Casalgrande Padana is once again working side by side with Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Casalgrande Padana is once again working side by side with Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Columbia University’s new Manhattanville campus, in the heart of West Harlem, is a shining example of urban regeneration, thanks to visionary planning. Casalgrande Padana is one of the key players in this project, supplying the ceramic tiles selected by RPBW.

The new university campus in the heart of Manhattan is a shining example of urban regeneration


Stage one of the new Manhattanville campus, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, is up and running and ready to house the prestigious university’s neuroscience research team.

Casalgrande Padana played a crucial role in this important project, supplying the building’s porcelain stoneware floorings. These are next-generation materials that deliver impeccable performance not only in terms of aesthetics and the quality of the finish but also in terms of durability, mechanical strength, easy maintenance, and ability to respond to the demands of a space characterised by high footfall.

In particular, the project used the 60x120, 45x90 and 30x60 tiles from the Pietre Native line, specifically Pietre Etrusche collection in the Capalbio colour, the 30x60 e 30x30 tiles of the Basaltina collection in Linosa, and the 30x60 tiles from the Granitogres line, specifically Unicolore collection in the Bianco Assoluto colour.

Founded in 1754 on the west side of Manhattan Island, now known as West Harlem, Columbia University is one of the world’s most prestigious universities (101 Columbians are Nobel laureates), second only to Harvard in terms of research excellence.

Columbia University has always had a strong bond with the city of New York. A connection that it is now consolidating with the ongoing expansion project in a decommissioned industrial area of West Harlem.

RPBW (Renzo Piano Building Workshop) and SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) are in charge of developing the masterplan for the new Manhattanville campus.

Channelling the spirit and traditions of this prestigious institution, the architects have devised a project that will make the new campus a research and knowledge hub, while ensuring its perfect integration into the surroundings. The complex is designed to be an open structure, which will encourage and promote relationships and dialogue between researchers and academics from various areas (arts and sciences) based on campus, while also sharing spaces and services with the wider, non-university population.


Architecture and ceramics

Such a complex project would not have been possible without the contribution of many. Focusing on ceramics, it’s worth mentioning the role played by ProSpec, Casalgrande Padana‘s New York distributor, in coordinating the supplies of porcelain stoneware tiles.

We met with Antoine Chaaya – a leading figure within RPBW who oversaw the development and execution of the project – to delve deeper into the issues relating to the use of ceramics in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center (Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute).

The relationship between ceramics and architecture combines expressive values and technological aspects. How does it relate to the more general goals of the architectural research that RPBW is carrying out?

Antoine Chaaya. Exploring new materials, their use and development is a crucial aspect of RPBW’s architectural approach. Ceramics is an extremely interesting material that we had already considered for the façade and floorings.

Your studio has made frequent use of ceramics in the architectural field. What have you retained from previous experiences?

A.C. Ceramics is strong and durable. That’s why it’s ideal for high pedestrian traffic areas. It’s also a beautiful material that ensures a wide rangeof surfaces and colours. In addition to its aesthetic qualities, its reduced thickness and high resistance make it a lightweight material that looks just like heavier ones, such as concrete and stone, and are therefore more affordable.

Plus, next-generation ceramics has been used for complex buildings’ flooring and wall coverings for years now. Sizes, colours, surface texture, and durability leave infinite spaces for creativity. What aspects of the material most stimulate your design?

A.C. Durability, richness of texture and light vibrations, and colours, as well as the possibility to use larger tiles to reduce the joints and provide a large homogeneous surfaces.

At which stage of the project does ceramics make its entrance?

A.C. It depends. If it’s used for the envelope or the façade, it could be in the early stages. If it’s used for the flooring, it would be later on in the project.

In a project as complex as Columbia University’s, which aspects would you say have guided you in the choice of the ceramics and its expressive contribution?

A.C. The initial idea of Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus was to have smooth concrete floors. However, the building’s steel structure creates some structural movements, which made us worry about the formation of cracks in the floors. The larger 24” x 48” ceramic tiles look like concrete and ensure excellent resistance, which makes them perfect for high-traffic areas. We were very happy with the response.

What were the main aspects regarding installation, given the inevitable criticalities of a construction site of this scale in an American setting, which has its own specific requirements and standards, not to mention tastes and finishes?

A.C. American requirements and standards weren’t really the problem, as much as the project and the conditions of the construction site. The use of 24” x 48” tiles on a large walkable surface with a reduced thickness and smaller tolerance between the structural slab and the tiles, as well as the need to maintain a planar structure, created quite a few problems. That’s why the design team opted for the ceramic tiles.

What was it like to work with Casalgrande Padana on such a complex project and managing a construction site that was almost on the other side of the world from Casalgrande's production facilities?

A.C. Our collaboration with Casalgrande Padana was extremely positive and productive. Casalgrande Padana has been a great partner and has promptly provided us with technical support, information, and samples both in Paris and New York, thereby allowing the design team and the users of the building to make decisions more efficiently.

Click here for further information about the project and the interview with Antoine Chaaya.



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