Paola Navone, Diego Grandi and Ferruccio Laviani talk about how the way of designing, producing and using tiles has changed in the last four decades

On the occasion of the forty years of Cersaie, since 25 on 29 September at Bologna Fiere, the architects Paola Navone, Diego Grandi and Ferruccio Laviani tell how the way of designing, producing and using ceramics has changed in the last four decades.

From the first experiments on formats and textures of the Seventies to the ultra-thin maxi slabs of the 2000s, from the tile that reinterprets other materials, such as stones and woods, to the ceramic that returns to tell about itself, hyper-decorative and very colorful.

Route 40: at Cersaie, a journey through time to recount the 40-year evolution of ceramics and bathroom furnishings

To relive 40 years of evolution in bathroom furnishings and ceramics, the appointment is at Cersaie with Route 40, an exhibition itinerary that talks about the products, companies and the characteristic innovations of these four decades, underlining the great changes that have taken place in the cultural, social, design and production fields.

Covered by Davide Vercelli and designed by Dario Curatolo, Route 40 will wind its way through Cersaie starting from the Quadriportico - presentation and connection point concept of the story – to continue in Gallery 21-22, 25-26 and in the Mall of Pavilion 37 with installations that tell each decade.

To understand the evolutions that have taken place, we talked about it with the architects Paola Navone, Diego Grandi and Ferruccio Laviani.

The Seventies: the first experiments on formats and textures

Ferruccio Laviani: “Until the 1960s, experimentation with ceramics was quite limited, because the formats were standard. The great evolution took place in the 1970s, when companies began to produce larger formats, such as the 60x60 cm which, compared to traditional rectangular tiles, offers a more innovative vision.

We begin to experiment with textures: I remember when, as a kid, leafing through an architecture magazine, I was struck by an advertisement for a fiery red car photographed in a garage covered with 60x60 cm tiles with a hint of metallic finish.

Also in those years, if on the one hand alternative finishes to monochromatic were explored, on the other hand the idea that ceramics could become camouflage or camouflaging other materials took hold, a trend that remained on the sly for a few decades, and exploded in the 2000s with the invention of parquet ceramic.

Although emulation has acted as a driving force for the ceramic sector, it has however flattened the expressive possibilities of the tile for a while".

Paola Navone: “In the last forty years, ceramics has undergone important transformations from a technological and production point of view. As regards the research aesthetics, in the 1980s in Italy beautiful color charts were produced, colors designed for the style of those years.

Then, as often happens with coverings, even ceramic begins to draw inspiration from natural materials: hyperrealism makes its way to reproduce in ceramic, which is robust, does not it stains and is easy to maintain, materials which by their nature are more delicate, such as stone and wood”.

Early 2000s: the ultraslim revolution

Ferruccio Laviani: "At the beginning of the 2000s, companies pushed for innovation and created slabs in very large formats, even up to three meters by one, and with ultra-thin thicknesses of just a few millimetres: a revolution that makes it possible to cover interiors and exteriors with continuous ceramic surfaces.

Thanks to increasingly thinner thicknesses, the tile goes from an architectural finish to an interior finish, a second skin to personalize every part of the house, from kitchens to tables and accessories".

Diego Grandi: “I began to delve into the ceramic theme twenty years ago. I had noticed that at the time, in 2003, the tile was used in limited areas of the house, i.e. the bathroom and the kitchen. Thus, I began to imagine ceramic cladding in different areas: in the bedroom, in the living room, in the corridor, a bit like what happened in the 1950s and 1960s, when people were more free to experiment , a freedom swept away by the minimalism of the nineties when natural materials were preferred as coverings.

In 2003 we explored the small format and the three-dimensionality of the glazed monoporosa. Then the great revolution: the thin, only three millimeters thick, for slabs measuring three meters by one. Ceramic becomes a 'sheet' with incredible expressive potential, extremely resistant”.

Paola Navone: “Production innovation has allowed ever thinner thicknesses, more resistant surfaces and megagalactic formats. Thanks to the new majestic dimensions and high performance, ceramic leaves the domestic dimension to contaminate other traditionally non-ceramic places, such as airports and public spaces.

Two trends are developed: the maxi slabs and the small format, which do not compete with each other, but are chosen on the basis of space and style requirements; I, for example, have always liked small-format tiles, decorative, irregular, as if made by hand”.

2010: digital printing on ceramic slab

Ferruccio Laviani: “Another great revolution is digital printing, which allows not only to print very high resolution images, but also to obtain three-dimensional surfaces and effects that offer the perception of the material to the touch wants to represent, such as stone for example.

Today the tile no longer has limits, either in terms of thickness or format, you can imagine an entire ceramic facade printed from a single file, with patterns as you want, where you want and as big as you want".

Diego Grandi: “Around 2010, digital plate printing was introduced, a technology that initially offered poor color rendering, while today it faithfully reproduces nuances, textures and three-dimensionality. I'm always a bit skeptical about emulating 'other' materials, but wood and stone effect ceramic represents an important alternative to natural materials and a valid solution sustainable".

