Rethinking Sustainable Design with Terracotta

Blending traditional materials like slate, rammed-earth, and wood with contemporary building practices can create a beautiful fusion of past and present. Surfaces Reporter does a re-analysis of this ancient material to bring forth latest innovation & application possibilities.

Blending traditional materials like slate, rammed-earth, and wood with contemporary building practices can create a beautiful fusion of past and present. Surfaces Reporter does a re-analysis of this ancient material to bring forth latest innovation & application possibilities.


which means “cooked earth.” Commonly, terracotta is known as a high-grade of weathered or aged clay which, when mixed with sand or with pulverized fired clay, can be molded into various forms and fired at high temperature to a hardness and compactness not obtainable with brick. In simple terms, terracotta is an enriched molded clay brick or block. Terracotta clay is available in a wide color range that varies with geographies and types, ranging from red and brown to white.

Properties of Terracotta

  • It is 100% natural and recyclable
  • It is durable
  • It requires no maintenance
  • It is frost-resistant
  • It is non-combustible
  • It is resistant to impact
  • Because of its low-thermal diffusivity, it contributes to a stable and comfortable indoor temperature during summer
  • It has natural sound absorption properties, thus making it an effective noise attenuator
  • It comes in a wide variety of shades and textures(sanded, glazed, grooved, etc.)
  • Its unique colors are UV resistant and will not change over time


Terracotta gives a building warmth and character with beautiful, rich, earth-tone colors. Terracotta associates very well with other construction materials viz. glass, metal and wood, another natural material. Its natural organic tones and variation compliment modern commercial designs. Besides above, terracotta has an array of properties that make it a fantastic material.

More recently, terracotta was appearing in contemporary designs, being used traditionally as tiles or for newer purposes like brise soleil to deflect sunlight in hot climates. With its range of colors from mud red to darker maroons to light stone, terracotta remains a versatile material that, as demonstrated by this collection, can make any kind of building feel welcoming and warm.

It, in its unglazed form, eventually became fashionable as a versatile construction material with superior aesthetics and cost effectiveness. Many prominent architectural marvels can be identified that have used terracotta as façade material.

Natural Terracotta Tiles

In their natural state, terracotta tiles are a lovely mix of red and earthy hues, which wash in swooping clouds of color creating unique yet subdued images across the surface of every tile fired. This is largely due to the iron deposits contained within the clay used in manufacturing. It is this rustic beauty that makes terracotta so desirable as a flooring option.

The problem is that terracotta is very porous in its natural state. That means that water and liquids can seep easily down into its core, causing mold or rot or stains to appear permanently through it. For this reason, natural terracotta is usually treated with a sealant periodically, to protect it against those hazards. Surface burnishing during the manufacturing process can also cut down on the absorbency to some extent.

Glazed Terracotta Tiles

The reason that most people purchase terracotta flooring is for the beauty and colors of the red and earthen hues. When a glaze is poured over them, this is hidden beneath a glass layer, that makes them impervious to stains, but also removes their rustic elegance.

We are witnessing a resurgence of warm shades and terracotta: not only in home furnishing accessories, but also as an indoor finish.

In some cases, handmade or hand painted glazed terracotta flooring can achieve some balance of these two characteristics. In that case, the handmade nature of the tile shows through in the shape, while the glaze provides a cover to keep it safe.

Machine Cut Terracotta Tiles

These tiles are produced in a factory based process that fires, cuts, and offloads terracotta tiles into precise, computer-guided geometric forms. These tiles still retain the natural beauty of the iron-laced clay colors, but they are more consistent in shape and dimension making it easier to install them. This also produces a more consistent look in the final installation.

Terracotta Makes A Comeback

It may be just the start of winter time, but the best new home design material for 2017 is sure to bring some much needed warmth into our life. The earthy shade of terracotta is breathing new life into interior spaces with its comforting versatility and naturally beautiful look. The new way to decorate with terracotta is to use it less as an accent material and more as a featured material.

Terracotta is coming back into fashion. We are witnessing a resurgence of warm shades and terracotta: not only in home furnishing accessories, but also as an indoor finish. The terracotta popular today looks much more natural and matt than the Eighties variety.

