Perfect Skin

A vacation home on the Spanish coast uses tile as a decorative and porous surface.

The new Museum of Arts and Design, in New York, on the south side of the Columbus Circle roundabout, has been getting a lot of attention lately, not least for the neutral, understated skin covering Edward Durell Stone’s ornate, concrete “lollipop” structure. Allied Works Architecture employed milky-white terra-cotta tiles to create the effect, but tile doesn’t always have to be a vehicle for architectural modesty. The book Public Private Ephem­eral: Ceramics in Architecture—released last March by Ascer, the Spanish association of ceramic-tile manufacturers—is stocked with examples of colorful, bizarre, and ostentatious uses of cer­amics in buildings.

One of the standout projects is the Villa Nurbs, now nearing completion in Empuriabrava, Spain, a resort town on the Catalan coast. Designed by the Barcelona-based firm Cloud9, the bulbous, unabashedly futuristic house is now being partially clad in a network of overlapping ceramic scales. Created by attaching tiles to a network of tension cables anchored to the building, the facade looks like the nubbly skin of an armadillo in construction photos. The idea is that the tiles can block sunlight, rain, and strong winds but can also be permeated by a nice cool breeze—not some­­thing you’d want for a museum on a Manhattan traffic island, but a nice feature for a vacation home on the sunny Mediterranean.

Although typically used for interior walls
and floors, ceramic tiles are also well suited to building facades.

Ceramic tiles require little maintenance, they’re easy to clean, and they’re incombustible.

Glazed ceramic tiles assembled on a system of tension cables

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