How Claraval redefined fine-art ceramics through computational design

ALBOBACA, Portugal – As the sultry tones of The Gift’s lead singer, Sónia Tavares, reverberate throughout the halls of the Alcobaca Monastery in southern Portugal, rising and falling in pitch-perfect waves against the minimalist backdrop, the video image of Tavares shifts to a fluctuating three-dimensional rendering of a curvaceous vase, simple in color palette and complex in form. The lines of the vase’s silhouette ebb and flow in time with the singer’s voice, culminating in a décor piece inspired by octaves.

“Through computational design, 3D printing, and traditional ceramic fabrication, we transform sound into fluid, harmonic and unique fine-art ceramics,” said Fábio Caldas of Claraval Sound-Made Ceramics, who debuted the Monastery collection created in collaboration with Tavares and Mark Lloyd, founder of Skopelab, at Portugal Home Week in June. “Our experience at Portugal Home Week was truly remarkable…it was an excellent platform for networking and showcasing our world’s first ‘Sound-Made Ceramics,’ a really innovative concept and a revolutionary way of producing ceramics.”

The launch of the first Claraval collection represents a partnership between Perpétua, Pereira, and Almeida, a ceramic and porcelain producer from Alcobaça, Portugal, presenting as its designated brand S. Bernardo and Skopelab, Lloyd’s business brainchild for combining sound capture techniques and ceramics. Caldas notes that the debut of Claraval and the inaugural collection in Portugal represents a significant milestone for the company, adding that the Monastery collection is just the beginning of a new category of artisanal décor. For Skopelab’s Lloyd, the launch represents a serendipitous synergy between people, places, and things, along with several areas of personal interest.

“I’ve always been moved by sound,” he said. “It has a very different emotional impact compared with sight. And as a 3D designer, I had often wondered whether it might be possible to transform the harmonic relationships and rhythms of sound into 3D geometry.

“I started looking at this with great interest a few years ago and developed computational design methods to achieve this, to be able to transform the frequencies, the intensities, the rhythm, the dynamics of sound into geometry — whether it be the human voice or sounds that we find in the world around us,” Lloyd continued. “I think in a way that it is sound maybe more than vision that connects us to our world. If we close our eyes, we are still very much linked to this world. And when we want to concentrate or connect in some way, we often close our eyes. Yet when we shut off our ability to hear, the world is a very different place.”

The road to the Monastery

Lloyd said that when the Claraval team began brainstorming about themes for a new collection, they wanted to develop something connected with the company’s hometown location, Alcobaca. He noted that the monastery has always played an important part in the life of the community, its development, and its cultural life.

“We visited the Monastery and immediately you imagine song,” Lloyd explained. “It’s an integral part of the life of a monastery. A short while later, Sonia Tavares, who I did not know at the time, arrived at the factory, and I was immediately struck by this very powerful presence, this very powerful personality. And straight away, I thought that we could do something special together.”

Lloyd noted that Tavares’ voice is “characterized by this tremendous power, range and dynamic.” When envisioning the Monastery collection, those same characteristics were product development goals.

“We see, we hear these deep, powerful notes soaring into space,” Lloyd said. “It’s possible to visualize them. For me, sound is visualizable in my mind. I imagine how it floats and swerves through space and this is what we have tried to capture. Sometimes powerful, sometimes delicate. Rising and falling and swerving and tiptoeing in space, this is the voice that we hear in the recording and this tremendous harmonic variety and intensity and gentleness; this 3-dimensional interpretation of the human voice.”

Currently, the Monastery Collection offers 11 pieces: Euphony, Sónia, Resonance, Grace, Magnificat, Reverie, Celeste, Muse, Elegy, Serenity, and Solace. Each piece is available in classic white, as well as a range of colors and textures, including several that debuted at Portugal Home Week.

