Hard Surfaces

ExCeL London

18-20 April 2023

Innovation Meets

Thursday 20 April 2023




The 2023 seminar programme will be released in the months prior to the show.

At the 2019 show, the Thursday keynote was Els Zijlstra, founder and creative director of MaterialDistrict, who delivered a session that explores the latest innovations in Hard Surface design. Els studied architecture at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands where she has also been a guest professor.  Sought after for her expertise in pioneering materials Els has presented at universities across the world including Toronto, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Melbourne, Seoul, Madrid and Rome.



Black Gold challenges how we treat valuable remainders of the oil industry.

Asphalt is an ubiquitous material in our urban fabric. It is everywhere, but since it is only regarded in purely functional terms, its potential remains unseen. Asphalt has rather unique properties and aesthetic qualities.

This material is a remainder of the oil industry. It is a by product of transit, trade, commerce and lobbyism. It is an unnoticed by product of prosperity and yet of such great importance. With the Black Gold material and objects, Quintus intends not only to show an aesthetic that has been overlooked for almost a century, manifesting the capabilities of the material and its industry of today, but rather aim to show, and reflect upon, a piece of our current consumer society that in time will not only seize to exist, but neither will it ever come back again, as monuments of its time.



These concrete building blocks are partly translucent, due to added glass or polymer elements that let light through. LiCrete launched in 2014 as an architectural building block for a wide variety of uses in interior design.

The blocks come in standard sizes of approx. 60mm x 150mm x 300mm and can be used structurally, as they maintain the strength of standard concrete. For transparency, various see-through materials are used, such as glass and plastics. Details are being kept secret to prevent copying.

Each block has a grooved profile on its sides, to allow for easy and safe stacking. In theory, this would allow walls to be built quickly and simply. At present, translucency is only possible through one axis of the block, though it is possible that this will change in the future.

Developed by Czech designers Gravelli, the blocks are produced by Beton Broz, also based in the CzechRepublic. The blocks come in standard sizes and patterns, but variations are being planned with different shapes and sizes of translucent elements.

Other variations in development are thinner tiles for use in translucent staircases and curved elements for lighting and so on.



Rain(a)Way’s ‘Flood’ tile by Fien Dekker is an innovative tile that can visibly accommodate rainwater.  The Flood Open, by contrast, is intended for water filtration and storage. It should not be stepped on, but instead used in combination with stepping-stones. The Flood Open tile collects water within its curved walls, filtering the runoff back into the earth via holes along the four perimeter edges.

The other two tile designs also allow for slow filtration. The Flood ‘Doorlatend’ Tile has a semi-permeable base, allowing water to seep slowly back into the earth. Meanwhile, The Flood Closed Tile allows for slow drainage through wall joints in the tile.

On the one hand, this contributes to a solution to the problem and, on the other hand, the rain water becomes visible in an attractive manner.

The ‘Flood’ tiles can be laid in every possible way to create random patterns. However, to create pedestrian routes, step tiles can be superimposed on the stones. The tiles are available in ten variants. Fien Dekker explains that the design is influenced by Japanese architecture, in particular its aesthetic and functional response to water.



Updated, originally published September 28, 2014: The British company Graphic Relief is made up of a combination of artists, engineers and technicians who specialize in creating luxurious surface reliefs, patterns and effects in different sizes and materials. The textures can be very deep reliefs, as shown in this publication, or smooth with photographic detail.

The materials Graphic Relief utilise to create their surfaces include concrete as well as metals and other castable materials. Nearly all of their designs are bespoke.

To make their surfaces, they work from digital files to create highly detailed relief moulds into which liquid material is poured and then allowed to set before sealing. Different colours and finishes can be created by altering the ingredients, adding pigments or other materials.

A fully metallic finish is also possible to create by casting materials such as bronze and aluminium.



Lava fields cover large areas in Iceland. They are often rugged and impossible to cross, but occasionally the hot running lava is solidified into a big smooth surface reminiscent of a grand cathedral floor. It is a fascinating material in all its variety. Tinna likes to grasp this wild material and force it into geometrical shapes, which can then be used as a paving material. The lava tiles quickly get colonised by moss and other vegetation. The lava tiles have the size 40x40x2 cm and are made of Icelandic lava.

