Reign in Spain: Let Your Designs Breathe

By Lira Luis, AIA, RIBA, LEED AP, principal architect, Atelier Lira Luis, LLC

Just as our skin helps protect our bodies and regulate our internal temperature levels, so too does a building’s envelope (commonly known as cladding or siding) protect the outside of a structure. But unlike our skin, which is predetermined for us by nature, it is an architectural team doing commercial or institutional building projects that is responsible for making sure the appropriate cladding decisions are made for new construction, as guided by CSI’s MasterFormat.

The current MasterFormat now includes 49 divisions, a whole lot more decision-making areas for the architecture team than the Pre-2004 MasterFormat and its 16 divisions. Take tile, for example, which falls under Division 9 Finishes. Under this division, there are subgroups that allow an even more expansive selection of building materials for architects or designers to make decisions on in any given project.
During the 2011 Cevisama, the International Ceramic Tile and Bath Furnishings Show in Valencia, Spain, I was enlightened to a breadth of options that tile products now provide to our industry. One of the products that caught my architectural eye is a ventilated facade system that utilizes ceramic and porcelain tile for cladding. It brought back memories of driving in Arizona and seeing this product used at the Wilkinson Floor Covering Corporate Office & Warehouse in Tempe, designed by Michael P. Johnson.

Wilkinson_company_office “I was introduced to the ventilated wall system at the trade fair in Bologna, Italy in 2001. In 2003, Wilkinson Floor Covering Company commissioned me to design a face lift for their bland tilt-up concrete office/warehouse building. I felt that because the lion's share of their work was tile flooring that it would be a good fit and it proved to be a great choice because visually it enhanced the building ten-fold,” says Michael, principal of Michael P. Johnson Design Studios. He already was using this product at a time when U.S. architects had not fully embraced ventilated walls or the idea of them.

Today, porcelain tile seems to have become the product of choice among architects and designers for a variety or applications—I see the expansive selection of manufacturers who now carry these ventilated facade systems at Cevisama and I even have started investigating the technicalities of using this product in my projects.

After studying all the details and absorbing the information shared by manufacturers at Cevisama, the ventilated facade system can be described similar to a wall where two facades are separated by a gap or breathing space through which air is allowed to flow. In my mind, it is a mash-up between a rainscreen (an exterior cladding that stands off from the surface of the structural backup wall) and a trombe wall (a wall separated from the outdoors by glazing and an air space, which absorbs solar energy and releases it to the interior).

At the expo, Miguel Ángel Bengochea and Javier Plasencia Abasolo of Keraben Grupo, S.A. shared some comparisons of covering materials that would prove helpful for architects when deciding on which material to use, while Santiago Manent of Porcelanosa USA showed me the various mounting options available that would complement and not compete with an architect’s design intent for a project. 
There also are ways to innovate further with ventilated facade systems, as demonstrated by Ceracasa Ceramica through its Bionictile and Lifewall (Read more about Lifewall at, Lifewall is not ready for market (about six months out); however this definitely is one product to keep an eye on!


Lira Luis, AIA, RIBA, LEED AP is a principal architect at Atelier Lira Luis, LLC in Chicago, Ill.. She was named the AIA ATHENA Young Professional Awardee by the American Institute of Architects and was selected by Tile of Spain in December 2010 as a Reign in Spain finalist. From Feb. 4-12, 2011, she joined a group of journalists and other members of the A&D community in a junket that traveled to the cities of Zaragoza, Teruel, and Valencia, taking in Spanish architecture, culture, culinary temptations, and Cevisama, the International Ceramic Tile and Bath Furnishings Show.

Comments are closed.