Pamela Buxton goes straight to the manufacturers to hear the latest on their new surface products and innovations
Design & technical consultant, DuPont Corian in the UK
1 Corian's been around for a while now. What can it still offer specifiers as a surface material?
Corian is the ultimate modern material, a high-tech surface that just keeps evolving through both an active programme of research and development, and through the experimental work that designers do with the material. They are continually inspiring us to push the boundaries for solutions and technologies with their ideas and projects. Over the years we've gone from kitchen worktops to sculptural installations, lighting and furniture designs and now to cladding entire buildings. It's a truly exciting material to be involved with.
2 What's the most exciting contract application of Corian that you've been involved in?
There have been so many. From some of the creative installations we have done with ingenious designers such as Paul Cocksedge and Moritz Waldemeyer, and architects such as Zaha Hadid and Amanda Levete to lower-profile but inspiring projects like working with design students and schoolchildren to create a colourful outdoor 'learning' garden with Corian. For me though, one of the most exciting recent projects was the first UK exterior facade application in Corian for an amazing residential extension by Stirling prize winner Alison Brooks Architects. It's a really pioneering - and beautiful - project on many levels and has been hugely satisfying to work on.
3 Corian often works with notable designers. What collaborations are underway currently?
Yes, we've been really fortunate to attract the interest of some of the most creative minds internationally and we always learn something along the way. Often, soon after we have worked on a creative exhibition project, we see some of those ideas translated by the architect or designer into a commercial application. For example, Karim Rashid explored the colour, shaping and technological integration possibilities of Corian for our exhibition in Milan one year, then used some of those ideas - and a custom colour - for a spectacular transformation of a subway station in Naples. And Amanda Levete now has Corian in her own kitchen and bathroom.
4 How does the collaboration process with designers generally work?It's a two-way street. Over the years we have built up a great reputation for creativity and a willingness to explore and often we are approached with an intriguing idea or opportunity. But also if there's a quality of Corian we particularly want to explore we might identify a few appropriate designers or architects with a certain speciality or expertise and then we will approach them. Then it's the usual process of ideas, brainstorming, technical consultation, experimentation and refinement.
5 What innovations has Corian recently introduced?
Last year we refined the colour palette and launched 22 new colours, including sophisticated solid tones, having listened very carefully to the design community and understanding that such a long-lasting material must also offer timelessly elegant and enduring colours.
There are innovations, in technologies, applications and marketing initiatives, and the industry will hear about them in due course. There are also constant upgrades not only to ways of working with the material but also in the manufacturing process. This year DuPont achieved its goal of zero landfill waste in the manufacture of Corian. The evolution and potential of Corian is limitless and I can't wait to see where we go next.
Group marketing director, Armourcoat
1 What innovative surface finishes has Armourcoat introduced recently?
We've introduced Sculptural, a range of seamless sculptural wall surface designs. The 3D walls are constructed from a series of precast panels that are bonded to the substrate. The panel joints are then filled and sanded and a final decoration is applied to the surface.
The 20 designs in the Sculptural range are created by combining computer-aided design with traditional hand sculpting, making designs that fit together with total accuracy yet retain the essence of being handcrafted. Some of the designs are based on a single panel that creates a repeating pattern; others are made from a sequence of different panels that can be integrated together in a variety of ways to create unique sculpted walls. The multiple-panel designs make it possible to create non-repetitive, seamless sculptural walls where the designs flow and change across the surface, just as in nature.
We've also just launched ArmourFX decorative wall panel systems. These include finishes and substrates suitable for all applications, from retail to residential, hotel to healthcare. Armourcoat's specialist designers and artisan plasterers can create integrated, custom wall-panel systems or design statement single-artwork pieces, with finishes ranging from Travertine stone to highly polished marble.
