Terracotta is an earthy ceramic that has been produced since the Old Stone Age, at least 29,000 years ago. Latin for "baked earth", Terracotta is based on coarse, porous clay, which is moulded into shape and fired in a kiln at around 1000°C until hard. The firing process is what lends the finished result its brownish-orange colour, and terracotta is usually some shade between ochre and red. While terracotta products are relatively cheap to produce, the slight difference between each item of atelier produced terracotta gives terracotta products personality.
Uber traditional and still relevant, terracotta is a timeless material.
There has been a contemporary resurgence in the adoption of shades of burnt orange and pink.
While we may now think of terracotta as an outdoor material, and especially associate it with gardens, it was initially used for artistic means. The Venus of Dolní Věstonice, found in Brno, Czech Republic, is the world’s oldest known ceramic artefact. Archaeologists and art historians have discovered that terracotta was used to create figurative works in Ancient Mesopotamia and early Egyptian cultures. China’s Terracotta Army, dating from 246-208 BCE, remains the most prominent example of terracotta sculpture.
Product designer Tomas Kral has released a series of lamps and lampshades in terracotta, producing them in Toledo, Spain, a region well known for its ceramics tradition. Spain, in general, is keen on the material, not only traditionally, but for contemporary projects too, such as Aulets Arquitectes’ municipal archive for the local government of Mallorca. This building boasts vaulted brickwork that feels both modern and also points towards the region’s historical architectural habits. Meanwhile, the plants at Unrecorded’s stores are potted in light terracotta pots; the material complements the soft tones of our birch wood shelves and white walls.
In addition, there has been a contemporary resurgence in the adoption of shades of burnt orange and pink. In 2017, the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech opened its doors. Designed by the French architecture firm Studio KO, the building - spanning over 4,000 m2 - acts more like an advertisement for Moroccan cosmopolitanism and comes with a 150 m2 exhibition space, a 130-seat auditorium and a research library housing 5,000 books. The terracotta bricks that grace the facade are made from Moroccan earth; they also made it homely elsewhere, with the terrazzo featuring Moroccan stone fragments.
Text: Nicholas Burman
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