KPF collaborated with Casalgrande Padana, an Italian ceramic manufacturer, to develop “The City Collection.” The partnership’s intention was to create a new material expression for a wide range of interior applications that are authentic to the modern process of the ceramic manufacture.

Four tiles inspired by a familiar city, from left to right: New York, London, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

Urban Textures

KPF took inspiration from four cities the firm has worked in extensively, New York, London, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. The tile designs encapsulate the subjective experience of each place through reference to the character, materials, urban forms, and textures of these remarkable cities.

Four detail shots of KPF projects, from left to right: One Vanderbilt in New York (image courtesy of Raimund Koch), 11/12 Floral Street in London (image courtesy of Timothy Soar), 23-39 Blue Pool Road in Hong Kong, and SOHO Gubei in Shanghai (image courtesy of Ai Qing).

The patterns and textures evolved through an interrogation of the nature of each place at various scales and a subsequent process of simplification and abstraction to create surfaces that mirror natural materials. From a distance, the tiles read as finely grained surfaces with subtle variation in colour and texture, but when viewed up close, it is possible to discern the geometric patterns from which they are derived.

The tiles took inspiration from each city’s thesis, from left to right: New York (John Chu/KPF), London (Getty Images), Hong Kong (Getty Images), and Shanghai (Getty Images).

A New Story for an Old Material

Ceramics have a rich history as a construction material. Historically a crafted product, ceramics have seen a shift in recent times due to the advancement of technology enabling the creation of tiles with almost limitless possibility.

Due to the technical performance, stability of the material, and minimal maintenance regime, the construction industry and specifiers have increasingly moved away from many ‘natural’ materials, such as stone and wood, in favour of the preferable characteristics of ceramic.

KPF embraced the opportunity to develop a collection that uses the latest production techniques to realize a modern material expression, authentic to the manufacturing process. The designers sought to achieve the aesthetic qualities of natural materials, with the desirable characteristics of man-made ceramics, to develop a range that could be used in place of stone or concrete reproductions.

Close-up for the four tiles in the City Collection.

New York

New York is synonymous with the rigorous city grid that permeates the greater experience of the place. In three dimensions, the grid becomes a continuous experience of vanishing points meeting on the horizon. The repetition of windows, both vertically and horizontally, introduces a continuous texture that defines the city fabric at every scale.

One Jackson Square. Image courtesy of Raimund Koch.

At ground level, there is an undeniable intensity to New York. But when one rises above the street or steps back from the near scale, they can perceive an overarching texture and rhythm to the place, borne out of the very scale that generates its intensity. It is this experience, coupled with the strong and ever-present diagonality, which served as the starting point for the New York tile.

Visualization of the New York tile used inside a home.

The effect of converging parallels and repetitive forms is abstracted into a simple geometrical figure of diagonal banding articulated by rhythmic verticals to create a pattern that reflects this experience.

The resulting pattern is expressed through tone, texture, and glaze, capturing light and shade. The effect is evocative of the energy and rhythm of New York, complete with a cinematic quality.

The inspiration, a first sketch, and the final tile.

London

Defining features of London are the great parks, the Georgian squares, and the broad tree-lined avenues. The huge plane trees, with their mottled bark and shimmering green canopies that hover overhead, are at the heart of the London experience. This natural backdrop is offset by the recognisable London Stock brick, Portland Stone, and stucco, permeating neighbourhoods across the city.

Floral Court. Image courtesy of Jim Stephenson.

For the London tile, inspiration was drawn from the organic forms of the natural landscape that weaves through the city – not only the sinuous, picturesque landscaping of the parks, but also the pattern, grain, and texture of tree bark create a synthesis of the many different scales of the city.

Visualization of the London tile used inside a home.

There are more than 35,000 acres of public gardens parks and forests in London. The abundance of green cultivates recurring patterns in the organic formations of trees, leaves, and bark textures.

For the tile, a repetitive but varied pattern is layered over an abstract texture that references the light palette of the city’s material background.

The process of symbolizing London’s greenery in the tile.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a city instantly recognisable through its striking verticality, a relentless rise towards the sky emphasised through the repetition of architectural forms. At ground level, the sky is often almost imperceptible with the irregular geometries of the street grid obscuring the horizon.

Victoria Dockside on the Hong Kong horizon. Image courtesy of Virgile Bertrand.

The inspiration for the Hong Kong tile came from the subtly shifting pattern of grids and windows across the skyline, which gently undulates as buildings vary in location, geometry, scale, and perspective in response to the eccentricities of topography and the historical evolution of the city fabric.

Visualization of the Hong Kong tile used inside a home.

The combination of repeated lateral floors and the vertical motion is extrapolated into a gridded pattern for the tiles, where the rhythm is broken with subtle irregularities and variations.

The resulting geometric pattern retains some of the intensity of the city, although softened by overlaying a textured background that references the bedrock and mountains surrounding Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong tile emulates the city’s vertical movement.

Shanghai

Shanghai is a city of great contrast, with a juxtaposition of historic neighbourhoods against the hyper-modern metropolis. The old city fabric, and in particular the Shikumen houses and historic laneways, are an immediately recognisable element of the city.

The Langham & Andaz Xintiandi in Shanghai. Image courtesy of H. G. Esch.

The repeating patterns of the historic neighbourhood roofs were the starting point for the Shanghai tile. Their sloping profiles create an undulating architectural form of compression and expansion that seems to breathe within the city itself.

The historical districts of Shanghai offer a glimpse into the city’s past. The geometry of the roofscape is abstracted with interlocking rhomboidal shapes to create a limitless pattern overlaid with a textural rhythm and fluid lines extending through the tessellating forms.

Visualization of the Shanghai tile used inside a home.

Thin horizontal and alternating diagonal lines articulate the pattern, beneath that a soft patina is expressed across the surface, creating a natural variation across the continuous pattern.

The layered roofs of Shanghai are represented in the tile’s geometric pattern.

The collection was made in association with the Milanese Architecture Firm SBGA. The tiles were presented at the 60th edition of the Salone del Mobile.