In the following weeks we present different graduation projects from several Danish design and architecture schools. First up is Alberto Zellamolli from Design School Kolding:
Broken pieces of surplus marble cast into a mixture of marble dust, cement and pigment. Terrazzo is the story about a sustainable Italian product invented at a time when making use of all resources was a virtue. Industrial designer Alberto Bellamolli has reinvented the material.
Alberto: Sorry for calling later than we agreed…
Interviewer: That’s OK. I actually expected a slight delay. You are Italian, after all.
Itw: Well, we were going to talk about your graduation project from Design School Kolding. You have been working with terrazzo, right?
Itw:… and I thought you might want to explain to me why you have chosen that exact material.
Alberto: Certainly. I come from a small village north of Verona, which is the centre of the largest and finest terrazzo production in Europe. The production of the material goes back almost a hundred years, and it is closely linked to marble production, which goes back to the Roman Empire.
Itw: What is the connection between terrazzo and marble?
Alberto: Terrazzo is primarily made from surplus material from marble production: you need broken pieces of surplus marble, marble powder, cement and pigment. In this part of Italy there are a number of small family-owned businesses that are part of this cycle. Some of them own marble quarries; some work on processing the marble; some produce marble powder, and others are sales enterprises. Therefore it is obvious that a number of small companies have settled on terrazzo.
Itw: So we are not talking about mass production?
Alberto: No, on the contrary, these are many small companies, some of them more than a century old, each with a particular, specialized knowledge about their specific part of the process. It is a very dynamic economy, since some of the companies are competitors and at the same time they are suppliers to each other. It has been extremely interesting to study this further.
Itw: But since you have grown up surrounded by terrazzo, hasn’t it been difficult to…
Alberto: You mean take a fresh look at it?
Alberto: No, not really. When I went abroad and was suddenly working in a different context I realized that I could return here with totally new visions. I no longer took things for granted. So I returned saying ’Hey guys, this is really fantastic. We have to try something new’. And the terrazzo producers said, ’Well uhmm….’
Itw: So you were not immediately greeted by enthusiasm?
Alberto: No, and this might have been the most interesting part of my project – having to go in and virtually coach the traditional companies into appreciating entirely new opportunities in the material. Many people here do not really like terrazzo at all…
Alberto? Many people think that it is such a cheap waste material, a kind of poor man’s marble. I wanted to push the envelope on that perception.
Itw: Did you succeed?
Alberto: Yes, well, partly – for suddenly they recognized that a new interest in the material, especially in the Scandinavian countries, was emerging. And when they saw my final products they were quite impressed.
Itw: Yes, the products. Please tell us how you developed them.
Alberto: Of course. Most terrazzo has a very homogeneous look, so it may almost be mistaken for marble at a distance. I have deliberately worked with very large pieces that give each block a unique expression. It becomes quite clear that it is not traditional marble – but manmade marble. Getting to that point has required a great deal of technical knowledge.
Itw: But you must have had a lot of help from the manufacturers?
Alberto: I had, but they are also very secretive. Each company has its own formula. When you ask them how to make the best terrazzo mixture they’ll say ‘well, a little bit of this and not too much of that’.
Itw: But you were successful?
Alberto: Yes, I ended up making a small collection with a coffee table, two bowls and two candle stands. I deliberately chose something totally different than tiles in order to show the potential of this material. The interesting thing is that it’s much stronger than marble…
Itw: Why is that?
Alberto: As opposed to marble, which has some natural fissures that make the stone brittle in certain spots, terrazzo is a cast material. Hence you can cut and shape it in a completely different way. For example, the edge of my bowls is only five millimetre thick; no one has tried that before. My partner, who helped me construct them, was quite surprised at the result…
Itw: So the material can be used for many different things…
Alberto: Of course. But I wanted to focus on the actual material. The large pieces of marble, the large and small stones cut differently give a strange sensation when you look at them. Therefore I intentionally chose easily recognizable products. The objects should not hinder the experience of the material but be easy to understand. Thus there is much more time to immerse oneself in the actual expression of the new terrazzo product.
Itw: So you are satisfied with the result?
Alberto: Yes, it has been a very interesting discovery, and there are still so many possibilities in terrazzo…
Itw: Super. I think I have taken copious notes. Thanks for the talk!
Alberto: You are welcome, and thank you, too.