Already in the 1st century AD the Romans combined fragments of marble and broken pottery to make surfaces for floors and sidewalks. It was one of the first forms of terrazzo, a composite material that is back in the sights of designers bent on finding strong, affordable alternatives to solid stone. Alongside new aesthetic languages, the texture of terrazzo is suggested by plastic waste materials, including products made with robotic technologies.
The phenomenon brings ancient crafts techniques back to life in production districts connected with stone, an area in which Italy has a long history. Precisely these roots have been rediscovered by Alberto Bellamoli, a designer from Verona residing in Denmark.
“My project began mostly as anthropological research on the context: the production has taken place for centuries in the same zone, because the material requires a network of small companies that collaborate along the whole chain of manufacture. Terrazzo is still a crafted material; people get their hands dirty. And the governing of the production process is limited: the results are always slightly out of control. The Collecta series has simple, almost archetypal forms, which frame the two-dimensional essence of terrazzo – which has always been made in flat sheets – and bring out the ‘liquid’ scheme, the intrinsically false nature.”
The Dorsoduro cabinet designed by Antonio De Marco and Simone Fanciullacci for Secondome also features research on the third dimension and an unconventional use of the material, no longer applied to floors or counters. The work plays with the contrast between the geometric lines of the skeleton and the fine Venetian terrazzo facing - produced by Grandinetti - suggesting archetypal forms of the Venetian architectural tradition.
London-based furniture designer Robin Grasby interprets terrazzo in a handmade way using 87% recycled materials. Industrial waste from the cutting of stone, including dust, gravel and broken slabs, is bonded with a small quantity (13%) of resin to create a strong, low-maintenance surface. Instead of imposing geometric motifs, Grasby opts for a random arrangement of the marble pieces, reflecting the natural irregularity of stone textures.
The designer from Brooklyn Robert Sukrachand also gets away from classic terrazzo schemes, while conserving the material’s roots. Instead of stone fragments he uses glass waste from the production of his collection of mirrors. This is an ‘epoxy’ terrazzo in which the cement is replaced by resin as a binder, mixed with marble dust for a matte finish. The colored and antique-finish pieces of the mirrors are cut into organic forms, resembling stone fragments. Finally, the pieces are polished with marble paste for a satin finish. The Mirazzo collection takes its cue from park benches, public park checkerboards and the typical three-legged stools of Bangkok, in a tribute to the designer’s family roots. The result is Thai Terrazzo.
Silipol is the material that was used by Franco Albini and Franca Helg to cover the walls of the M1 line of the Milan Metro. A recyclable industrial product composed of spheres of granite, marble and cement, pressed without synthetic additives, which is the protagonist of the furnishings designed by DWA (Frederik De Wachter and Alberto Artesani). “Slabs like abstract paintings, punctuated with colors, each different from the others. The image of this material has remained in a corner of our minds for some time,” the designers say, who then met Mariotti Fulget, the exclusive manufacturer of the material. For Caffè Populaire at Alcova, DWA has made a table that reinterprets the traditional Palladiana, with sheets two centimeters thick and various pieces of Silipol, displaying its chromatic variety and texture. The intrinsic versatility of terrazzo suggests the use of alternative ingredients in its mixture, as well as experimental processes for the production of the sheets to reduce waste to a minimum.
The Kazakh designer residing in Germany Enis Akiev proposes tiles in post-consumer marine plastic, developing a production process inspired by the formation of sedimentary rocks, and giving rise to plastiglomerates: stable polymer compounds for light packaging, with a structure similar to stone and a natural look.
The young designers Marten van Middelkoop and Joost Dingemans founded the company Plasticiet in Rotterdam in 2018 to rethink our perceptions of plastic, transforming it into a resource on a local level. The 800x800 mm panels are made with companies in the Netherlands that have large grinding plants. The reference to the texture of terrazzo aims at suggesting a high-quality durable material.
Finally, the Dutch technological construction company Aectual makes large floors in marble composite, using fragments of various sizes, held together by bio-base resins. But the new development lies in the process: the floors are 3D printed by large robotic arms. Among the designers who have experimented with this technology, Patricia Urquiola, Mae Engelgeer and DUS Architects. And an age-old technique finds a new field of expression in digital making.