As we have more swimming pools per capita than any other country in the world, it is no surprise that most of the publicity for the use of mosaic (specifically, glass mosaic) centres on our backyards. While we import a substantial volume of glass mosaic, not all of it ends up in pools.

In addition, we actually import more ceramic mosaic than glass, as well as increasing volumes of natural stone mosaic, particularly marble. A considerable proportion of these products are destined for use in a wide variety of environments. This demonstrates that mosaic is flexible in more ways than one. It can be used to add a subtle or bold flourish of colour to any wall or floor tiling composition, or it can be used to clad the façade of a building.

Mosaic predates the Classical civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome. It actually dates back more than 4000 years to the use of terracotta cones that were pressed into a background point first to create primitive decoration. The Greeks mastered the art of using small stone pebbles to fashion geometric and floral designs approximately 2400 years ago. This art form literally represented painting in stone.

Ultimately, the Romans refined this practice and introduced schools for mosaicists in many parts of their empire. While a number of the best preserved mosaics are located in Pompeii (executed in some instances by Greeks) there are many fine Roman mosaics elsewhere in Europe and Africa.

Natural stone is still used for the same reasons that the Ancients built temples, palaces and monuments from stone. An early Megaron catalogue stated: “Mosaic is neither a minor form of art, nor a subaltern one, but it remains a primary noble expression, designated to less perishable works, which indicate ‘magnificence and significance”.

Creativity

Today, it is entirely possible to use digital inkjet technology to add any digital image to the surface of a ceramic, glass or stone mosaic. However, sustained interest in the art of creating unique handcrafted mosaics is confirmed by the presence of mosaic schools in towns and cities across the globe. Striking mosaics can be created using ceramic, natural stone, glass and metal tesserae (cubes) or a combination of one or more of these materials.

There are no design limitations. No other hard surface finish compares to mosaic in relation to its flexibility, which means that designs can easily flow over convex and concave surfaces, and around curves and pillars.

The simple removal of a single tessera from a sheet of mosaic, and its replacement with one of another colour, can represent the first step in creating an inimitable design. These designs can be used in public spaces, commercial buildings and hotels and private residences. Let us look at some examples of how and where mosaic has been used to good effect.

Facades

A lightweight sheet of mosaic is easy to handle and cut. When you couple these attributes with the massive potential for creative design, it is hardly surprising that architects and designers are often encouraged to specify mosaic for use on building facades. Photos 1 and 2 depict use of more than 20,000 square metres of Ezarri glass mosaic, which flows over the curved and undulating surface of Europe’s second largest building. Architects Dominique and Phillipe Renaud specified a cascading blend of mosaic to decorate this landmark structure in Paris.

Public and commercial

Photo 3 highlights sensational use of Bisazza glass mosaics which were designed by the Uncarved Block for use in the Melbourne Food Court. The designs were created in Bisazza’s studio in Italy. The product was supplied by Academy Tiles, NSW. Architectural design firm Ashton, Raggatt, McDougall handled the $260 million renovation of Melbourne Central Shopping Centre. The mural, which is one of the largest ever installed in Australia, features numerous colourful butterflies, rabbits, ants and a rather startling owl.

Natural stone mosaic is frequently used in the entrance to banks, hotels and commercial premises in conjunction with marble and granite. The prime decoration often appears in the form of an emblem (or emblemata), which can be hand drawn by a mosaic artist, and assembled in accordance with their instructions, or it can be designed using CAD.  Photo 4 features an emblem in a field of green marble installed at the Hall Harbour Building, Hong Kong.

The bathroom

Mosaic can be used to tile all the surfaces of a bathroom, or a single feature wall. In many instances it is employed as a simple, but effective vertical stripe or horizontal band of colour, which provides relief to fully tiled monochrome expanses of plain tiles. For example, Photo 5 features 25 by 50mm glazed porcelain tesserae combined with 320 by 550mm satin white wall tiles.
Many sheeted mosaics feature products, which are larger than the conventional 10 to 50mm tesserae, are typically regarded as mosaic. Some sheeted mosaic pieces are as large as 100 x 100mm.

At the other end of the scale, Photo 6 illustrates precisely why mosaic is a truly remarkable product, which has endless design potential. This intriguing concept, which appeared on The Block, features Bisazza glass mosaic carefully cut and installed to create an optical illusion that winds its way up the back wall of the shower enclosure and gradually disappears. Note how the same material is used to frame the mirror.

Incredibly, Photo 7 goes a step further in terms of creativity. This amazing concept which imitates the curve of a crashing wave was created by Edward Lowe of Bisazza Australia.

The kitchen

The small but critical space between the floor and wall cabinets often provides the prime focal point in kitchen design. Three to five square metres of carefully chosen mosaic or tile can often make or break the whole design proposal. Photo 8 depicts a field of Everstone 25 x 25mm mosaic pieces with 100 x 100mm glass insets. The vivid colours of the glass contrast with and complement the solidity of the granite benchtop.

Living spaces

Bathrooms and kitchens in private residences and hotels are prime environments for use of mosaic. However, the product can be used to good effect in other locations, including feature walls in entrances and living rooms where use of an appropriate design can provide a breathtaking aesthetic (Photo 9). Wherever curved surfaces present a challenge, mosaic can provide a solution by flowing seamlessly over difficult surfaces (Photos 10 and 11).

Outdoors

We began our review by focusing on mosaic used to clad the façade of Europe’s second largest building. We have deliberately avoided swimming pools to emphasise that ceramic, glass and natural stone mosaics can be applied in myriad other external and internal environments. Designs can be as simple or as complex as you like. Photo 12 illustrates use of black and white glazed ceramic mosaic on the exterior and top of a barbecue.

We finish by highlighting how a large customised mosaic mural was produced from a 10 centimetre square computergenerated design, which was digitally modified to create an arresting feature in a private residence in Dalkeith, Western Australia (Photo 13).

While many ceramic tile manufacturers steadily increase their focus on large format products, interest in miniscule mosaics remains strong, simply because the product is an elemental building block, which has infinite design possibilities that can be adapted to almost any vertical or horizontal surface.

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