptural installation Pinnacle, which is entirely clad in a prototype version of these 3D geometric tiles.
A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, December 2017.