Tile: Design Materials: Lifewall by Ceracasa

By Stacy Straczynski

Living walls are not new to design, and neither are their challenges. These beautiful and highly sustainable vegetation displays—also referred to as “biowalls” or “vertical gardens”—require architects to create a detailed supporting structure and complex irrigation systems to ensure that vegetation receives adequate amounts of vital nutrients. And, even then, designs can face ruin, as plants suddenly can fail to thrive years later (such as London’s first living wall in Islington that kicked the bucket last August).

Lifewall aims to resolve some of these inherent problems. Designed by Ceracasa in collaboration with architect Emilio Llobat of Maqla Architects and Azahar Energy, the panels, which were introduced at Cevisama 2010, take their cue from green roof photovoltaic systems, featuring a vegetated façade that uses photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, as well as provide temperature regulation for buildings.

The unique system is composed of porous, 1 sq.-m. ceramic tiles that grow vegetation from designers’ seed of choice via an accurate drip watering system. Thanks to Lifewall’s modular nature, architects have the flexibility to arrange the panels in an endless variety of aesthetic designs and patterns, as well as replace select panels if vegetation fails.

“Our goal was to create a function to ceramics, other than just as a floor or wall covering. In this case, the tile assumes a new level of sustainability and function—to detoxify the air, in addition to serving as a strong, durable, and aesthetically beautiful building envelope,” says Fran Raya, Ceracasa technology director.

But perhaps the feature that differentiates the tile from other “life giving” wall systems, and adds that extra “oomph” of functionality Raya refers to, is the fact that Lifewall specifically was designed to complement Ceracasa’s pre-existing Bionictile product, an innovative, ceramic tile that actually breaks down nitrous oxide pollutants in the air (NOx and HNO3). Together, Lifewall and its sister Bionictile offer the ultimate, one-two punch for sustainability and design, bringing the industry one step closer to realizing a pollution-free environment in a vertical work of art.

Despite Lifewall and Bionictile’s immense innovation, Raya seems surprisingly modest when discussing Ceracasa’s achievements and eco-friendly goals. Appeals to an underlying sense of responsibility to eco-consciousness and the overall benefits to the end-user, she says, “The commitment to create products that provide benefits to users and their environment is one of the lines of business that Ceracasa regards as important for the future. We feel we must respect the environment and encourage new developments to respect and improve upon existing technology.”

Raya adds, “In any industry, sustainability is key…It’s the future—as a business and as a solution to many problems.”

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