tiles have been in existence since the time of the earliest civilizations – there are surviving examples dating back to 4000 BC. tile serves to protect structures from both heat, cold and water, they delineate entrances and openings, and they can cover walls, floors and roofs. tiles are decorative, protective and extremely sanitary as well.
we like to think of tile as decorative armor – it can evoke feelings and tell stories for thousands of years. tile carries symbolic meaning – and symbols are the language of human expression, both conscious and subconscious.
ornament in the 21st century
in the early 20th century, the fathers of modernism declared that ornament could never again be used, that it was profane and degraded any structure beneath it. a cynical view of their proclamation is that the people with the least culture (northern europeans) wished to suppress the rich symbolic language of more ancient cultures. Whether their intentions were evil or not, we know now that the cost of eliminating visual reference to our roots is too high.
ornament connects us to history, time and place. ornament is used to express personality, family, affiliation – it’s a visual language that is available to us all, widely understood and powerful. the question is – how do we bridge between contemporary design and the great tradition of ornament?
we must build a new language, using symbols old and new. architecture is meant to speak loudly.