Terrazzo, Waterjet Technology Allow Complex Flooring Designs

Terrazzo is one of the most time-tested of building materials. It was used in palaces, courtyards, assembly halls, villas and bathhouses during the height of the Roman Empire. Many of those ancient structures are still intact. When the ruins of Pompeii were unearthed, the forgotten terrazzo floors were virtually undamaged. Terrazzo is an historic and very strong, enduring — and endearing flooring product.

The National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association defines terrazzo as “a material consisting of marble, granite, onyx or glass chips in Portland cement, modified Portland cement or resinous matrix. The terrazzo is poured, cured, ground and polished. Typically used as a finish for floors, stairs or walls, Terrazzo can be poured in place or precast.”

There has been a renaissance in the usage of terrazzo over the last decade. According to Jim Belilove, president and CEO of Fairfield, Iowa’s, Creative Edge Corp., “Terrazzo is now offered with an epoxy matrix. This is stronger than the cementitious material which was the traditional binder. Epoxy doesn’t crack, can be offered in many more and much brighter colors, the color does not fade, and curing time is much less. Terrazzo with an epoxy matrix can also accommodate larger chips … and the thickness of the material, even for a major industrial application, can be just 3/8 inches thick.

“Additionally, with computerized waterjet technology, shapes into which the terrazzo are poured can be cut perfectly over and over again,” Belilove says. “As a result, designs for stores or malls can be duplicated quickly and without worrying about the visual differentiation from one hand-formed shape to another.”

A good example of a major retail installation which featured waterjet technology can be found at the Grand Coastal Mall in Myrtle Beach, S.C. T.B. Penick & Sons, Inc., the San Diego-based general contractor with a specialty in the installation of high-end terrazzo projects, was involved in this creative flooring project, which included a food court with a multi-colored, highly focal terrazzo floor design.

This food court had beautiful shapes which were achieved by pouring the terrazzo into waterjet-cut aluminum forms. This was a project that included intricate images that had to be re-created in terrazzo to exactly replicate the artist’s original drawings.

Retail construction executives should know about waterjet technology. The process is a computerized, cold cutting technology that can cut most materials into any two-dimensional shape. Marble, granite, porcelain, ceramic, linoleum, sports flooring, vinyl, and all metals are excellent materials for the waterjet process. Waterjet cutting does not heat, harden or distort metals. Those are some other reasons why the aluminum forms into which terrazzo was to be poured at Coastal Grand Mall’s food court were best cut by waterjet.

Anything that can be drawn on a computer can be cut by waterjet. Many materials like stone, porcelain, and stainless steel cannot economically be cut into complex shapes in any other way. Terrazzo is more versatile than most developers or designers can imagine. For example, it can be poured onto many different substrates, or right over existing floor materials such as concrete, vinyl tile, ceramic/porcelain tile or even wood.

It is still ideal for any retail construction project, particularly those that have heavy foot traffic.

Harri Aalto
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