The top Five Pointers for Architects considering using mosaic


Get Creative - colouring pencils
Smalti laid at angle
Patterns of Immigration
Working with Colour
Selecting the colours
Tottenham Court Road Detail
Marble Cone
Litovi Mosaic
Unglazed Porcelain Palette
Erith Fish Roundabout
Fly and flower mosaic

Mosaic is an architectural medium

Mosaic is essentially an architectural medium, dating back to the ancient Sumerian era but all too often its true potential is overlooked. Here I look at, what I consider to be, the top five pointers for architects and designers using mosaic.

Read these top five pointers for architects and designers using mosaic and discover how you can take full advantage of this beautiful medium. Mosaic is incredibly versatile and it will add enormous potential to your palette alongside the other cladding surface materials and options. Whether you are an architect, interior designer or building manager this list will help you realise your buildings full potential.

You can find out about the mosaic commissioning process here in our Six Point Guide to Commissioning a Mosaic



Unleash your imagination, mosaic is an extremely flexible medium, it can run up walls and across floors, it can bend, twist and curve around any form.

Mosaic can bring a new narrative to your space or it can help reveal hidden narratives that are already there. Mosaic can be used to highlight or compliment your buildings colour palette. It can cover a whole wall or floor, or could be a simple meandering line inlayed into another complimentary surface material.


Most people just think of a mosaic in terms of a traditional figurative design image but this is just one aspect of how it can be used and what qualities it can bring to your building. Mosaic is also about light, texture, pattern and colour.


The relationship of light to mosaic is both beautiful and complex. The play of light falling across a wall can be reflected, interrupted or absorbed to stunning effect.

As the architects of the Byzantine world knew, the rich colours of glass enamels and gold Smalti can capture and reflect the lowest amounts of light. Glass, glazed ceramics, gold and metallic tesserae will sparkle and twinkle. Marbles and porcelain enhance the surface.


Of course closely related to light is texture. This quality of mosaic is often overlooked but can be used with great results. From the glass like polish of a fine marble floor to tesserae deliberately laid at angles or at differing levels, the surface of mosaic can take many forms.

Mosaic texture will change as the ambient light changes, alternatively it can be lit to accentuate the texture of the mosaic. Because art mosaics are laid by hand this texture can be controlled to also give flow and direction.


Pattern is the core of mosaics identity. This can range from the simple repeated cube, the essence of all mosaic, to highly complex patterns. The patterns that mosaics form are a key part of their beauty and draw viewers in as they marvel at the complexity of the work involved.

Pattern also can be used to help give cultural significance and identity to a space.


Colour has always been a factor to consider in architecture and mosaic offers not only a rich and diverse palette but also the purest colour.

Colour is used in a unique way in mosaic. The mosaic artist uses pure colour with each tesserae, and this combining of pure colour and the relationships between colours give a vivid feeling of life to the surface. From bright vivid colours to subtle earth hues mosaic can give a quality colour surface to your building.California Seashore - Stair wrap, photo by Emily Hagopian Photography

Emily Hagopian Photography


It may sound obvious here but too many mosaics end up being little more than a ‘gallery painting’ hanging on the wall. Don’t miss the opportunity to fully integrate your mosaic into the building. A good mosaic artist will be able to collaborate with the architect to ensure that the design and the technical specification work harmoniously with your building. This integration can also reflect any story or thematic scheme of your building.

Obviously floor mosaics need to be flat and level with their surroundings, but wall mosaics too benefit from being flush with the wall surface. I like to think of mosaic as like an exquisite piece of jewellery, it can enhance and highlight the essence of your buildings design. A tall thin wall mosaic can accentuate the height of a lobby or light well, it can even reflect the light source. A good mosaic will enhance the space and add a focal point of interest that compliments the space.


Knowing a little about the materials that are used in mosaic will help greatly in informing your decisions and specifying the optimum use of mosaic in your project:

Venetian Smalti

Hand made glass enamel. This is perhaps the Rolls Royce of mosaic material. Still hand made in the traditional manner in a few workshops around Venice, Glass Smalti comes in a huge range of colours from subtle hues to intense colour. The colour are mostly opaque but also include some transparent colours and vivid metallic colours including silver and a range of 24 carat gold leaf tesserae.

Traditionally Smalti is used in small cubes approximately 180mm x 10mm x 80mm but it can also be used in larger plate pieces as seen here in our panels for the Paolozzi Mosaics at Tottenham Court Road Underground Station in central London.


The classical mosaic material, marble mosaics have a quality all of their own. The material can be used in many ways from rough cut highly textured finishes, through beautiful riven surfaces,  to a glass like polish. The natural colours compliment our built environment and the variations and veining of marble means that the surface is aways alive.

By sourcing marbles from around the world an array of colours can be achieved. A marble mosaic floor is perhaps the ultimate in luxury flooring.


A modern and completely unique ceramic material hand made in France. This material combines the tough exterior durability of porcelain with the beauty, texture and colours of Smalti. A mostly matte unglazed ceramic Litovi is high fired to give it the high strength of porcelain.

Litovi’s colour palette is much wider than other porcelains and it is designed to be cut with the mosaic makers hammer to give a vibrant and dynamic textured finish.

Unglazed Porcelain

Tough, frost proof and slip resistant, unglazed porcelain is fantastic for floor mosaics. It gives the perfect flat matte finish for floors and only takes 5mm of the floor structure. It can be used in combination with underfloor heating and in pools.

Due to it’s clean cutting nature, porcelain can give a very clean precise graphic like rendering. Of course it can also be used on walls, ceilings and wrap around structures.

Vitreous Glass

The machine made glass common in pool mosaics can be used on walls and three dimensional structures. The colour range is bright including bright reds, oranges, pink and greens and a range of iridescent and metallic finishes.

Glazed Ceramic

Nowadays available in an increasing range of colours the surface of glazed ceramic is flat and glassy which can interfere with the perception of surface. However when used in a modern style can give bright dramatic effect.

Though of course most glazed ceramics are not suitable for exterior use, glazed porcelain is great for exterior walls and particularly effective when used in large and mixed size pieces.The Lion Hunt Mosaic from Pella - 4th Century BC

The Lion Hunt Mosaic from Pella – 4th Century BC


Perhaps the most ancient floor surface, pebble floors like this one discovered in Pella in Macedonian Greece show how sophisticated mosaics had already become by the fourth century BC.


If you are considering using mosaic in your project then start talking to a mosaic artist at the earliest opportunity. Consulting early has a number of benefits: Talking to an experienced mosaic artist can highlight alternative preferred design options before it’s too late to change; and by consulting early the optimum preparation can be planned to ensure an efficient timetable and seamless installation.

Items to consider will include: Foundation and site preparation; lighting for the mosaic if needed; maintenance implications; fabrication timetable; installation timetable. A good mosaic artist will be able to advise on all of these aspects.


  • Good mosaics take time to make, start early
  • Design the mosaic into the fabric of the building
  • Help your chosen mosaic artist see and understand your vision for the building

You can find out about the mosaic commissioning process here in our Six Point Guide to Commissioning a Mosaic

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Power up your commissioning knowledge

By reading this simple 4 stage guide you can avoid the pitfalls and plan a smooth commissioning process to a successful and stunning unique mosaic artwork.

Artist Gary Drostle has been creating award winning site specific artworks from his London studio for over 30 years.

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