Indigenous to the Marrakech area of Morocco, tadelakt is a natural, lime-based plaster that’s both decorative and waterproof. An exquisite, natural combination of pure practicality and unadulterated style.
Used in the restoration of riads across the country, tadelakt lime was first mined from The Marrakech Plateau in the High Atlas Mountains. That seamless and smooth finish that you associate with the architecture of the souks, palaces and riads of Northern Africa, is tadelakt. Traditionally seen in a deep ochre red, tadelakt can come in any colour – see our beautiful colour chart for some inspiration.
The word itself means ‘to rub in’ or ‘massage’ when translated from its original Arabic تدلاكت, and its creation and application today remains true to its age-old roots, passed on from the Moroccan masters over centuries. It was in fact under 11th-century Berber rule that craftsmen began to use the tadelakt method, initially to waterproof the royal cisterns. Using lime burning for plaster goes back further than a mere thousand years, though. Those innovative Egyptians were using gypsum and lime plasters to build their pyramids 5000 years ago.
Harnessing its huge natural properties with skilled and precise application methods, tadelakt was soon put to decorative use in construction all over Marrakech and beyond: in exterior façades, in small drinking vessels and in the hammams (bathhouses). It’s no wonder then that today tadelakt is becoming such a popular, stylish alternative to tiling in bathrooms, kitchens and wetrooms as well as for spas and swimming pools. Having said this, it’s such a versatile material that it’s suitable for almost any internal or external wall. Just see our portfolio for an idea of the broad scope tadelakt offers to both domestic and corporate environments.
Like all great traditions, the art has relied on an oral tradition between artisans to keep it alive. The traditional tadelakt method is, broadly speaking, as follows:
- Lime plaster mixed with water for 12-15 hours before adding pigment
- Sometimes marble or limestone sand is added
- Compressed when plastic to eliminate voids
- Mechanically polished using stone, providing a smooth, sometimes shiny, finish.
- Treated with natural soap solution – olive or black soap – to speed carbonation of the surface and impart water-resistance.
The natural olive-based soap used to seal the tadelakt finish is a fabulous product sold in paste form by the kilo in the souks of Marrakech. This emulsifies in water and deeply permeates the plaster when rubbed in gently, rather than leaving a waxy coating as one might expect it to. The lime’s alkalinity reacts with the soap to form a soap scum which is highly water and scratch resistant – and harder than cured lime – whilst remaining breathable.
The Environmental Benefits of Tadelakt Plaster
People are becoming more and more aware of the need to limit the impact of their actions on the environment, and are increasingly taking action to reduce their carbon footprints. Interestingly, the way you decorate your home can also play a role here. For instance, many people choose to finish the surfaces of their bathroom to make them more visually appealing. Choosing a material such as tadelakt to do this is a good option, as this has many green credentials that make it kind to the environment as well as a material suitable for use in bathrooms and other rooms of the house.
Creating a healthy living environment
One green benefit of tadelakt is that it helps to create a healthy living environment. Unlike many other finishes that require you to clean them using bleach or other harsh chemicals, tadelakt plaster is the complete opposite. It is sealed with a soap solution, which helps to prevent the build-up of grime and can be cleaned using a sponge and water. As long as you regularly reapply this soap solution, the tadelakt should stay in excellent condition.
It is also very breathable and has a smooth finish, which means there are no grout lines where mould might otherwise collect. This helps to make the environment cleaner still and ultimately a much nicer place to be.
Reducing levels of CO2
As you are no doubt aware, carbon dioxide is one of the main culprits of global warming. The good news is that tadelakt is CO2-friendly: when you compare it with other, cement-based finishes, it releases 80% less CO2 – a significant difference. Also, the fact that it is lime-based helps as this means when CO2 is released during processing, the tadelakt actually reabsorbs much of it, stopping it from escaping and damaging the environment. Tadelakt also looks much more attractive than other types of surface finishes, meaning its benefits are more than just environmental.
Recycling and reusing existing products
You will probably know all about how important it is to recycle, as this enables us to use the same resources more than once, reducing the amount of energy we use mining new materials and creating new goods. Tadelakt is a good example of how this works: it can be recycled and used in new mortars by crushing it down, meaning it is a practical choice with useful options if you decide to dispose of it in the future.
It is also biodegradable, which means that if you do dispose of it and it is not recycled, it will gradually sink back into the earth – in stark contrast to many of the items that often end up in landfill.
Keeping synthetics away
One last green benefit of using tadelakt is that it is entirely natural. This is a bonus as it is often synthetic materials that are the most harmful to the environment, both in terms of creating them and when it comes to disposal. Tadelakt doesn’t have such issues to contend with, meaning that it uses the minimum amount of energy in its production and it avoids the need to incorporate harmful chemicals – something that is certainly to be applauded.
Natural Building Materials
Natural materials have been used in building for thousands of years, but it’s only now with concerns for the environment, that we’re beginning to appreciate their value. Unlike synthetic materials, natural building materials are in abundance and are easily replenished. Many types are recyclable and because there is a minimal amount of energy used in their production, they have less impact on the environment.
Here are some examples of traditional natural materials still used today for a more eco-friendly approach to building.
Adobe means ‘mud brick’ in Spanish and it’s one of the earliest examples of building material used by man. Adobe is basically a mixture of sand or earth, water and straw, it’s dried in the sun then stacked in uniform blocks to create a wall.
Popular in hotter climates, Adobe can be plastered over with a lime-based mix such as Tadelakt to create a waterproof coating.
Stone has been used for thousands of years. It’s durable, readily available and comes in many varieties of shapes, sizes, colours and textures. It can be used for many applications such as walls, roofs and floors and is 100% recyclable.
Popular in Indonesia, bamboo is surprisingly strong and flexible. Its flexibility makes it a good building material to use in seismically vulnerable countries, thanks to its main component, silica. Bamboo grows rapidly so it can be sustainably forested without harming the rainforests and is a valuable renewable resource.
Straw bales are a good example of utilising a waste product and putting it to good use. Straw bales insulate well and form thick walls that help to reflect the sunlight. Because sunlight is the main energy source needed in its production, straw is one of the most eco-friendly materials around.
However, it’s not suitable for high humidity areas and mustn’t be exposed to moisture. Bales can be surfaced with wire mesh, then plastered with lime-based Tadelakt for a waterproof tadelakt finish.
Tadelakt polished plaster works well with other natural materials to provide a beautiful, practical and above all, natural, solution for building designs. This Moroccan inspired plaster contains no harmful chemicals and is one of the most eco-friendly products there is.