Tubes' 'Trame' radiator boasts a total of 279 size variations and scooped a Best of Year award from the magazine Interior Design in 2012
There’s a story about Salavador Dali – perhaps an apocryphal one – that goes something like this. Dali was asked by his wife, Gala, to paint the front of a screen that had been constructed to conceal a radiator. What did the celebrated surrealist artist choose to depict? Yes, you’ve guessed it – a radiator.
Beyond its amusement value, this art-world anecdote performs an almost modernist, rather than surrealist, move, reminding us that the utilitarian need not be at odds with the aesthetic. Good, honest products that serve a practical function can and should, in themselves, be regarded as things that have a justifiable visual presence in the interior landscape – in this case, heating elements.
Made of wire-drawn, recyclable aluminium, 'Agorà' forms part of the 'Elements' collection, which features such innovations as remotely installed valves
No manufacturer knows this better, perhaps, than Italian brand Tubes, who, through their singular vision to elevate the humble radiator and heated towel rail through formal, material and technological innovation, have positioned themselves as one of the small number of go-to companies internationally for design-led, resolutely expressive heaters.
If the Tubes philosophy were to be expressed in the form of an equation, it would be something along the lines of ‘material and technological research + energy efficiency + aesthetics = a Tubes radiator’, for the company’s products are overdetermined things that, not content with being solely heating devices, add value through the way that they shape space as well as heat it. ‘Products developed for architecture’, is how Tubes describes its offering.
Modularity combined with superlative energy-saving credentials underpin Tubes' formally expressive 'Agorà' radiator system, designed by Nicola de Ponti
The manufacturer set itself the task, through a collaboration with some of the best names in contemporary architecture and design, of elaborating a unique collection of aspirational, game-changing radiators. Authored by the likes of Ludovica and Roberto Palomba, Antonia Astori and Nicola de Ponti, and Satyendra–Pakhalé, Tubes products are situated at the point of contact between product design and architecture, their confident, sculptural forms displacing any notion that these are mere service components, but, instead, space-defining architectural elements with no reason to apologise for their presence. No Dali-esque screens needed here, that’s for certain.
It’s often said that design adds value. Tubes could easily function as a case study for the transformative power that investing in good design – both in terms of products and processes – has on manufacturing. Tubes Radiatori was established in 1994 on the back of the experience its founders had acquired over three decades in the fields of plumbing and heating systems. The new company’s emphatically design-driven approach to producing radiators and towel warmers has resulted in paradigm-shifting, highly covetable heating products that, with each new model, respond to the aesthetic as well as performance demands of the design-conscious, discerning client.
With its undulating form, the 'Trame' radiator, made of low-carbon-content tubular steel and designed by Stefano Giovannoni, references the warp and weft of traditional textile weaving
Quality is, of course, one of the cornerstones of the Tubes brand, whose radiators have been specified internationally for both residential and contract settings, the latter comprising chiefly of both standard and customised solutions for hotels. But this isn’t art for art’s sake. Underpinning the quality of formal expression and the quality of materials used, there’s real research at work. ‘It’s always been very important to us to be an avant-garde company,’ explains marketing director Cristiano Crosetta, ‘forming dialogues with internationally renowned designers to find new solutions, while employing new technologies that give the architect and designer innovative solutions in terms of both design and technical features.’ It may look like a work of art, but a Tubes heating element packs an awful lot of hard-headed know-how, which delivers on the fronts of energy-saving and sustainability.
Tubes' state-of-the-art production plant in Resana, Italy, covers 18,000 square metres and employs 75 team members. Here you'll find the latest in automated production and software
Take Nicola de Ponti’s recently launched ‘Agorà’ radiator for Tubes, which, in spite of its super-low water content, provides superlative heat exchange, thanks to its very large surface area that sees the product’s fins positioned inside the radiator as opposed to on its front section. Fabricated from wire-drawn, recyclable aluminium, the piece marries lower energy consumption with an uncompromised approach to aesthetics. Rigorous testing of the product in accordance with the EU-wide EN 442 standard at the Polytechnic of Milan’s laboratories confirms the radiator’s energy-saving credentials, while a Tubes technical innovation allows the valves to be connected remotely, away from the body of the heater itself, meaning clean, uninterrupted lines all the way.
