In the last few years, there has been an increasing awareness of the importance of the instinctive need to spend time outdoors, in contact with nature. The concept of the threshold between indoors and outdoors, in homes and other buildings, has undergone a permanent transformation, and this will have a major impact on materials, modifying the requirements on them in terms of looks, colors and functions.
IN & OUT: the threshold is vital to the future of materials
In the last few years, surveys have confirmed that we are an indoor generation, spending 90% of our time (over 20 hours a day) in badly lit, poorly ventilated enclosed spaces. This is not exactly good for our health.
We are not aware that we are doing this, because we sometimes see things differently.
We have become aware of this limitation and the latest trends have accelerated: a drive to increase the flexibility of domestic and other spaces; a new idea of comfort; the need to personalize all living and working environments and make them unique; the need to furnish outdoor areas effectively to give continuity with indoor rooms, so they can accommodate all daily activities: cooking, entertaining, studying, working, exercising, playing and much more.
M+B Residence Club de Golf La Herradura
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Often forced to live indoors, we are wanting more and more to “spend time outside”, in contact with and immersed in nature. We are therefore witnessing the emergence of an “outdoor generation”, in search of solutions for furnishing outdoor spaces so we can live and work in them even in cold weather, with versatile, configurable solutions that adapt to different times of year and lifestyle requirements.
This generation also wants a strong outdoor ingredient in its urban life (bars, restaurants, public areas, parks and gardens), in its leisure and travel (hotels and spas, b&b, glamping and hostels), and its sport (outdoor fitness) and to get around town with new, low-impact mobility, above-ground mobility solutions.
The theme of the outdoors has become of central importance for architecture, which will have to respond to ever-changing demands in the coming years.
Wellbeing and sustainability indoors too
The wish to be outdoors and a stronger and stronger focus on our health and comfort are accompanied by an equally high level of interest in indoor wellbeing.
A recent study by Harvard University has revealed that good quality air and respiration can double our cognitive abilities, that correct use of lighting improves our behavior and metabolism, that temperature management has a 10% influence on working performances, that stress indicators reacting to specific color stimuli, that acoustic disturbances cause a 66% deterioration in working performances, and that a sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of mortality (6-9%). And the World Health Organization has sounded the alarm: 30% of time of work is due to ‘sick building syndrome’ (SBS).
Finishing materials also affect the health and wellbeing of buildings’ occupants, through a number of factors:
- Air quality – materials must not emit harmful substances;
- Acoustic performances – materials must mitigate noise;
- Visual quality – surfaces play a fundamental role in defining interiors’ visual comfort and color schemes.
Ceramics have many applications in architecture, but during the last few years an ever-increasing focus on reducing buildings’ energy use has supported the development of the ventilated facade technology.
Ventilated facades are multi-layer systems in which cladding elements are installed by means of mechanical fixtures in a way which leaves a cavity between the load-bearing structure and the cladding itself. The cladding usually consists of an insulating layer covered, more and more often, with porcelain stoneware slabs.
Ventilated facade – Porta Vigentina
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The distinguishing feature of ventilated facades is this gap left between the wall and the cladding, which generates convection currents and helps the building to breathe. What’s more, the ventilation air cavity combined with the insulating material reduces heat loss in winter and stops heat accumulating in the building in summer. Stoneware slabs are ideal for covering a construction system of this kind since they are lightweight, highly resistant and can easily be cut to the required size; they also offer great versatility in the facade’s decoration, enabling complex geometries and sophisticated designs.
No-one denies the benefits of ceramics for paving outdoor areas or public places.
Porcelain stoneware of the right thickness is suitable for all kinds of uses: gardens, public parks, swimming-pools, patios, terraces and driveways.
Unlike other materials, such as wood, natural stone and concrete, porcelain stoneware is not porous and therefore does not absorb liquids. This means that it does not stain or crack, does not require special maintenance and is even suitable for heavily-used locations.
Thicker and more effective for outdoor spaces
The technical characteristics of porcelain stoneware meet the requirements of every type of outdoor application:
Porcelain also guarantees unbeatable performances, without sacrificing looks, when it comes to choosing floor and wall coverings (and more).
Counters, tables and floors are potentially the most contaminated parts of our living-spaces, because every day they come into contact with shoes and shopping bags, and are used by pets. In public places such as hotels and restaurants in particular, it is important to give customers assurances of the right standard of cleanliness.
To enable this, stoneware surfaces are easily sanitized using neutral products and detergents; however, they are equally able to withstand disinfection and sanitization with more aggressive products if necessary.
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Ceramic slabs also have high thermal transmittance; they are one of the best possible materials for use with underfloor heating. In fact, compared to other solutions they retain very little heat, optimizing the heating system’s energy use.
Porcelain stoneware does not burn or produce toxic or harmful gases or fumes in case of fire or exposure to flames, and does not emit toxic volatile compounds. Its outstanding resistance – to traffic, stains and sunlight – enables ceramic coverings to retain their visual appearance unchanged for many years, maximizing the return on the initial investment in a quality product.
Ceramics are intrinsically non-toxic. They are therefore very popular for installation on kitchen and bathroom counters, or for creating tabletops or other horizontal surfaces in the most widely varying interior design schemes. Some producers have worked to ensure their surfaces meet absolute, proven hygiene criteria, obtaining American NSF (National Sanitation Foundation – Food Equipment Materials) certification, which guarantees that stoneware slabs do not shed substances harmful for our health in contact with foods.
Last but not least, outstanding resistance to heat and thermal shock: with porcelain stoneware, coffee-pots and pans just removed from the hob can be placed straight on worktops. Not to mention absolute non-absorbency of liquids and fats, meaning their appearance is unchanged over time.
Porcelain stoneware, a natural choice
Of the various materials used for finishing the rooms of the home, porcelain stoneware definitely offers the right combination of style and sustainability. Suitable for application on floors, walls, furniture and kitchen counters, ceramics are manufactured in a low environmental impact production cycle.
Thanks to a series of initiatives and actions to improve energy saving performances reaching back more than forty years, Italian ceramics manufacturing is equipped with efficient plants and in-house energy generating systems that significantly reduce atmospheric emissions.
Florim | Fabbrica 4.0 – Plant 2 (Fiorano Modenese – MO)
In fact, the ever-increasing popularity of stoneware as a covering material is due to its green nature: careful management of raw materials, for examples, conserves quarries and avoids alterations to the landscape. The material’s technical performances and high degree of durability over time are no less important.
A product life cycle assessment (LCA) performed by the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia proves that ceramics perform better than other covering materials. Moreover, porcelain stoneware achieves excellent values in the EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) classification, which encourages the choice of ceramic coverings in buildings of high construction quality, both indoors and in outdoor areas.