A new important collaboration for Casalgrande Padana and Daniel Libeskind, this time on the Sapphire residential complex

April 15, 2019

Une nouvelle collaboration importante entre Casalgrande Padana et Daniel Libeskind : le complexe résidentiel Sapphire

A spectacular architectural structure by Daniel Libeskind, right in the heart of Berlin, has become a new landmark in the urban landscape.

Its complex structure is clad with Casalgrande Padana porcelain stoneware tiles with Bios Self Cleaning technology. As the name suggests, the project draws inspiration from sapphire from the Greek sappheiros (blue) and the Hebrew sappir (the most beautiful thing).


Living in a precious gem

Located among the stereotypical façades of Berlin’s Chausseestrasse, the new Sapphire residential complex appears like a poetic licence. After all, “architecture isn’t just the prose of the world. It’s also its poetry,” as Daniel Libeskind once put it.

Daniel Libeskind has created yet another iconic building in Germany, the country that helped him become the world-renowned architect he is, thanks to projects, such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the expansion of the Military History Museum in Dresden, the multi-functional Kö-Bogen complex in Düsseldorf and, of course, “One day in life”, the immersive musical experience he created and directed last May. The project saw over 75 concerts, and 200 musicians entertain the people of Frankfurt in the city’s landmarks for 24 hours.

The Sapphire project marked Libeskind’s return to residential architecture after the large complex within the City Life project in Milan. But this was his first residential project in Berlin. It was an experience that Libeskind really bought into, as he set about creating a work of architecture later described as “as spectacular and rare as a jewel”.

The building stands on the corner between Chausseestrasse and Schwartzkopffstrasse, occupying part of the block that used to house the Wulffersche steelworks before being confiscated from its Jewish owners during the Nazi era.

We’re in the Mitte (which means “centre” in German) district, i.e. the beating heart of Berlin. The area underwent radical change following the fall of the Berlin Wall and is now one of the most culturally diverse, interesting parts of the city. A creative, lively district packed with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, government buildings, prestigious museums, high street shops, and the legendary Unter den Linden boulevard, which ends at the Brandenburg Gate.

Sapphire is a multi-storey building with a particularly complex shape, which seems to defy the entire Cartesian coordinate system and the laws of gravity themselves, in true Libeskind fashion.

The building is sturdy and multifaceted, just like a sapphire emerging from the cityscape. The colour of the envelope’s porcelain stoneware covering even evokes the shade of blue that corundum gives this gem.

This is achieved through the development of unusual visual and perspective axes, the introduction of asymmetrical elements, the absence of right angles, the height of the ceilings, the inclusion of inward-facing galleries and the incorporation of many loggias, terraces and balconies.

Last but certainly not least, Libeskind uses natural light as a versatile design element, incorporating large corner windows and slanting walls to capture it and bring it indoors, thus creating an airy, spacious feel.

Each collective and private space has that unmistakable Libeskind touch and has been designed focusing not just on distribution but also on comfort, energy efficiency, sound insulation, the elimination of all architectural barriers, as well as the choice of materials and finishes, from built-in or freestanding kitchens to bathrooms with bespoke lighting design and porcelain stonewarecoverings designed by Libeskind himself and manufactured by Casalgrande Padana (the same used for the building’s envelope); not to mention the underfloor heating system and integrated HVAC system.

But what really stands out is Sapphire’s iconic envelope, whose stunning and complex shapes are entirely covered with a ventilated façade clad with Fractile Bios Self-Cleaning, the porcelain stoneware tiles with a three-dimensional pattern designed by Libeskind and manufactured by Casalgrande Padana.


Sapphire: the ceramic project

Sapphire’s innovative envelope is the precious result of creativity, innovation, quality materials, special effects and an integrated approach encompassing both architecture and façade engineering.

The collaboration between Daniel Libeskind and Casalgrande Padana started with the use of ceramic façade systems for Milan’s “City Life” housing units in Milan, and continued in 2013 with the Pinnacle installation, which was completely covered with the innovative 3D Fractile tiles, set up in the 17th century Cortile del Priore for the Cersaie-Bologna Water Design Week. The partnership was further consolidated with the development of the revolutionary ceramic covering of the Vanke Pavilion at Expo 2015 and, last but not least, with The Crown, the stunning landmark – which Libeskind designed using Fractile tiles – that dominates the Reggio Emilia landscape near Casalgrande Padana’s production site.

The Vanke Pavilion at Expo 2015

Casalgrande Ceramic Crown

Sapphire’s spectacular envelope is the next step in this journey through innovation and experimentation. The project raises the bar once again in terms of the complexity of the ceramic elements, the number of special pieces included in the design, the precise cutting required, and the need to create the three-dimensional pattern. Another factor was the sheer scale of the engineering challenge posed by the interface between the ceramic tiles and the underlying metal structure of the façade system.

