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Interior architecture students named winners of Ceramics of Italy Tiles Competition for a second year

Interior architecture students named winners of Ceramics of Italy Tiles Competition for a second year

July 21, 2020 at 3:10pm

By  Zion Sealy 

Every year, Ceramics of Italy (the brand of the Italian ceramic industry) hosts a competition for architects and designers to showcase their Italian ceramic tiles in institutional, residential or commercial spaces.

Now in its 27th installment, the competition awards four winners from four different categories – commercial, residential, institutional and student. This year, Carolina Cardona, Gabriela Mesquita, Rachael Cowan and Mariapia Sierra from FIU’s International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Campus Center took home the prize for the student category. 

The four women have bonded at FIU, while pursuing their Master of Interior Architecture degrees.

“Carolina, Rachael, and I met back in our [Design 1] studio. We later all met Mariapia in Design 4 when she switched to interiors from architecture,” said Mesquita.

For the competition, the team created, “Sensuum Spa”— a collaborative project with Virgin Voyages, which takes a holistic approach to wellness by emphasizing an experience of the senses. The project aims to offer users the opportunity to pause—and utilizes green and sustainable products and design strategies.


The upper deck and reception area instill the idea of pausing - which is the core concept of the spa and is shown throughout with the inclusion of linear elements.  

“Space planning was big,” Cowan says. “It was important to designate quiet spaces for the treatment rooms, where guests wouldn’t be interrupted by the conversations happening in the spa bar. We focused heavily on material selection as well. We needed to make it very calming, yet also appealing for Virgin’s clientele.”

Given their more than two years of friendship, the team members found it easy to collaborate with one another. They all consider themselves to have strong personalities and signature styles, but were able to find commonality in how they wanted the final piece to look. One area where their differences allowed them to generate unique ideas was their diverse cultural backgrounds.  


The Hamam Room uses hot steam to provide a relaxing and invigorating experience for guests. The room uses a porcelain tile for the walls due to its durability and sanitary properties.

Cardona with her Colombian roots, Cowan with Jamaican roots, Sierra with Peruvian roots and Mesquita with Brazilian roots - they all agreed that as designers, the spa design refelcted their cultural influences, as well as the times in which they were born.

“I definitely think being from the millennial/Gen-Z generations influenced us on our choices for ... Sensuum Spa,” Mesquita adds. “We all come from generations that are very into sustainability and saving our planet, so that’s how we were able to build on and shape the idea of a holistic spa for a cruise.”

The tiles used in the spa are Valentino by Ceramiche Piemme; Abitare la Ceramica; Rondine; Ceramiche Coem and Italgraniti. They chose these tiles for their aesthetic appeal, weight and durability - taking into consideration the weight limits on the ship. It was also of utmost importance for both them and Virgin Voyages to include coed showers and communal areas in the spa, in order to facilitate an unconventional and exciting community.


Co-ed Showers reflect the spa values of community and equality.

“This concept is very big for the client, wanting to include a very special and unique space for guests while bringing in the essence of Virgin Voyages,” Cardona says.

The students’ unique design and interior architecture ideas helped them secure the win – making this the second time that interior architecture students at FIU won the competition.

The team offered some advice for other women building their academic and professional careers in interior architecture and design. 

The bar serves as a communal space for people to pause before continuing on with their spa experience.

“Being a woman in any career, I would say, is very challenging,” says Sierra. “My main advice would be, ‘do not bring each other down.’ This is a big world, there are opportunities for all of us. Today, it might be your friend getting that big thing you wanted, but tomorrow it could be you. Always support each other. We are all in this together.”