Ceramics in Architecture‏

In the studio yesterday we received a seminar on Ceramics in Architecture presented by Lorraine Rutt, a local ceramicist who has produced models for us in the past.

Lorraine talked mostly about the long history of ceramics and its use across the world, and the interesting histories behind them. Though the talk was entertaining it struck me that the content wasn’t matching up to the title, as the work she was showing us was largely superficial adornment to buildings, whether preplanned or as she put it “an afterthought”. For me, though I was aware of glazed bricks being used in atria to reflect light and so forth, I was hoping for the talk to illustrate ceramics that would perform some type of three-dimensional, spacial or active role in their buildings.

[Façade of the Covilhã Church, Portugal]

However, about mid-way through the presentation Lorraine raised what I considered to be by far the most interesting example of architectural ceramics in her talk when she mentioned Nader Khalili. Khalili was known for his innovation into the Geltaftan Earth-and-Fire System known as Ceramic Houses and the earth-bag construction technique called Superadobe. He fired traditional Iranian huts to be earthquake resistant, apparently inspired by a visit to post-earthquake Iran where entire villages were flattened but their ceramic pots remained intact.

What I found most interesting about this is the bridging of the traditionally two-dimensional art form and the necessarily three-dimensional architecture, and the implied architectonic meaning of such a construction. Lorraine made reference to the long life-span of ceramics, noting examples surviving today originating thousands of years ago. It got me thinking about the nature of ceramics as fixed, unalterable and permanent. The idea contrasts sharply with the modern ephemeral architectural currency of transience – short life spans and premature demolitions.

I got to thinking of the possibilities of ceramics on a larger scale – what would be the effect of moulding and firing entire architectural set pieces such as stair flights, entire bathooms, even entire buildings – in contradistinction to current architectural modes which are essentially assemblages of components numbering to the millions, a ceramic moulded building would be just one, solid, piece – eternal and unalterable.

K

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