Do some online research into terrazzo, and you’ll find source after source proclaiming that “terrazzo is making a comeback” or that it’s “hot this year.” Then again, chances are you’d have read the same pronouncement in 2017…and 2016…in 2015…well, you get the idea.
That’s because terrazzo’s resurgence has been advancing steadily ever since the introduction of thin-set epoxy in the late 1960s helped revive the industry, which had experienced its heyday during the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s. The use of epoxy drastically streamlined the installation process, making highly artistic flooring an attractive, affordable option in buildings and homes for which the traditional cementitious terrazzo had been too heavy or costly. What’s more, one of the few drawbacks to the new epoxy technique—the emission of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs—was quickly addressed with the development of highly solid epoxy, eliminating odors and reducing VOCs to eminently safe levels.
By the early 2000s, terrazzo was once again a highly appealing option, but primarily for architects, designers, contractors, and builders who worked primarily on large facilities—hospitals, schools, airports, convention centers. By 2015, some 300 million feet of terrazzo had been installed in the United States, with projections at the time predicting a 30-plus-percent increase within ten years.
And as newer, ever more breathtaking terrazzo installations began to appear, more and different kinds of consumers sought to learn more about terrazzo and whether it would be right for their home or business projects. That’s where the real terrazzo “comeback” is happening: at the end-user, consumer level. In the early 2000s, you might have read about terrazzo in Crushed Stone and Sand Quarterly; today, it’s a hot topic in everything from Southern Living to Architectural Digest (which in 2017 cited terrazzo as—you guessed it—a “vintage [trend] that [is] making a comeback”).
And the biggest sign that terrazzo is now firmly in the public zeitgeist? In December 2017, Pinsights published Pinterest 100 2018, an analysis of the over 100 billion “ideas” on the popular Web site that sought to identify upcoming trends based on year-over-year (YoY) increases in saves of topics with critical mass (over a quarter-million saves) that also trended strongly upward during the last three to six months of the year (discounting seasonal spikes). “Terrazzo” ranked third in the Home category, with an over four-fold YoY increase in saves (+316%)—amazing figures in light of the fact that Google Trends reveals that searches for “terrazzo” annually decline during the Pinterest sampling period!
And don’t be shocked to see those numbers grow and in turn translate to more and more use of terrazzo.
While it is understandably renowned for the artistic freedom it offers innovative architects and designers, this centuries-old material is remarkably in step with the concerns and needs of even the most pragmatic customers. Consider terrazzo’s unrivaled performance in these areas.
Affordability: Some terrazzo installations may seem expensive at first blush—but no one ever completely evaluates any purchase “at first blush.” Terrazzo’s extreme durability and ultra-low-maintenance requirements mean that even pricier installations actually cost less on an annual basis than alternatives such as carpet, vinyl sheet, vinyl tile, and porcelain or quarry tile (assuming a rather reasonable forty-year lifespan for a structure).
In fact, the real-world savings of a terrazzo install can begin to accrue even before the epoxy has dried. A good example is the Pittsburgh International Airport Airside Terminal, winner of the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association’s coveted Job of the Year Award for 2016. Equal parts art exhibit, history lesson, and public thoroughfare, the 70,000-square-foot installation was handled by Roman Mosaic and Tile — and operations manager Doug Wilczek used terrazzo’s unique properties to craft the construction process in a way that would yield immediate savings to the customer: the citizens of Allegheny County.
“We were able to install the new terrazzo floor over existing structures with zero issues,” says Wilczek, eliminating the cost and mess caused by removing old tile, marble, and concrete. Wilczek and Roman Mosaic also created a production plan that kept airport revenue flowing. “The new terrazzo floor was designed to be installed in phases,” Wilczek says, “so we could keep all the businesses open and passengers were able to move easily through the terminal.” Now that the project has been completed, he says, airport visitors are happily discovering other, less-expected advantages of terrazzo. “No joints or lippage on the floor means there’s a lot less damage to both the floor and wheeled luggage, which also rolls much more quietly on terrazzo,” he notes. “And the floor can be kept much cleaner without joints.”
Environmentally Sound: It’s difficult to imagine a more eco-friendly building material than terrazzo. The aggregates used to form the terrazzo are derived from a bevy of materials, ranging from quartz and marble to mother-of-pearl and glass—and recycled material is equally as suitable as newly produced. High solid epoxies have eliminated any issues related to VOCs, and in fact the use of terrazzo can in some instance translate in LEED points for those seeking to adhere to green-building standards. What’s more, terrazzo doesn’t require harsh chemicals, steam, or even extremely hot water to keep clean: its non-breathable surface means that simply sweeping and mopping with warm water is typically all that’s required.
A Healthful Alternative: For some installations—hospitals, nursing homes, cafeterias, to name a few—the issue of containing pathogens is vitally important. Terrazzo is unsurpassed in its ability to deliver an interior space that is, to put it mildly, inhospitable to bacteria, as well as to the spores and fungi that cause mold and mildew. The resin used on epoxy terrazzo is non-breathable, so there simply isn’t a place such as grout lines where nastiness can accumulate. Indeed, in a 2006 report published by the Asthma Regional Council titled “Health Considerations When Choosing School Flooring,” terrazzo was rated as the “Much Better” choice for Halls and Entries, Classrooms, Libraries, Cafeterias and Restrooms and Kitchen when compared to a variety of
other flooring choices. “It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the grout you see in many types of flooring will never be as clean again as it was when it was installed,” says Hamza Kahn, Arim-Inc. Relationship Manager. “With terrazzo, achieving that level of cleanliness and sanitation is really just a few mop strokes away because it is inherently stain-resistant and doesn’t give microbes a home where they can grow.”
For the Art of It: Advances in resin and epoxy technology have given terrazzo contractors an incredibly broad palette with which to work, helping them to realize an architect’s vision by enabling levels of detail, color, and perspective that are essentially unrivaled by any other organic medium. Roman Mosaic’s Wilczek, recalling the sprawling murals he helped create at the Pittsburgh International Airport, notes that “we were able to copy the artist’s very detailed designs…with terrazzo, the new floor could be designed to have any color or pattern imaginable.”
Of course, there might be some debate over just what constitutes great art. But what’s beyond debate is that no matter how you look at it—economically, environmentally, hygienically, and yes, even aesthetically—terrazzo is a great value.
And that’s the sort of comeback we’ll welcome anytime.