Top architects go to Makkum for shiny facades

In one corner of the modest factory hall are bat planters, on the other side are piles of paving stones with rough glaze in bright blue on one long side: vowels to demarcate parking zones. Walking from one side of the hall to the other can be done in a few minutes – if the visitor did not get lost among all the ceramics on display along the way.

At the Koninklijke Tichelaar ceramics factory in Makkum, Friesland, which celebrates its 450th anniversary this year, traditional work is still important. The approximately forty employees work, partly by hand, on projects that are internationally leading within the ceramics sector. Tichelaar still makes decorative ceramics, such as milk cups with ice cream scenes and fish bowls. But the company’s main branch now builds ceramics.

One machine processes lumps of rust-brown clay into a perfectly even meter-long slab more than a centimeter thick, which is cut halfway along the conveyor belt into slabs of approximately 30 by 60 centimetres: tiles along the way. Further on are molds in which octagons are made to form the facade cladding of a goldsmith in Germany. Finished with a glossy glaze, the current matte blocks will soon be attached to the customer’s facade in a straight line. There they will sparkle in the sun like an endless string of diamonds.

3D printers

Since 2021, Tichelaar has also worked with 3D printers together with Studio Rap. From this, clay layer after clay layer ‘facade tiles’ appear with a wavy relief up to more than ten centimeters high. The design is continuously modified in the computer, so that the shapes are always slightly different and the final facade cladding becomes a lively image of wave and shine, which changes the appearance of the building every moment of the day. “Because the glaze will soon find its own way in, each item will be unique,” says director Harm van der Ploeg during a tour of the shop floor.

Architectural firms like to work with Tichelaar. “We have the age-old knowledge of ceramics in house, but if an architect wants something completely new, we look for the possibilities that are available. We always find a solution.” For example, for the east wing of the Groninger Museum, the largest tiles ever made in the company (1.2 by 1.2 meters), and provided with the yellow-blue-and-green spot pattern using silk printing.

But as innovative as they are, many visitors are most impressed by the hand painting. “We recently had a delegation from Japan here. They also stayed the longest with the painters.”

Currently, these painters are not working on mugs or plates, but on Huis van Delft’s new building project. For the apartment complex in the center of Delft, Tichelaar supplies the flat exterior facade tiles with an azure glaze with a specially developed metallic sheen. In addition, the building will have three public spaces with an artwork about the history of Delft, made by Job Smeets from Studio Job. This consists of 120,000 Makkumer whites, which are painted by hand in the studio according to Smeet’s design. Main colour: Delft blue.

Photo Catrinus van der Veen

But Studio Job wouldn’t be Studio Job if there weren’t details and jokes in the artwork in all sorts of other colors. In Tichelaar’s painting studio, the tones are still pastel, once the tiles have gone through the kiln, the design will clearly come into the limelight, from portraits of famous Delft residents such as Willem van Oranje and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek to insects, roses and even a spaceship.

Sustainable ceramics

Huis van Delft is built as sustainably as possible. Are ceramics sustainable? Yes, says Van der Ploeg: “The durability lies in the fact that the material lasts a long time, also because ceramic facades are always considered beautiful.” This can extend the life of a building. In addition, ceramic is easy to maintain: it is a hard material with a smooth top layer that does not get dirty quickly.

The production processes in Makkum could be more sustainable, Van der Ploeg is aware of that. The company works with both electric and gas-fired ovens. Tichelaar is not yet sure how this will develop in the future. “The question is also which way to go. Should we fully electrify, should we switch to hydrogen?”

Van der Ploeg “misses guidance from the government” in that regard. Switching to full electric is not his preference, also because baking ceramics in a gas oven sometimes gives a different result than in an electric one. “An electric oven heats statically, in a gas oven you have air vortices. I think biogas can be a solution, then the process with the gas ovens remains roughly the same and biogas is available in the region.”

In the meantime, they are wondering how residual streams such as discarded or broken material can be upgraded, and the company has developed a new concept for reusable facade panels, ‘Skinz’: flat panels that are attached to a facade with a special suspension. system. If the building is demolished, the panels can be completely reused.

Photo Catrinus van der Veen
Photo Catrinus van der Veen
Photo Catrinus van der Veen
Photo Catrinus van der Veen

Wadden mud

A little further on, in the old factory building in Tichelaar in the center of Makkum, three duos of designers are also involved in sustainability and the environment. They have been invited to this by the Frysk Tichelwurk Foundation, which has set up a small exhibition and open studio for the anniversary.

Lotte Dekker and Gieke van Lon from the design studio Humade work from the question of where the raw materials for ceramics come from. Tichelaar uses clay from countries such as Germany. Humade went looking for a closer alternative and came across excavation mud from the Wadden Sea. Millions of tons of silt are excavated every year for the canal to Eemshaven and to preserve the biodiversity in Ems-Dollard. Dekker and Van Lon discovered that with the right processing, this sludge can be used to make ceramics. Remarkable by-catch: the dredging mud is already so hard after one round in the furnace that a second firing can be skipped. “It’s definitely interesting with the current gas price,” Van Lon says. The two are now working with Tichelaar on the development of this clay pottery.

Iris de Kievith and Annemarie Piscaer, who together make up the designer duo Lab Air, are trying to raise awareness about air quality with the ‘Smogware’ service. “In Rotterdam, residents die on average 1.5 years earlier due to the amount of particles in the air than if there was no pollution,” says De Kievith.

The ‘Smogware’ service wants to raise awareness of air quality: pitch black bowls from Wijk aan Zee

The abstract concept of 1 gram of particles in your lungs at ten years is made clear with the service: Piscaer displays five bowls that, in increasingly deeper shades of ocher, show what is in the lungs of a Rotterdammer aged 10, 25, 45, 65 and 85th year is accumulated. If the ‘child’s bowl’ is dirty white, the ‘older’ is black.

Photo Catrinus van der Veen

It gets really scary when Piscaer adds three more bowls: the first is the same color as the lungs of the 45-year-old Rotterdammer, the second is burgundy, the third is deep matte black: this is what gives 10, 25 and 45 years of fine dust mixed with iron particles at Wijk aan Zee. De Kievith will emphasize that Lab Air does not want to point an accusing finger at Tata Steel. “As consumers, we all use steel. The point is to visualize these abstract particle figures. But yes, we are also disgusted by our project.”

Studio Kirstie van Noort & Studio Lotte de Raadt jointly investigate the possibilities of iron water, a waste product from the production of drinking water. Processed in clay or as a glaze, it turns out to give a pink-red color. In addition, says De Raadt: “Iron water has a lowering melting point, which means that the furnaces do not have to be heated as hot.” The two work together with Tichelaar to also use iron water in the production of the Skinz facade panels.

Brabant Water, the drinking water company where Van Noort and De Raadt started their research, has now ordered 10,000 tiles colored with iron water for the new pumping station in Eindhoven. Tichelaar will make the tiles.

Open Atelier with work by Humade, LabAir and Kirstie van Noort & Lotte de Raadt, until 30/9. Inl: frysktichelwurk.nl
In the Museum Princessehof in Leeuwarden there is an exhibition about 450 years of Tichelaar, until 30/10, and the exhibition Sea Silt, Linking Elements about Humade’s dredging mud project. Inl: princessehof.nl

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