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Clean Living: Laufen SaphirKeramik

Sponsored Feature: Marc Viardot in conversation with Christine Murray, editor of The Architectural Review, on the slimline SaphirKeramik

Christine Murray: What are the drivers of change in the ceramics industry?

Marc Viardot: For us, we are always  pushing the limits of ceramics, and we bring in external designers to drive innovation  and constantly challenge our engineers. When we innovate,  we do so on an industrial scale and act responsibly with our resources. Our most recent innovation can be seen in SaphirKeramik, launched in 2013, a new material which allows for wafer-thin radii of just 1 to 2mm, instead of the current 7-8mm. This saves space, material and resources. But Laufen has a long tradition of innovation: in 1964, Laufen invented the wall-hanging toilet, and now more than 90 per cent of German and Swiss homes have these installed. In the ’80s, we introduced pressure casting which created a manufacturing shift in terms of efficiency. We started off using this for very simple forms like sinks, but now we use it for more complex forms such as toilets. In 2002, we launched the first one-piece floor-standing washbasin in ceramic – an evolution in manufacturing. 

CM: What inspired the creation of SaphirKeramik?

MV: The creation of SaphirKeramik is connected to Laufen’s desire to create shapes, forms and solutions in ceramic materials that were once unthinkable. But it also responds to global trends and challenges.

While other rooms in the home, such as the kitchen, have increased in size over time, bathrooms have stayed compact. SaphirKeramik is thinner and dematerialised. This is a trend that you can see in electronics, for example televisions – why waste half a square metre in  a room when you can hang a flat-screen television on the  wall? The quality of a bathroom partially lies in the proportions  of the fixtures. SaphirKeramik allows us to make thin edges  that minimise the unfunctional areas of the basin. One of our SaphirKeramik basins is just 460mm wide, but when you  stand in front of it, it’s more  than large enough and the functional space is larger than  most standard 600mm washbasins.

CM: You mentioned that SaphirKeramik also uses  less material …

MV: In general, ceramic is already very sustainable, with natural raw materials, and can be fully recycled during the production process or even after years  of use. This is also true of SaphirKeramik. Because of its strength, however, it also requires the use of less material in the first place, which makes it even more sustainable. In addition, part of the culture of Laufen is to ensure our products have the longest possible lifetime in terms of durability, water-saving, functionality and also aesthetics. Each piece must have the potential to become a design classic that can still be present  in a home even in 30 years’ time. Bathroom products are a fixture that lies between architecture and interior design. They are not like furniture, which can be  easily replaced. 

Laufen SaphirKeramic02

Laufen SaphirKeramic02

Understated elegance and clean slender lines characterise Laufen’s SaphirKeramik ceramics

CM: How long did it take to develop SaphirKeramik?

MV: It took five years. In 2013  we showcased the first products.  A lot of people at that time were trying to manufacture something similar but using synthetic materials. Now, we’ve presented  a 1.2m SaphirKeramik wall-mounted basin fulfilling all  of the requirements so we are  still a few steps ahead. 

CM: What do you see in the future  of bathrooms?

MV: Related to SaphirKeramik, we see a lot of opportunities.  We presented these products with textures and colours  – this way, the new trays, for example, can become interior design objects. They are also  not only restricted to bathrooms; and our growing experience working with Kartell furniture company has created completely new visions of where sinks could be, from offices to other rooms that do not require a massive  wet area. It’s good to break  out in different directions to stimulate new possibilities  and provide solutions that  optimise space. 

CM: What is your approach towards architects? What can they expect when they come to you and what degree of customisation is possible?

MV: It is a strength of Laufen to offer customisation within the limitations of ceramics. We  are known for cutting our  basins to any dimension to  make them practically invisibly integrated in space. We can customise in terms of colours and surfaces. Our catalogue is the shop window of Laufen, but it’s  just a starting point.

CM: What would you say is the  key to success when creating  and testing new designs?

MV: The key is to work with  the best external designers.  We give, depending on the project, a clear brief that  defines the functional requirements of the unit,  but otherwise they have  complete design freedom. We  are not looking for designers to create sculptures – everything must make sense for the user,  the company and the supply chain, and we want products  that can be produced at scale, which creates other technical challenges. So the product goes through a rigorous process until it is accepted. The ultimate goal for me is to create a unique product that is different from  all others, but because of its  high-quality design is distinctly  a Laufen product.

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