The Future of Tile and Ceramics: A Review of Cersaie

As a designer, finding inspiration everywhere is crucial to staying relevant, educated, and curious. Sometimes that inspiration is right outside your front door and sometimes it takes you to regions of the world you’ve never experienced. Today’s post is written by Richard N. Pollack, FIIDA, FAIA, 1999 – 2000 IIDA International President, who had the opportunity to travel to Bologna, Italy, for Cersaie, an international ceramic tile and bathroom exhibition. Read what he learned, including the technological advances being made in the Italian ceramics industry and the big tile trends to expect in the coming year.

In September, I had the privilege of being a delegate to Cersaie (pronounced: tcher say e), the annual ceramics fair in Bologna, Italy. Although many of the exhibitors were Italian, the fair is an international showcase of ceramics. My hosts were the Italian Trade Commission and Confindustria Ceramica – the Italian Association of Ceramics.

Confindustria Ceramica represents over 260 ceramic tile, sanitary ware, tableware, and refractory materials manufacturing companies, with Cersaie focused on the first two manufacturing segments. U.S. and Canadian architects and interior designers might think that ceramic tile usually refers to bathroom and kitchen tiles and mosaics, but it encompasses many types of wall and floor covering tile and panel.

Some significant statistics about the industry provided by Confindustria Ceramica:

  • Overall recycling in Confindustria Ceramica factories is 99.5 percent with 100 percent of the water used in production recycled.
  • Italian ceramics industry is adopting LEED 4 at the end of October 2016.
  • Ceramics factories recycle material from other industry sectors, effectively making their recycling efforts more than 100 percent.

The products I viewed were porcelain and ceramic, with this year’s technological advance being large format panels – some 1×3 meters and thinner panels – down to 3 millimeters for wall application. Although the original source material for manufacturing the tile was the red clay that came from around the city of Sassuolo, not far from Bologna,, now the raw materials such as feldspar, quartz, and others are sourced from other countries. Fabrication begins with constructing the panels, which may also have intrinsic coloring and textures added during manufacture, and are then printed with surface patterns. The printed surfaces are relatively thin, but the strength of the underlying panel and extremely hard glazes applied over the printing makes the products strong and long-wearing. Confindustria Ceramica noted that their members’ tile has the best longevity of all flooring materials including carpet, wood, and marble. Panels can be used for floor, wall, indoor, outdoor, and special applications – often using the same tiles.

A unique new product is a ceramic porcelain roof tile with integrated solar panels. The solar panels are the same shape and size as adjacent roof tiles, and are installed using a plug-in grid system that then connects to the building’s electrical system. Very cool!

As a delegate, I toured a factory near Sassuolo to see first-hand how the panels are manufactured. The factory building was very large to accommodate the long production lines but with relatively few people required. I saw the process from start to finish, with the panels formed, textured, printed, baked in kilns, quality checked and packed for shipment – quite impressive.

During my three days in Bologna, I learned what trends to watch for (Warning: “This is not your grandmother’s tile,” said a member of Confindustria Ceramic):

  • Lighter colors with a softer feel and a predominance of blue as an accent color in tiles
  • Large format concrete patterned panels from all manufacturers
  • Almost invisible grout lines, highly rectified tiles
  • Increased use of patterns, both subtle and strong, including strong dimensional surfacing
  • More precious patterns, including geometric shapes such as hexagons and rhomboids
  • 3-D textures from lightly textured through highly visible shadowing
  • Small to large graphics, and all the stops in between
  • Fabric textures on tiles, with tartans, plaid, herringbone, and madras – finished smooth or with varying dimension and texture
  • Panels exhibiting more movement, with warps and wefts in the patterning to convey energy
  • Many wood effects ranging from somewhat accurate wood representation to artistic images implying wood
  • Greater focus on representing natural stone more effectively, including large-scale, book-matched marble, slate, travertine, granite, etc.

The show and its exhibits were quite striking, providing an excellent overview of Italian ceramic tile product and approach. The Italian ceramics industry produces high-quality products with a strong focus on design – and I should know – owing to all the Italian ceramic tile in my home.