Paola Navone: “Digital printing radically changes the way of designing, thinking and producing ceramics. We interpret technology in a poetic and artisanal way, enhancing those imperfections that recall the handmade. During cooking, a moment of uncontrolled extra temperature can cause disasters but also wonders”.

Towards sustainable production

Diego Grandi: “Attention to the environment today is an imperative, so much so that we are working to ensure that even the inks for printing are based < strong>water”.

Ferruccio Laviani: "The brands share a more sustainable vision of production, and adopt methods with a low environmental impact, starting with cooking temperatures designed to save energy".

Where the tile design goes

Ferruccio Laviani: "From a stylistic point of view, in addition to the evolution of finishes and the sophisticated research of emulation of other materials, there is a return to what is the nature of ceramics: a material with its own identity, its beauty and its expressive strength, so in addition to working on the textures, we focus on the material finishes of the ceramics, with colors close to the tones of nature.

The future of tile? Surely that of being able to have sizes that exceed three metres. Furthermore, if once only one collection was used for an environment, today we are moving towards the mix&match of different product families, alternating, for example, soft matt finishes with a fake wood, to create a mix of effects and combinations that were once unthinkable.

Personally, my research aims to expand and explore the chromatic ranges, which in recent years had flattened, and to work on the joint, to enhance it and transform it into decoration, with contrasting colours, exaggerating it until it becomes become a grid or, on the contrary, by denying it”.

Diego Grandi: “Among the current trends, wood and stone-effect ceramic surfaces are no longer smooth and glossy, but material, soft to the touch and three-dimensional.

The small format is back, even the oblong ones, 4-5 by 30 centimetres, enamel, colour. In line with furnishing trends, there is also a return to decoration in the ceramic sector.

If up until a few years ago digital ceramic wallpaper was widespread, i.e. maxi slabs printed with wallpaper-effect designs, now the play is on the three-dimensional decoration, on the small format, the grout, even in contrast, the colours, the different formats, the glossy and the opaque, the metallic finishes.

We look to the fifties, sixties and seventies, to geometric designs, but with contemporary nuances and with deliberately uneven glazes, with the tile that from a flat element becomes three-dimensional”.

Ceramics become a piece of furniture

Diego Grandi: “Ceramics are transformed into a real piece of furniture, to personalize and embellish surfaces but also cover objects and furniture.

The large formats, which were previously only offered in thin slabs of 3-6 millimeters, now reach great thicknesses, up to 2 centimeters, designed for kitchen worktops.

One of the latest technological evolutions in the field of large-format ceramics is the passing veining, i.e. the reproduction of the veins and streaks of stone and marble throughout the ceramic body, making the effect even more realistic.

Today the architect and interior designer have a very wide choice, from maxi slabs to be used as a second skin to the small hyper-decorative format.

I would use floors from the same collection throughout the house on an ongoing basis, to have greater freedom in the choice of coverings, emphasizing only a few points, for example covering only the kitchen, or the headboard of the bed, or creating a boiserieceramics”.

Cotto and craft (to be supported)

Diego Grandi: “Ceramics is like an alphabet for composing solutions through decorations and formats based on one's sensitivity and aesthetic taste. I like ceramics that tell of themselves, without emulating other materials.

In my opinion terracotta should also be re-evaluated on an industrial level, a tile produced in the 1980s and less so today and only on an artisanal level. On this subject, I find the work of Cristina Celestino interesting, as she reinterprets enamelled and terracotta modules”.

Paola Navone: “Alongside the technological developments, in my opinion craft is also interesting, the traditional tiles that have maintained an extraordinary charm, the hand-made processes that represent the haute couture of ceramics, a a product that is very difficult to copy, less sophisticated from a technical point of view, but which preserves that seed of creativity that Italy must keep very close to.

I think that the ceramic sector, which is very important from an economic point of view for our country, must continue to grow following its characteristics, ingenuity, creativity, craftsmanship, innovation but without stopping at pure technological research , because there are those who are ready to copy us.

There is a need for sensitivity, the ability to jump between one dream and another. Italy is experiencing a moment of fragility, Covid has closed many small businesses, what remains must be pampered. I want to launch a proposal: large companies should adopt small artisans, for example to create a first line of ceramics.

When I was in Indonesia, the local government forbade the export of rattan, the raw material with which furniture is woven, because only those who sold the furniture got rich. The Government set up a system in which big companies adopted small companies.

Why not do something similar in the ceramic sector, to support the craftsmen who are disappearing? I adore ceramics, the surface that reflects, I'm making hotels with ceramic 'carpets' in the bedrooms.

The tile is very modern, it is a magical moment for ceramics, we need to support the entire sector and leave no one behind".

Cover photo: Gigacer Terra, won the ADI award as the best product of the fair. It is produced in thicknesses of 6 and 12 mm and in the photo it is shown in the 120x120 formats and in the 120x250 slab. It is technical porcelain stoneware, produced at the Faenza plant, therefore completely made in Italy.

Available in the colors: soft earth (floor in photo), burnt earth, saline earth, calm earth. Terra mista is added, a stratification of the four available colors (on the wall in the photo).