Rethinking Construction with Terracotta

Sep 22, 2022

What is Terracotta?

Terracotta literally means a “Baked Earth”. It is low cost and available pretty much anywhere there is soil. Terracotta is the most ancient art not only in India but in the whole world. Its earliest reference was found in prehistoric art, some pottery was found back in the time 24000 BC. It is not only used for household purposes, it is a traditional item, it is a ritualistic item, and it is also used in most of the temples (various types of lamps made from terracotta) since the earlier days.

Back in the day, there were no fridges; people used earthen pots for cold water, and to even cook food. Can make kinds of things with mud- pots, pans, utensils, and decorative items.

What are the properties of  Terracotta?

  • Terracotta contains a large amount of iron which when reacted with oxygen gives terracotta a rust red, orange sometimes pinkish colour.
  • It is easily available and long-lasting with huge heat resistance.
  • Terracotta is a porous clay, it can be glazed and unglazed.
  • Terracotta can mould into any shape and after that, it is baked for about two hours, with a high temperature of 600 to 1000 degrees centigrade.

Uses of Terracotta material according to its properties:

1.      Porous in nature

Due to heating of terracotta articles at high temperature it becomes porous. Porous pots made from terracotta are the perfect choice for planting trees, as the air gets circulated easily. Food, when cooked in terracotta utensils, becomes tastier and full of aroma. In addition to this, its nutritional value also remains intact.

2.      Strong material

Due to the heating of terracotta at high temperatures, it becomes stronger. It is so strong that it can be used as a cooking utensil and in building structures.

3.      Fire resistant

Another important characteristic of terracotta is that it is fire-resistant. When terracotta tiles are used while building homes and other structures it can prevent most fire accidents.

4.      Easy to clean

Dirt can be easily removed by using a brush or soft cloth. They can also be washed by using a mild detergent with water.

5.      Insulating property

It is used in roofing to keep the home warm during winter, it is also used for pottery which stores food to keep the food hot for a long time.

6.      Eco-friendly material

It is environmentally friendly as it is made up of all the renewable as well as naturally available components. In today’s time where the whole world is facing the problem of climate change, ecological imbalance, and global warming, saving the environment has become an important goal. In such a scenario terracotta is a blessing. It is entirely organic, as it does not contain any hazardous chemicals, also it does not release any hazardous gases. It is recyclable, broken pieces of terracotta are used to make fresh terracotta articles again.

7.      Glazed terracotta

Terracotta is porous but when it is glazed its pores get closed and it becomes waterproof, this glazed terracotta is the perfect kitchen accessory.

8.      Terracotta clay jewelry

Since ancient times, terracotta has been used in making deities on festive occasions, for making handicrafts, and jewelry. It is handmade jewelry painted in green, blue, pink, and brown color's. Necklaces, earrings, bangles, jhumkas, pendants, bracelets etc. are made from terracotta clay.

9.      Numerous applications

  • It can be used as a roofing material
  • Tiles in homes and other building structures
  • Good choice for kitchenware (terracotta roti boxes, tableware, serve ware, etc.)
  • Used to cook healthy food
  • Pots for planting indoor plants

Traditional to Modern use of Terracotta material:

Traditionally earthen pots are used to cool water. In ancient times, Egyptian slaves would fan the pots filled with water to blow cool air onto the pharaohs. Similarly in our own country, all the Havelies and Forts are popular for channelizing air through stone jalis.

The pots are soaked by pouring water over them, the geometry and shape of the cones help to evaporative cooling and there is a decrease in the temperature of the surrounding. People are starting to understand the importance of a sustainable lifestyle and what terracotta as a material can bring to innovation.

Across India, there’s an amazing ancient terracotta heritage and craft industry, but it is gradually disappearing due to the increasing competition from contemporary innovation of the modern times. However, by adding some innovative ideas, novice terracotta articles can be produced. These innovative products beautifully bring out the fusion of old with the new.

Terracotta in India:

  • This rich heritage of terracotta is preserved by many states in India.
  • Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh) gets the GI tag for centuries-old terracotta work. Entire artefacts are handmade.
  • Bishnupur (West Bengal) is famous for its terracotta pottery, jewellery, temples, and artefact.
  • Nizamabad (Uttar Pradesh) is popular for its black terracotta figurines.
  • Aurangabad (Maharashtra) has been in this terracotta tradition for five generations.
  • There are many such places which preserve this great tradition of terracotta.

Interesting fact about Terracotta:

Terracotta Army:

It is the most fascinating terracotta creation. This is a huge group of armies of Qinshi Huang of China. In 1974 this sculpture was found accidentally by Chinese farmers. One day a group of farmers dug a well and they found some pieces of pottery and other pieces of evidence of soldiers.

This army consists of warriors who are all life-sized like real soldiers also they all are having different facial features. One can tell from their hairstyle, and their headgear, one can tell that they are of different ranks in the army.

It is evidence of their belief in an afterlife, they have a tradition of burying a human/servant when the elite died, like a king or noble. This tradition of human sacrifice was criticised by people so, they thought let's use terracotta as a substitute and they made an army.

Almost all the articles that we use, like plastic, end up in either landfills or oceans after their lifecycle. Terracotta disintegrates and beautifully merges with earth again.