Great Little Tiles

Mar 7, 2019

In architecture, the incorporation of subtle details can make all the difference. Small touches and material choices can change the impact of design to create a truly unique project.

The Almost invisible school, by ABLM arquitectos, was created using a combination of large format mirroring and colorful subway tiles.

Though large formats and design continuity are the most common components in architecture recently, a new approach to the use of tile can be surprising and refreshing. Small ceramic tiles can lend an elegant and unique air to modern designs and give the designer flexibility to create an impact, whether they choose to be groundbreaking or nostalgic in application. Though ceramic tile may seem like an outdated format to work in, doubts are assuaged by the valuable aesthetic contributions the material lends to a project. Small tiles not only provide for outstanding architecture, but also transform cities through the visual impact they have on individual sites. One example is the project ‘Breathmarks’.

‘Breath-Marks’ project by Urban Society in conjunction with artist Sun Choi.

The idea here was to transform a waste incinerator that had fallen into disuse into a warm, restful place. ‘Breath marks’ is a joint project between Urban Society and the artist Sun Choi, supported by students, teachers and volunteers from Doosan Primary School in Doksan, Seoul. The project involved covering the entire façade of the building with 3,000 15x15cm (6X6 inches) hand-made tiles.


Another outstanding design can be seen in the Edificio 111 in Barcelona, where part of the communal exterior space was decorated with brightly-colored ceramic tiles to bring energy to the well-traveled space.

Edificio 111 in Barcelona by Flores y Prats studio. Photograph by Álex García.

The architects selected high-gloss tiles in orange, yellow and green. The resulting effect transforms an austere part of the city into a space that breathes new life into those passing by.


Tiles are often a material of choice for refurbishments and renovations, that allow architects to step outside the box of the mundane while preserving the original integrity of the space. Another benefit to the use of tile is the way it can be used to reflect the historic culture of an area or it’s people. A prime example is the famous roof of the Santa Caterina Market, which is covered by a mosaic of small vitreous glazed ceramic tiles in primary colors and secondary hues that are arranged to create pictures of fruits and vegetables. Another is a project delivered by Martin Lejárraga in Cartagena, who adorned the façade of a housing block with ceramic tiles as a counterpart to the classic style of the Basilica that stands next door.

Building refurbishment in Cartagena, by Martín Lejárraga.

Lejárraga’s project uses small format tiles in varying shades of blue to create a modern mosaic of religious iconography on the building. The continuity of the ceramic gradually breaks down and becomes pixelated in the lower sections of the façade, melting with the outside. This type of ceramic tile offers endless potential for creativity in any context, and is sure to make a beautiful impact on facades of public or symbolic buildings as well as retail interiors, office buildings and more.

‘Casa Collage’ by Bosch Capdeferro Arquitectos. Photograph by José Hevia.

Architects and designers are coming up with a vast array of responses to this much-valued format that, glazed or unglazed, offers the flexibility of flat or vertical application in homes, restaurants and all manner of refurbishments. Small format ceramic tiles can be used to create simple, clean spaces— however they also offer boundless potential for groundbreaking design to creative minds.

IES Jaume I in Ontinyent, by architect Ramón Esteve.

This story was originally published in Ceraspaña 42, a journal published by ASCER/Tile of Spain to promote the use and benefits of Spanish ceramic tiles in contemporary architecture and interior design. Read the article and view past issues HERE.

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