The Urban “Indiana Jones” of Barcelona and the Rediscovery of Hydraulic Tiles
It is a production process dating back to the mid-1800s originating in Spain and France and is incredibly complex and requires a skilled craftsman to make by hand. Garret, Rivet & Cia. were the first company to exhibit hydraulic tiles at Paris’ International Exposition of 1867 and from there, the popularity of the hydraulic tiles spread throughout America, Europe and Latin America for their versatility and quality. Not only could it be used for floor and wall tiling but allowed for cheaper decorative patterns and designs as the production eliminated the need for firing to harden the tiles. It was a revolutionary industrial production technique as it significantly reduced manufacturing costs.
“It was a revolutionary industrial production technique as it significantly reduced manufacturing costs.”
Antoni Gaudí, renowned Spanish architect, who pioneered Catolianian modernism and organic architecture with an emphasis on intricate details also celebrated the hydraulic tile. The Gaudí tile can be found on the Passeig de Gràcia, patterned hexagonal tiles in monochromatic colours featuring sea creatures like starfish, algae and spirals. Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York considered the tile the first product of industrial design, forever changing the streets of Barcelona.
Cánovas started collecting these eclectic tiles as he was drawn to their beauty and before he knew it, he had amassed a collection that could rival any archive or museum.
Initially starting out as a hobby, Cánovas wanted to pay homage to the history of hydraulic tiles that started where he lived. He started his collection in 2014 as a way of preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of Barcelona, each with its own story from different eras and styles. Now it has become a full-blown race against time to collect as many tiles as possible before they are lost forever to development. Thus, it has become his life’s work to tile restoration and to give these historical art pieces new life in decorative flooring, furniture or wall features.
“Now it has become a full-blown race against time to collect as many tiles as possible before they are lost forever to development. Thus, it has become his life’s work to tile restoration and to give these historical art pieces new life in decorative flooring, furniture or wall features.”
In the spirit of reinventing artisanship and technical production with the digital era of today, Cánovas also plans to release a Tile Crossing app to facilitate what he calls “tilecrossing”. It is a game that inspires you to also be a tile hunter as well. Once a month Cánovas will play a hide-and-seek game with his tiles around the city, sharing clues online. If you solved his puzzle, you would get to keep the tile. The app also has functions for collaborative geolocalization of tiles across Barcelona, serving as a cultural map for hydraulic heritage tiles.
Hydraulic tiles require expertise in not only mixture preparation for desired colour, texture and strength of tiles but also designing and producing metal moulds, operating hydraulic press equipment and keen eye for creating decorative patterns for tile arrangement. The result is a beautiful and durable flooring material as a result of the specialised manufacturing process.
With the advancements in current 3D printing technology, it is now possible to custom-create moulds for small quantity production (up to 100 pieces) of hydraulic tiles. This allows clients who desire their own pattern design or wish to restore old floorings with the original pattern design to bring their vision to life. Thus, the emergence of current technologies has breathed new life to the Spanish modernist tile production.
“Thus the emergence of current technologies has breathed new life to the Spanish modernist tile production.”
You might ask why anyone would use hydraulic tiles as compared to modern ceramic and porcelain design tiles. They are key to heritage restoration as decorative tiles are key to walls, floors and roofs of historical buildings. Meanwhile, having a literal piece of history in your home with cultural value and craftsmanship that can be passed on for generations in a world of fast and throwaway furniture is appealing to many. Hydraulic tiles are not only making a huge comeback in terms of design trends as the tiles are highly customisable, adapting to any space and needs. They create a visually captivating mosaic effect while being highly durable and long-lasting, withstanding the test of time in its functionality. It is also a more environmentally conscious option compared to synthetic flooring materials given that hydraulic tiles are made out of cement, pigments and marble powder.
Hydraulic tiles offer a one of a kind charm given their durability, unique craftsmanship and heritage. It has witnessed a revival as a material for the future given its high artisanship value, unique geometric design patterns and combinations and durability. Cánovas’ collection is a colourful tapestry that tells the story of a Spanish city steeped in history, beauty and craftsmanship. So the next time you’re in Barcelona, take a moment to appreciate the tiles beneath your feet, and remember the tireless efforts of Joel Cánovas, the city’s very own tile hunter.
Experience AR Product Link