Brazil’s Craze with Tiles on Buildings – everywhere!

Last time we travelled in Brazil we noticed it, and this time even more so: it’s a very common craze to cover the outside of many buildings with colourful tiles. Often it’s part of the initial design; other times a quick way to rejuvenate an old building.

We have talked about this trend with Brazilians several times, but they don’t seem to see it as anything noteworthy. Tiled structures are simply a common sight for them! It probably takes a foreigner to notice…

Brazil's Craze with tiles on the outside of buildings.

Brazil’s Craze with tiles on the outside of buildings.

It always amazed us to see tiles used to cover part, or the entire exterior, of buildings; from shop fronts to residential houses. Even high-rise towers of 20 storeys, and more, are entirely clad in tiles!

Maybe it’s because tiles are relatively expensive in Australia, since all are imported from overseas. In Brazil, tiles are cheap! We saw enormous factories along the highways only producing tiles. In shops you always find attractive, large-size, floor tiles for under Rs10 per square meter (that’s roughly AUD4/sqm), whereas in Australia you’re lucky if you find any ‘end of the line’ stock of floor tiles under AUD20, more likely you pay upwards of $30/sqm.

They also make a lot of really attractive tiles in Brazil. In many places we noticed large, narrow, tile strips, which perfectly resemble hardwood boards. Since they are almost a meter long and the width of a normal timber board, these tiles are used as a hard-wearing floor in shopping centres or timber-look features on walls.

Don't they look like real timber boards? We've seen these wood effect tiles used in many different places. Here on a verandah they look most appropriate.

Don’t they look like real timber boards? We’ve seen these wood effect tiles used in many different places. Here on a verandah they look most appropriate.

Or there are countless variations of imprints resembling the now so popular mosaic tiles, except that these come as single solid tiles of 30×30 or 40×40 centimetres – much easier to lay. It doesn’t stop with these, there are many other patterns!

In some cases this vast choice is the main reason for some really terrible looking tiling jobs. We had noticed the Brazilian taste of combining several really gaudy paint colours on one building. Imagine what it looks like when they combine several clashing tile patterns in one place! You often find this in residential streets or on older shops.

On the other hand, we noticed rather clever ways to break up the bulk of multi-storey buildings by using contrasting colour sections. These were usually architect-designed, large apartment or office blocks. Sometimes it is only done with paint, but more often by inserting at least some large tiled sections into the facade’s design.

The vast choice of reasonably cheap tiles also means that tiling isn’t confined to facades, kitchens and bathrooms. Tiled floors throughout a house, inside and out, are very common. They might even extend out to cover the whole width of the footpath. Or you see garden walls, driveways, and the concrete sections of front fences covered with tiles.

Many of these photos were taken from our truck… Click thumbnails below for a larger photo.

In many locations tiling simply provides a longer lasting, clean, outside appearance. Rendered or painted exterior surfaces seem to quickly develop unsightly patches of black mildew, especially in coastal regions with high humidity. Tiles seem to get washed clean by rain.

So tiling, when done right, can provide a rather durable and attractive surface. Very often we loved the look of tiled buildings, particularly when creative colour combinations were used. Even Brazil’s famous architect Oscar Niemeyer used tiles in many of his designs.

Oscar Niemeyer’s tile designs. Click thumbnails below for a larger photo.

Two other variations of tiling also caught our eyes. Several times we saw large hand-painted motifs of the traditional blue-and-white Portuguese tiles used to good effect. Also, we found really well-executed tile mosaics, often on a grand scale!

Various tile mosaics we found. Click thumbnails below for a larger photo.

Finally there is the famous tiled public stairway in Rio de Janeiro which has become a tourist attraction.

The colourfully tiled Escadaria Selarón has become a real tourist attraction. In the meantime many foreigners have tiles from their home country added to the mix of tiles.

The colourfully tiled Escadaria Selarón has become a real tourist attraction. In the meantime many foreigners have tiles from their home country added to the mix of tiles.

Portuguese blue-and-white tiles. Click thumbnails below for a larger photo.

As a traveller you return home with a lot of new impressions. One thing which amazed us was how often we noticed in Brazil the use of tiles on the outside of buildings. This inspired this gallery with over 40 examples.

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Have you ever considered tiling the outside of your home?
What do think of this idea? Do you like the look of it?


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6 Responses

  1. Patrícia Sandrin says:

    You can even see tiles in Athos Bulcão works. Is an artist of Brasilia, partner of Oscar Niemeyer.

    • Juergen says:

      Thanks for pointing out Athos Bulcão, a name I was not familiar with. But when I googled I found right away that he created the tile which adorn the Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Fatima in Brasilia (which is featured in my post).

  2. Tim says:

    As to the color choices, it is a common occurrence in most, if not all, of Latin America. When those cultures come to the USA they ask me why some of our homes are clad in wood and why so many of our commercial bldgs are in glass or fake adobe. It’s really what one is accustomed to. I have had a continuous life between the USA and Brazil for 43 years and I don’t notice it a I did when I was younger; it simply having become my norm.

    • Juergen says:

      Yes, Tim, I know. Odd colour choices seem to be prevalent in all of Latin America. Other than that all I wanted to do was to show one very unique side of Brazil I think not many people take notice of. And you’re right: we also noticed the ‘fake Adobe malls’ in the South-West of the USA. I have to confess I once backed our camper into a protruding roof section of one of the these shopping centres in New Mexico; the rear ladder left an indentation because all there was, under the thin render coat, was styrofoam. LOL.

  3. James Smith says:

    Here in João Pessoa, you will have to look hard to find a building NOT covered in ceramico. From my veranda, I can see condominiums of 30 or 40 stories all covered in tile. Many private homes are also covered in tile.

    Across a street from me is a relatively new building where they are ripping off some of the tiles to install new, decorative tiles. Covering entire buildings in tile is more prevalent here than it was in Rio when I lived there. That does seem to be changing, though.

    • Juergen says:

      Great to receive such a quick confirmation from a local. Before I wrote this post I thought that hardly anybody really notices this very unique architectural style… Tidbits we love to share with our followers.

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