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Step back in time to 1980s marble and terrazzo floor artwork

In 1985, Christopher Tipping was commissioned to create an artwork for the floor of the new Jay Mews Entrance and Reception rotunda of the Royal College of Art Darwin Building, Kensington Gore. The commission came from Su Rogers, Director of the RCA Project Office and tutor in the School of Architecture.

Chris had only recently graduated from the RCA Department of Ceramics and Glass, and this was his first public commission. He recalls working closely with Diespeker and visiting our old workshops at Graham Street in Islington from his studios at Loughborough Junction, Brixton to have samples made. Some of these samples are still in his archive collection.

Chris says he was always fascinated by the patterned marble pavements and mosaics of ancient Rome and the intricate decorative stone floors of 16th century Florence. As a student he was influenced by the Memphis Design Collective, architect John Outram (see below), and post-modern architecture. This amalgamate was the inspiration for the RCA design, incorporating his own concepts and creativity which he explored within his MA exhibition of large-scale architectural ceramic painted panels.

The commissioned artwork was expressed as a tessellated monochrome marble threshold pathway, leading into a radial polychrome terrazzo entrance hall. The manufacture and installation of this stunning piece was carried out by a team from Diespeker. The black, grey, and white marble pieces were cut in the factory and laid in-situ, whilst the terrazzo element was installed using traditional methods. A template frame was used for the various terrazzo mixes which were carefully poured into place, left to set then ground and polished, very similar to the process still used today.

During Chris’s visits to Diespeker in the mid-80s he saw some of architect John Outram’s works in the factory yard. He says he was blown away by what could be achieved. Diespeker worked on many of John’s imaginative designs, including his extraordinary temple for the Isle of Dogs ‘Temple of Storms’, pumping station, and his ideas for ‘The New House’ at Wadhurst, an idiosyncratic, post-modern country home. John had visited Chris’s MA degree show at the RCA in 1985 bringing along with him some wonderful images he’d taken at a decorative cement tile factory in Italy.

Chris’s stunning work was highlighted again 32 years later, when it was represented in the Marketing Campaign for the 2017 Frieze Art Fair with images by photographer Luke Hayes. The campaign focused on architectural floors from London iconic landmarks and beautiful crops of floors in renaissance paintings from the National Gallery Collection.

Chris came back to Diespeker in 2022, this time to our Ormside Street premises, while he was researching materials for another project. Although the project didn’t take off, his interest in terrazzo and particularly the craft of the bespoke work which he’d first seen in the 1980s was reignited. He says that Diespeker is one of the few companies still using craft and hand-based skills, married with new technology to achieve innovative and stunning results.

And what of his beautiful RCA floor? Chris is simply delighted that the marble and terrazzo artwork has stood the test of time, under the gaze and footfall of thousands of students, tutors, and visitors alike.

Chris continues to work on meaningful public art projects nationally. He was lead artist on the award-winning Margate Steps, Southampton’s Guildhall Square, Station Quarter North, and Rochester Riverside. His work for the Coventry Station Masterplan (Coventry City of Culture 2022) and currently as Principal Artist collaborating with public art consultants FrancisKnight for Alkerden Major Urban Park in Ebbsfleet places his work firmly within an architectural urban landscape and public realm. He is also well known for his sensitive and original approach to creative expression within healthcare settings and healing environments where he feels he can make a direct and personal contribution.

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