Hydraulic ceramics, the modernist pavement

Have you ever noticed the floors of modernist buildings? Their decoration is so detailed that they look like carpets! Most of these floors are made of hydraulic ceramics, a type of handcrafted flooring very common during the Art Nouveau era.

Relation with Art Nouveau

Until the middle of the 19th century, noble floors were mainly made of marble. But at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867, a new type of tile was presented that would largely banish the old materials: a tile that was made without firing, only with presses. This was the birth of hydraulic flooring. In Barcelona, the great expansion of this material coincided with Modernism. For this reason, great architects of the time such as Lluís Domènech i Montaner or Josep Puig i Cadafalch incorporated it into their buildings.

Composition

The hydraulic tile was manufactured piece by hand. It had three layers:

  • The visible, decorative layer, based on a mixture of white marble powder, white cement, sand and pigments. This is the visible surface. It was about 5mm thick. The colors of the designs were created by adding the color pigments to the mixture and adding a little of mixture to each segment of the mold to make the desired drawing.
  • The body, which was similar in thickness, was made only of gray Portland cement and sand, which absorbed excess water from the thin layer.
  • Base of the tile, made with gray cement and sand, about 12 mm thick, and is the layer that adhered to the floor. Its porous surface meant that it adhered easily when the tile was laid.

Characteristics

The entire mold with the three layers was placed in a hydraulic press, which consolidated it under pressure. Once the operation was completed, a hardening process began, which required the necessary humidity to strengthen the cement. The name hydraulics comes from being submerged in water for 24 hours and then kept moist.

The measurements of the hydraulic mosaics were diverse, there were 10 x 10 cm, 20 x 20 cm, 40 x 40 cm and even more measurements. Their designs often had floral and vegetal motifs inspired by the classic models. On the floors of the Casa de les Punxes you can find some of them designed and decorated by Enric Monserdà and other modernist artists and a small permanent exhibition on hydraulic flooring. You can also buy a replica of a tile from different modernist buildings in our shop.

Did you know about hydraulic flooring? How it was manufactured? If you want to know more about the pottery of the Casa de les Punxes, visit this entry about the secrets of the pottery of the Casa de les Punxes.