Iceland has a high concentration of active volcanoes due to its location on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, a divergent tectonic plate boundary, and also due to its location over a hot spot. The island has 30 active volcanic systems, of which 13 have erupted since the settlement of Iceland in AD 874. Of these 30 volcanic systems, the most active/volatile is Grímsvötn. Over the past 500 years, Iceland’s volcanoes have erupted a third of the total global lava output. Tinna Gunnardóttir is a conceptual designer located in Reykjavík, Iceland. She is a part of the directory board of Product Design at the Iceland Academy of the Arts.

NST087 Basalt Tiles 

NST087 Basalt Tiles 

These very hard tiles are made for very heavy industrial use, but also feature a beautiful metallic sheen.

Originally used for sewerage systems or piping pieces, these pavement tiles are made by melting natural basalt and casting it into metal moulds. Paving tiles cast in this manner feature excellent properties, making them suitable for use in industrial operations where they will be exposed to mechanical and/or chemical loads. They are also often used because of their attractive and uncommon appearance.

This range covers tiles with smooth or anti-slipping surface and their various accessories, such as coved tiles, so-called L-pieces, and many atypically shaped tiles. The colour of each tile is determined by the nature of the natural material and cannot be changed or painted. Each tile is an original in its appearance and thus also the floors made from the tiles are unique.

These basalt tiles are produced with three basic types of backside finishes: With rough grooving – so-called rough raster, with fine grooving – so-called fine raster and without raster – so-called smooth tiles. The sizes are variable. The tiles with rough raster are used for laying into bed from wet concrete mix, or it may be glued by binding material similarly as ceramic tiles onto a prepared, properly cleaned, matured and compact concrete bed. The surface of basalt pavements is dust-free, it is easily maintained with common and mechanical cleaning means; this applies also for anti-slipping pavements, where the offsets are designed for easy cleaning. Basalt pavements are also resist to strong chemical agents used for sanitary cleaning works. The manufacturer recommends to clean interior pavements after assembly with 8 % vinegar, wax with common substances for maintenance of the floor covering and then wipe with wet cloth.

JR – The tiles with fine raster are used for gluing by binding material similar to ceramic tiles onto prepared, properly cleaned, matured and compact concrete bedding. The use of this raster is advantageous also for special adhesives and binders, e.g. in chemical operations, regarding the decreased consumption of the adhesive.

H – The smooth tiles are used very rarely and mainly for special purposes, where extreme minimum thickness and minimum consumption of the basement adhesive is required. As a standard, the raster tiles with R and JR grooves are produced. The products of melted basalt are, particularly on casting into the metal moulds, smooth, practically with zero imbition. For better adhesiveness to the binders, the non-working sides are fit with finer or rougher grooving, and additionally the sand is pressed into the surface during casting. The surface is roughened by individual sand grains, which are firmly bound to the basalt.

Adhesive capacity tests have proven that these „sanded” castings feature very good adhesiveness both to classic, and to modern synthetic binders.


MaterialDistrictMaterialDistrict has created a 200m² curated experience of 136 international surfaces at this year’s Hard Surfaces Show. Unexpected performance and innovative aesthetics will be found in materials featured for their lightweight recycled content, their durability and other distinct properties and visual appeal. There are products for exterior and interior use created to satisfy both form and function

The development of hard materials is all about new surfaces, sustainable challenges, and creative digital techniques for smarter ways to add that wow-factor to construction. What are the latest developments? As well as those materials already familiar to the sector such as sintered, solid surfaces and quartz, how about cast basalt;  industrial metallic finishes;  acoustic lightweight concrete; curvy natural stone paper; 3D printed structural support beams; recycled trash terrazzo; translucent materials;  others that absorb CO²;  smart composites – even one combining stone with wood; water-absorbing tiles; and much more…… you've got to see it… touch it… experience it to believe it.  Come and be inspired.