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.
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.
For more information visit www.laufen.com