Off the Grid
Provocative architecture highlights the craft and tradition of Spanish tile.
For fifteen years, Tile of Spain awards have celebrated the use of ceramics in architecture and design. Spanish tile is iconic, a varied craft with centuries-old roots rendered through the region’s multicultural landscape. Yet, for all the possibilities for its creative application, the benefits of tile often prioritize its superb functionality. Since it’s inception, Tile of Spain’s mission has been to rescue and elevate the use of ceramics in Spanish creative practices.
Tile is ideal for mitigating the Mediterranean’s hot and humid weather. Glazed tile is fortified with glass and metallic oxides that afford it with famously hygienic and stain resistant properties. A small and scalable format makes installations and repairs relatively easy. Ultimately, tile is versatile, and ceramic finishes have been a favorite in high-traffic areas for centuries. “In the 50s in Spain, tiles were still used in many types of buildings,” says Ana Martinez, manager for the awards. “But then there was a rupture, and tiles were only being used in bathrooms and kitchens.” As architects prioritized sanitary spaces for tile, Tile of Spain and ASCER, the organization of Spanish tile manufacturers behind the awards, became deeply invested in preserving the long-standing tradition of ceramics in Spain, but also in updating its use for contemporary architecture.
“These awards have the opportunity to promote the use of tiles in a very prestigious or serious way,” Martinez explains. Tile of Spain honors first place awards for the categories of Architecture, Interior Design, and Final Degree Project, a category for graduating students of architecture. A jury composed of practicing and teaching architects, designers, and journalists pay special attention to projects that go beyond common applications, beyond kitchens and bathrooms, into what Martinez describes as a “smart use of tile.” “At the beginning, this was very difficult,” Martinez conceded, “yet year after year we found very interesting projects.”
In more recent years, firms are actively addressing ASCER’s mission to be creative with tile while honoring its historic trajectory. “The Tile of Spain award has increased the interest of architects in ceramics,” said Angela Paredes of Paredes Pedrosa Arquitectos, the firm who most recently received the first prize in Architecture. “Contemporary architects have found new ways for using ceramics and moreover have rediscovered the ancient ways of using ceramics,” Paredes explained. “We have revisited ancient buildings, belonging to cultures and locations both distant and near, buildings that have been amassed in our memories built with ceramics in different ways.” The firm’s winning project involved the renovation of a 15th century construction in Oropesa, Toledo Spain. Two residences, originally a church and Oropesa’s castle, were enveloped in tile as a way of linking the two dwellings, which were once connected but had been disjointed and eroded by time.
Invested in the long-run, ASCER strategically partners with universities around the world that yield specializations in ceramics where students create award-winning projects through workshops and dedicated courses. ASCER also deploys publicity campaigns to elevate the profile of Spanish ceramic amongst the design community. The awards are one part of a multipronged approach to breathing life into Spain’s tile industry. And, while some winners are established firms, for younger practitioners the awards can be a career-changing experience. “There is a before and an after;” says Martinez; first-time winners often go on to receive other prizes.
Natali Canas del Pozo, from El Equipo Creativo, the team who received the Interior Design award in 2015, said that ceramics is still an element of style that is quintessentially Mediterranean. El Equipo Creativo’s project, Blue Wave Cocktail Bar, deploys tile in seven colors and finishes. Tile is arranged to imitate an ocean wave, so the designers applied both glossy and matte glaze to create the illusion of water reflecting off a surface. The scale-shaped pieces for this project were custom-designed and artisanally fabricated. “We have the feeling that craftsmanship in general is something that has been put into value again during the last years in the design world,” Canas del Pozo said. This award, she continued, “recognizes special solutions in the use of ceramics, and this makes it extremely interesting for a team like ours, El Equipo Creativo, who try to push the boundaries of materials in all our projects.”
If the jury ever struggled to find project entries, they no longer have that problem. Architects and designers now submit projects backed by a wealth of research in ceramics—some projects investigate new approaches to tile constructions, experiment with new finishes, or revisit traditional techniques such as three-dimensional tile used as louvers to create a brise soleil for providing shade. While some submissions create custom pieces with impressive results, there is still room for simple ceramics and small-scale projects, Martinez says. Because the awards are about celebrating tile’s versatility, she explained “architects can use a very simple tile in a very smart way and have a contemporary and elegant building.” Check out some of the awards’ past winners below and more at tileofspainusa.com