Richard N. Pollack, FIIDA, FAIA, is Managing Principal of Pollack Consulting, which he created after founding and leading award-winning Pollack Architecture for 28 years. Pollack Consulting assists firms’ growth and success through improved business development, winning presentation techniques, business coaching, recruiting top talent, and ownership transition implementation. You can reach him at Richard@RichardNPollack.com or 415.508.6008.  

The Student Perspective: Orgatec 2016

Today’s post is written by Kelsey Ballast, Student IIDA, winner of the inaugural IIDA Booth Design Competition at Orgatec. The competition provided students the opportunity to design a trade show booth at this year’s Orgatec Trade Fair in Cologne, Germany, on Oct. 25-29. Kelsey received an all-expense-paid trip to Orgatec to see her design concept realized, courtesy of Vitra, as well as a tour of the Vitra campus.

The amount of incredible design that I have been immersed in over the last couple of weeks has been completely overwhelming in the best way possible. I was fortunate to have been selected as the winner of the IIDA Booth Design Competition at Orgatec, where I was flown to Cologne, Germany to attend Orgatec, an event billed as “the leading international trade fair for the modern working world.”  

As I wandered through the chaos that was the day before Orgatec’s opening, hoping to find the IIDA booth, I was overwhelmed and in awe. The mess of boxes and people running around setting up complicated and massive showrooms made me feel a bit anxious to see my design. I was hoping that it all came together and would be able to fit in among these other impressive spaces.

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Kelsey inside the booth she designed with IIDA International Board Members (from left) Scott Hierlinger, IIDA, LEED AP, Marlene Liriano, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C, and Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, and James Kerrigan, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C. All the furniture in the booth is by Vitra.

As the booth came into view, relief overcame me when I saw that it had actually come together. The team wandered through the booth, but I found myself observing. Seeing the team interact with the space – knowing the thought and intention behind it all – I was overjoyed. 

On the first day of the show, we arrived early to get all of the IIDA brochures and accessories in place. At 9 a.m., the PA system echoed through the halls, signaling the show was now open. Not 30 seconds later, crowds of people were streaming past our booth. Visitors stopped in and took photos of different areas and elements in the booth. I did not expect this at all! As the day went on, the atmosphere around the booth was very positive. The space was used exactly as I had hoped – as a place of respite and relaxation for visitors to sit and have a conversation with one another or just kick their feet up for a minute.  

I was also able to spend time exploring the hundreds of showrooms spanning almost 1,400,000 square feet. The part that amazed me the most was that all of these showrooms were constructed solely for the show. They were all within large halls, so each vendor constructed their own architecture to define the space.

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Shots from Orgatec. Inside the Cascando booth.

It was such an eye opening and inspiring experience to explore the madness that is Orgatec. The amount of innovation, new companies, and variety widened my perspective of the industry and opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of a career in interior design.

The next part of my trip was a tour of the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, which is near the border of Switzerland. The hillside surrounding the campus was covered in the warm golden tones of the changing fall leaves and harvested fields. The juxtaposition of nature’s perfection with the clean lines of the many buildings at the Vitra Campus was something from a dream. I witnessed the brilliance of multiple architects’ and designers’ work, including Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, and Zaha Hadid, just to name a few. 

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Exterior of the Vitra Fire Station by Zaha Hadid Architects.

These buildings were like nothing I’ve ever seen or experienced before. Every element was intentional and thoroughly designed in the purest way. But don’t take my word for it: Check out vitra.com for a virtual tour of the campus. 

I am so thankful to IIDA and Vitra for providing me with this opportunity. Everything I was able to do and see has altered my view of design for the better and enhanced the way I see and will execute my designs going forward. My time in Germany has taught me that design should reflect authenticity, purity, and the value of experience, and that’s a lesson I won’t soon forget. 


See Orgatec from Kelsey’s point of view by visiting the IIDA HQ Instagram feed and searching #iidatakeover.