2 What's the most exciting contract application of Armourcoat that you've been involved in?
Armourcoat has been involved with some stunning one-off architectural projects, such as the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Closer to home we were specified for the Natural History Museum's Darwin Cocoon. Designed by Danish architecture practice CF Møller, the £75m second phase of the Darwin Centre features a vast, freestanding structure taking the form of an enormous cocoon within a glass atrium.
Armourcoat was specified to devise a unique creative solution combining both the insulation and the final decorative layers. A 50mm-thick polystyrene layer provided the insulation required for the 65m-long long structure. A total of 5.6km of custom-designed edge bead was then fitted before Armourcoat's AntiCrack substrate preparation system, key coat and final decorative polished plaster finish was hand-applied to the 3,500 sq m surface. The subtle sheen of the ivory-coloured Armourcoat surface was chosen with an intersecting network of 'silk threads' that criss-cross the surface, allowing for movement and providing a visual framework for openings and niches.
3 Are there discernible trends in surface design and if so, what's popular now?
A move to nature-inspired interiors is evident, particularly in hotel and healthcare design, and simple, clean lines with good use of calming accent colours and lighting. Our seamless Sculptural wall finish includes leaf and tree-form designs, along with natural flowing designs, which are by far the most popular.
4 What scope is there for further development in the design of surface finishes?
Armourcoat has responded to the need for flexibility when working on time-sensitive interior projects or locations where it is not practical to consider 'wet' trades on-site. The ArmourFX panel option is ideal for retail and commercial applications, and creating immediate impact for branding and feature walls. We're now focusing on external decorative finishes, with a series of new product launches this year.
Director, Strata Tiles
1 What innovative surface finishes has Strata introduced recently and what's in the pipeline?
Over the past few months we have extended our range of 'inside-out' finishes. These are large-format porcelain tiles that have smooth interior finishes, with matching slip-resistant exterior finishes. The exterior version is 20mm thick and can be laid on most exterior substrates, including gravel. Combined with the new ink-jet technology, this provides stone-like finishes with regular, controllable colour and texture, that require no sealing, are easy to clean and unlike natural stone will not deteriorate.
These types of products are ideal for the popular bi-folding or sliding door extension scenario, where a seamless flooring solution extends the size of the usable space.
2 What's the most exciting contract application of Strata that you've been involved in?
The London Airline cable car. Not only is it a fantastic shop window for our GranazzoCem product but the project itself is the most innovative and environmentally friendly public transport system in London.
Strata's GranazzoCem tiles were specified for the floor surfaces throughout, including the ticket halls, concourse, arrival/ departure platforms (pictured) and retail areas. The product was selected for its durability and is supplied prefinished, since unlike conventional terrazzo it requires no on-site grinding and finishing. To increase its density and reduce porosity, GranazzoCem is produced in a vacuum and contains 75 per cent granite and quartz minerals. It is harder and more resilient than traditional terrazzo, and also has excellent ecological credentials, including 100 per cent recycled granite.
3 How does the collaboration process with architects and designers generally work?
Strata prides itself on not being governed by staid and stagnant ranges and we are always searching out new techniques and designs. We see our collaboration with the architectural and design community as a two-way street - a combination of us creating new and exciting products as well as listening to what our customers want, then seeking it out for them.
4 Are there discernible trends in surface design and if so, what's popular now?
A key trend is precise, porcelain replicas of natural stone that is indistinguishable from the look of the natural product but with the longevity and sustainability of porcelain. The use of digital technology allows for bespoke manufacturing for volume clients.
More generally, we are seeing an increase in demand for larger formats and large and small-format hexagonal tiles for both wall and floor use. Timber-effect porcelain has dramatically improved...and for texture and bling, gold, silver and lustre finishes are making an appearance.
5 What scope is there for further development in the design of surface finishes?
We are working with the producer of a 1200mm x 2400mm porcelain slab, again indistinguishable from the natural product, but available in custom designs. HD-quality images make the reproduction of rare and expensive stones an easy and affordable option for every project. We have clients looking again at previously unaffordable cladding projects once they have seen this product. Very exciting times!
This article was first published in fx Magazine.