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Emily John , who graduated from BCU this year in illustration and is now pursuing a masters in print at the Royal College of Art, is on a groundbreaking journey to revive the charm and passion associated with Victorian tiles. The type of tiles which form a decorative centrepiece or mural in Victorian buildings across the city from the Council House to Moseley Baths. She wants to use technology to transform the ceramic making process so decorative tiles with modern designs can once again grace our buildings. STEAMhouse, a centre for innovation and collaboration, played a key role in turning Emily’s ideas into reality by successfully securing a 6-month Studio/Maker Membership, thanks to Shapesart, where she is experimenting with different tile designs.
‘I want to design modern tiles for murals which can adorn buildings and make them feel special places,’ said Emily. ‘To create Victorian tiles today is prohibitively expensive as you need a kiln and only a few manufacturers can do it. So, at STEAMhouse I’ve been experimenting with 3D prints and using resin and silicone moulds to produce the tiles. It’s about taking the best in Victorian tile design and using modern technology to transform the process and make it cost effective.’
Emily is particularly passionate about designing modern buildings that people want to spend time in. Creating beautiful spaces using tiles she believes is an important part of this process, helping people to take pride in the buildings in which they live, work and play. ‘Too many buildings these days are not built to last’ she says. ‘You see some that are beginning to crumble after just a few years. When the Victorians built, they built to last. If more buildings had tile murals like the Victorians incorporated into their architecture, they would be much more valued by the people in them.’
It is not just Victorian tiles that Emily is passionate about but tiles from across the world. ‘Tile design dates from antiquity and what I like about them is every culture has had their own design. Much of what we know today about ancient civilisations is based on their tiles. The Victorians in championing tiles were building on a long legacy, particularly reflecting Arabic and Moroccan influences. Tiles are also sustainable, they are all made from natural products extracted from the earth, and the designs can be used over and over again so there is no waste.’
Emily’s big idea is to create a tile making process using the technology available at STEAMhouse which is affordable and can be used to transform modern architecture. In doing this she is a shining example of putting the A into STEAM. Thanks to Shapesart her bold vision could yet transform the next generation of buildings making them places we can all be proud of.
STEAMhouse is on a mission to enable innovation through collaboration. Powered by Birmingham City University, it’s a supportive space where entrepreneurs, students, businesses and organisations co-exist to solveproblems and develop new ideas. Comprised of four floors, STEAMhouseprovides the latest technology, kit and equipment, complemented by a portfolio of products services and programmes that include skills development, space hire, consultancy services, and events, it’s a destination that makes innovation happen.