Terracotta comes from the Italian “Baked-earth”. It is a reddish-brown clay based material that has been fired at moderately low temperatures, below 1200 °C. It is a naturally soft and porous material which can be formed and sculpted into any shape. This also means that it can potentially stain and absorb liquids.
The cooking process gives terracotta its strength for use as a building material or sculpture, and adding a glaze to it can make it waterproof and decorative. This is a very old technique for making bricks, tiles, pottery and sculpture with origins dating back to 20,000 BC.
This material is used frequently in African, Asian and Middle Eastern architecture where material affordability and accessibility are key factors. There have been many advancements to clay and ceramic technologies, allowing for more diverse colours and applications due to increased durability and quicker production times.
Terracotta has now become a material better suited for sculptural and decorative works, with its construction applications being limited to roofing and surface cladding. It is also better suited for dryer climates due to its porous nature.