Ludovica+Roberto Palomba's 't.b.t' radiator for Tubes marries formal reduction with technical innovation: a special internal circuit means the hot water circulates evenly through the individual pipes
Available in a staggering 190 different sizes, ‘Agorà’ surpasses its basic function as a source of heating, presenting itself instead as an interior-architectural system, its supreme modularity affording the user countless permutations for its installation. Not only can its almost-14-centimetre-wide modular elements be easily configured, various heights, ranging from 40 to 280 centimetres, permit a diversity of spatial schemes.
Also part of the Tubes ‘Elements’ collection, Stefano Giovannoni’s ‘Trame’ radiator embraces versatility, too. Manufactured in low-carbon-content steel and available in horizontally and vertically oriented versions, the design speaks visually of a different material – its tubular-steel elements reference, albeit in a magnified manner, the warp and weft of traditional textile weaving. Undulating, fluid lines lend the product a truly three-dimensional, textural presence, creating fascinating visual dynamics of light and shadow, solid areas and voids. This is major departure from the conventional design language of the radiator as a product type.
Designed by feted creative duo Ludovica+Roberto Palomba and with a depth of a mere 22 millimetres, Tubes' 'Square' is both radiator and furnishing element, and, unsurprisingly, winner of a German Design Council Design Preis award
Yet, once again, behind the finely honed, fine-art-like aesthetics, there’s plenty of research-driven innovation at work here. Winner of the ‘Bath Accessories and Hardware’ category in Interior Design magazine’s Best of Year 2012 awards, which are held in New York, ‘Trame’ features remote valves, is available in hydraulic, electric or combined versions, comes in a range of heights up to 2 metres, and with three options for the diameter of the tubular elements. Do the maths and you’ll see this means a total of 279 size variations.
Big numbers can be found at the Tube’s manufacturing site in Resana in North-East Italy, too. A new production unit, which covers 18,000 square metres and keeps 75 employees busy, features state-of-the-art automation and the latest software. This notwithstanding, Tubes products are hand-finished by craftsmen, ready for distribution across Europe and beyond. But it’s not only the radiators and towel rails that travel. The Tubes team do also, showing their architecturally oriented designs to design-conscious audiences internationally.
Space-defining, space-heating: 'Add On', as the name suggests, is a supremely modular heating system, which, as shown here, can also act as a space divider
This January sees Tubes exhibit at respected trade-fair Maison&Objet in Paris. ‘It’s very important for us to be there,’ says Crosetta, ‘as the French market is the strongest among the foreign countries we are dealing with. This year, we will present different solutions in the field of electric heating (which accounts for over 50% in France) and a special transparent finish, which protects the material when it has been left rough intentionally, creating a highly aesthetic, industrial look.’ April sees Tubes set up its stall, so to speak, in Milan at the Salone Internazionale del Bagno. There will be a number of new products launched here, but the company is keeping its cards close to its chest for the moment on just what visitors will encounter.
In spite of its success story, Tubes isn’t a brand to rest of its laurels. Future challenges? Bring them on, says Crosetta. ‘Tubes loves challenges. We’ve always faced them with determination, commitment and accuracy. When we introduced ourselves for the first time at the Salone del Mobile in 2003, the market had thought we’d gone mad. “Radiators as architectural components?” Ten years later and our competitors have without exception followed us, very often by copying some of those products. Now, that’s a challenge!’
The radiator has arrived as a freestanding, interior-architectural statement: shown here, Tubes' 'Milano' model, designed by Antonia Astori and Nicola De Ponti
So, how does the company stay ahead of the rest? Innovation, innovation, innovation. ‘There are many projects that we already have on paper,’ explains Crosetta. ‘Some will be presented at the Salone del Mobile, and many more in coming years. The company is accustomed to thinking on many fronts – the aesthetic side, the technical side, energy-saving, finishes and so on. In the future, you’ll see the company in different markets, with innovative products, not only in the heating industry.’
With this kind of long-term, ambitious vision, it’s clear the Tubes brand is only just warming up.