On a logistical level, great care was required to check that the products were being sent from the Casalgrande factory to the site in Berlin in the correct order and according to the progress of the build. The seamless coordination, collaboration and interaction between Studio Libeskind, the project management team and Casalgrande Padana – through its Padana Engineering facility – played a vital role in ensuring the overall success of this project.

Casalgrande Padana supplied around 2600 m2 of Fractile porcelain stoneware tiles in the Antracite Metallizzato colour for Sapphire’s façade system. The tiles were finished with Bios Self-Cleaning Ceramics® technology, which was the result of a Master Agreement between Casalgrande Padana and Japanese firm TOTO, the world-leading developer of this technology designed specifically for external façade systems.

The special treatment based on the HYDROTECT® technology allows Bios Self-Cleaning® to activate a reaction in the presence of sunlight that reduces air pollutants and decomposes dirt deposits. These are washed away by rainwater, thanks to the superhydrophilicity of the ceramic surface.

Of the 3600 ceramic tiles supplied, only 500 had the standard 60x120 cm size, while 3100 were made to measure using linear and water-jet cuts according to precise plans based on years of progress in façade systems.

The entire supply required 9 months of work. However, thanks to the quality of the ceramics, the precision of the bespoke pieces and special finishes, together with the accuracy of the execution plans for the façade system, the entire envelope was completed in just four months.

As for the ceramic surfaces, the continuity between interiors and exteriors creates a sense of material coherence that scales almost cinematographic heights. The decision to use identical tiles in different areas of the project only serves to increase this effect, not least in the use of around 1500 m2 of Fractile Metalizzato tiles in the bathrooms.

More in detail, the project made use of ceramic tiles in 3 different colours: Silver Grey, Gold and Copper, both in the three-dimensional and regular versions. The former, in the 60x120 format, was used exclusively for the exterior covering, while the regular version was used for the wall coverings (60x120) and flooring (30x60).


We met Daniel Libeskind. Here is an extract of his interview.

You started collaborating with Casalgrande Padana a few years ago for the Fractile project. The interesting thing about your work is the original way you found to develop not only a new image for ceramic tiles but also the application and value of architectural envelopes. Sapphire, the Vanke Pavilion at Expo 2015, and The Crown are perfect examples. What can you tell us about this aspect of your research?

Daniel Libeskind - Architects must keep a creative and open attitude towards the use of materials. For example, the Vanke Pavilion was a temporary pavilion that allowed us to experiment and find new design possibilities. The very essence of architecture finds its expression in experimentation and innovation, and every aspect of the pavilion – from its shape to the materials and technology used – explores this aspect. The tiles are strong, sturdy, and environmentally-friendly, thanks to the self-cleaning effect due to the release of oxygen. I chose tiles because it was the perfect way to create the dragon scales effect of the façade. Moreover, their innovative and sustainable characteristics were perfectly in line with Vanke’s and the Expo’s values.

You made extensive use of ceramic surfaces both in the City Life project in Milan and now in the Sapphire project in Berlin. What are the most relevant aspects of your relationship with Casalgrande Padana?

D.L. - It’s always a pleasure and an honour to work with Casalgrande Padana. It’s a great company that embodies Italian style and craftsmanship and stands out from the crowd for its visionary spirit.

We asked a few questions to Jochen Klein, Sapphire’s project leader. Jochen has been working with Daniel Libeskind since 2000.

What are the main elements of the Sapphire project?

Jochen Klein - We used several smart technologies to make this building. However, when you look at it, what you see are the tiles we created with Casalgrande Padana, one of Italy’s longest standingcompanies. It’s a new, environmentally sustainable tile, like no other made before. In fact, it can compensate the building’s carbon footprint. It’s as if it had trees planted on the roof or inside the houses. What makes this material so special is not just its self-cleaning mechanism, but also its ability to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. It’s a very solid tile, different from older models. Plus, it’s bright and soft to the touch. Far from the cold material that comes out of a factory.

Where did you get the idea to create an envelope using ceramic tiles?

J.K. - Well, this material has many properties. It’s solid, strong, and beautiful under any lighting or weather condition. But it’s also environmentally friendly. It does something for the people because it’s not just an industrial product. It’s personalised, thereby adding that human touch that we love so much in traditional buildings.

What was it like to work with Casalgrande Padana on such a complex project?

J.K. - The Casalgrande Padana team proved to be the perfect partner. Developing this product together and using it for Sapphire was an extraordinary experience. Studio Libeskind had already tested it in the Vanke Pavilion at Expo 2015 in Milan. Now, we’re using it here in Berlin, and it’s giving new light and energy to this corner of the city.

You can read the full interviews with Daniel Libeskind and Jochen Klein here.

The partnership between Daniel Libeskind and Casalgrande Padana has led to a series of experiences of high creative and technological value. The result paves the way to new perspectives and new expressions of ceramic façade architecture.

The envelope is as spectacular as it was demanding from a logistical point of view and is perhaps the one element which makes Sapphire so unique. A triumph of design and construction that encapsulates form, function, technological innovation and all-round quality.

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