The expansion of the Teresian School—an historic, late 19th-century Barcelona school designed by Antoni Gaudí—raised a formidable architectural challenge: how to create a modern academic space without undermining or distracting from original masterwork. To meet this challenge, PICH Architects designed an extension that reflects the massing of adjacent buildings while protecting views and access to the historic building. The siting of the new building allowed for an overall restructuring of programmatic space within the existing facility to provide for expanded academic and extracurricular schedules and performances. The new facade showcases an innovative architectural “textile” product that is composed of ceramic panels integrated into a flexible stainless steel mesh or grid. This emerging construction technology offers variable color and compositional options in a lightweight, flexible assembly.
Felipe Pich-Aguilera, owner of PICH Architects, saw this product as capable of creating a dialogue between Gaudí’s original structural brick and terra-cotta ornamentation, and contemporary construction techniques.
“The building had to speak about its time without turning its back on the very texture of the existing building, so we’ve opted for a woven ceramic facade—which makes a large lattice—toward the street and light and bright elements for the interior of the school. This double skin, which shades the interior thermally, allows freedom and flexibility in the distribution of windows and functionally necessary opaque elements.”
The system consists of salmon-colored ceramic pieces, which are cooked with biogas (clean fuel whose use in ceramics production reduces CO2 emissions by approximately 16,700 tons per year) and combined in a lattice grid through a metal mesh. The assembly of the facade, which has an area of over 3,200-square-feet, was accomplished within five days, substantially reducing construction time versus traditional, piece-by-piece application, and resulting in significant savings in costs. The product celebrates a versatility in the construction of large surfaces, providing high accuracy since the metal mesh allows joints between the pieces to always remain aligned.
The facade is “hung” by fastening stainless steel anchors, which counter the effects of wind, to adjacent metallic meshes. The system is designed to absorb lateral forces from wind and earthquakes and has been detailed to incorporate “anti-fall” backup measures to ensure loose tiles have multiple degrees of attachment to the steel lattice grid.
The new ceramic textile was based on the principles of textile architecture. It is a flexible and adaptable material that combines two very different components: steel and ceramic. Serving as a successful example of corporate and academic collaboration, the material was originally created by Vicente Sarrablo, Doctor of Architecture and Director of the Ceramics Department at the International University of Catalonia, and was later developed by leading companies in the Spanish construction industry, Piera Ecocerámica and Cerámica Malpesa. After popularity in European markets, the product has recently made it’s U.S. debut at the AIA Convention earlier this year, and is being manufactured by Shildan under the name “Fabrik.”