e+i studio of New York won a design competition for their concept of a trade show pavilion made entirely from Italian tile.
Crafting a memorable and intimate environment within voluminous convention halls can be a daunting challenge. To establish a meaningful presence in such environs, Ceramics of Italy tapped into the A&D community with a competition in 2012 for unique booth designs to showcase the products of its manufacturers. Piazza Ceramica, designed by e+i Studio and fabricated by A&M Production, won the competition. Its proposal was installed at the Coverings Tile and Stone trade show in 2012 and 2013. Inspired by Italy’s social culture, architects Ian Gordon and Eva Perez de Vega used the idea of a public space to showcase tiles produced in Italy for a bespoke, modular pavilion that houses a multi-function program of a café, information kiosk, and restaurant.
The design utilizes a topographical approach to build up the pavilion’s perimeter with seating and display installed product. “From the beginning, we started to look at the topography in a series of parametric studies to determine the optimal stair/riser ratio to integrate the substructure of the two mounds,” said Perez de Vega. “From there, we wanted color to be an important component to showcase the qualities of the tile to transition smoothly from intense greens to reds to whites.”
While parametric tools played a large part in developing the piazza, the designers say the use of Grasshopper was more instrumental than generative. “The digital tools were used where it was useful, but there was also a lot of hand tuning and fine crafting,” Gordon said. “Modeling the project digitally streamlined the initial process. We were able to study more variations in less time to rule out options that didn’t look right.”
The digital processes was also essential to the off-site fabricators who are located in Reggio, Italy. From New York, e+i Studio was able to communicate with their Italian team in a short period of time, with exact specifications for each element of the piazza. “The thickness of the mortar, the sizing, had to be as precise as possible and digital fabrication was critical to this,” explained Perez de Vega.
“We produced construction documents but the most reliable source was our 3D documents, and the fabricators understood exactly what we were trying to do,” added Gordon. The pavilion was designed as a three-dimensional puzzle, as the temporary installation would be reconfigured for three years in various exhibition halls. A CNC-milled wooden grid forms a shell to support tiled surfaces that grow upwards as seating risers, ultimately cantilevering over the base. Both mounds are mirrored copies so they can be reconfigured for any environment.
With the end result, the designers were struck by the juxtaposition of centuries-old materials and new technologies, such as water-jet cutting and digital modeling. “At the beginning, we felt unconstrained about tile being rectilinear, knowing that digital fabrication would let us create what we wanted,” Gordon said. “Infusing the project with curves was possible with digital drawings and communication.”