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10 ceramic structures – food for thought

After the wood and stone utilised by our ancestors, examined in the first two blogs of this series, comes ceramics; mainly in the form of bricks, being widely used in this country, and the tiles favoured for roofing as well as internal decoration across the warmer parts of Europe and Australia.

Your blogger’s Top Ten on the ceramics’ list is as follows – chosen merely because I can associate them with pleasure and, for a bit of fun, food.

Having studied architecture as part of my art history course, your blogger has to put La Sagrada Familia on the top of the list as the firm favourite. Designed by the eccentric architect Gaudi, the giant Basilica in Barcelona has been under construction since 1882 (no typo – it’s still to be completed). I love this building because of its Art Nouveau design, and the fact that it is so organic in appearance: the use of the ceramic mosaics reminded my lecturer of bowls of fruit … indeed, they do look good enough to eat …

In contrast, another favourite is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, Chicago, which was designed in 1910 – it remains a masterpiece of functional form and the epitome of the uniquely American “Prairie School” of architectural design. The simplicity is what makes this building appeal; there is no fuss about the use of brick as a construction material. A simple Victoria Sponge in the building world …

St Pancras Station, London, meanwhile, was the largest building in the world when built; and remains one of the very longest uninterrupted walls. While I love the red bricks; I’m not sure if it’s the very long champagne bar inside that brought this building to mind …

Moving to the home of the amber nectar, Sydney Opera House is fourth on my list – who could not admire those famous shells? The roofs are made up of 2,194 pre-cast concrete sections, which weigh up to 15.5 tonnes (15 tons) each. They are held together by 350 km (217 miles) of tensioned steel cable. The roofs weigh 27,230 tonnes and are covered with exactly 1,056,056 Swedish ceramic tiles arranged in 4,253 pre-cast lids.

The Terracotta Army is one of the most incredible architectural discoveries – all that texture and history, how did they get it there, how many tonnes of the chocolate coloured material did they move by hand, in order to achieve such an amazing feat? Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the emperor’s warrior escort there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the ground near by Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.

The Roman Baths – in Bath – meanwhile, are well worth a visit – again, all built by hand, heavy brick by brick, stone by stone. Just one tip – don’t partake of the water, unless you have a very strong stomach.

Talking of stomachs, another favourite building is Buckingham Palace, the association here being that when passing it in a black cab, I’m usually on my way from Paddington Station to a restaurant in the West End on a press trip. The Duke of Buckingham’s house of c. 1703 was made of red brick; George III added elements but what you presently see is basically a rebuilding of the 1820s by John Nash, clad in Bath Stone.

The Colosseum in Rome, with its miles of brick labyrinths reminding us of its gruesome past, suggests to your blogger, the best Italian ice cream on the planet as well as charlatan centurions charging to have a picture taken with you. Westminster Cathedral, meanwhile, has a rather nice pub nearby, where yours truly tripped over the curb outside in a rush to grab a late lunch.

Lastly, ceramic houses really do exist – they are made of an earth mixture, which is high in clay and fired to become ceramic. Iranian architect, Nader Khalili, developed the process of building and firing such houses in the late 1970s. He named it Geltaftan; “Gel”, means “clay”, and “taftan” means “firing, baking, and weaving clay” in Persian.

I like the idea of ‘cooking’ your own house.

Our top 10:

La Sagrada Familia

Robie House

St Pancras Station, London

Sydney Opera House

The Terracotta Army

Roman Baths

Buckingham Palace

Colosseum

Westminster Cathedral

Ceramic houses – yes, really

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