Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Ceramic Tile: Solutions for Holistic Sustainability

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Sponsored by Tile of Spain
C.C. Sullivan
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Buildings following active design and resiliency principles tend to place equal weight on all elements of the design in order to achieve their sustainable outcomes. Sustainability in these instances is no longer a function of a few attributes or LEED categories but instead derives from the ways in which multiple attributes complement one another.

As a recent example, the design and construction of several buildings at the NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center Complex in Titusville, Florida, hinged on several central goals. One was to improve the visitor experience and create memorable imagery that would also be integrated into the construction as well as durable, healthy, and even emotionally uplifting. The architects and NASA leaders employed a digital inkjet printing technique to reproduce photographic imagery of the earth, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars—all taken from space—for the exterior of the visitor center’s ticket booths, a will-call structure, and a gift shop.

For the NASA complex’s design team, this approach was a straightforward design enhancement. The project leaders provided photographs taken from agency spacecraft to the tile manufacturer, which used a proprietary ceramic ink-jet technology to apply the patterning to porcelain-body ceramic tiles, which were then fired in a kiln at 2,048˚F. The technique adds a culturally edifying, educational and branded appearance to the visitor center using a sustainable and resilient technique. Because the tiles are fired at such a high temperature, they are not susceptible to fading in the sun, an important consideration in all climates but especially so in the Florida heat. The decorative facade construction also resists wetness, microbial influx, thermal variations, graffiti, and other common operations challenges for a public facility.

These same qualities can be applied more expansively, adding even more and diverse benefits to varied projects. (See sidebar on Zaragoza Expo at the end of the online portion.) An elementary school in the resort town of Gandía in eastern Spain, for example, boasts an exterior system faced largely in a bright white ceramic tile—as well as an instructive case study on the holistic benefits of a sustainable material. Designed by the architectural firm of Paredes Pedrosa Arquitectos, the semicircular building’s facade is composed of white, dimensional extruded ceramic tile for the exterior perimeter and glass for the interior courtyard. The roof is made from the cast-off piece from the dimensional wall extrusion required for stability during firing.

This design partí offers a raft of holistic benefits. One is thermal performance for the building itself and its surrounding environment, in part due to the paired benefit of the cladding and roofing material’s high thermal mass and low conductivity, which minimizes the urban heat island effect. Light-colored ceramic tiles and concrete have a solar reflectance index (SRI) exceeding 29, the threshold where reflectance—the surface’s ability to reject solar heat—contributes to heat island mitigation as well as passive solar gain. Because of the tile’s high SRI in the arid, desert-like environment, the building remains relatively cool even under the strong summer sun. When combined with the shade from old-growth trees preserved onsite, seemingly sprouting from a small center courtyard, Paredes Pedrosa’s design improves interior comfort without heavy use of HVAC systems.

Light-colored ceramic tiles and concrete have a solar reflectance index (SRI), which in the arid, desertlike environment of the school by of Paredes Pedrosa Arquitectos, the building remains relatively cool even on sunny days.

Photo courtesy of Tile of Spain

Light-colored ceramic tiles and concrete have a solar reflectance index (SRI), which in the arid, desertlike environment of the school by of Paredes Pedrosa Arquitectos, the building remains relatively cool even on sunny days.

Students benefit from an improved and inspiring educational experience, and Gandía officials have pointed to reduced energy bills. Moving forward, tile will remain cost-effective for the school because maintenance is minimal and inexpensive, according to the architects, and ceramic tile can be cleaned effectively without the use of harsh or toxic chemicals. Even the first cost of building the school was seen as relatively low, as the tiles for the roof and exterior walls were cast in sections. In addition, architecture critics and local citizens have responded positively to the use of white tile as a novel solution for a bright desert location. Rather than overpowering its unique milieu or foregrounding its own design, the school highlights the center courtyard and the old trees within.

 

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Originally published in Architectural Record

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