“While we initially introduced it in classic white, we took this opportunity to unveil new colors and textures exclusively created for this show,” Caldas says. “The expanded range of options added depth and versatility to the collection, allowing customers to find the perfect ceramic pieces that harmonize with their unique aesthetic preferences. In addition to the Monastery Collection, we also presented prototypes from our upcoming collection, the ‘Foz do Douro Collection.’ These exquisite pieces showcase our commitment to innovation and creativity, drawing inspiration from the captivating beauty of the Foz do Douro region. The prototypes provided a glimpse into the future of Claraval, exciting visitors with the promise of new collections that blend artistry, technology, and the essence of our Portuguese heritage.”

Ship time for the new products varies depending on the specific order details and customization requirements, Caldas said. He added that the company is quoting an approximate 30-day delivery for products in stock and 60-90 days for those in production.

“Our company has a robust production capacity that allows us to fulfil significant orders,” Caldas says. “While the exact number of pieces we can produce per day depends on various factors such as complexity and size, we have the ability to scale our production to meet the demands of the U.S. market, since our main market for the group’s other brand is precisely the U.S. This means that we already have experience exporting our products to the United States. Nevertheless, please consider an average of 500 pieces per day.”

Global expansion

Claraval plans to show the Monastery Collection at the Feria Habitat in Valencia, Spain, in September. In addition to Portugal Home Week, the company also shows products include Ambiente, in Frankfurt, Germany, and Salone in Milan, Italy. The company is also in negotiations with several U.S. companies and plans to announce those partnerships as soon as the deals are finalized.

Both Caldas and Lloyd are eager to share the message of Portuguese craftsmanship with international markets, and each thinks the Monastery Collection is an important representation of what is possible in the future.

“The response to our brand and collections was overwhelmingly positive, with visitors expressing admiration for our dedication to craftsmanship, attention to detail, and the enchanting fusion of sound and ceramics,” Caldas says. “What sets Portuguese home furnishings apart is the fusion of traditional craftsmanship with a modern sensibility. The country’s long-standing artisanal traditions have been passed down through generations, ensuring that each piece is imbued with a sense of artistry and authenticity.

“Additionally, Portugal’s geographic location plays a significant role in its offerings,” Caldas said. “The country’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its diverse landscapes inspires designs that incorporate elements of nature, such as coastal themes, earthy tones, and organic textures. This connection to nature, combined with a commitment to sustainable practices, results in home furnishings that embody a harmonious blend of beauty, functionality, and environmental responsibility.”

Continuing the sound story at Claraval

The current marketing campaign for the Monastery Collection features Carla Esteves and Beatriz Santos, PP&A employees who work in the Quality Control and Glazing departments, respectively. The idea to showcase the people who play a part in creating the collection is one that Caldas and Lloyd plan to expand.

“The two remarkable models featured in the photos are none other than Carla and Beatriz, who are talented workers at PP&A, the ceramics manufacturer company behind the Claraval brand,” Caldas explains. “We take immense pride in being authentic and transparent about our creative process, and showcasing the skilled artisans who craft these pieces. Carla and Beatriz’s exceptional work truly embodies the essence of Claraval’s artistic vision.”

Lloyd said that the next collection for Claraval — Foz do Douro — will also tell a unique product story tied to Portugal, its people, and the craftsmanship of artisans in the country.

“Where the Douro River finally meets the sea is a very interesting place because it is where the water of the land finally meets the sea; a place where you have very interesting interactions between these two masses,” Lloyd explains. “Depending on the conditions of tide, of current, of wind, you can see the mixing process. And meeting creates waveforms of a very particular nature. The recordings from this place are the base for this new collection, and beyond this we have many new ideas to develop!”

“We are incredibly proud of the Claraval line and the journey we’ve embarked on to bring sound to life through our ceramics,” Caldas said. “At Claraval, we are driven by a deep passion for blending artistry and innovation, resulting in pieces that not only resonate with beauty but also with the soul of the natural world. Our Sound-Made Ceramics technology is at the heart of our creative process, allowing us to craft stunning pieces that capture the harmonies of nature in a tangible form, and to create an immersive experience that connects people with the essence of sound and the beauty of form.”

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