Square tiles are always a classic but matte-red hex tiles add a splash of warmth and contemporary style to a space. Especially when interspersed with varying patterns and colors. Traditional, glazed terracotta tiling still has a place in design.

Terracotta in the kitchen is a no-brainer. But unlike the orangetoned countertops and backsplashes of kitchens past, it’s all about deep, red flooring and black cabinetry. We must remember, too, that terracotta is a perfect material not only for indoor but also for outdoor use, with the advantage of creating delightful indooroutdoor continuity effects.


Although terracotta was initially invented for pottery and sculpture, craftsmen soon realized its potential as a building product and began producing terracotta bricks, cladding and roof tiles. Today, innovations in the manufacturing process have breathed new life into this ancient material. Now, slabs of raw clay are passed through metal dies, extruding them into long, uniform shapes, which are then fed into kilns by conveyor belts. These hollow extrusions are perfect for creating resilient rain screens and lightweight brise soleils. With customizable profiles and an assortment of colorful enamel glazes to choose from, it’s easy to understand why architects love this material so much.

Terracotta Filler Slabs

This is an option for building floor slabs that are not the uppermost and as such not require thermal insulation. The idea is to increase the effective slab depth and thereby save steel substantially, while also reducing the volume of concrete by creating voids. Inexpensive and commonly used shuttering planks can be used to achieve good finish and plaster and paint
can be eliminated leading to further savings.

We must remember, too, that terracotta is a perfect material not only for indoor but also for outdoor use

Terracotta Jack Arches

Series of shallow vaults are built out of hollow burnt clay trapezoidal tubes that are assembled between prefabricated trapezoidal beams involving minimal steel for reinforcement, which is far less than the regular RCC slab. This option is ideal for roofs that are the uppermost layer and therefore need insulation but where the vault cannot be applied, such as in case of a desired flat terrace above.

Terracotta Interlocking Tubes

Hollow burnt clay tubes are stacked to achieve catenary vaults that require no structural steel. Substructure such as wooden rafters in terracotta roof tile application is redundant as the system is self supporting. Neither is shuttering required. This leads to an insulated roof based on locally produced materials and quick assembly.

Terracotta for Interiors

Warm materials such as terracotta tiles will replace currently popular cool and white tones. Unlike in the 80s, they aren’t used as border tiles. Instead they will have a natural matte finish and be used as feature walls in bathrooms or for cladding fireplaces.

Many companies that fabricate wall cladding and aluminum composite metal panels, are also introducing terracotta to their list. The company Hunter Douglas Contract, provides both variety of stiles of “baked earth” claddings, louvers and fins.

Using Terracotta naturally or as traditionally installed and manufactured, is costly and time consuming, but technology under the lamp of a materials scientist, demonstrates that we can go farther than we thought with materials.

The Aussie company Axolotl, has invented a new method of using terra cotta with cost reductions, practicality and without the firing of the clay which consequently reduces carbon emissions. It is comprised of a simple coating with the application over many materials such as aluminum, which can be shop-manufactured and easily coated with the clay material to provide this fabulous look and feel.

Terracotta Tile Flooring

Terracotta is actually the ideal floor covering. The material has a rough, rustic feel to it, that is both rugged and subdued all at once. This can be increased, or decreased, by purchasing handmade or machine cut pieces.

This material is a great choice for rustic or natural settings, as well as log cabin style decors. It is popular in living rooms, and as flooring for enclosed porches. Warmer than stone or glazed ceramic, it is also perfect for a hearth and home earth tone decor.

Terracotta tiles can be used in some limited outdoor applications, but only in climates which do not get regular freezing temperatures. In colder climates, water could absorb into the stone, and then if it got cold, that water could freeze, expanding and cracking the tile.

Terracotta for Cozy Bedrooms

Mostly one comes across terracotta tiles being used either in classic kitchens, courtyards and outdoor spaces. But you can take these gorgeous tiles into the bedroom as well to truly make into a more comfy and elegant space. For bedrooms, you may choose from a wide range of reddish hued tiles, but also their finis can be selected, from raw matte to stylishly glossy. The style of your bedroom is never an issue, and they work well even in a minimal bedroom when used in the right fashion.


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