Terrazzo has been used as a decorative and durable flooring product since the days of the Roman Empire. Over two thousand years later, it still maintains a strong reputation as hard flooring offering a true combination of durability, ease of maintenance, aesthetics and performance. How it is manufactured is basically unchanged since its inception. Basically, terrazzo is a composite of natural marble chips and/or other durable aggregates floating in a cementitious matrix with color pigments added. Chips may be chosen from a wide range of colors and sizes; how they are set results in unique flooring lighting and shadow effects. Once the matrix has been poured in place, grinding and polishing the surface further exposes aggregate colors and overall composition. Glass chips and even seashell material is now being used, as well.
Perhaps the most amazing example of modern terrazzo creativity in recent years can be witnessed at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Artist Clayton Merrell came up with “Sky Beneath Our Feet,” a 69,000 square foot knockout mural of custom terrazzo artwork that includes iconic Pittsburgh landscapes such as Heinz Field, the Smithfield Street Bridge, Cathedral of Learning, and Carrie Furnaces. These recognizable images border a blue sky, which swirls through the center of the airport’s floor, extending the experience of flight and freedom to walking through the terminal.
The actual terrazzo floor was installed by Roman Mosaic and Tile of Westchester, Pennsylvania. Operations Manager Doug Wilczek skillfully, and almost miraculously, managed the entire installation process while daily airport operations continued, virtually uninterrupted. Creative Edge Master Shop of Fairfield, Iowa was called upon to function as fabricator for all artistic floor elements. This meant furnishing the metal dividers for all the Pittsburgh landmark images, and providing an innovative layout system that transferred Merrell’s original images to the 69,000 SF of floor.
Jim Belilove, President and Founder of Creative Edge stated, “One of our mandates was to ensure that the artist’s vision was not compromised by practical issues and demanding schedules.” His firm implemented its world-leading waterjet technique, “TerrazzoTek™” to fabricate the metal terrazzo divider systems, which represented those iconic Pittsburgh landmark buildings, bridges and furnaces Creative Edge’s highly innovative “Transformz” system was used to transfer the artist's designs accurately to the expansive floor. Intricately stenciled patterns marked the exquisite features of clouds, contrails and aircraft; all creating the spectacular and world-class exhibit of public flooring artwork. Belilove added, "We are appreciative of this artwork as it is built into the structure of the building. In particular, because it is so colorful, innovative and locally themed."
Sky Beneath Our Feet spans the center core of the airport’s airside terminal and includes silhouettes from five neighborhoods that native Pittsburghers should know very well:
1. The North Shore with its stadiums and the Carnegie Science Center by Concourse A
2. Oakland with the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Phipps
Conservatory by Concourse B
3. South Side including the Smithfield Street Bridge and Duquesne Incline by Concourse C
4. Downtown as seen from the Ohio River by Concourse D
5. Homestead and the historic Carrie Furnace in the food court area
The Clayton Merrell designed terrazzo floor is part of the airport’s $10 million renovation project, which includes a number of high-end fashion stores and chic eateries. Without question, this highly unique terrazzo composition, which includes chips of of marble, quartz, granite, and glass has become a huge attraction for travelers, workers and visitors to the Pittsburgh International Airport. “We are very proud to have been able to contribute to this amazing project,” concluded Belilove.