«Terrazzo 2.0 –
the symbol of our interdisciplinary social structure»
Joan Billing & Samuel Eberli • 23.05.2018
The young design generation was shaped by the virtual world and has neglected the real world along the way. The replacement of the real world with the digital world is becoming increasingly visible. Our interdisciplinary time encourages us to look for new solutions at both a macro as well as a micro level, in other words cross-disciplinary ones. This is how we discovered the spirit and fascination of newly interpreted materials and their combinations. Hybrid combinations have since become commonplace and accompany us at work and in our private lives. The interest of end-consumers in natural, raw and tactile materials such as wood, concrete, leather and stone has now become established. Through all this we are experiencing a renaissance in the use of patterns and materials in design, graphics, architecture, interiors, art and fashion. It’s once again about the nature of the material and the question of how relevant Stone Age knowledge is combined with digital high-tech options. Terrazzo acts as a key symbol in this process and suddenly we are wearing sweatshirts that look like Terrazzo and find it completely normal to walk around as a stone sculpture.
«Timelessly beautiful and modern»
The first golden era of Terrazzo floors was in the magnificent rooms of the Roman Empire. The ancient Romans already liked Terrazzo not only for its beauty, but also because it was hard-wearing and easy to care for. After several hundred years of being forgotten, Terrazzo was re-discovered by the Venetians in the Italian Renaissance because they were looking for a cheaper alternative to marble. They therefore mixed marble offcuts with clay and then smoothed and polished the hardened mixture by hand. Whole churches and palaces gleamed with Terrazzo. Through the beauty of Church architecture, Terrazzo spread throughout the whole of central Europe. The large wave of emigration by Italians to America brought Terrazzo to the rest of the world in the early years of the 18th century. As a result the speckled floor covering was used in the entrance halls and staircases of public buildings or in station concourses, but it also became commonplace for private kitchens and bathrooms. In the 1920s architects used Terrazzo for their breath-taking, opulent and graphic Art Deco style. It was only in the 1960s that it lost its appeal and people started covering and hiding it with carpets or PVC.
«Back To Memphis – Memphis says hello»
In the 1980s there was another well-deserved turning point. Terrazzo experienced its resurrection and was revealed from under the carpets. The trigger was the Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata, a member of the Italian Memphis design group centred around Ettore Sottsass. He designed the «Nara» table with its visual appearance of colourful splinters of glass on a white background. He called this pattern «Star Piece», which became his trademark. In 1983 he designed the department store in Ginza using the «Star Piece» for the Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, with whom he had studied. It was so reduced and puristic that it generated a huge response and it became a milestone in store scenography. The Memphis design group was very smitten with the pattern and developed it further with their new colourful, wild and cheerful design movement. Among other things it used colourful plastic laminate to carry out its act of liberation against the dogma of the modern era. By doing so it turned the entire world upside down and had a formative influence on the 1980s. After Terrazzo had already frequently experienced its heyday, it’s now in vogue again today.
«Terrazzo – The new Stone Age»
Back to the here and now with Terrazzo celebrating a glorious comeback! However, the new Terrazzo image has moved up from the floor. Designers, craftsmen, artists and fashion designers are always discovering new exciting ways of using it because of its age-old aesthetics. It’s now turning up in the strangest places. We can find it as a print on fashion and home accessories such as bomber jackets, jewellery, sunglasses, i-Phone cases, swimming costumes and even on yoga mats and chopping boards. The all-over Terrazzo pattern impresses us on furniture and wallpaper. Carpets, bed linen, packaging, sneakers or cushions also can’t escape the Terrazzo treatment. Terrazzo is also very much in fashion in architecture. Architects in the trendiest hotels and restaurants are using it. One good example is the Hotel National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. Here the bathrooms are decorated in salt and pepper Terrazzo, which extends from the floor via the walls to the shower. It likes to linger there. However, Terrazzo also perfectly complements the current trend in natural materials. The motivation of contemporary designers to work extensively with Terrazzo as a basic material stretches from the archaic investigation of nature to experimenting with new high-tech processing technologies, and in doing so sometimes even the fundamental laws about handling the Terrazzo material are questioned. We will definitely no longer be able to avoid this material in 2018.
«It’s Max Lamb’s fault»
However, the fragmented pattern on individual pieces with various colours of stone, which still create a whole, is not only the central feature of Terrazzo, but has also become a symbol of our current virtual social structure. Everything is somehow associated with something else. It’s no surprise that young designers and architects are re-discovering it and interpreting it freshly and wildly. They are motivated to breathe new life into the ancient tradition and in this way lead the valuable craft into the 21st century and safeguard it for the next generation.