The sapphire house
Hufton + Crow
Daniel Libeskind AG (Zurigo) - Studio Libeskind
Architect Daniel Libeskind and Italian tile producer Casalgrande Padana have a longstanding relationship and have worked together in Italy on a number of residential and non-residential projects in which ceramic tiles have played an important part in the design process. These include the Vanke pavilion at Expo 2015, the CityLife residences in Milan, and The Crown, a multicoloured landmark built close to the ceramic tile manufacturers’ facilities in the countryside near Reggio Emilia.
In 2017 they completed yet another collaboration with the inauguration of a residential building that was soon to become a prominent landmark in the German capital.
Located at the intersection between Chausseestrasse and Schwartzkopffstrasse, the Sapphire residences occupy part of the former site of the Wulffersche steel mill in the Mitte neighbourhood, a district renowned for its many restaurants, bars and nightclubs, government offices, museums and fashion stores.
The image it projects is that of a hard, faceted gemstone, a sapphire (from sappheiros, Greek for «blue», or sappir, «the most beautiful thing» in Hebrew). The colour of the ceramic tiles used on the building’s envelope reflect the gemstone’s light blue colour generated by the presence of the mineral corundum.
The complex geometries of the envelope are entirely enclosed within a ventilated façade clad with Fractile Bios Self-Cleaning® porcelain ceramic panels with a three-dimensional pattern designed by Daniel Libeskind and produced exclusively by Casalgrande Padana.
The panels were treated with the Bios Self-Cleaning Ceramics® system as part of a master agreement signed by Casalgrande Padana and the Japanese giant TOTO, world leader in this technology which has been adopted in more than a hundred production sectors. This technology gives envelope claddings and ventilated façades a significant capacity to self-clean and eliminate NOx, the nitrogen oxides and compounds that make up one of the most significant urban atmospheric pollutants. Along with the aesthetic and performance characteristics of porcelain tiles, this finish eliminates the need for cleaning and maintenance, guaranteeing significant cost savings without affecting the quality or appearance of the building.
The construction process also required meticulous attention and advanced management processes. Out of the total of 3600 ceramic panels supplied, just 500 were in the standard 600×1200 mm size. The remaining 3100 were cut to size using linear and waterjet cutting techniques according to precise specifications based on the layout of the façade surfaces.
The technique chosen for fixing the ceramic façade panels to the metallic substructure in keeping with the desired aesthetic result posed a major engineering challenge. The logistics of product shipment from the factory in Casalgrande to the construction site in Berlin also had to be meticulously planned in accordance with the order and position of installation of the individual panels and the state of progress of the work. This was achieved through perfect coordination and collaboration between Studio Libeskind, the works management and Casalgrande Padana through its Padana Engineering division. The main challenge of the building project as a whole was to fit a complex of more than seventy residential units into a small-size lot while creating interiors with a high level of originality and architectural quality. This was accomplished by adopting unusual visual angles and perspectives, introducing asymmetric elements, rigorously avoiding right angles, adopting variable-height ceilings, introducing inward-facing galleries and making extensive use of loggias, terraces and balconies. Last but not least, natural light was exploited as a key design tool through the use of large corner windows and inclined walls capable of capturing light and creating an overall sensation of airiness and space.
Sapphire is a unique building that combines design vision with production expertise in a poetry of form and function, technological innovation and overall quality.
Casalgrande Padana, Fractile LD1
30x60, 60x120 cm
Silver Grey, Gold, Copper
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): compliant
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): compliant
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): compliant
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): compliant
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant