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Title: «De schoonheid van het materiaal»
Subtitle: Belgische vloer- en wandtegels in het interbelluminterieur
Author(s): BAECK, Mario
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en Design
Volume: 35    Date: 2006   
Pages: 127-158
DOI: 10.2143/GBI.35.0.2029544

Abstract :
During the First World War, the production in the ceramics industry came to a standstill because of the shortage of raw materials and fuel. The machines were quickly restarted from the end of 1918. The reconstruction campaign in the ‘devasted districts’ called for a huge amount of building materials over a short period of time. The considerable demographic growth in the 1920-1930 period, with a rising demand for dwellings, put added pressure on the construction industry.

Tile manufacturers thus at first had practically no time to undertake a thorough renewal of their tile decors. For the sake of convenience, they largely fell back on the available models, in both the historical and art nouveau styles. Also, the fact that reconstruction architecture was generally not innovative, strengthened this tendency.

New stylistic trends -in particular art deco and modernismtogether with external factors such as rising labourcost and the financial crisis in the 1930s, led to changes. From around 1925 the amount of modern decors increased dramatically, and progressively fewer elaborate, decorated floor and wall tiles were used. Increasingly, there was a transition to floors and dados with a mosaic of plain tiles, often in bright, primary colours. There was also frequent use of tiles with special ‘artistic’ glazes. The decorated tiles and the fairly large-scale tile panels did remain on the market but had a much smaller share of the total production and were, moreover, usually based on patterns made by not unimportant cubist, constructivist or expressionist painters.

Very typical of these new tendencies in the use of tiles can be seen in a brochure issued by Gilliot Hemiksem, showing many examples of tiled interiors. Further splendid examples include the fully tiled pavilions of the Koninklijke Sphinx at the 1930 world’s fair in Antwerp, on a design by Jean Eggericx, and the pavilion by Gilliot Hemiksem, five years later, at the Brusssels world’s fair, on a design by Joseph Roelants. Celebrated examples from 1938 were also the so-called Villas en Céramique Jaqueline and Yvette in Knokke Duinbergen, built by the architect Florimond Vervalcke for the industrialist Raoul Amand from Baudour. Their interiors, completely tiled by Cérabel, are highly imaginative.

Another important innovation in the application of ceramics in inter-war architecture was the use of so-called architectural ceramics. Here the decoration was not based on flat ornamentation but rather the accent was on the sculptural possibilities of the material. This form of decoration gained considerable attention in Belgium mainly through Helman Ceramic and Roger Guérin.

By examining commercial catalogues, and articles or photographs in architectural periodicals, as well as celebrated realizations at world’s fairs, this evolution can be followed in some detail. Such an examination reveals that floor and wall tiles had to compete fiercely with other materials that were much easier to use. In Belgium, for instance, these were amongst others the well-known Eternit sheets, the so-called Marbrite and Marmorite, the all-pervasive linoleum (still much in use), and products such as Balatum, cardboard or even enamelled steel sheets. Tile manufacturers attempted to maintain their market share by emphasizing the durability and the beauty of their material.

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