Collaboration with Alejandro Zaera in Aiuchi, Japan

Toni Cumella: Ceramic Visionary

Toni Cumella at work in his studio
Toni Cumella at work in his studio

There is no particular reason why I am dedicating today’s post to Toni Cumella.  This is not an obituary, nor has one of his many stunning projects just opened.  But Tile Addict, as well as covering design trends in the commercial tile world, also aims to celebrate  those rare individuals who have the ability to alter our perception of what tile is, and what it can be.  And this morning I woke up thinking about the work of Toni Cumella: a true ceramic visionary.  And then I wondered if there was anyone among Tile Addict’s 18,500+ followers who were not aware of this inspirational pioneer.  If so, read on.

Collaboration with Alejandro Zaera in Aiuchi, Japan
Collaboration with Alejandro Zaera in Aiuchi, Japan

Born in 1951, the son of ceramicist Antoni Cumella, Toni Cumella studied industrial engineering at Barcelona University before dedicating himself entirely to ceramics in 1970.  After the death of his father in 1985 Cumella redirected the focus of the Ceramica Cumella towards architectural projects and large-scale artworks, working closely with Studio PER, Enric Sòria and Jordi Garcés, among other.

Parc Guell Restoration by Ceramica Cumella
Parc Guell Restoration by Ceramica Cumella

Focusing on the four main fabrication processes used at Ceramica Cumella – extruding, casting, pressing, and revolving – Toni Cumella has been ably to apply his ceramic ideas in some of contemporary architecture’s most significant projects.  Between 1989 and 1992 the studio undertook its first two major architectural commissions: the restoration of Gaudi’s Casa Batlló (with architect Josep Botey) and the restoration of Gaudi’s Parc Güell (with architects Elíes Torres & Martinez Lapena).  These two projects firmly established Ceramica Cumella as experts in the field.

Roof of Mercat de Santa Caterina by Miralles-Tagliabue Barcelona 2004
Roof of Mercat de Santa Caterina by Miralles-Tagliabue Barcelona 2004

His ceramic expertise has since been utilised by architects such as Enric Miralles, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, and Jean Nouvel.  These collaborations have made material by Ceramica Cumella a key component of Barcelona’s stunning built environment.  They form part of the construction of La Sagrada Familia, and the restoration of both Casa Batlló, and Parc Güell.

Subsequent collaborations have included Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue’s Park Diagonal Mar, and Parc Dels Colors; followed by the simply stunning Santa Caterina Market in 2005, Jean Nouvel’s Placa Sardana, Alejandro Zaera-Polo’s Spanish Pavilion at Expo 2005, the Law Courts in Terrassa, and the Catalan Police Headquarters in El Vendrell with Josep Botey.  Cumella hasw also developed several installations with the artist Frederic Amat. Other collaborators have included Renzo Piano, Kengo Kuma and Amanda Levete.

Facade of Ceip Martinet by Mestura Arquitects, Barcelona, 2007
Facade of Ceip Martinet by Mestura Arquitects, Barcelona, 2007

Toni Cumella enjoys a close relationship with the Architectural Association.  He has produced some of his most outstanding work with current and former AA tutors and graduates and he has held regular workshops with Intermediate Unit 9.  Little wonder then that, from September to December 2014, the AA hosted an exhibition dedicated to the work of Toni Cumella.  This was curated by Mis-Architecture (Christopher Pierce and Chris Matthews) with AA Exhibitions.

Mossos El Vendrell by Josep Maria Botey, El Vendrell, 2008
Mossos El Vendrell by Josep Maria Botey, El Vendrell, 2008

The scope and ambition of Ceràmica Cumella’s output is vast; spanning flooring, lattices, wal coatings, steps, modular elements, roofscapes and much more.  Many of these pieces are created to a specific architectural brief.  The flow from the integration of technical tradition and innovative process, and are characterised by skilful geometry and exquisite colour definition

Pluja de Sang, Teatre Lliure de Gracia by Frederic Amat,
Pluja de Sang, Teatre Lliure de Gracia by Frederic Amat, Barcelona, 2010

These attributes have been brought to the Congress Palace and the Spanish Pavilion at Expo 2008 in Zaragoza; the Auditorium en Santa Cruz de la Zarza, Toledo; The Court of Justice building in Terrassa; a block of flats in Barakaldo; the renovation of the pavement of the Alameda de Hércules in Sevilla, and the striking Villa Nurbs designed by Enric Ruiz-Geli, in Empúriabrava.

Roof of Mercat de Santa Caterina by Miralles-Tagliabue Barcelona 2004
Roof of Mercat de Santa Caterina (detail) by Miralles-Tagliabue Barcelona 2004

This year saw a new edition of the UIC Barcelona School of Architecture’s Foroslecture series called Plural Innovations.  In early April, Catalan ceramist Toni Cumella gave a lecture on the latest developments in the field of ceramics materials and their application to the construction and renovation of buildings and architectural heritage. This further underlined his status as a collaborator on contemporary, avant-garde projects.

Collaboration with Alejandro Zaera in Aiuchi, Japan
Collaboration with Alejandro Zaera in Aiuchi, Japan (detail)

Toni Cumella believes that identity is becoming more needed in a global world, and that an evolved craftsmanship can provide this identity.  His work more than bears out this belief.  In 2016, Toni Cumella was named honorary member of the International Academy of Ceramics in Geneva (Switzerland), a fitting accolade to mark a stellar career..

Visit: http://www.cumella.cat/

Find out more about Toni Cumella and his links to the AA at: https://www.archdaily.com/279576/ceramica-cumella-shaping-ideas/

A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, July 2018

 

2 thoughts on “Toni Cumella: Ceramic Visionary

  1. I LOVE that you chose to do a feature on Toni Joe! He has been a personal hero of mine since I was a kid. He and his son are two of the most knowledgeable and personable people I have ever met in this amazing industry. His workshop is packed with glaze studies, ceramic exploratory projects and reference samples from three generations of Cumellas and staggeringly inspiring.

    If anyone that reads this is planning a trip to the Barcelona area, give yourself the gift of contacting Toni’s workshop for a visit. Be forewarned, bring a wheel barrow to pick your jaws up off the floor!

    Like

    1. Ryan. That means a lot, coming from a fellow Tile Addict and one so steeped in ceramic tradition. If you, or any other followers of the blog, have any suggestions for other tile heroes like Toni Cumella who deserve to have the spotlight trained in their direction, I’m all ears. Cheers! Joe

      Like

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