Marazzi Showroom in Clerkenwell
In the first London showroom of one of the world-leading manufacturer in ceramic tiles, we deliberatively chose not to display the material as a found object, but rather to use the material to build a small architecture to be inserted inside the existing commercial unit. In a conscious U-turn from their client’s brief, we decided not to exhibit ceramic tiles and to focus on a sequence of functionally developed and symbolically charged spaces. At ground floor, a trilithon to mark the entrance, followed by three fragments of ziggurat acting as the main interactive and presentation area; at first floor, a collaborative design atelier with life size material boards and a feature 20m long curved table: and a basement level a ‘secret’ vault, containing almost 500 sq.m. of floor to ceiling tiling products.
The dramatic entrance of Marazzi’s showroom in Clerkenwell is meant to produce a rupture in the continuity of St. John’s Street shop fronts. A monumental trilithon clad with black marble stretches the time of crossing the showroom’s threshold. We referred back to the tradition of Renaissance enhanced perspective, such as the one in the for the Teatro Olimpico by Palladio in Vicenza or the apse of Santa Maria presso San Satiro by Bramante in Milan.
The three huge interlocking slabs, which evoke the primeval strength of ancient architecture, are in fact surprisingly thin and, at a closer look, reveal the technological innovation of Marazzi’s high tech ceramic tiles. Ceramic cladding is used both as the foreground and the background of the entrance space, which becomes a the starting point of a new narrative.
Once inside, one reaches the main gathering space, its design inspired by the geometry of classical theatres. Stepped volumes resemble fragments of pyramids rising towards the corners of the ceiling. Our architectural design once again aims to present ceramic tiles in an innovative way. Tiling is not just a pattern – some coloured graphics to be laid upon independent forms – quite the opposite, the large format tiles and the near zero grouted joints render themselves as sculptural volumes, thus giving space new proportion and gravitas. The unexpected, theatrical ziggurats, majestic and almost out of scale, are to be used as seating areas during presentations, events, performances. Each pyramid step is made out of a different material: Concrete, Marble, Stone. Yet all the different textures are joined together by an overarching colour palette, which fades from dark to light as the structure rises upwards.
At first floor our aim was to create a flexible, bright and efficient working area, retaining as much as possible of the industrial character of 90-92 St. John’s Street. In order to do so the traditional layout of cellular offices initially part of the brief has been revised, and all internal partitions removed. The result is a single open space that stretches for more than 20 meters from the front façade to the rear one. Part artist’s atelier, part architectural studio’s meeting room, the space is designed around the consultancy work that Marazzi offers to all architects to help them specify ceramic tiling products for their projects.
Collaboration is at the core of the design of the first floor, where the liquid geometry of a feature 15m long curved table offers a multitude of group work spaces suitable for individual as well as team work, smaller or bigger meetings as well as public events. White domes define meeting areas and enhance acoustic comfort and privacy. The MoodBoard, a bespoke plinth to showcase real life panels of materials, runs along the original fair-faced brickwork wall, and constitutes a vast palette of textures and values to choose from. At either end of the first floor open plan space are custom designed, full length worktops, which host underneath a minimalistic designed library of tile 600x600mm samples, presented like a collection of old vinyl long plays.
The free flowing space at level ground and first was made possible by the design decision to concentrate the entire material archive in the basement where a single ultra efficient tailor-made sample library with 74 drawers and almost 500 sq.m of material contains the entire Marazzi catalogue making an immediately accessible physical database available to customers, architects and interior designers visiting the new Marazzi Collaboration Hub.
Our research in the collective potential of private space has found in the Marazzi Showroom an unexpected acceleration. We have been invited to take part in the closed competition in late November 2016 and we consciously took a risk by criticising the norm of tiling showrooms. Client’s product is not displayed but used to construct archetypical structures. These are, at once, functional and symbolic. Instead of prioritising the celebration and the exhibition of the client’s product, we engaged with it and applied it create small architectures.
This is not to say that the more traditional approach of showcasing tiles as objet trouvé is without merit. It certainly focuses the viewer’s attention and challenges her imagination. Yet using architecture as a narrative device establishes deeper and subtler connections between the product’s identity and the archetype’s cultural value. The product is not just exhibited but enhanced by a new dimension, history. In ancient times, when availability of resources was not an issue, natural stone was the preferred medium to create the most symbolically and functionally relevant architectures of all civilisations. In modern times, when climate change represents for all of us the single most important issue affecting our life on planet Earth, ceramic stone provides an ideal evolution of the natural one, just lighter, cheaper and more sustainably sourced.