The winding, cobbled streets of Bologna, Italy, are buzzing with tile aficionados—more than usual, that is—as the city hosts the 32nd annual Cersaie international exhibition of ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings. The five-day event brings together a global cast of architects, designers, manufacturers, journalists, and more to check out the latest ceramic tile products and technologies from 900 manufacturers representing 35 countries. ARCHITECT toured the trade show with more than 30 North American designers and members of the media.

First, why Italy? Known for its ceramics, the country’s production of tiles accounted for 15.8 percent of total tiles produced (4.1 billion square feet of 26 billion square feet total) and 30.4 percent of the 2013 global market ($5.8 billion in a $19.25 billion market), according to tradeshow officials at a Sept. 22 press conference. Spain, also known for its solid surfacing products, took a 13.2-percent share (3.4 billion square feet) of the global production market, at a value of $2.9 billion. China was the largest ceramic-tile exporter in 2013, supplying more than one-third of the world's tiles (9.15 billion square feet), but at a value of $5.15 billion.

Though the U.S. is not the biggest importer of Italy’s ceramic tiles (that would be France), it did import 11.3 percent ($311 million) of the goods produced in the first half of 2014.

On the show floor at Cersaie, the sizable—and valuable—market share of the home country is clear in the array of launches featuring glazed metallic overlays, hexagonal form factors, and nature-inspired hues. In addition to these trends, which were evident across the 545,000 square feet of expo space, we spotted three notable collaborations between international architects and designers and Italian manufacturers that resulted in playful collections.

Pixel + Nest by HOK for Lea Ceramiche was developed by designers in the global architecture firm’s Miami, St. Louis, Toronto, and Los Angeles offices. At 3.5mm-thick on the walls and 5.5mm-thick on the floor, the laminated porcelain series comprises rectangular shapes (Pixel) as well as triangular and hexagonal geometries (Nest, shown). The result is a rainbow of colorful planks and Pac-Man–shaped forms, both in a matte finish.

Thrilled, by Michael Anastassiades for Brix, is a tile series made of waste marble dust bonded with polymer resin. Offered in clear, white, gray, and anthracite, the collection is inspired by the round, smooth geometries and dense arrangement of pebbles. Each approximately 1'-square contains 1,716 3D pixels that each measure about 0.25" in diameter.

Refin Ceramiche teamed up with Italian architects and brothers Alessandro and Francesco Mendini on a four-part series of illusory graphic tiles that feature an abstracted orthogonal grid. Its designers say that Filo, which is offered in four colorways, creates a dynamic, optical effect. We agree.

We’re at Cersaie 2014 all week, so follow along @architectmag for the latest in wall, floor, and surface finishes.