Our architectural heritage continues to grow as history unfolds. While until a few decades ago only buildings with a documented tradition were considered worth preserving, as the philosophy of design has evolved people have come to realise that every building has a history of its own and its own intrinsic qualities that make it truly unique.
In recent years numerous homes have been recovered, restored, renovated or renewed through different approaches to design based on different schools of thought. To take the two extremes, conservative restoration interprets every sign as a mark of history that must be passed down to our posteriors, while the philosophy of design recovery gives the architect freedom to integrate a historical construction with contemporary signs; in between are all kinds of different approaches to the problem of conservation and reuse of our existing built heritage. And then there is further diversification to be taken into consideration, in view of the building’s historic identity and new use. Leaving out buildings which were historically public places and have maintained this use, Italy also has historic town centres and ancient farmhouses, both of which are continually adapted to adjust to new lifestyles; industrial archaeology converts old factories into museums, laboratories or lofts; mountain huts, the trulli of Puglia and Alpine barns are rediscovered and converted into historic homes, and so on. Another area worthy of study is the diversity of materials used to construct our existing built heritage at different latitudes: wood, earth, bricks, stone, ceramic, etc.
Recovery, restoration, renovation and repair are therefore issues of great relevance, just as important as the big construction projects that get all the media coverage, reorganising and updating the way built spaces have been used for dwelling throughout history. Handing down design skills which continue the practice of ecological construction, decreasing the impact of new buildings and giving a new look and new content to existing ones.
There is an even more important difference upstream of all this: the distinction between the four approaches and the technical and aesthetic uses of materials in each.
Recovery is applied to buildings which have decayed or been abandoned and neglected to bring them back to life and give them a new purpose by rearranging their interior layout and reinterpreting the historic materials used in them, all in harmony with new additions. This is a design and stylistic operation which makes use of many possibilities, including use of ceramic as a material uniting history and modernity, transfigured into a texture, as in Stonepeak’s Raja line, in which technique and image come together to create a timeless wall and floor covering.
Restoration is a complex operation requiring a lot of historical background and documentation, implemented with great care to avoid altering the nature of the building. Normally applied to buildings of particular historic, iconographic and stylistic importance, it often centres around the need for conservation. There are some cases in which contemporary parts are added, but this must always be done without interfering with the existing construction. Here too porcelain stoneware manages to provide a convincing response thanks to its ability to blend in, as in Stonepeak’s Cottage series combining the discretely blended hues of wood with the durability of ceramic to create surfaces that blend in perfectly with history.
Renovation is perhaps one of the most common practices in that it adapts buildings designed and built in another age to today's living standards. The impact is normally invasive, but with the noble purpose of making an obsolete building into a contemporary one. This kind of work is done everywhere on earth, sometimes on a small scale, but to save the world’s built heritage and continue it into the future. Porcelaingres has answers for renovation projects too, with a number of different lines including Terrazzo, which reproduces the delicacy of cement and marble-based pastes right through the tile and brings them up to date with new technology, conveying the flavour of traditional constructions but for new forms of living.
Renewal can apply to all kinds of buildings, from former industrial or military facilities to small hamlets which were abandoned due to emigration and are now being reconsidered as new places to live, and from landscape architectures to the urban creations resulting from years of superimposition. This kind of work is often done without any accredited historical documentation, drawing on fragments of local culture and research conducted on-site, almost like archaeology. Ceramic tiles are more and more often used as unifying elements in projects of this kind, discrete and in harmony with their context, like Stonepeak’s Materia 3D surfaces, which can unify indoors and outdoors as well as acting as a bridge between the old and the new, as elements capable of reuniting the spaces we live in.
COMPANIES AND PRODUCTS MENTIONED
StonePeak Ceramics, high-tech porcelain stoneware indoor and outdoor floor and wall tiles.