Much before the world got globalised as we define it today, innumerable ideas were actually travelling across to many nations, in the true sense of becoming universal. Often one would forget where the concept and technology originated from, possibly an ideal state where something local becomes global, yet becomes local again wherever it went.
Mosaic floor is an ideal illustration for such a societal phenomena, which could be claimed as a routine practice by Chennai as well as China.
How it is done
It can be laid in situ, with a mix of cement, marble powder and stone chips. First a thin layer of the mix is spread to about an inch thickness, semi-cured and then the floor area is subdivided into 2’x2’ squares with glass strips.
The top surface, about half-inch thick, is laid with finer chips or coloured ones to the level of glass strips, which prevent possible cracks. Very thin mosaic floor cracks, while doing the total depth at one stretch does not enable adequate curing. The flooring is polished many times, to get the necessary shine and smoothness.
Pros and cons
Casting mosaic at site helps in getting a seamless finish, levels as needed and cleanly defined edges. But it is vulnerable to defects by workmanship, besides a few other problems like retention of micro pores or inadequate curing.
As such, factories started to produce pre-cast tiles with pouring, pressing, grinding and polishing to fixed standards. Good compaction by machines ensured long-lasting wear and tear quality; epoxies ensured tiles without internal pores; and multiple patterning became possible. Factories also produced tiles for specific applications such as staircase, light industrial use or restoration of heritage structures.
Tiles are heavy and require transportation, but can be laid to thin concealed joints at site with polishing as usual. While pre-polished glazed tiles are possible, in situ polishing is required to get proper levels where the slurry produced during polishing is a nuisance.
Mosaic floors are easy to repair, by replacing the tiles. If faded over time, they can be re-polished to get a fresh appearance again. Tiles come with much higher compressive and impact strength compared to ceramic or vitrified, and guarantee longer life.
While localising mosaic production had an advantage, it led to lack of standardisation with many manufacturers ignoring quality of raw materials and hastening the production as a cost-cutting measure. No wonder, tiles were not taking good polish or chips were coming off too soon. However, many reputed companies in every city continue to produce good tiles.
In a big market setback, multi-storeyed buildings preferred the new age, light-weight, pre-finished options to reduce dead load, save on structural design and save on finishing time at site.
With multiple options for flooring today, mosaic may not be the best option in every context. Possibly as the flooring option in maximum demand until recently, mosaic tiles continue to be worth the money. Also, as a material with negligible wastage or pollution, it is worthy for ecological reasons.
(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)