Jthere is no limit to what you can imagine and create. How about furniture made from clay tiles?
Gujarat-based architect Manoj Patel, known for making extraordinary things out of ordinary things, chose to work with terracotta tiles to create stunning pieces of furniture.
“Working with eco-friendly materials in a way that they remain affordable is our strength,” Manoj told The Better India. Over the years, the architect has worked with different types of materials to determine what would best suit the climatic conditions in which we live.
He says that while stone and metal are commonly used for outdoor furniture, they are high conductors of heat.
“Furniture made from these materials only becomes usable after sunset, when there is no direct sunlight. Otherwise, sitting on it is almost impossible. That was the problem that we wanted to solve when we started working with non-conductive materials like clay and wood,” he adds.
Graduated from DC Patel School of Architecture (APIED), Vallabh – Vidhyanagar, Gujarat, in 2012, Manoj pursued his post-graduation in Climate Change and Sustainable Development in 2014 at CEPT University, Ahmadabad, Gujarat.
“I’ve always had a passion for climate-sensitive architecture, which has always reflected in my work,” he says.
Use material adapted to the climate
Clay has been used as a building material for centuries. Its sturdiness and sturdiness ensure a construction life span of more than a century. While clay is typically used to cover roofs, pottery and floor tiles, Manoj is looking for ways to use this durable material to make furniture.
Manoj and his team transformed the existing profiles of many clay tiles into playful optical illusions that resemble natural mass, to form outdoor chairs and benches as a backdrop against rustic spaces. “We started working on this a while ago, but over the past six months we’ve given the idea shape,” he says.
He continues: “So far, I haven’t come across any design house or architect using clay in furniture. These are just perfect for beating the scorching heat we face these days. Although the use of clay helps to lower the interior temperature, in some of the work we have undertaken, clients have also forgone the use of air conditioning altogether. The advantage of using clay to make furniture and using it in the summer is that it keeps the surface cool.
So far, the team has also developed a table top, stools and various types of surfaces. “It is an all-weather material and can be used comfortably even in the monsoon season,” he says. It is also cost effective and Manoj says one tile costs between Rs 5 and Rs 8. On average, 200 tiles are used for one piece of furniture, which will cost less than Rs 2,000.
“The main thing in all of this is the craftsmanship that artisans bring,” he says. Although the company does not sell this furniture commercially, it does work with other design and architecture firms that use this furniture in their work. “We don’t envision any kind of mass production of these parts. Each one is a labor of love and handcrafted by our artisans,” he says.
Challenges along the way
Even though clay as a material has been used in construction for decades, using it to make furniture was new and challenging, says Manoj. “Making a simple stool turned out to be a challenge. The geometry and pattern of the stool was difficult to get right. A simple task of aligning the corners turned out to be rather laborious,” he says.
He adds that just to get it right, the team took almost three months. “We have also revised the design several times. After all, what is encouraging is the popularity of this piece of furniture. After having started by making one stool a day, today we make about five a day. Having started with three skilled artisans, the design house now employs over 25 artisans.
The clay tiles used are called Mangalore clay tiles. “Slowly, as the construction landscape changed, the use of these tiles declined. This also led to a sudden decline in the manufacture of clay roof tiles. We eventually found out that these tiles were made in Morbi, Gujarat,” he says. From 2010 to 2012, there were more than 300 manufacturing units in Morbi. However, this number has steadily decreased.
In 2015, it had dropped to 100 units and thereafter the number dropped to 10 in 2018. “Now, in recent years, because there is a general demand for these tiles, the number of units increased to 30. This is an encouraging sign and we hope to continue to increase these numbers,” says Manoj.
Regarding sustainability, Manoj says, “There is a lot of talk in the air when it comes to sustainable practices. While everyone wants to be known for doing something, few actually do it. The tangible benefits of using such hardware is something everyone needs to experience to understand. He goes on to say that the role of sustainability crusaders is to keep innovating and coming up with new ideas to bring to customers. “We have to start following the chops,” he concludes.
(Editing by Yoshita Rao)